Into the Wild – Book Reviews

Glen Chilton obsesses about the beleaguered Labrador duck while Lil Anderson recalls pond memories in a pair of new books

Pity the Labrador duck. The mussel-eating waterfowl had the bad luck to winter in places such as New York harbor and Chesapeake Bay. It’s been extinct for more than a hundred years.

Glen Chilton is a ornithologist and behavioral ecologist. He studied at the universities of Manitoba and Calgary.

He’s also, he readily admits, something of an obsessive. Volunteering to write an encyclopedia article about the little known Camptorhynchus labradorius, he was compelled to dig up every detail he could find. The result of his obsession is The Curse of the Labrador Duck (Harper Collins).

He wound determined to examine every stuffed labrador duck he could find – something like four-and-a-half dozen. After peeking and poking (his words) Canadian specimens, he traveled from Philadelphia to St. Petersburg, with stops in England, Dublin, Germany, Vienna, Prague and George Sand’s hometown.

Now, Chilton is a very gifted storyteller which makes this book, about an obsessive ornithologist hunting every example he could find of a little-known extinct duck, far more entertaining than it should be. Ridiculously fun.

Along the way, there are bad hotels, mysterious duck eggs, bemused train ticket sellers in Limoges and a fake quacker in Halberstadt. Plus, he’s a offering a $10,000 reward for a stuffed labrador duck he hasn’t seen yet.

. . .

Some books are just charming. Lil Anderson’s Pond Memories: More Tails from a Wildlife Rehabilitator (Turnstone Press) is one.

Anderson, a wildlife technician for Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources, operates, with her husband, a Kenora-area rehab centre for wild animals. People call Anderson when they come across a wild animal in some distress, abandoned babies and the like.

That sounds like fun, but try bottle-feeding a baby porcupine or constructing a playpen for a baby moose. Anderson is wary of imprinting on her young charges, keeping in mind the dictum that these animals should return to their natural habitat.

Anderson is a delight. Her subjects are individuals but thankfully she never humanizes them. She writes about learning how to communicate with a diminutive fawn and what to do if a nervous pelican swallows a flashlight. There are sad moments, too, but also some touching reunions.

I’ll always remember the story of the fox kit returning for her favourite stuffed toy.

With photographs and drawings of Brownie the moose, Persephone the fawn, P’Silla the porcupette, and goslings Lucky and Janice as well as, Cameron, a bossy, very big beaver.