The Snowy Owl Scientist: New book follows Denver Holt on a field season in Alaska

May 16, 2022

 

The Snowy Owl Scientist

cover of the book "The Snowy Owl Scientist." Cover is a close-up picture of a male Snowy Owl (completely white), zoomed in on yellow eyes and dark bill.

In 2019, wildlife photojournalist Mark Wilson made the trek up to northern Alaska to learn first-hand about ORI's Snowy Owl Breeding Ecology and Lemming Population Study, which was started by Denver Holt in 1992. This research is the longest-running Snowy Owl project in the world.


The result is this beautifully photographed book, which was released on April 19, 2022 by Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books (like many things, publication was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic). Part of the Scientists in the Field Series, this book follows Denver on a field season in Alaska, describing what a typical day in the field looks like: slogging across miles of soggy tundra to monitor Snowy Owl nests, count lemmings, and band chicks. (Liberty DeGrandpre, ORI's former Development Director, also makes an appearance!)


The book, while written for ages 10 an up, is an excellent read for adults too! It's full of fascinating information about this iconic species and what Denver has learned about them in the last 30+ years, details about what it's like on the tundra and some of the other creatures who live there, a history of the area, a page on how to ID males and females, and more.


An all white male snowy owl flies away after an attack flight at a researcher, who is laying face-down on the tundra next to the snowy owl nest to avoid being attacked. There are  fuzzy chicks in the nest next to the researcher's head.
Denver hits the ground to avoid attack by a male Snowy Owl. From the book: "Particularly aggressive males will quickly fly toward Denver, making a direct pass at him. If he fails to duck, the male will strike, raking his talons across Denver's scalp or backpack. Denver has had more than one Gore-Tex jacket shredded by male snowy owls striking him as he measured eggs or weighed chicks in the nest."

From the book:

'Not everybody's doing this,' says Denver, breaking into a grin as we slog a transect, periodically stooping to check traps. Raindrops patter off our parkas and a cold wind cuts out of the east, fresh off the Arctic Ocean. Denver considers this just another day at the 'office.'

 

Click through the slideshow below for a sneak peak:

 

About The Snowy Owl Scientist


From the HarperCollins website:

"Are the snowy owls in trouble? Venture into the Alaskan arctic and the summer realm of these predator birds to find out. Discover the diverse species necessary to owl survival, how climate change is affecting the landscape of their nesting site of past millennia, and what it takes to do field research in this action-packed addition to the award-winning Scientists in the Field series.


It's July on Alaska's North Slope, and scientist Denver Holt is in Utqiagvik surveying nests. Denver has been coming here since 1992, and the snowy owls he studies have been coming here much longer: thousands of years.


With its mix of coastal, low-elevation tundra and a rich presence of lemmings, the North Slope is the only area in Alaska where snowy owls regularly nest. How do snowy owls decide where they will nest? How do they manage to arrive at locations where food will be abundant? What drives the success of these delicate tundra ecosystems? These are the mysteries Denver is trying to solve to help ensure a bright future for these elegant hunters."


 

About photographer and author Mark Wilson


“Wildlife photojournalist” is just another name for “mule” because I often find myself in remote places schlepping heavy loads of photography and camping gear. But the end results of my animal quests are usually worth the exertion. I’ve been writing about and photographing wild- life (especially birds) since middle school, where my classmates dubbed me “Birdman” at age twelve. After thirty-plus years of working as a newspaper photographer and columnist, I now host science-based live-owl programs with my wife, Marcia. We care for fifteen non-releasable raptors, including a snowy owl. Check out our website: eyesonowls.com.


Mark's previous book about owls "Owling: Enter the World of the Mysterious Birds of the Night," was the winner for the 2020 AAAS/Subaru Book Prize in the Middle Grades category.


Read more on the AAAS/Subaru Prize for Excellence in Science Books website: Spotlight on Science Writers: Mark Wilson

 

Where to buy the book


ORI doesn't currently have copies for sale, though we do hope to in the near future! Once we do, they will be available in our online store. Check it out at your local library or visit your favorite local independent bookstore to pick up your copy today!


 

Learn more about ORI's Snow Owl Research:


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