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Return of the Osprey: A Season of Flight and Wonder Paperback – February 26, 2002

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Editorial Reviews Review

There was a time, not so long ago, when the osprey, or fish hawk, was a common sight along the New England shore. Taking up residence in tall trees that commanded a wide view of sea and sky, the osprey summered along the Atlantic coast, migrating far south to Brazil when the weather turned cold, returning north to nest year after year. That ancient cycle was cut short when DDT-based pesticides entered the ospreys' food chain and caused a perilous decline in their numbers. In time, thanks to the efforts of writer-conservationist Rachel Carson and the lawyers and scientists of the newly founded Environmental Defense Fund, the use of DDT was banned throughout the United States, but its effect on the ospreys endured long afterward.

David Gessner, an able chronicler of the natural world, here recounts the slow reintroduction of the fish hawk to Cape Cod. He offers learned but lightly spun information on their natural history and behavior, matching what he has read to what he has seen as a close observer of these birds in the wild. (He wryly notes, "Sometimes sitting out on the marsh for hours on end is simply boring"--but entirely necessary.) Gessner's memoir documents the fortunes of a single species and celebrates the virtues of committing to a single place, a commitment that, he writes, "the modern world works against." It's a welcome addition to the natural history of raptors and of New England alike. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Imagine a fish hawk, its six-foot-wide black and white banded wings backstroking 40 to 100 feet above coastal waters. In a flash of feathers, it hurtles 80 miles per hour headlong toward its prey. Then, in a moment of near suspension, it reverses to dive completely beneath the waves, talons first. Usually it emerges with a wriggling meal, adjusts the fish to the most aerodynamically efficient position and returns to its high perch to share a meal with mate and nestlings. In search of such moments, Gessner (A Wild, Rank Place) explores the salt marshes near his Cape Cod home. In this chronicle of a spring and summer breeding season among four mated pairs of osprey, the author crafts a naturalist's jewel. Kayaking through brackish waters at the ocean's edge, he details life among diverse shore birds and other littoral creatures. Peopling the tale with noted avian authorities, family, friends and local fishermen, he supplements his own seamless writing with citations from his wide reading. After 15 million years of evolution, the osprey ranks high on the seaside food chain. It was nearly decimated in recent decades by DDT-poisoned plankton, nourishment for the herring and other fish this coastal raptor exclusively feeds upon. Now, as it returns to habitats long left vacant, it reoccupies its former ecological niche. Through textured anecdotes and graphic details, Gessner provides insights into the life and history of this great sea bird of prey that will delight both the committed birder and the general reader. BOMC Selection. (Mar. 30)
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (February 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345450167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345450166
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #670,151 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 25, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Beautifully writen, David Gessner takes you on an incredible journey, where you not only learn about the Osprey, but you also may learn something about yourself. For those of you lucky enough to see these "sea eagles" this book will reconfirm what you may already know. For those of you who do not have Osprey in your area it will open your eyes to new possibilities. Thank you David for sharing a part of your world with us.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Michael Carmel on April 13, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
No coal mine ever had such fiercesome canaries as David Gessner's beloved Ospreys -- the nearly eagle-sized fish hawks making a triumphant comeback around Cape Cod. Gessner makes the reader truly exult in nature as he walks, skinnydips and kayaks through the marshes, backwaters and beaches of Cape Cod observing Ospreys as their numbers recover from near obliteration by the chemical DDT. Only a few writers since Henry David Thoreau have had the depth of writing skill in this genre to share successfully their respectful observations while they take lessons from the natural world. As Gessner learns to observe, he mentors us by his example, and we, in turn, also learn to observe -- even as we are fascinated. Just as an excellent wine writer passes on the tricks and traditions of savoring a fine vintage, then makes us want to rush out and buy a bottle, Gessner teaches us how to "taste" nature, derive meaning from it, and makes us want to take a very long walk in a wild place. He holds these messages together using the Osprey as glue by linking its fate to Humankind's destiny. The regal raptor becomes a hopeful metaphor for civilization, if we will only take a clue from our mistakes and build upon remedies. He also takes the reader on a personal journey, illustrating how one may learn to understand and improve one's self, accept our shortcomings and peculiarities, and those of the people around us. One of the most appealing qualities of his writing morality is the manner in which Gessner introduces the reader to so many other nature writers, environmentalists and colorful local characters. His message makes us want to know more, read more, do more, and he gently provides a roadmap for that journey with a cleverly interwoven book list. He may also be the first nature writer to praise bug bites as a reminder that they are a sure sign you are out where you want to be.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on September 1, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Lyrical and stylish in writing, Gessner is able to create vivid pictures with his words. This gift allows us to be transported to Cape Cod beaches to share with him in his observations on the Osprey's, nature in general, and life, as it can and should be. I am biased however as the town of Dennis where RETURN OF THE OSPREY is set, is no more than 5 miles west of me, and part of my time is spent in similar activities (studying the migration of neotropical birds - specifically warblers). This book has a far broader appeal than for birders or Cape Codder's though. As another reviewer already pointed out, Gessner writes in the best traditions of Thoreau or Emerson. Gessner talks about the life history and behavior of the Osprey, its near extinction and it's recent comeback on the Cape. He does this while exploring the world around him and uses the story of the Osprey as a way of looking at man's role in nature. This is an "experiment in seeing" and to quote Emerson (as he does) "to see is everything".
Ironically it's in trying a bit too hard to be a modern day Emerson where the book falls down a bit. In extending this vision to the personal, Gessner offers us a few too many observations on what the Ospreys and nature means to the inner man. In "exploring the mystery" we could do without him comparing the emotions of watching a diving Osprey with that of his first sexual experience. More scientific observations and less metaphysical ones would have made the book perfect.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Taylor on June 23, 2011
Format: Paperback
On the bridge that carries the CSX tracks across the Potomac River into Washington, D.C., not far from where I work, there is a pair of ospreys that have built a nest. I can see them from the Metro train as I cross the river, parallel to the railroad, every day. This is the first spring I've seen them in the few years I've been commuting on this route. They perch on the power lines along the bridge or the bridgework itself, eating the fish they've caught.

According to Gessner's elegantly written and fact filled book, barring death or injury these young ospreys will return to the CSX bridge year after year to nest. I hope so. They are another sign that the ospreys have indeed returned with vigor to the coasts of our country.

Gessner's book covers a summer observing four osprey nests in the neighborhood of his home on Cape Cod during one nesting season in 1999. It is set in chapters with such names as "Fishing," "Neighbors, Good and Bad," and "Growth and Death" that speak not only of the ospreys but also his own life. As he chronicles his summer with the birds, he reflects on what brought him there and what quest he is on. Each chapter neatly captures the theme, as Gessner's writing expertly leads the reader through the story of his ospreys.

Viewing both the natural world and the inner world of the self, Gessner's writing in many ways reminds me of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek with a bit of Thoreau's Walden mixed in.
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