I’m sometimes asked if I live in ‘eagle country’. Here, in our part of Dumfries & Galloway, it’s not a straightforward question to answer. We get the odd visiting eagle, and sometimes one will linger in the glen for a few weeks, helping to complete the place; but, by and large, we make do with our Red Kites Milvus milvusand Common Buzzards Buteo buteo. The skies are empty of anything larger and for encounters with eagles, I must turn to the writing of others.
It is more than two decades since this formidable eagle-watching partnership published Island Eagles, describing their observations of Golden Eagles Aquila chrysaetos on their home island of Skye (Brit. Birds 93: 102). Kate Nellist and Ken Crane are now Kate and Ken Crane, but their passion for watching and recording eagle behaviour remains unchanged. They have racked up another two decades of observations, including structured watches (as part of organised surveys) and more informal visits to watch pairs of eagles they have come to know intimately.
A table or figure (or two) might have been useful to summarise key information about the island’s eagle population, but the book is more about the experience of being out in the hills and the way that knowledge slowly emerges from thousands of hours of fieldwork. The writing is lively and well organised, and the book is nicely illustrated with Kate’s evocative artwork, as well as a small selection of colour photographs.
There are some awe-inspiring encounters captured here, though I fancy the long descriptions of behaviour will appeal mostly to raptor afficionados who know the bird well; they will enjoy being able to compare the observations described with what they have seen for themselves. I was drawn more to sections where the authors take stock and write about what they have learnt from their long years of inquiry. How, for example, are Golden Eagles coping with afforestation, windfarms, the increasing numbers of visitors to the island and our changing climate? Is the ever-expanding population of White-tailed Eagles Haliaeetus albicilla causing any problems? Above all, how is the Golden Eagle population holding up in terms of the number of home ranges occupied and young reared?
At the end of Island Eagles the authors highlighted how little they felt they knew based on ‘the relatively short time we have watched the eagles’ (a mere 20 years!). In respect of their existing observations, they hoped to ‘add to them and to publish more.’ Now, more than two decades on, they have been true to their word and we have this delightful, illuminating book. Spending time with eagles is a joy. But if you are not able to get out into eagle country, this book is the next best thing.