Once regarded as messengers from heaven, presaging longevity and good fortune, cranes appear in the ancient myth and legend of many cultures. Today, they evoke the retreating wilderness, the vanishing horizons of clean water, earth and air upon which their species - and ours too - depends for survival. In "The Birds of Heaven", Peter Matthiessen has woven his accounts of journeys undertaken over more than a decade in search of the fifteen remaining species of crane. From the scarcely populated Amur Valley in Siberia, he travels gradually west and south across Asia, through Australia, Africa and Europe (where the crane population has made a resurgence), ending up in the American Gulf Coast. He is joined by conservationists, scientists and enthusiasts of all nationalities, along with indigenous people - from Mongolian herdsmen to Aboriginals in Australia - whose fates are entwined with the cranes. Illustrated with colour plates by the renowned Canadian wildlife artist Robert Bateman, "The Birds of Heaven" captures the beauty of an endangered species and the dilemma of a planet in ecological crisis.