The Peregrine: The Complete Works of J A Baker


It was in these very pages that Mark Cocker recommended HarperCollins’s reissue of J A Baker’s two published works, along with his hitherto unpublished diaries (Birdwatch 211: 25), despite the tome not being available at the time. Fast-forward a few months and The Peregrine, along with The Hill of Summer and the diaries, is on the shelves, complete with a foreword by Mark himself.

Baker distils 10 years of painstaking fieldwork into one winter, describing his many encounters with the eponymous birds – a male and a female – in his native Essex. The dedication that Baker shows to his subject is extraordinary. He spends many hours in the field, often in the rain or snow, walking for miles. Some days he doesn’t even see the birds, or catches only a fleeting glimpse.

Baker’s love for the Peregrine, and for the wider natural world, is evident on every page. Even his descriptions of the birds’ kills are beautiful: “Blood looked black in the dusk, bare bones white as a grin of teeth. A hawk’s kill is like the warm embers of a dying fire.

The language throughout the book is incredibly rich, and at times can be hard to digest, making this a sometimes difficult read. Taken in small doses, however, the book is a joy.

More importantly, the proofreading leaves something to be desired and many typos have crept through. The editor has also decided not to capitalise species names.

The Hill of Summer never enjoyed the fame of its predecessor, and while it is just as beautifully written, it lacks the focus of The Peregrine. Also included in this reissue are Baker’s diaries from 1954 to 1961, which provide a fascinating insight into his working methods.

Tech spec

The Peregrine by J A Baker (Collins, London, 2010).

320 pages.

ISBN 9780007348626. Hbk, £20.

Available from Birdwatch Bookshop

First published in Birdwatch 223:46 (January 2011).