Fishing for a Living

2 Yr Old Blakistons Fish Owl Female_JSlaght
I have a soft spot for this particular Blakiston’s fish owl. I first discovered her when she was just a few days old, covered in a bright white down, still blind, and unreservedly helpless. I saw her again the following winter when the vulnerable chick had bloomed into a confident juvenile. She pounced for fish in the shallow water and scraped at the pebbly river bottom hoping to dislodge a hibernating frog. And here she was another year later, at the age of two, still living with her parents.

This unusually long pre-dispersal period—the time between when an owl leaves the nest then strikes out to find its own territory—is a testament to the hard lives these globally-endangered birds eke out in the harsh climate of the Russian Far East. For comparison, young great horned owls in North America leave their parents’ territories just a few months after first fluttering out of the nest.

Fishing for a living isn’t easy, especially if the rivers you rely on are largely frozen for a good portion of the year.

This text originally posted 01 October 2014 at:

The Low Saddle

From my vantage point over the cold, clear waters of the Sea of Japan at Lazovskii Reserve in Primorye, I spotted migrating minke whales and a roiling cluster of harbor seals. The sandy beach below bore tracks of sika deer, Eurasian otter, and Amur tiger. A tigress had sauntered among the boulders there only a day or so before me, pausing to scent-mark the rock with her pungent, earthy urine. She continued down the beach to ascend the low saddle where I now stood, and I lost her trail as she moved into the vegetation. She likely climbed up the ridge–possibly in search of sika deer–or perhaps looking for a quiet place to soak in the sun on one of these last, perfect, late summer days.

The Cows, Coming Home

Like a rotating cog in a massive alarm clock, these cows reliably cross the bridge to Ternei at about the same time each evening in summer; a reminder to those who can see them that the work day is done. The village herd here is collective; anyone with a cow or two can release them to graze with their brethren in the fields on the far side of the Serebryanka River. Then, in the evening, the cows come home to sleep in their own barns. This is one of the reasons that livestock depredations by tigers are uncommon in Russia—whereas they are a significant issue across the border in China—the cows here spend the night indoors.

In the winter months I observe a different procession from my window atop the hill; one just as dependable as the cows. At dusk a column of headlights snakes into town from the coast; ice fishermen rosy from wind and vodka making their way home after a long day catching smelt at the frozen river mouth.