Category Archives: Buzzards

Catching up

I'm a bit behind with this journal, so a quick catch-up:

I went for a walk on the Moor in search of sundews the other week, and wrote about it here.

Then I had a go at photographing butterflies in my garden:

Green-veined White butterfly.

Then I took a short walk at Burton Marshes: Continue reading Catching up

Moorland encounter

Yesterday afternoon was unseasonably glorious, so I decided to head up to the Moor.

There wasn't an awful lot going on, but that's not why I go up to the Moor.

S4643

On my way down from the edge, a chap with a spade and sack spotted me and my camera: “Landscape or wildlife?” he called. Both, I said.

It turned out he was the local gamekeeper, laying out grit for the grouse. We chatted for about 15 minutes. He is clearly trying to engage in outreach, to win over the hearts and minds of the locals. He explained that the people who shoot on the Moor aren't a bunch of toffs, but a local group of hard-working enthusiasts; how they only shoot for six days a year; how they only took over the care of the Moor a few years back, and how he reckons the place is a lot better maintained these days. I agreed: it is. He then asked me for any feedback or ideas.

I suggested that a few more boggy patches and pools might be in order (he told me they're working on this), and that the best way to combat the boom-bust predator-prey population cycles of the grouse-parasite and grouse would be to throw a few more predators into the mix. I don't think he was quite with me on this one. I pointed out that, in the 20+ years I've been walking on the Moor, I've only ever seen two buzzards, one peregrine, and not a single hen harrier. The northern moorland, I said, should be practically swarming with raptors.

“Hen harriers numbers have plummeted drastically in recent years,” he agreed. “Nobody's been able to work out why,” he added.

“It's because game-keepers keep shooting them,” I said, calling a spade a spade.

He explained that he had seen a hen harrier on the Moor last summer, and had nearly shot it by accident. He was about to shoot some crows, when he realised they were mobbing a harrier.

He asked me if I'd ever eaten grouse. I said I had, but that I thought it was overrated, and much preferred duck. He confessed that he didn't like the taste of grouse at all—far too strong—but assured me that all the grouse which are shot on the Moor do get eaten.

He seemed like a nice chap, but I'll never understand the mentality of people who enjoy blasting wild birds out of the sky for fun.

On my way down the road towards home, I made up for the previous day's abject failure by managing to take quite a nice photo of a robin in full song.

Robin

Much better to bag wild birds with cameras than shotguns, I reckon.

More photos »

More a case of what I didn't see

I decided to visit the Dee Marshes at Parkgate and Burton on my way to visit Dad on Tuesday. As I arrived at Parkgate, I was frankly horrified to see around 40 middle-to-late-aged birders standing in the car park, gazing out across the marshes through a lot of seriously expensive optics.

Being an unsociable introvert (and somewhat embarrassed by my dinky sports binoculars), I gave them a wide berth and went to stand 50 or so yards away. They were looking at a very distant juvenile marsh harrier, which eventually flapped away across the reeds and rushes, tormented by the occasional brave crow. I would show you a photo, but it's just a smudgy dot.

Spoonbills and great white egrets have been spotted on the marshes recently. Either of those would be new species to me, but I saw neither hide nor feather of them. Actually, come to think of it, I have seen spoonbills before, in Australia, but I'm sure they must have been a different species from the ones we get up here.

Even though the harrier had gone, the birders stayed around, so I decided to sneak off into the bushes and try to get a photo of the robin I could hear singing its little heart out. Mum would have been proud of me: harriers, spoonbills and great white egrets just yards away, and here was I trying to spot a robin. I must have got within 20 feet of him, but I couldn't see him. What I was delighted to find in the undergrowth, though, was a pile of broken snail shells next to a stone: a song thrush's anvil:

Snail shells broken by song thrush

Eventually, I decided to pop down to Burton Marshes to see what was happening there. Not an awful lot, it turned out. To be fair, it was getting a bit late. I heard some sort of warbler in the reeds, and caught a fleeting glimpse of it, and there were lapwings and dunlin and a few other bits and bobs. Having failed miserably with the robin, I also had a go at tracking down a great tit in one of the hawthorns at the side of the road, again without success. Then I decided just to sit on one of the benches looking out across the marshes and take in the view. Which meant that I had my back turned when a buzzard flew very nearby across the field behind me and landed in a tree.

Buzzard

Buzzard

I will get the hang of this bird-watching malarkey eventually.

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Redwings and a buzzard

On my way to the garage to saw wood yesterday afternoon, I was delighted to see a redwing in my neighbour's oak tree. Apart from the pair I saw back in November, and one possible sighting near the bird feeder last week, I haven't seen any redwings in our garden this winter. Which is very unusual.

Redwings are always smaller than I remember, and have a slightly angular look to them somehow. I think it might be due to their cream-coloured eye-brows (or supercilia, to give them their proper name).

After a minute or so, I turned towards the garage. Whereupon a flock of about 50 redwings took off from our sycamore and flew away across the fields. How had I missed those?

Fifteen minutes later, as I was sawing wood, I heard rooks and jackdaws making a commotion outside. They were mobbing a buzzard. It flew low over the garden, pursued by its tormentors. It was only the second buzzard I've ever seen from our garden in the 11 years I've lived here. It isn't the crows that keeps them away. Buzzards are simply not tolerated by humans in grouse- and sheep-country, even though killing them is illegal.

After I'd finished sawing, I returned to my study to write. Gazing out the window for inspiration, I found myself eye-to-eye with yet another redwing perched in our fir tree. Of course, by the time I'd got my camera out, it had flown off. But I did manage to photograph three in the neighbour's oak tree.

Redwings
Redwings

I'm relieved to see some redwings at last. But I haven't seen any fieldfares this winter, which is very unusual around here.

Mid-June 2012 update

I had hoped to get back into the nature-blogging swing of things this month, but the British weather has been so dire that I haven't got out much.

On the last day of May, as I lay awake in bed at 5am, I was delighted to hear a very distant cuckoo cuckooing away for all he was worth. This is the first time I have ever heard a cuckoo in West Yorkshire. Later that day, I had a long phone-chat with my babaceous friend Stense in Scotland. She was delighted at my cuckoo news, having not heard a cuckoo herself for yonks. Half an hour after our call, a very excited Stense phoned me back: she had taken the dog for a walk and was standing directly underneath a cuckoo. There was another cuckooing away not far off. The calls came across so clearly on the phone that, for a bit of fun, I tried to record them. By the time I had rigged up my microphone, however, the cuckoos had moved off, so all I got was a recording of Stense asking me if I could hear anything!

Dad reminded me a couple of weeks ago that Mum used to say that the woodpigeon nesting in one of the trees in their garden sounded as if it was singing ‘Old Man River’. Ridiculous, obviously, until you actually hear it; then it is unmistakeable. It must run in the family: I am now convinced that one of the blackbirds in our garden keeps singing the word ‘Sarajevo’.

I finally managed to get a walk on the moor this Wednesday (13th), and was delighted to see a buzzard circling high above High Brown Knoll. Far too far away to get a photo, but exciting because it was my first ever buzzard above the moor. Persecution makes buzzards extremely rare in sheep- and grouse-country.

During the walk, I also spotted a little owl. It spotted me too, which means I couldn't get all that close. But I did at least manage to get a few photos this time.

Little owl
Little owl.

Buzzards and little owls notwithstanding, the undoubted highlight of the week came on Monday (11th) as I was working in the dining room: a newly fledged house sparrow stood on the stone in the middle of our bird-bath, trying to pluck up the courage to take the plunge. It tested the water several times with one foot, then leant over for a closer assessment. It had the fright of its very short life when it saw another sparrow looking up out of the water at it. You have never seen a sparrow move quite so fast!

Come on, British summer, you're bloody late! It's the solstice next week!

Raptor count

Travelling back north after visiting our friend Bill in Berkshire last Sunday, we spotted three red kites, about twenty buzzards, and a single kestrel.

Thirty years ago, it would have been (give or take): zero red kites, two buzzards, and thirty kestrels.

I worry about kestrels.

Two raptors

Spotted a little owl on a telegraph wire above Cragg Vale on my way into work this morning. I've seen it there several times before, but never seem to have my camera to hand.

Drinking tea with Dad in his garden in the late afternoon, I spotted a buzzard being mobbed by a pair of carrion crows. It flew right over us, very low. A fantastic spectacle.

Dad was worried for Molly, who was playing with her ball on the lawn. I think a cocker spaniel might be just a little too big for a buzzard, but you never know.