In Search of Harriers


This final book by the late Donald Watson has great personal significance for me. Some 13 years ago I also reviewed the fine Poyser monograph on the Golden Eagle by the late Jeff Watson, Donald’s son; to assess two superb raptor books, on two different species, written by two members of the same family, is probably a unique event for any book reviewer.

I first met Donald in June 1991 at his home in St John’s Town of Dalry, through my interest in studying the Hen Harrier in Northern Ireland, a species that he devoted over 50 years of his life to in the picturesque Galloway Hills. Little did I know at the time that both he and his late wife Joan would be visiting me six weeks later to observe the first-ever Hen Harrier tree nest, in the Antrim Hills. Twenty-five years on, thanks to Donald’s sound advice and influence, I am proud to say that I am still studying Hen Harriers.

Not only did Donald write a superb monograph in 1977 about this much maligned and now rare raptor, he also loved to capture their sheer beauty and elegance by drawing and painting them in his own unique style (and, of course, he was tempted to paint other species he found on his local patch as well). This book is a culmination of half a century of bird artistry at its best, and very few artists can portray harriers and their habitat as successfully as Donald does.

When I first opened this book and began to flick through it, the sheer quality of all these paintings simply jumped out of the page at me. The text is also well written and easy to read, and gives an insight into the life’s work of the author. I therefore thoroughly recommend this book to everyone, whether you enjoy harriers or not, or like me, you just love to admire an amazing bird artist at work. This book is a snip at the price, and worth every penny.

Langford Press also deserves praise for its splendid layout and for the overall quality of the book – I know Donald would have been extremely proud of its efforts, had he lived to see his work to fruition.

Tech spec

In Search of Harriers by Donald Watson (Langford Press, Peterborough, 2010).

•    111 pages, full-colour illustrations.

   ISBN 9781904078128. Hbk, £38.

Available from Birdwatch Bookshop

First published in Birdwatch 222:46 (December 2010)