Sunday, 25 June 2017

Review: The Peregrine

The Peregrine The Peregrine by J.A. Baker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Peregrines are one of the most impressive apex predators in this country, but it is one that we almost lost because of pesticides and persecution. They are bold, confident birds, fearing nothing else and can also claim to be the world’s fastest animal as they have been recorded at speeds in excess of 200mph in their stoop to kill their prey. Two things saved them, the banning of pesticides and they moved from the rural to the urban environment, skyscrapers replacing the cliff top eyries.

Half a century ago, J.A. Baker first published this book on these magnificent birds. The book is written as a diary, with him following on foot and bicycle a tiercel and a falcon pair over the winter over the fields and fens of Essex, he would note on his OS maps when he saw them, the prey that they had caught, and general notes on the weather and sky. What started as a fascination with all of the raptors in the region, rapidly became a passion before becoming a complete obsession. He learnt the peregrines habits, sought out their roosts and before long his knowledge of them grew to become an innate ability to know where and when they would appear.

This is the second time I have read The Peregrine, the first time was back in 2011. Since then I have managed to work my way through an awful lot of natural history books by a lot of authors, a lot of which have been good, all the authors have been passionate about their chosen subject, but none have had that obsession that Baker has. What also strikes me about this book though, is just how sharp it still is, Baker writes with brevity, precision and a style that is quite unique and uncompromising. It pulls no punches either, this in not a sanitised volume on the grace and power of the raptor, you will hear a lot about the remains of their meals is all the gory detail. What you do get though is an observer who completely understands his subject describing that moment when they stop soaring about the fens and start the hunt to the sheer adrenaline of the stoop. It is a snapshot of the time when the peregrine was on the edge of the abyss, somewhat abated now, but not completely safe. If you have not read this before then this 50th-anniversary edition with the thoughts of two other great writers, Mark Cocker and Robert Macfarlane included, is a great place to start.

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