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About this book
About this book
Read our interview with James Aldred.
The 2023 paperback features a stunning new linocut cover by illustrator Nick Hayes.
In early 2020, wildlife filmmaker James Aldred was commissioned to make a documentary following the lives of a family of Goshawks in the New Forest – the place of his childhood. He began to plan a treetop hide in a remote site that would allow him to film the Gos nest, their newly hatched chicks and the lives of this elusive and enchanting bird.
Then lockdown. And as the world retreated, something remarkable happened. The noise of our everyday stilled. No more cars, no more off-roaders, no more aeroplanes roaring in the skies, no one in the Goshawk woods – except James.
At this unique moment, James was granted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to keep filming. And so, over that spring and into summer, he began to write about his experiences in a place empty of people but filled with birdsong and new life.
Amidst the fragility and the fear, there was silver moonlight, tumbling fox cubs, calling curlew and, of course, the soaring Goshawks – shining like fire through one of our darkest times. A Goshawk summer unlike any other.
Customer Reviews (1)
A rare raptor up close
4 Jul 2022
Written for Paperback
The spring and summer of 2020 were very different from normal for all of us. It was a time when COVID restrictions in most countries prevented us from getting out and studying birds whenever and wherever we wanted. The restrictions were very real and for most people, and definitely for those carrying out research, it was stifling. So, consider how lucky James Aldred was to be given permission to spend April to June filming Goshawks in the New Forest (Hampshire, UK). This assignment was to create content for a Smithsonian TV documentary entitled New Forest: The Crown's Hunting Ground which was aired in late 2021. While we were mostly isolated for weeks on end, James was enduring a different kind of isolation: cocooned in a temporary bird hide that he had attached to a pine tree just a few metres away from an active Goshawk nest!
The book is written as a diary of his time on the filming project, from meeting forestry staff to find the ideal filming location, through installing the hide over several days, and then from incubation to fledging of the Goshawk chicks. There are, of course, long periods when there is relatively little to film at the nest, but James was also there to capture images of other wildlife, so the book contains information about several iconic New Forest species. He shares his knowledge of the National Park (where he was born and lived as a child) and brings in facts from a wide range of sources, including from his own international travels.
For those interested in Goshawks, the main interest will be in the daily information from James's filming schedules. Having arrived on 6 April, in just over two weeks he had located a suitable nest and gradually built a platform in an adjacent tree. His experience from filming Harpy Eagles in South America ensured that he and his camera assistant gradually allowed the female Goshawk to get used to the new structure – although she notices every slight movement and tiny noise. By 27 April the filming is underway and by a stroke of luck the nest survives gales that demolish at least one other nest – indeed one that James had considered and rejected for filming. By 17 May the chicks have hatched and the filming opportunities increase daily.
Although this book is not designed to be a monograph on the Goshawk it does include many interesting observations, such as the female returning to the nest and sprinkling fresh pine needles onto the male while he is incubating. I've not read about that before and conceivably nobody has been close enough to a nest for long enough to witness it. Could it have been an attempt to get him to move, or did she simply want to add fresh greenery and he happened to be in the way?
James raises a number of issues and discusses them, so that although everything is set out as a daily diary, each day he raises at least one such issue, demonstrating not only an appreciation of Goshawks but for everything else in the New Forest from foxes to ponies, and New Forest life. On a few occasions he finds that local people assume that he is breaking lockdown rules and he is faced with a barrage of anger. But we also get an insight to life in a busy National Park which is eerily quiet for weeks before the return of visitors in their thousands in June.
I really enjoyed this book. James's style is relaxed, informative and often humorous. As a weekly visitor to the New Forest I have seen many Goshawk nests, but I have never gained the insights to their behaviour that James was privileged to see. Through this book he allows us to share his experiences and to understand what it is like to be a wildlife camera operator on a mission. But the stars are the Goshawks, dominating the dense woods in which they live, in a National Park that receives 15 million visitors each year.
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James Aldred is the celebrated author of The Man Who Climbs Trees (Allen Lane) and an Emmy Award-winning documentary wildlife cameraman and filmmaker. He works with TV and production companies around the world including the BBC and National Geographic. He has collaborated with Sir David Attenborough on numerous projects including Life of Mammals, Planet Earth and Our Planet and been nominated for BAFTA/RTS awards many times. He was lucky to spend the national lockdown of spring and summer 2020 filming in the New Forest.