A celebration of birds that reflects a year in the wild, revealing how these amazing creatures embody our changing world, by one of Britain's foremost naturalists.
Gods of the Morning follows the year through the turning of the seasons at Aigas, the Highlands estate John Lister-Kaye has transformed into a world-renowned wildlife center. John's affection, wisdom and lyricism sings off every page, bringing the natural world around him to life: from the rookery filled with twenty-nine nests and distinct bird calls to descriptions of the winter morning light, from the wood mice and the squirrels preparing for winter to tracking a fox's path through the snow. In particular it brings John's lifelong love of birds—his gods of the morning—to the fore.
In the Highland glens, bird numbers plummet as their food supplies—natural fruits and every kind of creeping, crawling, slithering or flying bug—begin to disappear. Not just the swallows and house martins have vanished from round the houses. Gone are the insect snatching wheatears, whinchats and stonechats from the hills, and redstarts and flycatchers have fled the woods. Pied wagtails no longer flicker across the lawns and sandpipers and grey wagtails have deserted the river banks. Farmland and hedgerow species have vanished in the night: the linnets, yellowhammers, and all the warblers have decamped from the thickets.
By the first frosts the hills will have emptied down to a few hardy stalwarts such as the golden eagles, the raven and the irrepressible hooded crows. Silence settles across the land. The few species that are left frequent a changed world. Soon only the buzzards and wood pigeons will hang on in the woods and the coniferous forests will be host to flocks of chaffinches, t**s, siskins, and crossbills passing through.
British conservationist Lister-Kaye (At the Water's Edge) writes of birds and bees, and of flowers and trees, in this earnest and impassioned meditation on the natural environment. From the Scottish Highlands, where he runs the Aigas Field Centre, "a place cradled by the hills above Strathglass," he offers an insightful look at the land he has lived and worked upon for almost four decades. Lister-Kaye chronicles a year in his life, charting the changing seasons and the birds that accompany them. He welcomes, for example, the arrival of blackcaps every May and mourns "their sudden absence every autumn," and describes the rooks that show up in November, likening their "usual boisterous personalities" to "youths: racketing, arguing, bossing, coming and going, flapping, cawing loudly, and generally carrying on." The comparison hints at the author's wit and particular perspective. Lister-Kaye will endear himself further to readers in recalling the death, "swiftly and painlessly," of his yellow Labrador, Max: "I mourned him then and I mourn him now." Whether dealing with small birds or larger animals, Lister-Kaye reminds readers of the connections humans forge every day with other creatures and the emotions that result are unquestionably real and significant.