Sunday book review – Goshawk Summer by James Aldred

I don’t see many Goshawks, and so I was interested to read about film cameraman James Aldred’s experiences filming this species for much of the spring and summer of 2020. Spending so much time with this bird would make it ‘a season unlike any other’ for most of us but it was also a season of covid for our world, although the Goshawks would have been oblivious to that.

In a way, coronovirus has been something of a boon to some nature writers since it creates a year like no other in which their observations of natural history can be set. It allows there to be juxtaposing of ‘how I feel about this wildlife thing’ against ‘how I feel about this pandemic thing’, and this works well in this account; one moves from the close world of filming at a nest to the broader scene with good effect. But this wildlife account is fascinating in its own right and well worth reading – it’s just that the global pandemic adds to it.

We learn a lot about Goshawks from this book and I wonder how many fewer Grey Squirrels we would have in our woods if we had a few more Goshawks.

I really don’t see many Goshawks, and so I remember recent sightings quite clearly. There was one over my garden, almost on this date, in 2014 but I have had a handful of Merlin sightings, tens of sightings of Kestrels, Hobbys and Peregrines, hundreds of Sparrowhawks and Buzzards and thousands of Red Kites since then with no more Goshawks. And views in the Brecks, and from a road overlooking a forestry plantation next to a grouse moor in east Scotland, are more recent Goshawk appearances in my life. So, this book opens the world of Goshawks to me in a way that I enjoyed and will never have the opportunity to experience myself. And I am pretty sure that will be true for you too.

The cover? I’m not keen on the greenish hue and the design doesn’t do much for me – I’d give it 5/10.

Goshawk Summer: a New Forest season unlike any other by James aldred is published by Elliot and Thompson.


12 Replies to “Sunday book review – Goshawk Summer by James Aldred”

  1. I have already read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it, learned more about Goshawks and other things. It has made me determined to visit the New Forest, somewhere I’ve never been nearer than a visit to the Dorset heaths. I actually see Goshawks fairly regularly it is one of THE birds here in Mid Wales and the nearest pair is about 1km from home. Even so they are not everyday birds and each sighting is exciting and special. Reading this book will add to anyone’s joy and appreciation of this “Phantom of the forest” and perhaps the life of a camera man. On the basis of this book I have bought the authors other offering to. I agree with Mark not a fan of the cover.

    1. Great pix at the weekend of a goshawk shredding a pigone in someone’s back garden – in the Wild New Forest FB group. It has been an excellent year for dragons, damsels and unusally early fungi. Many contributors wisely don’t reveal the locations after all the last thing you need is even more visitors to come and gawp at the stuff you already showed them or it won’t be there to be seen the next time you go there to take another picture of it. Fortunately for donkey-lovers the breeding success of donkeys is good and there are plenty of roads for them to stand in in middle of.

  2. one thing you could say in favour of the cover is it might give a sense of how a goshawk’s prey might feel!

  3. In persecution terms the goshawk is to woodland what the hen harrier is to moorland.
    The goshawk would be a much more widespread species were it not so heavily persecuted.
    More needs to be done to highlight its plight. I’m sure many people would not even know that goshawk is a British raptor.

    1. Spot on! I’ve remarked on RPUK that in my district in industrialised, heavily farmed central Scotland that buzzards are back with a vengeance, otters are practically everywhere (though I never see the wee buggers), ravens are back, red kites fly over occasionally and I hope with increasing regularity, the pine marten is re-establishing itself here and marsh harriers have been see inspecting local reedbeds. It seems like it was only last month I’d heard the jaw dropping news that there were free living beavers on the Tay. Today even with my short, aging legs I could get myself to where the nearest flat tailed colonists are with an afternoon’s walk. We might even have eagle owl living in the area.

      And yet…and yet where is the goshawk? A local non sporting estate with a large mixed woodland that I thought would be absolutely perfect for goshawk has had two sightings of single birds in a period spanning decades. Buzzard and raven have recolonised the wood, and it absolutely heaves with rooks, crows, magpies, jays, wood pigeons and grey squirrels – practically a help yourself buffet. No breeding goshawk which the rangers that work there would spot pretty quickly.

      I believe the actual goshawk population is only at about 6% of what it should be. Is there any other bird of prey where the national population at least is as badly suppressed as the goshawk’s is? I don’t believe that magpies or crows are responsible for songbird losses, but at the same time their prime predator is largely absent and I’m not really comfortable with that or the numbers of wood pigeon and grey squirrels we have.

      There definitely should be far more emphasis on fighting goshawk persecution, and why are those same people constantly bemoaning how many corvids we have not waving the flag for the goshawk’s return? If there was any imbalance in corvid numbers I think it infinitely more likely goshawk would correct it properly rather than someone in tweed with a gun arbitrarily deciding that six jays, thirteen magpies and eight crows need to die…or more likely that they all do.

      1. Goshawks can be exasperating at times.
        Certain sites seem to be occupied, with breeding attempted , year in year out, others show maybe only a primary feather, splash of white under a perch, or a brief call , maybe for a couple of springs, followed by successful breeding, then back to square one. They certainly do not all breed as regularly as many other Raptors of a similar size.
        Then again , i know an area of loosely joined woodland that once or twice held four nests, more usually three, mostly successful, now down to one for at least the last three years, and they dont seem to be anywhere else round about.

        1. Supposedly their population is increasing, the one thing that suggests their situation isn’t as dire as the hen harrier’s, but I really wonder about that. A pole trap set in dense woodland is probably even harder to spot than one on a moor and would be devastating for goshawks. I can imagine them gravitating towards the same places they shoot pheasants at anyway, all those poults would be an additional attraction – some lost to goshawk grudged whereas beak to tail roadkill is acceptable. Goshawk do need more attention.

          I believe they don’t move too far from their natal territory. I wonder if a translocation to Argyll might help their population a bit, it doesn’t look as if there are many there, but it should be a fantastic place for them and certainly with a hell of a lot less of the particular ‘sporting’ activity that causes them so much grief. Certainly far better than their current ‘strongholds’ in Scotland in the north east and Borders.

          I met a falconer who had permission to fly his birds on estates in the latter area. At one he was approached by a keeper who asked if he might be interested in four goshawk chicks ‘they were going to be shot out anyway’. He played dumb then back home contacted the SSPCA. All of a sudden he had his permission to use estates he’d been using across all of the Borders withdrawn.

          1. When I lived in North Yorkshire Goshawk was a frustrating bird to see and to try to prove breeding in Nidderdale in the late eighties there were up to 3 displaying males yet one rarely saw a female and successful breeding was only suspected twice in 20 years. The first I know of in that area was a dead female shown to a game dealer by the keeper who shot her off the nest (and thought it was a buzzard!). The Masham moorland fringe woodlands were the same two pairs in the early nineties with breeding successful may be once. There were gas guns near a nest in 96/97 which caused them to desert despite getting NE to get the estate to move them. The Washburn valley and lower Wharfedale were the same occupation but successful breeding as rare as hen’s teeth. It’s called PERSECUTION, lack of females reason shot at the nest.
            Here in Wales we have 4 local territories 2 regularly used and breedi8ng successful most years when the local pheasant keepers leave them alone. They are hated by many keepers and suffer heavy persecution. We probably have habitat in the UK for thousands of pairs but in many areas any birds away from big forestry are easily killed with the right traps, poison or guns.
            The idea that pheasant shooting is less of a persecution problem than that of grouse is largely myth, plenty of them sadly are “at it.”

  4. I have yet to read this book, but will. However, I have read many books on this hawk – some good, many bad. Possibly the worst was Looking for the Goshawk by Conor Mark Jameson. And the best is absolutely The Goshawk by Robert Kenward. Of course H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald is not really about the hawk except as the method of coming to terms with the death of her father: but it is exquisitely written. Similarly, T H White’s The Goshawk is a literary masterpiece but falconers will tell you never to use it as a ‘how to’ manual.

    If you live in Wales, as I did, you are surrounded by goshawks; I know of dozens of nest sites as the predation of my free range chickens will attest!

    They are splendid creatures, but then I am totally biased.

    1. I’m afraid I have to disagree with you here. I really enjoyed Looking for the Goshawk, but found TH White’s book virtually unreadable and rather boring. I struggled to finish it and can’t see what all the fuss was about when you compare it to, say, The Peregrine by J H Baker or H is for Hawk.

      1. That’s strange, although I loved his ‘The Sword in the Stone’ and ‘The Age of Scandal’ I just couldn’t get into the ‘The Goshawk’ at all, just gave up which is unusual for me. ‘H for Hawk’ was of course excellent, and I’ve still to read ‘The Peregrine’, but I thoroughly enjoyed Conor Mark Jameson’s ‘Looking for the Goshawk’.

  5. I too thoroughly enjoyed Conor Mark Jameson’s book; he captures very well the frustrating elusiveness of the bird and is strong on pointing the finger at persecution as the reason they are not as common and widespread as they should be. His account of birds breeding in urban parks in Germany is compelling and shows what we are missing in the UK. I am fortunate to have fairly regular encounters with Goshawks as they breed in local woods, owned by a private estate who are seriously into forestry but have no ‘sporting’ interests. With the bird’s predilection for grey squirrels, the estate rightly regards the Gos as ‘the foresters friend’.

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