Wednesday 6 March 2024

Gods of the Morning by John Lister Kaye


 Subtitled 'A Bird's Eye View of a Highland Year' this natural history memoir from acclaimed conservationist John Lister Kaye follows a year of abnormal weather (September 2012 - September 2013) in the Highlands of Scotland and the effects this had on the wildlife he encountered in his daily life over that time period. The book centres on the Aigas Field Centre, which Lister Kaye established (you can read about his journey in setting up the centre in his book Song of the Rolling Earth, which I reviewed briefly here). 

The author treats us to many detailed observations of nature, from the common: "a blackbird was cashing in, flicking rusty leaves as if turning the pages of an ancient tome in a rushed search for wisdom" to the much rarer experience of being able to watch a pine marten at close quarters as it harvests rowan berries from a tree, to a field of sparkling wonder created by uncountable numbers of young spiders. 

Many birds died in the cold April of 2013, which followed an unseasonably warm March:"All those lifeforms that had been tricked, lured into exposing themselves far too early, had been ruthlessly obliterated by the subsequent frosts and snows"and the author observes these effects on several species, particularly the rooks that nest in trees around the area. 

As well as climate change, the author considers topics from bird migration, to the ethics of the practice of egg collection, once considered a respectable pastime but now a criminal offence. 

There are delightful personal stories here too, including the tale of Squawky, a rook which the author had rescued when he was at boarding school and then had to leave with an employee of the school, whose husband made an aviary for the bird - a story with a touching conclusion).

The book closes with a delightful description of Lister Kaye introducing his 5-year-old grandson to the Treecreepers that have excavated roosts for themselves in the soft bark of giant redwood trees in Aigas. A lovely demonstration of how to pass the love of nature onto the next generation and a great way to end this book.

Gods of the Morning by John Lister Kaye, published (2015) by Canongate.

No comments: