Buzzards make late come back

Buzzards make late come back

It’s Christmas.

It’s Norfolk.

Juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard
Juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard

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.

Life’s a twitch

Red-flanked Bluetail

This is becoming a worrying trend. Third twitch in last few weeks. Third bird. Tick.

OK. That doesn’t exactly put us in line for membership of UK400, but in comparison with recent years we are on a roll. This time we were off to see the long staying Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus) in Gloucestershire. Although this would be a lifer for both Jan and myself, the fact that it was en-route to the annual reunion of the Friends of Skokholm and Skomer Islands in Bishops Cleave (well nearly en-route – you know me) made it an easy decison.

We assumed that given the length of time it had been around we would be largely on our own, and given we didn’t have huge amount of

time to spare there was a concern that we wouldn’t connect with this smart little bird before before we had to move on. But as soon as we arrived at the parking spot, two dozen cars gave the clue away that maybe there might be one or two others looking along the valley at Marshfield already. And what a glorious day to look.

After yesterday’s fierce winds and driving rain, today was still with clear blue skies. Spring was definitely in the air. A local robin made that evident by making sure the bluetail knew whose territory she (he?) was in. And the bluetail was straightforward to find. Only slightly helped by the dozen or so telescopes and long-lenses pointed at the bird.

Unfortunately time was a bit against so although we had some fine views I only managed to grab a couple of record shots. Unfortunately neither of them showed the red flanks. Or the blue tail for that matter. But hey ho. The location was a beautiful setting for this pretty little bird. A green valley, babbling brook, imposing farm houses. Stupid sheep but they looked the part.

A pronounced birding experience

Just a short walk (this may be a recurring theme) yesterday to check that the lesser yellowlegs was still hanging around at Lepe Beach. It was. As were a couple of grey plover, the increasingly tame turnstones and not a lot else. Nothing on the sea apart from boats. Or ships. Or possibly both.

But we made the most of the short break between the downpours and it was pleasant enough way to add a bird to the year list. Not that we’re counting.

Anyhow, on the way back along the path we met a guy with some bins slung round his neck in a birdwatcher rather than boatwatcher sort of way. This usually leads to the “anything about” conversation, but on this occasion this was a man in a hurry and got straight the “is the yellowlegs showing”. (I know it’s a singular – in both senses – bird, but I’m still not sure that shouldn’t be “are the yellowlegs…..”)

After breaking the news that the bird was still still there but had recently just walked out of sight, we managed to reassure him that it was probably on its usual circuit and would be back soon. And that lead to the revelation of the day. Apparently our new birder acquaintance was down from London to see family and friends, and hand been delayed by a family lunch that had gone on half an hour longer than expected. Bemoaning the interference of family life on his birding, he than let slip the bombshell. He was staying in Bohlio.

Bohlio? Bohlio? WTF is Bohlio?

And then the mists lifted, unlike the weather which was now showing signs of definitely being unlifted. He meant, of course, Beaulieu. Which should, of course, be pronounced Byoo-lee.

Or should it?

As you may know, the river Beaulieu was originally the river Exe and only changed to Beaulieu when it was rightly described as a beautiful place in a language that could do it a bit more justice than the guttural Saxon that preceded it.

Inevitably our Hampshire and other accents soon gave the name a pronunciation we could cope with – although we seemed to cope in later years with Beau Brummel.

Anyhow I don’t really care that much about the precise and correct pronunciation – only one in five can can get my relatively simple surname right first time – but I do care that I now have a pronunciation that will forever remind me of late lunches, lesser yellows legs, and birders in a hurry.

Welcome to the land of Bohlio birding.