3 out of 5 stars

The hen harrier is a ground-nesting raptor that you can find in our upland landscapes such as Scotland,  Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man. The males are grey in colour and the larger females, known as ringtails, are brown with a banded tail. There are sadly very few left birds left in the landscapes of England as this bird suffers tremendous persecution from gamekeepers on large estates where they keep grouse for shooting.

Beginning with a chapter on harriers from around the world and how to identify them, Watson moves on to the history of the bird in the UK with lots of detail on their life cycle from pairing up to the chicks fledging and where they migrate to. The second section of the book covers observations of harriers in the southern part of Scotland on moorland and the few that live in forests. These detailed studies on breeding, nesting, roosting and hunting were undertaken by Watson and other from the 1950s up until 1975.

The book was first published in 1977 and is the culmination of several peoples observations taken over a number of years. This distilled knowledge did get very detailed at times with precise notes on the observations undertaken replicated in here. However, as these were such a long time ago now, it does feel a bit out of date. He is not quite as lyrical as J A Baker, who to be frank, is in a class of his own, however, the narrative is very readable and his enthusiasm for the subject is evident.

I loved the little sketches of the birds he has drawn of the birds that they were observing. Even though the Hen Harrier is a protected species, the issue of them being illegally killed is still an issue, 42 years after this was first written. It is something that Mark Avery, who writes the forward in this edition, is extremely passionate about, so much so that he wrote a book on it, Inglorious, which is in my TBR pile and will be read soon. There are also lots of campaigns to get this practice stopped, and more details can be found here.

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