Welcome to the News section of the iNSiGHT Ornithology website (
www.simoncherriman.com). This blog contains updates about various things I've been up to, interesting environmental issues and observations I make regularly while going about my day. It is designed to be fun AND educational, and inspire you about our wonderful natural world. Happy reading!

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Buzzards on the Hills

This morning I woke to beautiful birdsong, and was greeted by warming sunbeams as opened the curtains in my second storey room at the Staging Post pub. The weather was so wonderful that I didn’t want to waste any more time indoors, so promptly packed my camera bag and set off for a hill walk. I still wanted to find the end of Bucks Burn, but the description by one of the locals of a nearby walk heading away from town and up to the hills, which would end up tracing the source of the burn up in the hills, painted a picture too good to resist.
First stop was to climb a tree just up the road from the pub. Two days ago I’d noticed a stick nest high up and this warranted closer inspection. Half way up to the nest I noticed a bird was sitting – and as I expected, it appeared to be a Carrion Crow (Corvus corone).

The bird flushed just after I snapped this photo so I quickly scaled the last limb to reach the nest.

What a sight – one beautiful chick and a single egg, as yet unhatched! The adult birds began circling and called so I made the visit brief and returned to the ground.
I followed the hill up past a small B & B called the ‘Cloverleaf’, and headed towards some nearby fields where a walk trail took me further away from the built up zone and closer to a wooded area (see photo at the top of this page). Perfect! Another friendly local told me to keep my eyes out for deer, and described how a group of three and a group of two using follow the burn upstream at this time of morning. He also mentioned Buzzards, and pointed out some taller trees where he’d seen some last year. I surged on with enthusiasm ignited, hoping I might glimpse these animals, and kept my eyes peeled.
Ten minutes later, as I rounded a corner and followed a narrow lane downhill, a movement up ahead caught my eye, and three white tails flashed in front of me and over the stone wall into the meadow. Roe Deer! The man I'd just spoken to was dead right, and I watched the three females dash for the other side of the field, seeking cover in the trees. Not long afterwards, another two deer moving quickly along the banks of Bucks Burn, again just as the local told me. Nothing like local knowledge!

No sooner had the deer disappeared among the trees than I heard a mewing call overhead, and looked up to see this wonderful sight... a Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo). At first glimpse it reminded me of an Australian Little Eagle, with a similar rounded tail and barring on the ventral surface of the wings.

The bird circled me and called several times, and when a second buzzard appeared less than 50m further down the track, I spotted a large stick nest in a tall Sycamore tree. You can see the nest high up in a fork of the centre trunk in the below photo. A quick climb up the main trunk's branches had me level with the nest and thrilled with the find - 4 beautifully marked buzzard eggs! As with most Australia birds of prey that I am used to, the nest was lined with fresh green foliage, a perfect bed for the precious eggs.

The Common Buzzard nest was very high up but by no means inaccessible.

A typical 'raptor' view of the world from the nest site - perfect for spotting prey.

The Common Buzzard is a large raptor widespread across Europe, but like many species from this unique group of birds, it was persecuted by humans for centuries. People view raptors as either pests because they kill (or allegedly kill) livestock, or as a source of competition when they take game animals (rabbits, pheasants) that we ourselves want to eat. Persecution was carried out by nest robbing, shooting, trapping, poisoning, and even (with other species such as eagles) dropping a burning torch onto a nest site. Attitudes can be very hard to change: 12 Red Kites and 4 Buzzards were recently killed in April in one of the largest deliberate poisoning attacks on raptors recorded.

When a colleague and good friend of mine grew up in Aberdeen in the 1960's, Buzzards did not nest here and sighting them was very rare. Fortunately (and despite the above link), persecution has overall declined and this species can now often be observed riding the thermals on the outskirts of town. The bulking stick nest is similar to that of a goshawk or kite in Australia, and the 4 eggs in this clutch is a good sign of a healthy female Buzzard, and therefore a healthy prey population. It looked like the female who kept a close eye on me from her perch on a nearby power pole - and she was quick to return to the nest as soon as I'd descended. Hopefully I'll get to return to check the nest in a few weeks time when it contains nestlings! 

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