Thursday, 24 December 2009

A good read

Minor update: Happy New Year! ( We've reset our visit counter to zero.)

We've mentioned a few books on this blog over the years but possibly not J A Baker's classic, The Peregrine, first published by Penguin back in 1967 and reprinted many times since then.
Writing prose which is still regarded as probably the best to describe a wild bird and the habitat in which it was found, Baker became fascinated by the peregrines that wintered along the Essex coast where he lived.
Baker was neither a bird expert nor a professional writer, yet his book captures the essence of the countryside around him. He writes:
"I came late to the love of birds. For years I saw them only as a tremor at the edge of vision. They know suffering and joy in simple states not possible to us. Their lives quicken and warm to a pulse our hearts can never reach. They race to oblivion. They are old before we have finished growing."

Having just seen his first peregrine he writes:
"I have seen many since then, but none has excelled it for speed and fire of spirit. For ten years I spent all my winters searching for that restless brilliance, for the sudden passion and violence that peregrines flush from the sky. For ten years I have been looking upwards for that cloud-biting anchor shape, that crossbow flinging through
the air. "
Of course, the 1960s were the years when peregrine numbers plummeted due to the pesticide residues that accumulated in their bodies. This decline eventually brought an end to Baker's birds and his joy in watching them. He wrote:
"For ten years I followed the peregrine. I was possessed by it. It was a grail to me. Now it has gone. The long pursuit is over. Few peregrines are left, there will be fewer, they may not survive. Many die on their backs, clutching insanely at the sky in their last convulsions, withered and burnt away by the filthy, insidious poison of farm chemicals."

Baker went on to write one or two more natural history books. Perhaps he lived long enough to see his birds return to their former haunts. I hope so.

His book should be available in libraries, in some shops and doubtless on line too.
Nick B (DWT)

38 comments:

Audrey (London UK) said...

I have had this book by J.A. Baker for many years, and re-read it periodically. I would recommend it to anyone who loves these magnificent birds.

Pax Canada said...

one on the nest ledge

Pax Canada said...

One on the tower cam

Anonymous said...

What has happened to the Jury's Inn sign - the hotel exterior looks as though it has been debadged?!

Pax Canada said...

one on the lower cam, and it looks like new prey on the tower cam

Pax Canada said...

just saw one arrive on the tower cam

Gio said...

I *love* Baker's book. I have also an Italian translation (not very good but helping many times).
His love for the peregrines has been a great one and, yes, Nick, hope too "he lived long enough to see his birds return to their former haunts."

Sue in Bucks (Scout) said...

That last extract is so tragic ... "For ten years I followed the peregrine. I was possessed by it. It was a grail to me. Now it has gone. The long pursuit is over. Few peregrines are left, there will be fewer, they may not survive. Many die on their backs, clutching insanely at the sky in their last convulsions, withered and burnt away by the filthy, insidious poison of farm chemicals." How thrilled Baker would be now, I wish he could know. He'd think it was a miracle if he could see this webcam - as indeed it is. We're all just so lucky, and we mustn't forget it.

Gio said...

Sue, I totally agree. I would like he could know our love for peregrines and somehow see the webcams all around the world!
And, yes, we always have to remember how lucky we all are
and never forget J. A. Baker.

Sue in Bucks (Scout) said...

There are loads of Baker's books on Amazon (UK) - I've just ordered 2, one for me and one for my equally besotted brother. I think he and Baker would have been soul mates, the passion sounds so similar. I'm so glad you agree too, Gio - and take heart from the fact that we're remembering Baker in the best way possible by picking up the torch he lit and running with it. I've just got home from work, where I've been staring at County Hall (see my id picture) all day only to be told the elusive peregrines were there all day, on the other side! Doh!
I do believe it's a "blue moon" tonight - whatever that is?

Project Member (Derby Museum) said...

Hi Sue - and everyone else.

Good to know Baker's book is still available. For UK birdwatchers with an eye for other bargains, may I recommend a trip to a shop called "The Works"? At the moment there is a brilliant identification guide to UK birds, by Hayman and Hume, simply called "Birds" available in some stores. Reduced from £25 to £9.99 this is a stunningly good deal. I've just bought a copy for Derby Museum (and another for myself at home!)

We wish everyone a Happy New Year, and we'd like to thank all our readers, commenters and contributors for their interest and support during 2009, and we think we might be able to get 2010 off to an impressive start with some news that will knock the socks off quite a few peregrine watchers around the world. And maybe a few national magaqzines and newspapers, too.

So watch this space!

Best wishes for 2010 from the whole Project Team.

Project Member (Derby Museum) said...

Oops - forgot the whole point of addressing Sue in Bucks in my last comment: A blue moon is TWO full moons in one month - quite a rare event. Look up in the sky tonight and you'll see it.
UK viewers have just missed the 7.30pm partial eclipse of the moon on New Year's eve, which saw the earth's shadow just clipping off the lower right corner of the moon.

Did anyone elsewhere in the world see the full lunar eclipse tonight?

Anonymous said...

Can't wait to hear the exciting news! Happy New year to all the team and looking forward to 2010.

Mary T - Belper

Karen Anne said...

Thanks for the eclipse note. I rummaged on the web and it looks like it was mostly not visible in the U.S.

If I did the time calcs right, max was two hours ago where I am, when it was still light :-)

A very Happy New Year and Major Thanks to the Derby folks for their amazing work.

Pax Canada said...

Happy new year to you all, still in 2009 here, just under 3hrs to go.
Cant wait to hear what the big news is:):)

Karen Anne said...

Peregrine on the nestbox.

Anonymous said...

Happy new year to you all from Italy

Ann ( Canada ) said...

Oh I wonder what exciting news you are going to reveal!
How long will we have to wait?
Did you enjoy the snow in Derby?
Not had much time to check in lately but had a few glimpses of at least one of the birds. Hopefully time will fly by lol soon and another season will be up and away. Can't wait. All the best to everyone for 2010.

Pax Canada said...

One on the tower cam

Pax Canada said...

one on the tower cam

Anonymous said...

There's one on the nest ledge enjoying breakfast, and another perched on the letter J at Jury's Inn 08:45 Sunday 3rd
Joyce S in Derby

Pax Canada said...

new prey on the lower cam

AnnieF. said...

A new item of prey was left in a nestbox during the day & it's still there now. It seems to have longish legs but that's really all I can see clearly. Anyone able to identify it?

Pax Canada said...

one on the tower cam, one on the nest below

Sue in Bucks (Scout) said...

Hello peregine-philes everywhere
A very belated, but no less sincere Happy New Year. Thanks Derby Museum for the "blue moon" info. I did see it, it was amazingly bright, shining, magical moonlight ... but I'm still puzzled by the "blue" part of the name - it didn't look remotely blue to me. I'm also itching to hear the special news - you are way better at keeping secrets than me, Derby Museum! I see you set the counter back to zero - I wonder how far it's gone up already (I'll look after I've finished typing this) My JA Baker peregrine books arrived from Amazon today and a fine pair they are too - pristine condition. It's a different edition to the diary header but the content is identical. Mine is published by The New York Review of Books,2005.
Surely this at least is positive - a book from the English countryside in the 1960's is printed in 21st century New York!

Pax Canada said...

@Sue, I think it is called a blue moon when a full moon occurs twice
in one month, it does not happen very often :)

Pax Canada said...

one on the twer cam, tucked away from the cold

Anonymous said...

A peregrine is on the far side of the tower cam, enjoying a late breakfast
09:50 Tuesday 5th Jan

There is a good article about blue moons on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_moon

Joyce S in Derby

Terry, Herts UK said...

When I was a kid, I remember being told that the phrase "once in a blue moon" (meaning a very rare occurence), originated from the massive eruption of the volcano, Krakatoa.

The eruption was so great that it sent huge numbers of particles into the sky which resulted in the moon appearing to be blue to many people around the world.

Happy New Year, everyone.

MEL said...

Frozen tower prey has started to be devoured, obviously not much flying around with the current weather system.

Project Member (Derby Museum) said...

Thanks, MEL, we were talking about that woodcock earlier today, when it was still undisturbed. We have a video of it being brought back on 20th December - 16 days I think. Like all game birds, perhaps it tastes better after being well hung!

Anonymous said...

I've just driven past Jury's Inn and could see two peregrines, one on the J and one on the first N of the sign
Joyce S in Derby

Sue in Bucks (Scout) said...

Hi all
No birds but lots of snow, I see, up in Derby - same here in the Chilterns. That dratted "blue moon" is still bugging me, I'm still having problems with the logicality of the colour. I think I'll just have to accept the explanation that it comes from the old word "belewe" meaning betrayer (or sort of unusual). I'm used to stuff (like winning the lottery, kissing a frog who turns into a prince, peregrines nesting in Bucks) happening to me "once in a blue moon". Interestingly, one of my favourite artists, Nanci Griffith, has a band named "The Blue Moon Orchestra" plus one album named "Once in a Very Blue Moon". There's a YouTube entry with her singing it, when she says she'll explain the meaning of the saying - but of course, not the literal meaning that a pedant like me is demanding.

Karen Anne said...

With the holidays, I forgot to check Colin's blog, I see he has an update that Cathy is well, dated 26/11/2009. Thanks, Colin!

Pax Canada said...

One on the tower cam

AnnieF. said...

Prey just brought back to the nestbox.

Gio said...

Go Derby!!!
Lots of friendship from here! :D

Sue in Bucks (Scout) said...

Hello all
The webcam almost gives the impression it's not working, it's all so peaceful and quiet in Derby - all I've observed is one lorry passing by on the road. Of course, it's just because of the weather conditions. It looks about the same up there as here in Bucks, lots of snow and ice but blue skies and sunshine. I beleieve the cold is far from gone though.
Great news about 010, thanks Colin.