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Field Guides & Natural History  Ornithology  Non-Passerines  Birds of Prey

The Hen Harrier's Year

By: Ian Carter(Author), Dan Powell(Illustrator), Roger Riddington(Foreword By)
173 pages, 150 colour & b/w illustrations, 2 colour distribution maps
The Hen Harrier's Year
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  • The Hen Harrier's Year ISBN: 9781784273859 Paperback Oct 2022 In stock
Price: £25.99
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About this book

Most British birds of prey have largely recovered from historical persecution, but the beleaguered Hen Harrier is still struggling and remains far less common than it should be. This is a particular shame, because it is one of our most inspiring raptors. Spectacular sky-dancing displays and balletic food passes from male to female brighten up the moors in summer. And in winter, communal roosts in the lowlands attract birders from far and wide to catch sight of this now-elusive species.

This book follows the Hen Harrier over a year: from rearing young hidden away in dense heather, to the fight for survival in the harshest months of winter. Interspersed among the monthly accounts are chapters on the history and status of this iconic bird, as well as an overview of one of the most intractable conflicts in modern conservation: the Hen Harrier's liking for grouse moors (and the grouse that are raised there) wins it few friends among shooters, and ongoing persecution continues to hamper its recovery. There are tentative signs of progress, but its fate as a breeding bird in England hangs in the balance.

Evocative illustrations, in part based on privileged access to the handful of breeding birds that remain on England's moors, showcase the Hen Harrier's exploits through the seasons. These will delight admirers of this species and hopefully foster a greater interest in its wellbeing. The Hen Harrier needs all the help it can get.

Customer Reviews (1)

  • Brilliant book on an amazing bird
    By Keith 3 Apr 2023 Written for Paperback
    All birds are great of course, but Hen Harriers are just that bit better! Whether you get to watch them “sky dancing” over the moors in Spring or like me, you wait for them to come into a Winter roost, seeing a Hen Harrier is always an “expectation plus one” experience. So I have been awaiting this book with interest.

    Ian Carter and Dan Powell collaborated in 2019 to create The Red Kite’s Year, which was a great mix of Ian’s specialist knowledge and Dan’s minimalist but powerful illustrations. Now the same team have combined to tell us about Hen Harriers. The texts of both author and illustrator are run in tandem but with different typefaces, allowing Ian’s facts to be supported by Dan’s field notes. Dan’s wife Rosie also contributes some extra illustrations.

    The book is created around a year in the harrier’s life, and while we learn about what the birds will be doing in each month, additional facts are included within these chapters under clear headings. So, within January and February, we learn about communal roosting and the typical hunting behaviour in Winter haunts – with females pursuing rather larger prey than the slimmer male. We get to understand why roosts are important, and how the birds use them – not snuggled together but spaced out. In between the months, there are other chapters charting the long decline in this species, and mainly in areas that are used for grouse shooting.

    The breeding season is spread from March to June with much information about diet and the challenges of hunting, along with the iconic food passes that are typical across all harrier species. For those who watch breeding Hen Harriers these passes in June are valued on a par with seeing the male “sky dancing” to advertise his territory in April.

    The joy of all these wonderful things is brought into sharp contrast by the severe challenges that Hen Harriers face in the uplands and against those who only take delight in seeing a Hen Harrier when it is dead. Ian Carter describes the problem of persecution and assesses some of the possible solutions, including diversionary feeding, brood management and plans to release young Hen Harriers in the lowlands of England. He also reminds us of the other major debate in the uplands – the matter of heather burning. Whether it is good for wildlife is debated by both sides of the argument, but what is not in doubt is that burning reduces the ability of the uplands to store water and so increases the likelihood of flooding in the nearby villages.

    Having dealt with some very depressing issues, we then move to the late Summer and learn about the chicks’ development and early flying experiences, and also the threats from other birds of prey at this time. Before long the chapters take us towards Autumn and Winter arrives fast. Some Hen Harriers will have moved to Spain for the Winter while others will stay closer to home. Indeed the justification to move quite so far is diminishing as warmer Winters and earlier Springs become the norm in Britain. However, we are reminded that this is a bird that faces many threats including natural causes. The greatest threat is still from human activities, and the signs are clear. If we want to see more Hen Harriers then it’s down to us to make that happen. Some might argue that with 24 successful nests in England in 2021 (compared to just 4 in 2016) the situation for Hen Harriers has been reversed. What is certainly true, is that the case for this species to be the most iconic bird of the uplands has been successfully made. Whether the growth in breeding numbers can be continued lies with the Government and how it balances the wishes of the moorland owners and those who worship the harriers. A key element to this is also the conservation bodies who currently treat the Government’s efforts with disdain.

    The Carter and Powell duo have triumphed again. This book is informative and relevant, and a delight to both read and simply look at. What will be next? – maybe The Golden Eagle’s Year, or The Peregrine’s Year? I, for one, hope there are more books to come from this team.
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Ian Carter worked as an ornithologist at Natural England for 25 years before retiring early to spend more time watching and writing about wildlife. His books include Human, Nature (2021) and The Red Kite’s Year, an earlier collaboration with Dan Powell.

Dan Powell is an award-winning wildlife artist. His work appears in nearly 100 books, as well as numerous magazines. He is married to Rosemary, whose paintings also appear in this book.

By: Ian Carter(Author), Dan Powell(Illustrator), Roger Riddington(Foreword By)
173 pages, 150 colour & b/w illustrations, 2 colour distribution maps
Media reviews

"[...] a rich source of information, delivered in a relaxed narrative style, and following a simple format. [...] The real highlights of the book are the evocative illustrations by Dan Powell. Hen Harriers are a subject for which watercolour is the perfect medium, and the illustrations wholly capture the airy and fleeting nature of viewing them. [...] This is a beautifully presented book, a love-letter to Hen Harriers, and a scathing appraisal of the failure to bring this delicate species back from the brink in the UK. [...]"
– Anthony Wetherhill, BTO News 349, winter 2023

"[...] The Carter and Powell duo have triumphed again. This book is informative and relevant, and a delight both to read and simply to look at. What will be next? Maybe the Golden Eagle’s Year, or the Peregrine’s Year? I, for one, hope that there are more books to come from this team."
– Keith Betton, British Wildlife 34(5), April 2023

"A portrait in words and watercolour, as tender and beautiful as it is informative, insightful and damning of failure to protect this iconic bird."
– Amy-Jane Beer, naturalist and author of The Flow

"This is an exploration and introduction to the ecology of the species and does that job very well [...] an affectionate portrait of a wonderful species."
– Mark Avery, author and environmental campaigner

"The Hen Harrier's Year, written by Ian Carter and illustrated by Dan Powell, is yet another superb book and compelling read, a sequel to their earlier work, The Red Kite's Year. The book is written and illustrated with a heart-felt and clear expertise of their subject. It is highly recommended and a must for those keen to learn more about the life history of the Hen Harrier, one of our most charismatic yet threatened raptors."
– Colin Shawyer, raptor biologist

"For anyone who wants to learn more about the life history and ecology of the hen harrier, but has been put off by dry, academic scripts, this is the book for you. Ian Carter has done a wonderful job of assimilating the scientific knowledge about the hen harrier and presenting it in such an engaging format that you're left deciding whether to turn the page or grab your coat to go in search of this precious species."
– Raptor Persecution UK

"A truly great read [...] this book will inspire you to get out into the countryside, not only to watch the harriers, but also to wonder at the marvels that British nature has to offer."
– Alan Snook, Hampshire Ornithological Society

"For the writing of this work, Ian Carter and Dan Powell followed the Hen Harrier for a year: from hatching the eggs and raising the young to the struggle for survival in winter's harshest months. Beautiful illustrations from life [...] will delight admirers of this species and the authors hope that this will also generate more interest its welfare."
– Walter Belis, Alauda

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