Life on the open ocean is harsh relentless and unforgiving. To survive there takes resilience and millennia of evolution. Seabirds are masters of this environment, relishing the storms that drive the vast ships to save havens, navigating ten of thousands of miles, and when they do touch land inspiring those that see the fight as a species to survive to the next generation.
Nicolson has been fascinated by these utterly wild birds since visiting and then inheriting The Shiants, the Hebridean islands just of the coast of Lewis and seeing the kittiwakes and gannets and other seabirds that use the speck of land for nesting, he came to love all these birds that inhabited the islands and places that he loved. Beginning with the fulmar, a bird which he would watch for hours swirling around off the cliffs of the Shiants, he considers the lives and fortunes of ten of the seabirds, including the guillemot, gulls, shearwaters, the colourful puffins and the master of the southern ocean, the albatross. Weaving together the history of these birds along with cultural aspects, folklore, poetry and the latest that science has revealed about their habits and habitat.
Using the latest miniature technology to track the epic journeys they make, and some of these are vast, far out into the Atlantic using the trade winds to travel vast distances with little or no effort. Whilst this book is a celebration of their dogged existence and mastery against the elements; it is also a warning. As climate change bites harder these birds are beginning to suffer as the food they need to raise their young becomes scarce or it takes much longer to reach. They are also suffering because of the amount of plastic that is clogging up our oceans too, with a rise in young being found with bellies full of waste that they just cannot get rid off. Each chapter is illustrated by the beautiful drawings of Kate Boxer the simple imagery capturing the essence of the bird. There is lots of detail packed in this timely book, but Nicolson is such a quality writer that it doesn’t feel like a chore reading it. For me, I think that Sea Room just has the edge on this one, but like that book, his deep love for the birds that inhabit the wild windswept places is evident in the book; how much longer we will have them is not yet know.