Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Buzzards spring flight

Saturday, 2nd February, a lovely coincidence: it's the weekend and a perfect day for the garden.  Cold but bright and sunny, no clouds in the sky, no rain.. perfect conditions for garden therapy.

Buzzard, mobbed by a Rook (c. Shay Connolly)

On the short hop from house to garden, in search of a few basic tools and gloves (job card says: prune Cornus and Elder), I am not entirely surprised to hear the mocking, harsh call of a Hooded Crow.  This usually means one thing: a raptor has taken to the air and needs to be challenged and hassled by a crow or better for them, a flock.

Sure enough, before I even reach the garden shed, I hear a clear 'mewing' call form the air.. Ruling out the possibility of a Starling impersonation, I reckon on a Buzzard out on an exercise to advertise itself to all others that a territory exists from ground to air, between the mixed forest and hillside fields currently in stubble.   There's a good view as it heads over the garden, no sign of a Crow in tandem, somewhat surprising though that is, but it is joined by another Buzzard as they progress effortlessly across the blue sky.  As always, they drift out of sight somewhat seamlessly and I get down to the job at hand.

Classic Buzzard, showing broad wings, short rounded tail and tawny and white plumage
(c. Shay Connolly)

In my time as a birder, young birdwatcher or whatever,  I have witnessed Buzzard become an icon of progress and success in the Irish bird watching and bird conservation scene.  I recall driving with friends in a car load from Dublin, sometime in the early 1980s, destined for the Antrim coast, just to twitch or see a Buzzard for our bird lists after a number of frustrating and unsuccessful years chasing around county Wicklow for a glimpse of one in the late 1970s.

Such was their rarity: disappearing from the island of Ireland in the late 19th century, persecuted, before returning from Scotland, to attempt recolonisation between the 1930s and the 1950s.  This bid at recolonisation ultimately failed, probably due to decimation of their favourite prey, the Rabbit, as a consequence of Myxomatosis   They recolonised again in the 1960s, establishing on the north coast one more time.  The extent of their progress wasn't really evident throughout the island of Ireland until the banning of Strychnine in 1991.  Since then, though poison still remains a blight in the countryside, Buzzards are established in most of the island, especially east of a line from counties Sligo to Cork.  Whether their progress further west is impeded by climate conditions or ignoring the law is probably answered by the recent negative experience of the re introduction projects of Eagles.. Poison still exists in the Irish countryside.  We have travelled a long way, learnt some, but there's more to do yet.. 

Buzzard, (c. Shay Connolly)


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