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On the Wing: To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon Paperback – October 11, 2005


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 328 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; 1 edition (October 11, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400031826
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400031825
  • Product Dimensions: 0.7 x 5.2 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,277,288 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

On a mission to map the migration of the peregrine falcon, Alan Tennant and his friend George Vose logged thousands of miles in a rattletrap Cessna. On the Wing is as much quest narrative as nature book, and the tale of the two men's voyage is unforgettable. At their first meeting, when Tennant suggested that they track a radio-tagged falcon by air, WWII vet Vose assessed naturalist Tennant with a keen eye. "Aviation takes intestinal fortitude, Mister. You were pretty green up there today. Calm air, too." Nevertheless, Tennant convinced the gruff pilot that the project was worthy, and they set off, soaring north over the dunes of Gulf Coast barrier islands. The falcon was just a beeping signal to them most of the time, but they became obsessed with its movements. In the small cockpit, they shared extremes of disappointment and elation as they dealt with bad weather, lost signals, run-ins with the Army, and equipment problems. They ended up posing as highway patrol officers, crossing international borders, and risking their lives in order to keep on the track of their wayward subject. Threaded into the funny and moving adventure story, Tennant scatters casual snippets of science--peregrine falcon biology, pesticide toxicology, and the little-understood fact of animal migration itself. The facts never get in the way of the fun, though--this is real Wild Kingdom action. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Naturalist Tennant (The Guadalupe Mountains of Texas) describes his efforts to trail peregrine falcons on their epic migratory flights from the Caribbean to the Arctic in a detailed, impassioned account that's part nature study and part gonzo travelogue. After radio-tagging a young peregrine off the coast of Texas, Tennant teams up with George Vose, a former WWII combat flight instructor, to follow the bird on its spring migration north. Plenty of excitement—run-ins with Canadian Mounties, trouble with Vose's battered plane—follows as the men track their "guiding angel," the bird they name Amelia. After a trip to the peregrine's Alaskan breeding grounds, Tennant and Vose follow three new peregrines on the fall migration down the coast of Mexico and Central America, where their adventures include going into a free-fall over the Caribbean Ocean and being mistaken for DEA agents. Tennant pauses to consider nearly every creature he encounters along the way, from polar bear to insect, describing its connection to the land, and, in the inevitable bittersweet turn, revealing the environmental degradation that threatens its survival. With a nature-lover's deep concern rather than an ideologue's rhetoric, Tennant emphasizes the connection between man and beast, reflecting as well on his own need for migration and adventure. 8-page color insert not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Best of all, Alan Tennant is a writer who knows how to weave his story into the natural world, and vice versa.
Jesse Boggs
Author and naturalist Alan Tennant has taken on the challenge and come up with one of the most interesting non-fiction books I've read all year.
Ed Uyeshima
The animals that inhabit our planet, like canaries in the coal mine, can tell us about the well being of Mother Earth.
Jacqueline Flynn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Ed Uyeshima HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on September 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I remember as a child in the sixties poring through the Time-Life book on the animal kingdom. It had this one memorable illustration of all the major species in a big race to show how fast each of them ran, swam and flew against each other. Far ahead of anything else in nature was the peregrine falcon. From that distinct memory, I picked up this book to see why anyone would be foolish enough to try to track one. Author and naturalist Alan Tennant has taken on the challenge and come up with one of the most interesting non-fiction books I've read all year. The peregrine falcon would seem elusive. After all, when diving for prey, it can reach speeds upward of 200 mph, and they can migrate 10,000 miles in a single year, traversing from Canada to as far as Argentina. But Tennant decided to radio-tag one, whom he appropriately dubs Amelia on her migration from Texas to Canada. What ensues, as documented in this journal, is unexpected, unique and extraordinary.

This is no simple Audubon Society-style study. Blend Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" and Ché Guevera's "The Motorcycle Diaries", cross-breed them with "Winged Migration", and you get some sense of the spell this book casts. Of course, Tennant has a cantankerous sidekick, George Vose, a septuagenarian World War II flight instructor who trusts his instincts more than his flight instruments. Clearly he provides the yang to Tennant's yin. They have life-endangering adventures, astounding views of North America from far above and naturally, the strong pull of male bonding to make it through their journey. Tennant has obviously picked up a lot of information on falconry, which he shares generously, but he also has a true gift of describing the soaring epiphanies that he and Vose experienced flying in their aged Cessna.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Boggs on September 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This would be an incredible work of fiction. The fact that these guys really did this stuff is just unbelievable. Best of all, Alan Tennant is a writer who knows how to weave his story into the natural world, and vice versa. It doesn't matter whether you're into birds, or airplanes, or whatever- this is just a great read. It's funny, it's poignant, it's ridiculous, it's deeply informative. Truly one of the best and most entertaining books I've read in a long, long time.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
_Falco Peregrinus_ is the Latin name for the peregrine falcon. The name means "wandering falcon," and the name fits. It has breeding grounds in Alaska, and swoops down as far even as Argentina to follow the sunlight, which powers the plants which after other links turn into the birds on which the falcon feeds. You wouldn't expect Alan Tennant to be to particularly interested in the travels of falcons; after all, he's a snake man, have published several field guides to snakes in different regions of America. But as is shown in his book, _On the Wing: To the Edge of the Earth with the Peregrine Falcon_ (Knopf), Tennant has an unstoppable and unrestrained curiosity. He has had his share of funny occurrences, dangerous moments, and inexplicable joys in the quest for following his falcons, a quest that was of minor research significance, relentless discomfort, and intermittent life-threatening peril. His lovely account of having to do a senseless task because he simply had to will convince the reader of the emotional sense of such an effort; his book gives as well a picture of falcon life and larger ecological concerns, and it never misses a chance to describe the many eccentric humans Tennant gets to meet.

The book opens in the mid-1980s when Tennant was watching falcons on the barrier islands of Texas. He wanted to go with them. He hooked up with George Vose, a World War II flight instructor who has experience in tracking birds but no particular love of it. Vose plays Tennant's Sancho Panza, an irritable septuagenarian pilot with a rickety Cessna who loves flying. Tennant hated flying (and given the scrapes and scares that Vose's plane gave him, with good reason). The two adventurers don't get much of a chance actually to see their falcons.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Kramer on October 16, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book! I have been following the Operation Migration program re-building the Whooping Crane population for years. This book adds a whole new dimension to the use of man made wings and bird migration. Alan Tennant writes in a way that the reader feels they also can see and hear the thousands of birds as he and George Vose fly through and with them.

I learned lots about peregrine falcons, but I kept my bird book handy and learned a lot about other birds too - including those amazing hummingbirds.

The sections describing the intense fear of the falcons in the bird population attested to their hunting prowess and keen vision and speed.

I am in awe of the birds and of the author's dedication and sense of adventure in trying to learn where they go and what they do on the way. As he says, satellites can tell where they go but not how or transmit the incredibleness of it all.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Wesley Mullins on December 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Progress threatens to remove the romance from tracking endangered animals. On the cusp of the military developing computer technology that will make it possible to follow the illusive peregrine falcons online as they migrate from the arctic to the Caribbean, two men choose to do it the old fashion way, in an airplane. If they don't do it now - they decide - such a future endeavor will be pointless. And so, for the first time (and what may prove to be the only time), humans take to the air to radio-track these birds of prey on their transcontinental migration.

"On the Wing" details this unforgettable experience, as a grizzled WWII veteran and an eager scientist team up in the unlikeliest of pairings. The men board a frighteningly "experienced" Cessna and track the falcons they tag. A string of adventures follows that will no doubt make readers wonder if the author dipped into fiction from time to time.

Along with the excitement, author Tennant takes time to teach lessons in Biology, Botany and Zoology. At times, the text appears to be a science textbook masquerading as a story. Lessons are not just given on the falcons. In each location they visit, the life cycle of all the plants and animals important to the story are given. Readers will hear about such intriguing facts from nature as the complexity of food chain, the unexplainable drive some animals have to return home and the toll mankind is playing in tainting the magic of the natural world.

It is this last issue that may be the book's legacy. Tennant attempts to awaken his readers to the horrors of pollution, pesticides and humans meddling in the workings of nature. But the book offers so much more. Rare is the literary experience that gives readers adventure, knowledge and a new perspective on an important issue. "On the Wing" soars in its accomplishment of all three.
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