Looking for the Goshawk, by Conor Mark Jameson

Published on 18 July 2013 in Book reviews

M21421Bloomsbury, 2013; hbk, 368pp; line-drawings

ISBN: 978-1-4081-6487-7, Subbuteo code M21421, £18.99

I am very fortunate to live close to where Northern Goshawks Accipiter gentilis are thriving and in the New Forest there must be in excess of 20 pairs breeding. However, this bird is still an enigma for many people – a phantom of the forest that sees all but is rarely seen. The title of the book is very accurate as much of it is in diary format as the author travels to many places in the hope of seeing a Goshawk, but almost always he fails to succeed. In that sense it made me realise how privileged I am to be able to see this bird so easily, as his tales of long walks to remote woods where the birds failed to materialise reminded me of the many times when I have also searched and failed. I also admired the way that so often he doubted his own ability to be sure of what he was seeing. Again that brought back memories of my own uncertainty when first getting to know the species. However, his relentless searching and repeated failures did start to wear me down in the end.

There is no doubt that Conor Jameson has a terrific way with words, and his ability to describe with passion what all of his senses are detecting is impressive, but I was hoping for a lot more factual information. I do like books that have a clear structure that I can navigate and, while we are told about visits to the USA, Germany and various parts of the UK to seek information, there is a randomness to this Goshawk journey that left me feeling a bit frustrated. Indeed, I felt personally deflated when yet another expedition to a wild wood resulted in a nil result. Perhaps that shows the power of Jameson’s writing?

Whether you enjoy this book will probably depend on the degree to which you like to have your facts delivered in an orderly fashion with arguments for and against the evidence presented. While I enjoyed reading much of it, I actually hoped to learn more about Goshawks. Where it is weak on facts the book is strong on emotion, and there is no doubt that while reading the highs and lows of searching for Goshawks I felt as though I had accompanied a friend on a mission.

Keith Betton

Buy this book from the British Birds bookshop which is run by Subbuteo Natural History Books

This means that 5% of all sales generated by British Birds subscribers, whether it is books reviewed in the journal, featured on its book page or listed on the Subbuteo website, will be paid to British Birds – and will directly support the production of the journal.