Flight Lines by Andrew Darby [7/10]

In this time of global warming and looming species extinctions, a growing roster of naturalist-authors paying tribute to their selected non-human species helps us connect the planet’s future with ours. Andrew Darby, Hobart-based environmental journalist, beams his intelligence and love on the Grey Plover, a bird very few ever distinguish with a second look, a bird he describes as “a dovish wallflower at the shorebird dance.” “Flight Lines: Across the Globe on a Journey with the Astonishing Ultramarathon Birds” tracks these extraordinary migrants from Victoria’s coast to remote Siberian tundra, employing as lynchpin characters two female, satellite-tagged Grey Plovers called CYA and CYB. In a dramatic twist, Darby contracts lung and spinal cancer, just before an attempt to head far north, and in a sense his and CYA/CYB’s journeys, both epic, combine into a narrative whole. “Flight Lines” pulses with ardent, vivid prose. It celebrates the hero-scientists working in harsh conditions to document species loss. It bemoans the recent human destruction of those most important wetlands for migratory birds, the Yellow Sea coasts, but offers slight hope towards the end as China’s nascent middle class flexes its muscles in favor of environmentalism. The world can do with many more nature paeans like this elegant book and I commend it to you.

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