Book Review: Peregrine Quest, by Clayton WhiteReviewed by Stephen J. Bodio
January 15, 2009
Clayton White has devoted his life’s work to the pigeon’s nemesis, the Peregrine Falcon. In Peregrine Quest, he narrates the life and also tells us more about the species than any recent book. Peregrine Quest ranges in time from the 1960s to the present, and geographically from the Lower 48 states to the Arctic, Central Asia, South America, Australia, and the South Seas. It is a fascinating mixture of autobiography, anecdote, observation, and up-to-date scientific information. I have often said of myself that birds of prey have led me to places and people I would otherwise not have known; the peregrine has done the same for Clayton White. As he says, “For me, devotion to the study of a species of bird and the involvement of students and family in that study, and the love of it, has made my life meaningful.”
It was a life of adventure, boating on Arctic rivers, camping amid grizzlies and wolverines, climbing cliffs all over the world. It was also one devoted to the conservation of birds of prey, assessing and even discovering rare populations and subspecies. One of the delights of the book, at least to this raptor-obsessed reader, is its depiction in illustration and word of the many odd peregrines around the world: the black juveniles of the Aleutians, the “pointy-headed” birds of Fiji, the pale desert peregrines of Asia, and the young tundrius peregrines of the Arctic that resemble Lanner Falcons. White has seen and studied them all on their home grounds.
He is refreshingly skeptical about some fashionable shibboleths, such as restoring environments to their “original” state. Of Amchitka Island he says: “this suggests that at some specific spot in time there is a final climax or some sort of equilibrium that the environment reaches—were they trying to return conditions to that mythical point? As one would expect, the efforts on Amchitka had not ‘restored’ anything, but have simply created a new environment. At what historical point were conditions ‘original,’ and who makes the judgment?”
Peregrine Quest is a celebration of a mythic bird and a testimony to a well- lived life, a life of passion in service to an ideal. As he says: “The real quest is in trying to understand stewardship of all landscapes, find out how to live in it, and then do it.”