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Waiting to Fly by Ron Naveen (2000-04-01)

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    Ron Naveen(Author)

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  • Ron Naveen(Author)
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  • By Tim F. Martin on April 13, 2006

    _Waiting to Fly_ by Ron Naveen is an enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and well-written account of the author's years of field experience with the penguins of Antarctica, mostly as a researcher but also before that as an expert guide leading tourists on expeditions to view the seventh continent's wildlife. Naveen's research and interests as described in the book focused on finding all breeding sites and determining population numbers of three species of penguin found on the Antarctic Peninsula and its many adjacent islands (which he called a "banana belt" compared to the much sparser wildlife and brutal climate of the rest of the continent). All three species were related and referred to as brushtailed penguins, which include the species known as gentoos (third largest of all penguin species, ranging up to 35 inches and between 10-19 pounds, noted for bearing white patches on their heads and a bright, red-orange bill), chinstraps (so named because of the characteristic thin black line that bisects their white faces), and Adelies (which he said look the most like little tuxedoed animals, with a prominent white eye ring set against an all-black head and a sharp contrast between the white of the belly and breast and the black of the head and back). The author vividly described his adventures studying the penguins, of switching from ship to ship to reach the various breeding sites, making transfers at sea, "ship-hopping" as he put it, trying to avoid long layovers at research stations, back-tracking, or worse, being stranded. The risk of a "busted schedule" very real, his tight timetables could be derailed by the unpredictable weather and ice of the region. Of course getting to the sites was only half the battle, as Naveen and his colleagues had to deal with difficult conditions when performing their censuses. Some islands for instance were difficult to land on due to weather conditions and/or shore topography. At other times Naveen only had hours, even in some cases barely and hour and a half to complete his work, as he had to leave early because the ship (or in some cases the aircraft) had to press on or weather and sea ice conditions cut his time short. The penguins themselves did not come up short in producing challenges either. The sounds of many thousands, tens of thousands, or in some rare sites, nearly a million penguins erupting in ecstatic display could be deafening. The smell of tens of thousands of breeding penguins could be overpowering, the smell sometimes detectable for miles. In late summer, when the snow had melted, water, guano, and mud could mix together and produce a pungent and "indescribable cauldron of muck." Naveen also described the difficulties of counting such large numbers, counting sometimes by "fistfuls" (figuring out about how many nests fell within a closed fist, stretched at length in front of his eyes) and "fingerfuls" (approximating penguin numbers that fit in a finger-length, stretched and extended). Naveen also participated in studies at sites that did detailed analyses of particular penguin populations, measuring them, weighing them, analyzing the stomach contents of select birds (a messy and delicate procedure), and banding birds so that they could be tracked year after year. I really enjoyed the author's detailed depictions of the three different species. Though often two and sometimes all three species will nest in the same area, each species differs enough that they seem to successfully cohabitate. While gentoos were often nonmigratory, Adelies and chinstraps were migratory and additionally arrived at nesting sites weeks apart from one another. Each species differed also in their degree of nest site and mate fidelity, as well as the type of terrain they favored, not only for nesting but hunting as well, as each species hunted at different depths (with gentoos diving the deepest, up to 500 feet beneath the surface), staying underwater for different periods of time, favoring different ice conditions (chinstraps did well with minimal sea ice, while Adelies did better with much more sea ice), eating different percentages of fish and krill, and staggering peak demands for food with their chicks fledging at different times. The three species also differed a lot in personality and temperament, Naveen's descriptions making for enchanting reading. Chinstraps for instance are very boisterous, assertive, quarrelsome, and above all loud (early explorers called them "stonecrackers" due to their ear-splitting voices, the loudest of all penguins). Naveen described being surrounded by a "howling potpourri, all seemingly unglued," each penguin trying to out-shout its neighbor. Gentoos in contrast were much calmer, easy-going, more playful, and a great deal less irritable than chinstraps. Naveen also covered a fair amount of penguin history, covering in great detail the experiences of two notable early researchers, Thomas Wyatt Bagshawe and Maxime Charles Lester, who spent over a year in the early 1920s on a tiny island studying penguins, as well as the history of the knowledge of and study of these penguins. The Adelie penguin was named for the wife of the French Antarctic explorer Jules Sebastien Cesar Dumont d'Urville, while gentoo might derive from an anglicized version of the Portuguese "gentio" ("gentile"), a name used by Muslims in India to describe Hindus (also the Hindi word "jantu" means "creature" or "insect"). So what did Naveen learn? Though the three species are hardly endangered, populations of all three are declining. Though the Adelie are in part declining from a reduction in their favored pack-ice feeding grounds, all three species are declining due to declining krill populations because of a reduction in sea ice. Krill use winter sea ice as nurseries, safe havens where the larvae can feed on algal blooms, safe from penguins, seals, and whales. Additionally, excess UV-B radiation through a diminished ozone layer may be depressing phytoplankton stocks - krill food - by as much as 20%. A wonderful book that is both great nature writing and travel writing and has great color photographs, my only complaint was the lack of maps.

  • By A customer on July 31, 1999

    I love penguins and so does Ron Naveen. His admiration for these small creatures and his awe of them and the environment in which they live is palpable in this book. Regrettably, although there is alot of good information in his new book, it is poorly organized; the writing is frequently mediocre or worse, and it is terribly repetitive. What it needs is a good editor.

  • By Shirley Allen on December 16, 2014

    Glad I read it but it is a little dull. It imparts a lot of information about penguins and that is what it intended to do.

  • By A customer on August 3, 1999

    I loved this book. It is beautifully written with an underlining message of environmental stewardship. The antics and bustle of penguin behavior are combined with historical snippets from the southern continent. This engaging account is told from the first hand perspective of a wonderful naturalist, Ron Naveen.

  • By A customer on December 25, 1999

    THERE IS SOOOOOO MUCH HERE - THE HISTORY OF PENGUIN RESEARCH IN THE ANTARCTIC PENINSULA, TALES OF THE LIVES OF THESE FUZZY ANIMALS, AND A MEATPHYSICAL GLIMPSE AS TO WHY PENGUINS AFFECT US SO HAPPILY, SO POSITIVELY. NAVEEN'S STORIES ARE TOTALLY ENGAGING, WEAVING IN MYRIAD FACTS AND DETAILS ABOUT CHINSTRAP, ADELIE, AND GENTOO PENGUINS, BUT NOT TO THE POINT THAT THE READER IS OVERWHELMED. ONE IS TAKEN SOUTH, FAR SOUTH, TO WHERE PENGUINS GRAB YOU AND NEVER LET GO. LOTS OF FUN READING - AND A MUST FOR ANY ANIMAL LOVER.

  • By Robert I. Hedges on June 9, 2007

    Ron Naveen has an amazing amount of experience working with brushtail penguins (adélie, gentoo, and chinstrap) in Antarctica, and this book is his account of his years of work there. Like Naveen, I am a biologist by education (though I am a mammalogist, not an ornithologist), and have a deep appreciation for fieldwork with these magnificent animals. Naveen is definitely an expert in his field, and I recommend this book to anyone serious about understand penguin habitation, reproduction, and lifestyle, but not as much to the casual reader, who may find it a bit detail-oriented.The book largely follows one season's worth of research with highlights from other experiences intermingled within the various chapters. The book is quite detailed, to the degree, for instance, that he analyzes what penguins are eating by the color of their guano. In fact penguin guano is a key element of this book, and something of a recurring theme. This brings me to my major issue with the book. While the information is generally excellent and is certainly authoritative, I wavered on a three versus four star review because of the repetition and sometimes muddled organization in the book. Much of the subject matter is repeatedly reinforced to the point of monotony (the guano discussions are excellent examples). In a book on algebra, for instance, repetition is important for learning and retention of complex new ideas, while it is probably unnecessary to repeatedly cover how penguin guano smells. (We get it.)Having said that, the book does reveal a lot about the lives of these fascinating birds, and I am glad that I read it. I decided on a four star review because of the occasionally sublime passages in the book, my favorite of which involves a gentoo chick in the Aitcho Islands hopping in Naveen's lap for a prolonged rest. While the book does have some drawbacks, on balance I think it's a worthwhile read, especially for people interested in penguins or Antarctica.

  • By C. Caravaggio on January 14, 2009

    This book was a gift when I returned from Antarctica. I just couldnt get into it. It was interesting for a short while, then I put it away - I'll go try it again at a later date.

  • By B. Stoop on January 16, 2001

    From the first page, Naveen's love of the three brush tailed species of penguins comes through. Follow his account of years of working with chinstrap, adalaide and gentoo penguins in the Antarctic peninsula. Learn details about their habits and habitats as you read his entertaining account of his work. For the person who wants to know more than superficial penguin books tell you.


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