Given that every time we go to Cornwall Jan falls over and breaks something – well twice – we decided that the flat landscape of Norfolk was safer territory this year. After all there is a general election to win, and we can’t play a full part in that from hospital.
Our good friend and wildlife artist, Dan Powell (most of the sentence can be rearranged without too much damage), suggested to us the other week that Kestrels (Falco tinnunculus) were seen less frequently at the roadside verges of Hampshire. We had conjectured that the Common Buzzards (Buteo buteo) which have spread eastwards over recent years have taken their patch on our motorways and byways. So, always up for bit of real science we decided to count them both on our way from Southampton to Cley Next the Sea.
In a four hour drive over 205 miles we saw 18 Kestrels and 16 Buzzards. Oh, and three Red Kite (Milvus milvus). But the interesting thing was that the Buzzards, with the exception of one or two, were all seen in the first two hours of the journey. The Kestrels, with the exception of three or four, were all seen in the second half of the journey. it would certainly seem that these two tend not to share roadside habitat. Of course there are plenty of places where you will see these birds together. But the motorways of the UK may not be one of them.
So today, to try to redress the balance slightly, we went in search of Rough-legged Buzzard (Buteo lagopus) at Burnham Overy Staithe. For those you who care about such things, Staithe is a Middle English word found in the East and North of England from Old Norse ‘stǫth’ meaning ‘landing stage’. This morning we parked up on the hard at Burnham Overy Staithe and ventured out toward the dunes. It was blowing a hooley, and whilst it wasn’t terribly cold the wind chill made it feel like we were three jumpers short of cozy. Anyhow, no sign of buzzards whatever the state of their legs. Unfortunately whilst there were plenty of people about they were hikers, dog-walkers, joggers and people out generally taking the air. But not a binocular between them. No-one looked like they might know the location of the birds in question.
Fortunately the RSPB staffer at the Titchwell reserve did. So on the way back from another chilly walk we stopped at the small car-park just east of Burnham Overy Staithe he recommended. Or, in truth, we stopped in a storage area in a field that we thought was the car park, but hey it was within a mile of where he said. Another birder saw us parking up and drove into the same field. He had an excuse. He was from Toronto and probably thought we knew what we were doing.
Still there was an inviting path. We followed it. There was a gap on the hedge where we three could stand and view the fields and dunes. We stood in it. There was a buzzard. We ticked it. This birding lark is so easy. But wait, no it’s a common buzzard.
But we didn’t have long to wait. Another buzzard hove into view. Noticeably longer winged than the Common Buzzard. Noticeably bigger overall. Noticeably back and white, with a very speckled breast. And then a second bird – another juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard, this one with the slightly, but distinctive, hunched winged gliding shape.
Our man from Toronto was happy – the first he’d seen in England. And we were happy – the first we’d seen this year. And that made the Buzzards the narrow winners over the Kestrels. Assuming the Rough-legged count. Or a narrow win for the Kestrels if they don’t. Almost a score draw in a game of two halves.