Raptor: A Journey Through Birds by James Macdonald Lockhart
The Last Word Review
A journey that takes in the length and breadth of the UK to discover the fifteen different birds of prey in all their glory and their landscapes. Within the pages of Raptor: A Journey Through Birds is an adventure as well as a discovery. A journey of discovery that opens with chapter one in the Orkney with the Hen Harrier and ends with the Sparrowhawk in Devon.
For someone like me who has spent a lifetime studying our birdlife in the British Isles and like James Macdonald Lockhart I have travelled the roads and moors and mountains in search of birds of prey in natural environment and fortunate to have seen all fifteen as James has. The one aspect of his writing is just how modest he comes across as he talks about his travels and locations.
Like any keen naturalist they may have a special favourite species and I was keen to read the chapters on the Golden Eagle and the Goshawk I would be very interested to know which is his favourite bird of prey after reading the chapter on the Goshawk I got to thinking this was it. There are a number of books that inspired the author as he set about writing Raptor: A Journey Through Birds. Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk was one of them so it is not difficult to see why this is not just a labour of love as it transcends even that.
As a natural history book this is one that will be appreciated over time and one I am delighted to add to my large library of books on the subject. As you read each chapter whether it is about the haunting Hen Harriers that are horrendously persecuted to the very edge of extinction in the Britain to the humble Kestrel as seen by many hunting and hovering over a fields. His descriptions of each species is written with such precision it is as if you are there with James hiding in the hedgerow or on the moors watching each species.
Added to this incredible insight is that he uses the 19-centrury Scottish naturalist William MacGillivray north – south journey more or less in his footsteps, he uses the analogies of MacGillivray rather a lot through the book some may see this as a distraction but I thought this made the journey more interesting especially if you are just getting to know the natural history of our birds of prey.
This is not just an ornithological book but also acts as a travelogue and another aspect of this book is that it is not one you have to read like a novel, this is one book you can actually drop in and out of, something I deliberately set about as I read through it, in no way does this detract from the book in any way, in fact it made the journey through birds all the more interesting. And for me with nearly 40 years of watching and studying birds I learned a lot from it. The real beauty of this book is that every chapter is dedicated to each of the birds of prey and the writing makes them literally fly off the page.
Raptor: A Journey Through Birds by James Macdonald Lockhart was published on 11 February by Fourth Estate and is available through Waterstones and all good bookshops.