Book Review: EarthFlight


Everybody dreams of soaring like an eagle, but few consider that they probably wouldn’t be alone in the sky. The 200 photographs in John Downer’s ‘EarthFlight’ (Firefly, 239 pages, $49.95) offer the exultant wing-to-wing camaraderie enjoyed otherwise only by fighter pilots and birds themselves, juxtaposing graceful avians aloft and stunning landscapes beneath. Six continents and all four seasons are represented: A squadron of barnacle geese cross wintry fields on the south coast of Sweden, the pale shading of their feathers mirroring the snow cover below; a common crane (above) surveys the bright stripes of a Dutch tulip farm in the spring; Andean condors arrive at the Peruvian coast in summer; sleek demoiselle cranes transit the rumpled Himalayas in fall. To infiltrate the flocks, Mr. Downer and his team used an ingenious array of tools that included hang gliders, ultralight aircraft and the ‘vulturecam,’ a miniature remote-controlled plane disguised as a bird. Even more unusual were the tiny cameras they mounted on the backs of trained birds, such as a bald eagle that banked and wheeled above the Grand Canyon. The sight of birds’ placid profiles superimposed upon postcard-ready scenes of famous landmarks such as the Canyon adds a note of deadpan comedy: A brown pelican swoops under the Golden Gate Bridge, while rainbow lorikeets alight in front of the Sydney Opera House. A flock, or ‘chatter,’ of lime-green budgerigars flutter near Ayers Rock in the Outback, and common cranes mingle with hot-air balloons over Loire Valley chateaus. Hovering over the roofs of Rome, a cloud of starlings forms a dark calligraphic blob like something from a painting by Miró—a startling reminder that birds are always there, whether we notice them from the ground or not. – The Books Editors

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Book Review: EarthFlight