Flight Lines: Across the Globe on a Journey with the Astonishing Ultramarathon Birds
About the book
As the sun lowered and turned Gulf St Vincent fiery, they each called a high-pitched 'peeooowiii!', flashed their black wing-pits, spread their tail skirts and took flight.
Andrew Darby follows the odysseys of two Grey Plovers, little-known migratory shorebirds, as they take previously uncharted ultramarathon flights from the southern coast of Australia to Arctic breeding grounds. On these extraordinary flights they chance predators, typhoon weather and exhaustion before they can breed, and maybe return to familiar southern feeding grounds. But the greatest threat to these, and other long-distance migrants on the flyway, is China's dragon economy, engulfing their vital Yellow Sea staging spots.
The author meets the dedicated people working to save these intrepid birds, from Russia to Alaska, from the rim of the Arctic Sea to the coasts of the Southern Ocean. Out of their hard-won science he finds hope for the birds–a bright light for our times.
But his journey to understand this work and these birds almost ends when he is suddenly diagnosed with an incurable cancer. Then he finds science coming to his rescue too.
About the author
Andrew Darby is the author of 'Harpoon: Into the heart of whaling', and former Hobart correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on environmental issues and Antarctica.
Andrew Darby takes a deep dive into the confounding science of migratory shorebirds, in particular the little-known Grey Plover, to understand and describe their 'ultramarathon' flights between Australia and their Arctic breeding grounds. Immersion in the world of research in the lab and in the field, including vivid firsthand reportage on bird behaviour, wrangling and habitats along the shores of Australia, China, and the United States (Alaska), brings a striking immediacy, power, and beauty to Darby's writing. The narrative device of tracking the previously uncharted flightpaths of two diminutive Grey Plover from the tidal flats of Gulf St Vincent in South Australia to Wrangel Island off the Siberian coast via the mudflats fringing the Yellow Sea contributes significantly to the book's success. The author's investment in the birds' aerial odyssey injects a compelling and sustained tension and focus into a work of drama and global scope that never loses pace. The spare, elegant text transitions seamlessly between documenting what is in many respects a personal journey, investigating avian aerodynamics, analysing flight data, and probing the environmental threats global warming and rapid economic development pose to biodiversity and the staging posts that support migratory shorebirds along their intercontinental route. Nature has rarely seemed so remarkable.