Jonathan Slaght in The Guardian:
When I was 19, in the summer of 1995, I fell in love with an owl. I’d just spent two weeks in Primorye in the Russian far east – a wild, mountainous province bordering the Sea of Japan, China and North Korea. It is a region of dense forests, rolling mountains, clean rivers and spectacular coastlines. Exotic locations were nothing new for me: I was born in the United States but grew up in a diplomat’s family, bouncing around the world from Uruguay to Panama as a young child, and to West Germany and Canada as a teen. Before the age of 16, I’d only lived in the United States for two years.
While I’d always been interested in the outdoors, I’d been ambivalent about birds and had never thought they would become my life’s passion. In fact, it was teenage envy that got me started. A high-school friend, now a professor of organismal biology at Gettysburg College, began a passionate study of birds and I wanted to keep up.
When I left Russia after that summer in 1995, I brought home with me a Soviet-era book about the region’s birds. I immersed myself in the pages of this intoxicating world, turning from one remarkable species to the next, not knowing the English names of any of them, and struggling to decipher the Russian text with my pocket dictionary. The species that most drew my fascination was the Blakiston’s fish owl, the largest owl species in the world.