Notice Board: the Honey-buzzard Season in Northumberland 2007 as it happened – Nick Rossiter

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Significant events in the Honey Buzzard season as it unfolds in Northumberland are given here. Seeing Honey Buzzards in their breeding areas is facilitated by reading about their jizz, knowing their calls and digesting the three recent BB papers updating Honey Buzzard identification (bottom of page). Reports by anybody (to nick.rossiter1 at btinternet.com) can be included: these will be strictly anonymous and will not be conveyed to any records committees. This page reloads automatically every two minutes.

23rd February 2008: poignant closure on the sad events of 2007 at St Helen’switherection of tombstone.

11th January 2008: summary for year 2007 for all raptors in the study area and adjacent areas is given below

Species

Study Area in SW Northumberland

Elsewhere in Northumberland

Tyne & Wear

 

Tetrads

Records

No birds min

Priority (1=highest)

Tetrads

No birds min

Tetrads

No birds min

Common Buzzard

71

214

223

4=

7

11

0

0

Kestrel

55

121

90

4=

3

3

4

4

Sparrow-hawk

36

69

54

4=

0

0

4

4

Honey Buzzard

35

107

80

1

3

4

0

0

Goshawk

19

28

22

3

0

0

1

1

Hobby

19

27

30

2

0

0

0

0

Peregrine Falcon

8

9

9

4=

1

1

0

0

Red Kite

5

7

5

4=

2

2

1

1

Merlin

5

6

5

4=

0

0

0

0

Osprey

2

2

2

4=

0

0

0

0

Rough-legged Buzzard

0

0

0

4=

0

0

1

1

Analysis of Records for Raptors collected by NR in Northumberland in 2007: ordered by number of tetrads in which found, then by number of records

The table is not necessarily in order of abundance in the study area. The priority of the species has a significant effect on the relative numbers as this determines the type of habitat visited and the degree of persistence in investigating a site. The first three places are clear enough though with Common Buzzard now the commonest raptor in the area, followed by Kestrel and the slightly more elusive Sparrowhawk. For the others, Merlin is clearly understated: more visits to the moors in the summer would give a substantially higher figure. 11 species of raptor is not bad at all. In a keen shooting area like this, in the mid-1980s you would have been struggling to get more than four. All the above data is held on the BTO’s BirdTrack central database for bird sightings in Britain.

5th January 2008: back from just over a week in Devon splitting stay between mother in Dawlish, close to my home town of Teignmouth, and younger sister in Sidmouth and seeing a few other relations, about a dozen in all. Flew Newcastle to Exeter by Flybe and hired a Clio from Avis. Weather was mild enough but very murky so raptors were not very evident: total for trip of 5 species with 10 Common Buzzard, 5 Kestrel and single Sparrowhawk, Peregrine and Merlin. Had a good walk of 13km in almost 5 hours on Dartmoor on Wednesday (2/1) doing six tors on the upper West Dart, peaking at Rough Tor at 547m, and visiting Wistman’s Wood, a surreal dwarf oak wood, near Longford Tor. It was very wet underfoot — I’d forgotten Dartmoor bogs are so large, soft and treacherous — haven’t actually done many long walks on Dartmoor since my father died in an accident. It’s even wetter on the high plateau at Cut Hill (603m), which would be a major challenge at this time of year, even though there is about 45 minutes more daylight down here in mid-winter than in Northumberland. A female Merlin and a Common Buzzard were the only raptors seen on the West Dart. It’s an intriguing question as to whether Honey Buzzard use moorland conifer plantations such as at Bellever. The lowland heaths are more definite attractions and visited examples of these: Ideford Common, Aylesbeare Common and the more conifer-dominated Obelisk Plantation. Also went to the Turf, Powderham and Dawlish Warren on the Exe Estuary. Estate problems took up a lot of time: finally, to the great relief of everyone on our side, appointed new solicitors in a very satisfactory meeting at Exeter on 3/1 to remove a conflict of interest which had been threatening our share. Back yesterday on Friday evening flight (4/1) in time to make the Welli but cats were not amused at arrival in the middle of the night. It’s nice to be back to see the sights of Northumberland again! I do realise it’s now 2008. The last entry on this page will be the summary of all raptor records in the Northumberland study area in 2007.

28th December 2007: added for comparison purposes a video of Common Buzzard taken in Kielder on 1/6 a few minutes before the Honey Buzzard was seen. Seeing a few more relatives soon!

27th December: added to web pages video of Honey Buzzard displaying at Kielder on 1st June this year, reference 2007-210. If Honey Buzzards finally take to Kielder then the Northumberland population will really take-off. Obstacles have been the over-dense Sitka and hungry Goshawks. The habitat is now more varied so this should help with the colonisation but progress seems to be slow. Still trying out camera on birds in flight with Common Gull adult at High Mickley on 20th, Red Grouse at Harwood Shield on 23rd and Grey Heron at Stocksfield Burn today. Dropped daughter off at airport this morning (she’s off to Dubai) and walked around Stocksfield on way back, followed by trip with son to Tap to meet David and Mel. The significant autumn raptor migration reported below was noted over the Tyne to the north of the mound. The visit today to the Stocksfield area produced three Kestrel, two Common Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk. This area holds archetypal habitat for the last named with the number of tits around an undoubted attraction!

26th December: updated African Raptor web pages with more shots of habitat at Ulusaba, lion, leopard, Lesser Spotted Eagle, Martial Eagle, Steppe Buzzard, African White-backed Vulture and African Fish Eagle, completing the processing of the stills at Ulusaba; from the Cape added some habitat shots and Steppe Buzzard and Rock Kestrel stills. Also added some very revealing comments from Scotland on their Honey Buzzard population and from Devon on the significant incidence of adult female Honey Buzzard in juvenile plumage. Down to the Tyne on Saturday (22nd) to one of the best areas for raptors in the county – Shilford. Just two Common Buzzard seen but it’s nice to see all the timber still standing. On Sunday (23rd) in bright sunshine up to Newbiggin Fell (420m) at the top of Hexhamshire on the watershed between the Devil’s Waterand the Beldon Burn; five Common Buzzard up together in the Beldon Burn were almost displaying in the moderate S breeze. Went to church at St Helen’s on Christmas morning with daughter, while son cooked dinner, and to David’s in Hexham for Boxing Day party.

22nd December: provisional Hobby data for 2007 is shown below.

Area

No. sites

No. adults

Breeding Category

Juveniles

Conf

Prob

Poss

 

Locally-fledged

Also seen

Hexhamshire (Devil’s Water)

1

2

0

1

0

0

0

Allen

3

2

3

0

0

6

0

Upper South Tyne

6

4

1

1

4

1

5

Lower South Tyne

1

2

0

1

0

0

0

Tyne

1

2

1

0

0

2

0

Derwent

1

1

1

0

0

3

0

Total

13

13

6

3

4

12

5

Provisional Results for Hobby in SW Northumberland by area in 2007

Comments. General points to make are that

  1. Hobby is not the target species with visits planned to optimise Honey Buzzard returns

  2. The overlap between Hobby and Honey Buzzard sites has declined with Hobby moving more to open moorland fringes with shelter belts and scrubby woods and Honey Buzzard apparently unable to colonise such habitat

  3. More time spent under the canopy in Honey Buzzard sites reduces the time spent scanning the skies

It was a year of very mixed fortunes. Numbers located in spring were low with the very poor weather resulting in poor visibility. In addition the personal circumstances quoted for Goshawk meant that a key area, the upper South Tyne, was poorly covered in spring and early summer. However, many birds were seen in the better weather in September and the Hobby does seem very well established now in the upper South Tyne. Gamekeepers must be better at identifying Hobby than many birdwatchers: they are clearly able to separate Hobby from the proscribed Peregrine and spare the former. Overall the preference of the Hobby for moorland fringes is very marked with ten of the 12 young known to be fledged locally coming from sites very close to heather moors. At three further moorland sites in the upper South Tyne, five juveniles were seen in September but there were no earlier records and no adults seen all season. These birds may well have been locally bred but the evidence is incomplete and the sites are in the possible category. In lowland areas only three sites were occupied with one successful, fledging two young.

Something to celebrate today, the winter solstice. Every day is now longer for six months! A brief visit to Hyons Wood on Thursday morning (20th) produced one Common Buzzard. To the Welli yesterday evening for the second night in a row. Very vivacious company on Thursday even if they are bête noire for winning the quiz cash prize earlier in the week! Still something missing there though. A welcome break Friday night after a gruelling research day in Durham and continuing cold weather – back road was very slippery at dawn on 21st with one spell of sideways motion. Daughter arrives from Heathrow today, son some time thereafter.

16th December: provisional Goshawk data for 2007 is shown below:

Area

No. sites

No. birds (ads, juvs)

Breeding Category

Number young known to be fledged

Conf

Prob

Poss

Hexhamshire (Devil’s Water)

3

4

0

2

1

0

Allen

2

5

1

0

1

2

Upper South Tyne

2

2

0

0

2

0

Lower South Tyne

1

1

0

1

0

0

Tyne

5

7

0

2

3

0

Derwent

1

1

0

0

1

0

Total

14

20

1

5

8

2

Provisional Results for Goshawk in SW Northumberland by area in 2007

The results need careful interpretation. Goshawk is number 3 in priority in the study and visits are only made primarily to locate this species in February-April before the Honey Buzzard and Hobby return. This year through personal circumstances visits in spring were rather snatched and focused mainly on the east of the study area. Then very poor weather in June and July reduced the visibility of all raptor species. But the outcome is still disappointing as fieldwork effort was high in August and September when the weather improved. In the main grouse rearing areas the Goshawk is now very scarce. In the main pheasant rearing areas (Tyne Valley, Lower South Tyne and parts of Hexhamshire and Allen), the Goshawk was present in good numbers in spring but only one site was thought to be successful and very few birds at all were seen in late summer and early autumn. The weather may have been one factor but that would not have lead to the loss of adults. So I’m afraid that persecution of Goshawk by game interests must be suspected as a contributing factor. Such actions probably increase Honey Buzzard breeding success as the Goshawk is one of its predators. However, I don’t like the situation: we’re not farming Honey Buzzards which have to take their chance with the Goshawk, just as they do in a natural balance on the continent. The outcome for the 2006 season was similar. SW Northumberland appears to act as a sink area for juvenile Goshawk bred in the Border Forests, where there is much less persecution but also less medium-sized avian prey.

To get some brilliant fresh air, particularly welcome after usual pressures of last week of term (not all unpleasant!), walked up Northumberland’s 4th highest hill today from Slaggyford (14km round trip, five hours) in bright sunshine over frozen bogs. Grey Nag is an imposing peak (656m) to W of Alston. This is wild country, full of Red Grouse and very close to the Cumbria border. It’s almost as grand as Scotland. No raptors were seen here which is not too surprising at this time of year. Four Kestrel were seen on the road. Also completed analysis on web pages of Honey Buzzards found in visit to South Africa. Tried to check for Red Kite in the Warden area yesterday (15/12) but just heard one Common Buzzard call twice in a two-hour visit. The hoar frost in the mist was very atmospheric. A Red Kite was seen last Monday (10/12) soaring just S of Wylam. On the computing front had a paper accepted at a conference in Vienna next spring to add to the Berlin one. This is a research week! Might have to do some Christmas shopping soon: son and daughter are coming to stay!

10th December: added the Honey Buzzard videos from South Africa to the web pages for African Raptors. It’s amazing how thin these birds can be after migration. An individual Honey Buzzard can vary in weight from 500g to 1,000g over a few weeks. It’s not surprising that this has escaped British field guides, with their emphasis on birds on migration, but there’s no excuse for such ignorance now, particularly when French field guides are so much more accurate on the broader picture. Event-wise the weekend was a bit melancholy with Song of the Earth on Friday night (performed just as it should be with plenty of angst) and a Marie Curie Lights to Remember service at St Nicholas Cathedral, Newcastle, on Sunday afternoon. But I managed to get out on Sunday morning (9/12) in the sunlight up on Hexhamshire Common at King’s Law, where looking NE down the Devil’s Water you can see a major stronghold for Honey Buzzard. Not many Honey Buzzard sites in SW Northumberland are far from heather in some form or other: I suspect there is a strong positive correlation here. Snow had settled on the moors on Saturday afternoon but had nearly all melted by Sunday morning. At the Welli on Tuesday for a meal with fellow raptor students in the SW, another concert at the Sage on Wednesday and, best of all, this term ends on Friday: parties everywhere over the last two days. Marvellous!!

6th December: added to web pages for African Raptors further shots including close-up stills of Wahlberg’s Eagle and Steppe Buzzard from Ulusaba. Set up mutual citation of Honey Buzzard web pages with a Swedish study group to add to the Dutch (under Links) and Italian (under Migrazione rapaci, Migrazione del Falco Pecchiaiolo) ones. Fieldwork has its problems at this time of year. Went to panto “The Three Musketeers” at Hexham on Saturday evening (1/12). It was very amusing: great work by everybody in QHTC including David as director and Ciara as D’Artagnan, not to mention the dancers! Got involved in the lively party afterwards at the Beaumont (possibly under false pretences!), mixing with the ‘Shire folk from the celtic fringes and early start to fieldwork on Sunday evaporated with car left in Hexham. However, next morning (2/12) got a lift in from local farmer Derek, reconnected with the car and set off for Hyons Wood in the drizzle. This wood, on an old mining site to the SE of High Mickley, is just outside the main study area but should perhaps be included next year. It’s large and deciduous and does have a range of raptors though none were seen today in the rain. It must be ripe for Red Kite colonisation, being close to the one known Northumberland nest this year. It does suffer from disturbance but that does not seem to worry raptors too much if people keep to fixed routes; it’s also in 10-km square NZ06 (same as Bywell, Riding Mill and Stocksfield), which is covered by my existing license, so would be easy administratively. With the number of Magpie, Jay and Crow present, it does not look as if gamekeeper activity is significant. So really why am I not covering it already? Tomorrow to the Sage again with Nick for what may be the best of the season — Mahler’s Song of the Earth with its evocative female vocalist part — but should make Welli late on.

29th November: did make the South Tyne last Sunday (25th), having a five-hour walk from Williamston and Parson Shields to Whitfield Law (522m) and visiting the Barhaugh Burn, where the recent Common Buzzard colonisationof Northumberland started in Horseshoe Wood in 1988: from one pair in the county then to several hundred now. Weather was fair after a cold start (snow remnants on Cross Fell), with good visibility up the Thinhope Burn and got some photos of Common Buzzard which have been added to the stills pages. Perhaps not surprisingly the especially short P10 of Common Buzzard seems to be more readily observed than the difference on P9. Total for walk was eight Common Buzzard and two Kestrel with two more Common Buzzard and Kestrel seen on the journey there and back. It’s important in the winter to check that the estates are still behaving themselves. Getting my friends out for winter walks is proving impossible: a vacancy for masochists, but at least you’ll be in fine fettle by the spring! Must check this winter for Red Kite expansion of range in the Tyne Valley. Research day in Durham tomorrow: urgent work on paper due on 1st December (or something like that!).

24th November: much work on web pages, firstly from reading new book on feathers (mostly raptors) by Cieślak and Dul with good sample sizes and standard measurement techniques for Honey Buzzard and Common Buzzard feathers; secondly from creating new African Raptor web page to hold material from recent South African trip (Honey Buzzard, Brown Snake Eagle) and earlier visits. There’s a lot more to add to this latter page. Planning to get out on the moors tomorrow in the South Tyne, probably Williamston and Barhaugh Burn, to try and get some more stills of Common Buzzard to look closely at their wing formulae. On computing side paper accepted this week at leading international conference on interoperability in Berlin (I-ESA) for March 2008 with high referee scores: it’s a bit unnerving the growing acceptance of category theory. Welli last night was fun and relaxing after a hectic week at work, didn’t get out until 00:30! Mahler was well received – amazing line-up of different kinds of drums. We missed seeing the transvestite who sat next to Nick last time!

18th November: got the detail up on the trip in general but am still working on the raptor footage and also will put up a briefer trip report on the Kenya visit in 2005. Have Honey Buzzard stills on new camera (Canon EOS 400D, digital SLR, long lens, particularly like paparazzi mode) and some video footage as well (camcorder knackered for recording by end of trip, it’s had a shattering three years, will upgrade). Trouble with going away in term time is that all the work has to be done in weekends surrounding the trip: this weekend was final exam questions on pain of death if not there tomorrow morning. Still it’s great getting away somewhere sunny at this time of year. Very very fanciable FB picture I note!!!T!!! Welli was good on Friday – full house – long debate on climate change, indecisive on reflection like most pub debates except nobody trusts the politicians. Concert series resumes on Wednesday at the Sage with Mahler’s 6th, which should be fantastic.

14th November: back from week’s trip to South Africa with daughter; all marvellously arranged and enjoyable. Some 20 raptor species plus two new gull species were seen, including a brilliant four Honey Buzzard. Will report in detail over the weekend as I’ve got to put five days of work into two. Off to the Tap this evening for a touch of normality – Guinness!! It’s a long way to keep up an acquaintance (South Africa, that is!).

7th-14th November: itinerary was fairly relaxed, I was assured. On 7/11 train Hexham-Heathrow (leaving house 09:00), then three flights in steadily decreasing size of aircraft: Heathrow-Johannesburg (Virgin Atlantic, 11 hours from 17:55), Jo’burg-Skukuza (Federal Air, 50 mins from 11:50 on 8/11) and Skukuza-Ulusaba (Federal Air, 10 mins from 13:30); so door to door 27 hours with the two hours time difference. Ulusaba, where we stayed in one of the Elephant rooms at this Sabi Sands Game Reserve, is very good for safaris, seeing 11 Lion in two prides, five Leopard including two young and three White Rhinoceros in four drives from 8/11-10/11, along with an entertaining Spotted Hyena family group, an Elephant, 20+ Hippopotamus, Water Buffalo, Crocodile, Giraffe, Wildebeest, Waterbuck, many Impala, Nyala, Springbok, Duiker, Jackal, Mongoose, Yellow Baboon and much more. It rained on the evening of 8/11 and morning of 9/11, giving swarms of flying termites (alatetermites) everywhere. Such swarms, a feature of the start of the rainy season, are a major food source to many animals and birds. While on the drives you keep swallowing them! They are very nutritious evidently. At least it wasn’t dusty, which is a major problem in dry season drives. The vegetation was growing vigorously in the damp conditions. Then it became fine and hot from afternoon of 9/11 to departure at 12:30 on 10/11 and the swarms declined.

Of course some dark green environmentalists would say that you should not go on safaris as the transport involved damages the planet. A light green environmentalist might reply: if nobody goes on safaris, then the parks cannot be maintained, the unique wildlife disappears and the planet loses critical biodiversity.

We then went to Cape Town on three flights in steadily increasing size of aircraft: Ulusaba-Skukuza (Federal Air, 10 mins from 13:00), Skukuza-Jo’burg (Federal Air, 50 mins from 14:10), Jo’burg-Cape Town (BA, 2 hours from 18:40), picking up a hire car (Ford Focus) from National Alamo to take us to our next stay below Table Mountain in Camps Bay at Villa Surprise which had a very eclectic air, rather like some places in San Francisco. People-wise you could easily be in Holland with many fine blondes, the descendants of the Boers. Personally I prefer more eumelanin. Weather here was fine with hot sunshine in the clear air. Spring was in full flow with flowers and green shoots everywhere – very energising.Two gull species were new to me: Hartlaub’s Gull and Kelp Gull. The former is rather like Grey-headed Gull but with a pale head, the latter is rather like a Baltic Gull with just one small mirror on P10 and very dark mantle but looks heavier. Good news in the Cape Times: Torquay had thrashed Somerset rivals Yeovil in the cup. Had a drive to Cape Point/Cape of Good Hope on 12/11, walking out to the end and being treated to a Southern Right Whale surfacing. They have a lot of balls! We also went to the African Penguin colony at the Boulders. On the last day 13/11 we became complete grockels going up in the cable car to the top of Table Mountain in the morning and then driving the Stellenbosch wine route with a good very late lunch at Delvera Estate. Driving in South Africa requires a lot of concentration: the speed of vehicles varies enormously, partly because some are so clapped out. But we survived, at least they drive on the left! Finally back to the UK on long flight of 11 hours 50 minutes up in the air from 22:30 with Virgin Atlantic from Cape Town-Heathrow; then train Heathrow-Hexham getting back home at 14:40 (14/11). Slept so well on the long haul — pace had actually been fairly hectic. Must keep taking the tablets (Malarone)!

<raptors to follow>

3rd November: visit to the South Tyne found no traces of Honey Buzzards, confirming their final departure. The visit produced nine individuals of three raptor species: seven Common Buzzard and single Kestrel and Sparrowhawk. In addition a Tawny Owl was calling at midday. This is another raptor of course but my totals normally refer to diurnal raptors only.

31st October: well I think it’s the end of the season for Honey Buzzards in the UK. So this page will be updated much less frequently now with summary information on the 2007 season (such as the updated migration table below) or information from publications elsewhere. Time to move on. So long ….

Date

Time

Locality

Age/Sex

Count

Movement

28 Apr

13:20

Tyne Valley

Adult male

1

W up Tyne, into site

24 Aug

10:05

Tyne Valley

Adult male

1

To SE, exiting site (presumed same as on 28/4, stayed only 119 days or almost 4 months!)

4 Sept

11:40

lower South Tyne

Adult female

1

To SE, exiting site

20 Sept

11:50

Stocksfield (Tyne Valley)

Juvenile

1

To SW, exiting area

25 Sept

10:10

Stocksfield

Juvenile

2

To SE, exiting area

26 Sept

11:50

Stocksfield

Juvenile

1

To E, passing through

2 Oct

12:50

Corbridge (Tyne Valley)

Juvenile

1

To SE, passing though

5 Oct

11:10

Stocksfield

Juvenile

2

To E, moving out after stop

27 Oct

13:30

Eals (upper South Tyne)

Juvenile

1

To S, bird with damaged right-wing

Summary/

Comments:

         

Apr: 1

Aug: 1

Sept: 5

Oct: 4

10-11: 3

11-12: 5

12-13: 1

13-14: 2

 

Tyne Valley: 9

lower South Tyne: 1

upper South Tyne: 1

 

Ad male: 2

Ad female: 1

Juvenile: 8

11

 

IN: 1 W

OUT: 5 SE, 3 E, 1 SW , 1 S

Most records are for migrating juveniles, hence late in season from 20/9-5/10 and even 27/10

Mid-morning is always a good time for aerial activity in this species

Tyne Valley was good this year, may vary from year to year with winds

Juveniles are weaker fliers, so more obvious

A fairly typical annual total

Birds tend to follow Tyne Valley, rather than go due S

Visible Migration Movements noted for Honey Buzzard in SW Northumberland in 2007

29th October: updated Scottish and Devon pages on main website. To find a Honey Buzzard in Scotland the suggestion is to drive the A9 and look at all significant wooded areas or to go to Galloway. Of course timing is everything: late May/early June and September are probably the best times. To find a Honey Buzzard in Devon the suggestion is to search the heaths around Exeter with optimal timings the same as Scotland for spring but perhaps late August in the autumn.

28th October: out to the mecca of SW Northumberland for raptors: Staward Gorge in the Allen Valley. The best time of day now is just before midday to a couple of hours after (perhaps 11:30-14:00). Weather was perfect with sunshine and a moderate SW breeze following a wet start. Saw 20 individuals of five raptor species: 12 Common Buzzard, four Sparrowhawk, two Kestrel and single Peregrine (adult female) and Goshawk (first-winter female). But no Honey Buzzard. Birds flying over this valley, like gulls, corvids and pigeons, actually seem to soar to get over it: it must have a dreadful reputation in their circles! Son is back in London from China after his epic journey across Asia. Daughter is in Washington DC – she certainly gets around, maybe it’s because she works for Virgin Atlantic. Busy around the house and garden: lawn cutting and clearing out the upstairs. Next weekend it’s the excitement of hedge-cutting. Have to get the place straight to suit my Capricorn star sign!

27th October: out to the South Tyne in bright weather and another major surprise: a damaged juvenile Honey Buzzard with the longest primary feathers (P6-P9) missing a substantial part of their tips on its right wing. The right wing had a large gash on its tip and looked noticeably shorter than the left wing, which was normal. Damage like this can be caused by a shot gun: it’s certainly not moult and is unlikely to be due to an attack by another raptor where you might expect whole feathers to be missing rather than feathers cleanly broken. A collision is another possible cause or it may have got into some kind of trap. Shot damage is often confirmed by fragments of feathers pointing upwards but I was not close enough to check realistically for this. Anyway the bird was in clear difficulties. It could still fly quite well but lacked the normal aerial supremacy of the species. After making a few circuits of the area it appeared to continue its migration south through the South Tyne valley at 13:30, flapping furiously at low altitude into a moderate SW breeze until it disappeared from sight. The feathers will not re-grow until the next moult (due in Africa next summer) so migration is going to be particularly hazardous for this bird, especially as the weather and daylight are increasingly against it. It did look in good condition weight-wise with plenty of fat reserves. Its main hope is to get across the Channel quickly with a following wind (but it will not know this!). If such birds are trapped then imping can be used to help them. The damaged bird, of intermediate phase, was not the same as the two seen a week ago of which no sign. So it appears to be a very late arrival into the area. It could have been damaged anywhere between Inverness and the South Tyne. Overall 12 individuals of three raptor species were seen in the upper South Tyne: eight Common Buzzard, three Kestrel and one Honey Buzzard. On the A69 coming back along the lower South Tyne had seven Common Buzzard together at Melkridge with singles at Lipwood and Haydon Spa.

26th October: another week with no fieldwork on weekdays but planning another trip to South Tyne tomorrow to see if any Honey Buzzards still linger. Next week work goes up another gear as start formal lecturing on MSc programme (Database Modelling!) and try to submit a paper to a conference in Vienna. Working up a few more videos though in the ever-increasing amount of darkness: is this why the Scandinavians are so good at documenting their fieldwork? Invested my book token as pay-off from NTBC in Birds of Africa volume 7 to complete the series: transaction succeeded in crashing Waterstone’s new computer system in their Hexham branch. Pub score this week will be O’Neill’s 2, Welli 2, Tap 1, by end of tonight!

24th October: added video (2007-260) to main website of Honey Buzzard from Devon on 1 Aug 2007, including conflict with Common Buzzard.

23rd October: It is an interesting point as to whether Honey Buzzards are African or European. They only breed in Europe but spend most of the year in Africa. I always think of them as African, with their weird wailing calls near their nests and their extreme reluctance to get above the canopy for most of the time. Such features are common to many African forest birds. So maybe they are Out of Africa (ignore the tigers!). This is one of my favourite films. Of course while Honey Buzzards range widely over Africa south of the Sahara in our winter, their most favouredhaunts are tropical forests, not savannah, and most such areas are not exactly suitable for foreign visitors, even intrepid travellers. The logging of the tropical forests must pose a long-term threat to the species.

22nd October: went to Stocksfield yesterday morning (21/10) to look for migrants but it was cool with slow-to-clear mist and nothing much turned up except a female Sparrowhawk and a few local dog walkers. Having a dog seems to be a compulsory entry ticket for the area. So went home to repair and clean out the guttering on the front of the house. Climbed up to the eaves and there right above in the air were two Common Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk soaring, with the former giving many calls. They proved to be a major distraction: if they’d been Honey Buzzard I might well have fallen off! It’s a sobering thought that at 20 feet up a ladder, you’re only one-quarter to a third up the height of a typical Honey Buzzard nest in Northumberland: a good reason perhaps to stay on the ground! Today to work and briefly to O’Neill’s. I’m planning to add some videos soon to the web site, including the Honey Buzzard/Common Buzzard interaction in Devon in August.

20th October: the season still has some major surprises. Visited the South Tyne today (Ayle-Eals) in gorgeous weather and got 22 individuals of five raptor species: 15 Common Buzzard, two Peregrine (adult male, 1w female), two Merlin, one Kestrel and two Honey Buzzard juveniles. The latter were in prime habitat for the species – that first occupied in the current colonisation. One was of the common dark morph, the other of the much rarer pale morph, which I have not seen in the South Tyne this autumn, so the suggestion is at least one is Scottish-bred. They were not migrating, just feeding on edge of moor with one in a cloud of corvids when first picked up. So no need to alter table below, yet! With the low light at this time of year, you get very revealing video of the underside of the wings. Satellite tracking has shown a few birds lingering this late in northern Europe: I suspect they are birds that initially were in poor condition for migration and have settled in rich areas to build up their strength. A female Sparrowhawk was over my house at Ordley late afternoon, bringing raptor total for day to six species and raising fears that my home area is becoming more suburban! Watched rugby in evening in the Tap with David (and about 50 others!): shows video evidence still raises problems. No evidence is perfect. Welli was good last night (19/10) but could do with a bit more glamour!

19th October: as promised here is the table showing visible migration noted in the study area this year. This may well be the final picture, but you never know!

Date

Time

Locality

Age/Sex

Count

Movement

28 Apr

13:20

Tyne Valley

Adult male

1

W up Tyne, into site

24 Aug

10:05

Tyne Valley

Adult male

1

To SE, exiting site (presumed same as on 28/4, stayed only 119 days or almost 4 months!)

4 Sept

11:40

lower South Tyne

Adult female

1

To SE, exiting site

20 Sept

11:50

Stocksfield (Tyne Valley)

Juvenile

1

To SW, exiting area

25 Sept

10:10

Stocksfield

Juvenile

2

To SE, exiting area

26 Sept

11:50

Stocksfield

Juvenile

1

To E, passing through

2 Oct

12:50

Corbridge (Tyne Valley)

Juvenile

1

To SE, passing though

5 Oct

11:10

Stocksfield

Juvenile

2

To E, moving out after stop

Summary/

Comments:

         

Apr: 1

Aug: 1

Sept: 5

Oct: 3

10-11: 3

11-12: 5

12-13: 1

13-14: 1

 

Tyne Valley: 9

lower South Tyne: 1

 

Ad male: 2

Ad female: 1

Juvenile: 7

10

 

IN: 1 W

OUT: 5 SE, 3 E, 1 SW

Most records are for migrating juveniles, hence late in season from 20/9-5/10

Mid-morning is always a good time for aerial activity in this species

Tyne Valley was good this year, may vary from year to year with winds

Juveniles are weaker fliers, so more obvious

A fairly typical annual total

Birds tend to follow Tyne Valley, rather than go due S

Visible Migration Movements noted for Honey Buzzard in SW Northumberland in 2007

This week has been very hectic with for instance trip to Durham for research meeting today and my experience with solicitors in Devon getting ever more fraught: no chance for trips out in the field. Hope to rectify this state of affairs the coming weekend, starting with trip to Welli tonight. Daughter is in Barbados now: good company while up here and we’ve got flights organised to South Africa for next month, with a safari in Kruger on the cards. I’m looking forward to a bit more time locally after three weekends away in a row!

15th October: back from a weekend in the Lakes with Dave and Bill, staying at Crown and Mitre, Bampton Grange, which was very good for company, food, beer and wine. Long walk (c20km) on Saturday (13/10) from Bampton Grange to High Street at Wether Hill (655m), descending via Measand Beck, complete with ten Red Deer, to Haweswater. Weather was damp with drizzle: we did not linger on the top. Sunday (14/10) was much finer and had a short but steep walk in morning up from Haweswater to top of Garescarth Pass (600m) to clear a few cobwebs from watching the England rugby game in the pub the evening before! Raptors were in reasonable numbers considering the weather with 15 individuals of four species: eight Common Buzzard, four Kestrel, two Peregrine adults and a Merlin, the last named looking pretty ridiculous mobbing a female Peregrine. The Lowther area, which we were in, has historical records for Honey Buzzard and the habitat still looks very suitable with moorland outcrops surrounded by unimproved pasture with substantial woodlands. Cumbria must have a much more substantial Honey Buzzard population than that admitted. Daughter is staying now and we’re planning trip to Africa (and Travellers). Why are you on FB she says? It’s the fascinating technology of course!

12th October: back to the mound at Stocksfield for a short watch this lunchtime in very mild dull weather with light SW wind. The tent there is not mine, just to quash any rumours to that effect! Saw two Sparrowhawk and one Common Buzzard but no Honey Buzzard. Pub score this week is O’Neill’s 2, Tap 1, Welli 1, but no Welli tonight, missing it for a shameful second week in a row!

11th October: provisional figures for Honey Buzzard for 2007 season in the study area of SW Northumberland are given below:

Area

No. sites

No. ad-ults

No. nests

Breeding Category

Number young fledged

Conf

Prob

Poss

Hexhamshire (Devil’s Water)

6

12

3

6

0

0

6

Allen

6

9

2

5

0

1

7

Upper South Tyne

6

11

2

5

0

1

9

Lower South Tyne

2

3

0

2

0

0

3

Tyne

5

9

3

5

0

0

6

Derwent

2

3

0

1

1

0

2

Total

27

47

10

24

1

2

33

Provisional Results for Honey Buzzards in SW Northumberland by area in 2007

It’s a very healthy picture. Further data for migration and timing of the stages will be given shortly as well as Hobby data. Tonight is AGM of NTBC and we do not appear to have a bulletin editor replacement, which may mean the end of this feature for the club. Hoped to get out early this morning to check for migrants but a colleague’s illness meant I was giving his 9am class! Three Honey Buzzard in West Sussex on Birdguides yesterday (10/10) may have been part of the wave through the Tyne Valley on 5/10: 100-150 km/day is a common pace for juveniles when starting out on their long treks and in bad weather they make 0km. May be off to the High Street this weekend for a change!

9th October: not out in field today (research meeting with Mike in Durham) nor tomorrow (CIP in Gateshead) but a brief visit to the mound in Stocksfield on Monday morning (8/10). Weather was dry but, with very little sun or wind, not good for raptors so the total of two Sparrowhawk was reasonable. Redwing were everywhere, along with a few Brambling. Honey Buzzards are still moving nationally with one over Sheffield on Sunday (7/10) and one to two in Guernsey from 7/10-8/10. Birds in the Channel Islands in autumn are likely to be British birds crossing to Normandy from the Isle of Wight. Didn’t realise Facebook was so useful for archiving photos while on a long trip abroad: son has uploaded lots of photos on his trip by rail across Siberia (and even annotated them!). Might do this on next visit to Africa being planned for November. One or two other intriguing developments on FB!!

7th October: back from a weekend with Nick in North Yorkshire on coast at Robin Hood’s Bay, staying at Raven Hall Hotel, Ravenscar, which was very smart with good food. A very beautiful area and only two hours by Ka from Gateshead Metro Centre, where a female Goshawk was flying acrobatically over nearby Scotswood on departure on Friday (5/10). Also on the way down two Kestrel were seen hovering over the roadside on the North Yorkshire Moors. On Saturday (6/10) in very settled weather walked along the coast to the village at the north side of the bay and back (14km). The area was very good for the variety of small birds but raptors were scarce with just a first-winter female Peregrine and a Merlin seen. Two Great Northern Diver on the sea were the pick of the seabirds. Today saw a female Sparrowhawk plunging into roadside vegetation at Harwood Dale Forest on the start of the drive home. Then went for a walk on Danby High Moor (432m), starting in fine weather which gradually deteriorated into gloom and drizzle. Autumn migrants were conspicuous with Redwing dropping out of the sky and a Great Grey Shrike in gorse on the edge of the moor. No raptors were seen in almost five hours, perhaps confirming this is an unreformed area with respect to bird of prey persecution. Certainly Red Grouse density seemed very high compared to that in Northumberland. However, a lot of rabbit kills were in the same area as the Great Grey Shrike was found, strongly suggesting Common Buzzard in the area. So the trip did produce up to five species of raptor on the North Yorkshire Moors: two Kestrel, single Merlin, Peregrine and Sparrowhawk and probable Common Buzzard. No Honey Buzzard migrants were seen. As commented earlier (15th July) when going to York for my son’s PhD do, the habitat does look favourable for breeding Honey Buzzards but from the latest visit there must be worries about persecution.

5th October: back to the mound at Stocksfield for a short watch this morning in very fine weather with very light NW wind. Honey Buzzard passage continues with two juveniles moving E. The first from W at 11:10 flapped 4km from Styford then found a thermal to climb high above Mowden Hall before gliding on to E and was lost to sight ten minutes after being first seen. The second at 11:20 was first seen climbing on the same thermal and also went E but did not climb so high. This follow-me action is very typical of raptor migration in places such as Morocco. It is presumed these were Scottish-bred birds that had spent the night in the Riding Mill/Bywell area. It is exciting that this route through the Tyne Valley appears to be a significant one: they may follow the A68 through southern Scotland. Anyway may see the same birds again tomorrow! Total for visit was seven individuals of three raptor species: four Common Buzzard, two Honey Buzzard and one juvenile Hobby carrying prey and being chased by two Carrion Crow.

4th October: out to the Allen early this morning to check whether the Honey Buzzards have vacated this area. Indications are that they have with ten individuals of four raptor species seen: five Common Buzzard, two Kestrel and Sparrowhawk and one juvenile Hobby. Compare with 23rd September in the Allen with main change in Honey Buzzard numbers from five to none. Hobby are still hanging on in small numbers. The one today was really hammering a Common Buzzard, in spite of being a fraction of its size. Last committee meeting for NTBC for me this evening at Bedlington: time released will be enormous. Very useful for research and other interests. My last commitment, the AGM of the NTBC is next Thursday. Made the Welli late on, not there tomorrow for a change.

3rd October: today saw a juvenile Hobby over Riding Mill at 08:45, being mobbed by two Jackdaw. Yesterday (2/10) on return to Northumberland in brilliant weather (much better than in Devon), had a juvenile Honey Buzzard, a long way up over Corbridge at 12:50, drifting SE into a light SE breeze. This one you could pick up initially from the ground with the naked eye as a speck. Presumably this was a Scottish bird finally moving towards Africa. This was a completely opportunistic sighting: the vast majority must of course pass totally undetected. Nationally on Birdguides a smattering of reports of Honey Buzzard continue including two, through Gibraltar Point on the east coast on Sunday (30/9), which had drifted too close to the North Sea for comfort. To the Tap this evening: a blurred insurance delight on the way (but is it mutual?).

2nd October: back from stimulating visit to Devon, flying down to Exeter from Newcastle, hiring Punto from Avis, staying with mother in Dawlish and visiting younger sister in Sidmouth. Visited Haldon on Sunday morning (30/9) but total for three hours, in light E wind with some mist, was unexceptional at four individuals of three raptor species: two Kestrel and single Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawk. But it was nice to see southern heathland specialities of Dartford Warbler and Woodlark. On Saturday afternoon (29/9) went to Plainmoor where a Common Buzzard flew over the ground: Torquay United finally got the winning goal over popular visitors Droylsden (“northern b——s” was a frequent chant, not by me of course!) in the first of seven minutes added-on at the end. On Monday (1/10) went to Dawlish Warren where walked the whole length of the dunes but two Kestrel was the raptor total in very dull weather. So no Honey Buzzard seen. I think it very likely that this far south the locally-bred juveniles will have gone but there’s always the chance of a juvenile passing from northern Britain. Time for fieldwork was restricted not just by the football but also by the urgent attention required on some legal issues, which I hope are resolved now.

28th September: a walk on the Quayside in Newcastle at lunchtime was the best that could be managed yesterday (0 individuals of 0 raptor species!). Busy with submission for RAE, for which I’ve been selected. Today managed to get out in the morning into the ‘Shire: very autumnal with a fall of visitors from Scandinavia including 33 Redwing, five Brambling and two Fieldfare. This area is one where I’ve not checked for juvenile Honey Buzzard concentrations. The Hesleywell area looked promising containing scrubby woodland to the south of the breeding area and in very dull conditions on a cool NE wind, one juvenile Honey Buzzard was duly found and recorded on video, making one feeding movement. Altogether located six individuals of four raptor species: three Common Buzzard and single Goshawk (adult male), Honey Buzzard and Kestrel. Later in the Tyne Valley, when the weather was showing the faintest signs of brightening up, single juvenile Hobby and Honey Buzzard (noted earlier in the week) were both up over the canopy: they must be getting desperate for some brighter weather so they can leave. The Sage this evening with Nick for a bit of Beethoven and the Welli later with a bit of luck!

26th September: a bit longer on the mound at Stocksfield in the morning. Weather was perishing with a moderate N breeze and not much sunshine. Met one of the locals, Ronnie, who wondered what those birds were that looked like Red Kites but were not the same. Very perceptive! On arrival a juvenile Honey Buzzard was over Mount Pleasant about 2km to the east. Mobbed by many Jackdaws it then flew about 3km westwards before plunging into the trees. Another juvenile Honey Buzzard was still present in the area where it had been seen yesterday. Action occurred at 11:50. A Common Buzzard flew low E and a long way above it was a juvenile Honey Buzzard also flying E. The Common Buzzard came to a halt at Mount Pleasant but the Honey Buzzard carried on, taking full advantage of the uplift from the north winds striking the ridge along the southern edge of the Tyne Valley. Three items of interest here: 1) the Common Buzzard seemed to be escorting the intruder off its territory; 2) the Honey Buzzard juvenile was following the Tyne Valley eastwards and was going to hit the North Sea in well under an hour (hope it turned right!); 3) the Honey Buzzard was not one of the two local birds left as they were both seen shortly after but may have come from a site further up the valley. Anyway 11 individuals of five raptor species seen: three Common Buzzard, Honey Buzzard and Sparrowhawk and single Kestrel and Peregrine (juvenile), which was good seeing the conditions. Later had haircut at John Gerard – imperative for weekend! – and off to the Tap.

25th September: a quick visit to the mound at Stocksfield mid-morning as the weather was good for migration with light NW wind and bright sunshine. Two juvenile Honey Buzzard took off from the area at 10:12 and were lost to sight against the sun at 10:20 as they moved slowly SE over Hedley way. The take-off was classical for migration. When the birds perform dives and chases you know they are not going to migrate as they are using far too much energy. Migration is a much more serious affair with use of energy absolutely minimised: neither bird did a single flap in the long soar, gaining a very high altitude by the time they disappeared. They would not have been locatable from the ground at the end of their climb. Another juvenile Honey Buzzard remained in the area when I left at 10:35. It and the two that left were receiving considerable harassment from three resident Common Buzzard. Moving a little up the valley another juvenile Honey Buzzard was in vigorous display flight over its nest site, with nearby a family party of four Common Buzzard and a juvenile Hobby. So in one hour in the Tyne Valley, 12 individuals of three raptor species: seven Common Buzzard, four Honey Buzzard and a Hobby. Then into work with a visit to O’Neill’s on the way home.

23rd September 2007: a very windy day on the moors. Tried the same tactic as yesterday on the Allen, going onto Dryburn Moor initially but it didn’t work as nothing in the area was getting up in the air although it was very bracing for the observer! So went into a likely very sheltered site from past experience and was rewarded with 12 individuals of five raptor species: five Honey Buzzard juveniles, four Common Buzzard and single Hobby (juvenile), Kestrel and Sparrowhawk. Like yesterday the situation was confused with very agitated Common Buzzard and very mobile Honey Buzzard but analysis of the video suggested this number of the latter. At least seven juveniles have been raised in the Allen this year so the match is imperfect but these correlations have to be treated with caution, particularly when the birds are not all up at once. Again most juveniles were S of their breeding areas, about 5km generally. So when are they finally going to leave? I think then I’ll feel like Siegfried in the glorious music by Wagner at the end of Act II. Expect some exit on Tuesday/Wednesday from 09:30-12:00 each day as temperatures plummet in sunshine on a cool N wind.

22nd September: one of the best days for raptors this year with 36 individuals of six species in the South Tyne: 18 Common Buzzard, ten Honey Buzzard, four Kestrel, two Hobby and single Sparrowhawk and Goshawk. Weather was settled all day with a moderate W breeze; the sunshine became hotter in the afternoon as the thin veil of high cloud disappeared. The plan was to start at Alston and work northwards down the South Tyne valley looking for any gatherings of Honey Buzzard juveniles. The places where these occur are inherently unpredictable because the birds have no past experience of the area. This year the first gathering of six juveniles was very quickly found near Ayle Common and a vantage point was taken up in the Kip Law area (500m). The Honey Buzzards were mainly located to the south (four birds) and north (two) of a very agitated group of six Common Buzzard. At one time when the Common Buzzard thought the Honey Buzzard were going to land in their wood there were 12 ‘buzzards’ up in the air at once with the Common Buzzard below giving many anger calls: no physical interaction took place though. Two Hobby juveniles were also in the same area and got involved with a clearly irritated Common Buzzard. Later moved northwards and had two juvenile Honey Buzzard moving S at low altitude and descending in to the valley nearby. A group of four, presumably including the two that had flown past, then got up to the south and again were subjected to strong territorial defence by three Common Buzzard, with the Honey Buzzard forced to fly high over the Common Buzzard territory. The Honey Buzzard juveniles are typically 5-10 km south of where they are likely to have been bred. They are leaning towards the south but have not yet broken the cosy link with their home territories. The total of ten can be compared with that of nine juveniles found fledged in the main study in the whole of the South Tyne down to Haltwhistle: it’s a useful check but there are many unknowns. Some 45 mins of video were taken and analysed to confirm today’s events. After six hours of fieldwork went to the Tap to watch England ‘thrash’ Samoa. I won’t tell you what sporting event I’m attending next weekend! Next week also sees start of term and concert season at the Sage.

20th September: did the eastern end of the Tyne Valley midday to check for Honey Buzzard migrants: came out of Newcastle for my lunch break! A good vantage point is the little monument (or something like that) near the Broomley Woods car park. Saw ten individuals of four species of raptor: four Honey Buzzard, two Common Buzzard and Kestrel and the inevitable two Sparrowhawk over Stocksfield. The Honey Buzzard, in a loose group, were all juveniles doing many practice flights in the moderate SW wind. One bird actually left, the whole process taking ten minutes up to 12:00 exactly. The bird soared very high over a hill, lost its nerve once losing about half the height gained, climbed again and then glided off at speed SW straight into the breeze. The bird was then far too high to pick up unless you’d been following its every move. What a beautiful sight that was in Guessburn!! So we’re into stage 5 (post-nuptial, the last one) with no territories recognised, the adults gone and the juveniles grouping together. Four is the number of juveniles raised at the three easternmost sites. It’s tempting to think they were locally bred but of course they might have come from Scotland. However, the totals often do tally in this way and the birds are very matey to each other. So maybe they are an extended family! Tomorrow interviewing candidates nearly all day from 08:30 to work with me on a nine-months CIP (KTP) project.

17th September: out early to site in Tyne Valley where one juvenile was found performing some energetic flapping, diving and soaring over a wood. It descended back into the wood but after 30 minutes came out with three angry Common Buzzard below who saw it off. The juvenile drifted into another wood, dropping slowly towards its nest site. All sites have been checked now and no site is known to have failed. At least seven sites have produced two young which is high productivity compared with last year. Tonight O’Neill’s then a charity dinner at Saathi, Hexham. Tomorrow mini NTBC committee meeting at the Welli, for those leaving it! The sharp drop in temperature today should trigger some exit but we’re not quite up to the 20th yet when the juveniles traditionally start to leave.

16th September: a very breezy day (strong westerlies) with some rain in the afternoon but not nearly as much as predicted. Went to the Beldon Burn in the morning and got three Hobby in the same wood and a lone juvenile Honey Buzzard. The former were chasing the hirundines, of which there were good numbers. Assuming they’re all from a single brood, that’s the first time three young have been raised by a pair in the county. The latter got up in the breeze for about ten seconds and then glided away into the wind to find a feeding spot. Interestingly both species were breeding in an area where the game interests appear to be unreformed. It’s possible that as they breed so late, they missed taking part in the illegal spring ‘clean-up’. In Northumberland today, migration would have been hazardous with a high risk of going out over the North Sea. The only other raptor seen all day was a female Sparrowhawk over my field, which looks like the Masai Mara in the absence of pony grazing.

15th September: we are almost at the end of phase 4 (fledging) with the juveniles still maintaining territories but the adults largely gone. Yesterday had research meeting in Durham with my main collaborator Mike and, with a late afternoon meeting in Newcastle, did not get out. A female Sparrowhawk over Newcastle Central Station was nice: they eat the city pigeons. Today took advantage of the supposed last good day of summer to walk on Whitfield Moor, going up through Barhaugh. In that area a large number of raptors were found with 24 individuals of five species: 13 Common Buzzard, four Hobby and Kestrel, two Honey Buzzard and one Merlin. The Honey Buzzard in this area breed at 250m asl, the highest in the South Tyne, but there are sites higher up to about 300m in the Allen and Beldon Burn. A juvenile Honey Buzzard was flushed at close range on the heather and later two juveniles were up confidently together in play. The four Hobby, at three sites, were all juveniles. On the high moor almost got mixed up with a grouse shooting party but their sentry steered me clear! Three greyhens were a good sight. In addition in Hexhamshire single juvenile Honey Buzzard were up in competent active flight over their nest sites at two localities. Juveniles are not nearly as secretive as their parents. The adults spend enormous effort in keeping their nest site secret, such as entering the wood 2km from the nest and flying through a glade to reach it. Then the juvenile flies around the site for five minutes and drops straight into the tree holding the nest for all to see. Had a very busy evening with all the fieldwork getting home and garden organised. I think I need the feminine touch (or a mistress!). Some solid passage was reported on Birdguides today with 14 Honey Buzzard moving broadly south with ten over the Cambridge area. These are likely to be adult female stragglers and perhaps the vanguard of the juveniles from northern Britain. We’ll know more tomorrow.

13th September: PhD examiner yesterday – six hours with everybody on their mettle. Managed a couple of hours out in Hexhamshire this morning before lunch with Nick at the Laing. Weather was cloudy with very little breeze, which is not good for raptors but managed a juvenile Honey Buzzard gliding over one site plus two Sparrowhawk and Kestrel. Then NTBC indoor meeting tonight running the AV, before arriving at the Welli late on where bumped into a friend from the Travellers. No movement on Birdguides so the Honey Buzzards appear to be staying put but the impression is that the juveniles are roving more around their sites. Females were noted earlier this week at more upland sites but none have been seen recently at lowland sites. It is quite usual for the visibility of the juveniles to decline for a while after the adults have left. We now await the final departure of the juveniles, which is imminent but could be spaced over 10 to 15 days depending on the weather.

11th September: out early, reading thesis later at home. Another fine morning but with a cool moderate W breeze and the raptors were not so keen to perform although numbers were still high. In the Haltwhistle area saw 18 individuals of four species: nine Common Buzzard, four Sparrowhawk, three Honey Buzzard and two Kestrel. The Honey Buzzard at three sites were all singles, with a total of two juveniles and a female. The female did a very impressive soar but feeling the breeze came down even faster in one enormous dive. Because birds were not getting up for any length of time, it was difficult to know whether the juveniles were on their own by now. Finished the penultimate bulletin of my NTBC stint last night: more time for other things is very attractive.

10th September: familiar pattern of out early, work late. In the South Tyne this morning many raptors were out with 21 individuals of four species seen: 11 Common Buzzard, eight Honey Buzzard and single Kestrel and Peregrine (juvenile female). The Honey Buzzard comprised two family groups of three (adult female, two juveniles) and one of two (adult female, juvenile) and it does now look for certain that it has been a very good breeding season, with a record number of juveniles fledged. The two groups of three were having flying practice on the edge of the heather moors, which are popular feeding areas at this time of year. In more arable areas the juvenile Honey Buzzard are often on their own on stubble fields. It’s not clear what they are eating there but can guess at wasp nests uncovered by the harvesting, voles and mice losing their shelter or (more likely) anything they can get such as slugs and beetles. Being on the stubble brings them into close contact with corvids, which react with intense mobbing: a large heavy dark bird of prey over stubble in the middle of a swarm of angry corvids quite often turns out to be a juvenile Honey Buzzard! The weather continues fine and the Honey Buzzards seem very complacent about migration. A real stroke of luck later. Getting back slightly early for the train, put the bins on Lower Shilford and out came two juvenile Hobby. What an area that is! Added following PhD viva: never admit to luck – it’s perseverance and overall method that produces the results!!

9th September: back late in evening by train from London KX. Visited Chilterns today near Princes Risborough and after early mist got a very productive list of raptors with 36 individuals noted of five species: 25 Red Kite, four Common Buzzard, three Kestrel and two Hobby and Honey Buzzard. The last two species were at the same wooded site with two juveniles of each in energetic play for about ten minutes. The two juvenile Honey Buzzard were also seen in typical active flapping flight shortly after arrival at the site. About five minutes video was obtained of their play later at 13:30 when the sun was fully out. The Chilterns have very appealing habitat for raptors with an intimate mixture of woods, pastures and arable land. Except for the much higher numbers of Red Kite and lower numbers of Common Buzzard, you could very easily have been in Northumberland with even the stage of the season not that much different. A Sparrowhawk over the quintessentially suburban Ealing Broadway gave a total of six raptor species for the weekend. Bash at Froxfield, Wiltshire, on Saturday was an exuberant Tapper-Nicholls affair, very well hosted by Steve and Arran and thanks to my sister for helping me attend. Nice to meet some other long-suffering Torquay United supporters! “When are you moving back here Nicky?” they cry.

7th September: in a variation on POETS day visited the upper Allen early morning and worked later. Brilliant weather this week has given a number of successful flying visits and this morning the raptors were really good — 24 individuals of five species: eight Common Buzzard, five each of Hobby, Honey Buzzard and Kestrel and one Red Kite. The Hobby were found at two sites — two juveniles at one, two adults and a juvenile at another. The Honey Buzzard were also at two sites — female and two juveniles at one, female and juvenile at another, all up in the air, the first group calling persistently. So quite a number of females probably remain but no males have been seen this week so they may well have all left. Red Kite have bred in Northumberland this year near Prudhoe, an obvious spin off from the Gateshead reintroduction. The last time Red Kite bred in the county was c1830! No accipiters were seen in the Allen but a male Sparrowhawk was over Riding Mill station. Sparrowhawk is among the attractions of Stocksfield and Riding Mill. So the Welli tonight and then off to stay with my elder sister in Ealing tomorrow, taking in a family bash near Hungerford and hopefully a few Red Kite (or even a Honey Buzzard!) in the Chilterns.

4th September: and the females start departing. Visited a site in the lower South Tyne early morning and had one juvenile calling for food and another attempting to forage in a nearby wood. Both were having a very bad time with corvids with the one calling being pinned down by a few Carrion Crow and the other being mobbed by about 40 Jackdaw and Rook, each time it appeared above the canopy. Worse was to come: their mum soared without a flap high into the blue sky, drifted south east and departed. On Birdguides records are increasing again. These are likely to be mainly of the first wave of females. The juveniles will probably be with us for another 10-14 days, gaining strength before setting off on their migration. Recent studies suggest the juveniles are governed in migration entirely by magnetic fields, so they fly due south. The adults have developed mental maps of the route so they know for instance that Gibraltar is a good place to cross the Mediterranean and navigate appropriately. The visibility of the migration in Britain depends on the weather: adverse winds as in 2000 and 2006 force them down to lower altitudes making them visible, light following winds give them an easy exit at high altitude with low visibility. Working every day this week – shortlisting and reviewing – trying to increase my moral fibre!

3rd September: no let up yet in the pace of the season. Visited yesterday afternoon an area just off the Tyne Valley from which two sites were visible. At one nothing was seen, at the other female and juvenile were up for ten minutes low-down over the trees in a low-key training flight. Today early-on walked to a site in the Tyne Valley in brilliant sunshine to see female and two juveniles together up in the air for about 15 minutes. The birds went very high, indicating that the female will be thinking of leaving soon, as the young birds become more independent. So the next stage of migration – departure of the females – is imminent. Once the females leave, the juveniles become difficult to see for a while presumably as there are no adults to summon them up for practice flights. Took son to the Welli for a meal yesterday to make up for missing Friday evening there. Today back to work, marking exam scripts, arranging PhD exam and RA interviews, finding tasks left at start of vacation are still there, updating Facebook entry and later renewing acquaintances at O’Neill’s (work-life balance!).

1st September: back from a few days in Skye with Philip. We drove through the Tay Valley on the A9 in both directions but it was dull on the way up. On the way down today though it was much brighter and we did the area slowly with stops looking out for Honey Buzzards, being rewarded with two separate ‘pairs’ of female and juvenile doing training flights. Using a popular inter-pair distance for Northumberland of 2.5km there could be as many as 14 pairs in the Tay Valley from Pitagowan-Waterloo. Looking at Birdguides, there is now a lull in Honey Buzzard movement nationally: in northern Britain many adult males have left but the females and juveniles remain. In Skye stayed at Upper Breakish in B&B at Fernlea, which was very comfortable and well-positioned. Camping had been suggested but it would have been pretty difficult with the dampness, not forgetting the millions of midges which were everywhere whenever the wind dropped. The Claymore at Broadford is good for a meal and the odd pint of Guinness! Weather was of the soft-day type so we were out with no problems. Rather ambitiously tried Blaven (928m) in the Black Cuillins on the first day but the weather closed-in when we were two-thirds of the way up and we retreated. We did a long ridge walk on the second day to Beinn Dearg Mheadhonach at 652m in the Red Cuillins (including the Sligachan Inn in the route!) and a coastal walk to Point of Sleat on the third. The impression of raptors in Skye is that there is good variety but they are thinly distributed with totals: seven Common Buzzard, three Golden Eagle and single Kestrel, Merlin (juvenile) and White-tailed Eagle. Some close-up video was obtained of one of the Golden Eagles and Ptarmigan feathers were found at 500-550m in the Red Cuillins. Back in Northumberland and son is staying!

27th August: the season is at its climax now. Visited the Allen this morning and again many raptors were about with 31 individuals of the same six species as yesterday: 11 Common Buzzard, seven Honey Buzzard, seven Kestrel, three Hobby, two Goshawk and one Sparrowhawk. This area is manged by the National Trust but is surrounded by shooting estates. It is suspected that the latter are responsible for the failure of Peregrine to still breed in the valley but other species are allowed to thrive. The Honey Buzzard were in two family groups intermittently above the canopy. The first of four birds at one of the first sites to be colonised in the 90s included two juveniles which kept very much together; the male did not appear until three hours later and made a very impressive soar as if to exit but finally came back, perhaps motivated by a Goshawk in the area but mock exits are quite common. I don’t suspect Goshawk as being a problem for Honey Buzzard in the study area: there is so much easier prey for the Goshawks to attack. The second of three birds included male, female and juvenile, the male having a hard time of it with Jackdaws. The Hobby comprised one adult and two juveniles and they were also mobbing a Honey Buzzard, this time a female. Anyway the far Cuillins are pulling me away or more evocatively

26th August: off to the wild west today! On first moving to the north east in the 70s I lived in Haltwhistle at Town Foot just below the (lapsed) Spotted Cow and was amazed that in the surrounding rugged countryside the only raptor regularly seen was the Kestrel. In Devon such areas would have been heaving with Common Buzzard. Today visiting wooded sites in the South Tyne from Haltwhistle-Gilderdale Bridge saw 40 raptors of six species: 26 Common Buzzard, six Honey Buzzard, five Kestrel and single Goshawk, Hobby and Sparrowhawk. Best time was 09:30-12:00. The tightened legislation protecting raptors has led to a broad policy adopted by most estates of not persecuting raptors in pheasant release areas. Farmers are often positively keen on raptors as they eat many rabbits and pigeons. The Goshawk though remains very unpopular with many countryside interests. Today the Honey Buzzard comprised a family group (male, female, juvenile) near Haltwhistle, a male and a very heavy juvenile at another site and a lone female. It’s impossible to say what proportion of males have left by now but obviously some remain. The females will be staying a while to mind the young. The males aren’t really bad parents: they are responsible for some of the incubation and much of the food delivery when the young are just hatched. But they’ve done their final role of dynamic displays to encourage junior into the air and their leaving takes some pressure off food resources. Lunch in the Kirkstyle was uneventful except that they’d apparently run out of food!

25th August: another good day with mainly fine weather on a moderate NW breeze. Looked better in the east so went to the Beldon Burn in the morning and picked up a family party of three (one juvenile) in the air over the long-standing site at 11:50. Later at 13:45 the juvenile was over the open moor on its own at close range. There was a lot of shooting today and that might have scattered the group. Coming back down the valley had a female Honey Buzzard moving slowly west at low altitude over the road indicating a new site in this area: birds were found here last year very late on, indeed too late to say where they’d come from. A further surprise was a female Honey Buzzard at 15:00 crossing the Loughbrow housing estate on the southern edge of Hexham, on my way home. This bird was some way from its nest but well within travelling distance. Today has seen further migrants on the south coast and in Yorkshire. The males are obviously pulling out. Tomorrow promises to be a busy one in the South Tyne, with lunch in the Kirkstyle.

24th August: while car was in for new exhaust system this morning, took train to Stocksfield and studied the easternmost sites of the Tyne Valley. Was rewarded by an adult male seen exiting from one of the sites on the start of its long trek: it soared without a flap up to a tremendous height, before leaning to the south east and gliding off still at great height. If the weather stays fine it will probably cross the Channel due south of its nesting area (Isle of Wight-Normandy) in a couple of days using a soar-glide routine, requiring only 5% of the energy that would be needed for flapping all the way. This was the site where the same bird was recorded arriving on 28th April so the footage obtained of both events must be rather unusual. This exit coincided with the first significant movement of Honey Buzzards in England this autumn (Birdguides). At another site a juvenile Honey Buzzard spent five minutes soaring without a flap to join its mother at great altitude. A male Honey Buzzard displayed over yet another site: such extravagant energy use never directly precedes migration. A lot of walking today: Welli is inevitable!

23rd August: back from two days of glorious weather in the Lake District with Dave and Bill from the Tap, staying at the White Lion, Patterdale, a colourful pub. Rumour has it that Cumbria has a significant population of Honey Buzzard so a close watch was held during the walks in Ullswater, which included Place Fell (657m). One male Honey Buzzard was seen at 13:15 on 22nd soaring very high over its presumed territory before gliding 2km onto open moorland to forage. The territory here was more like those west of Inverness than in Northumberland with an edge of mountain feel. Back in Hexhamshire late afternoon and saw four Honey Buzzard in 90 minutes, including a new family group of three and a neighbouring male. The male from the family group soared very high, leaning far to the south, and although he finally came back, his departure to the tropical jungles of Africa must be imminent.

21st August: in a visit to a nest site in Hexhamshire yesterday evening, got a few more food calls from a juvenile in the canopy; the evenings are drawing in and by 9pm it’s getting difficult to see much on the ground now. So field work is declining simply because the day length is shortening. The birds are still here of course but the weather is generally too dull for much activity above the canopy. Added the juvenile food call to the web site along with a video from Hexhamshire last May (2006) giving a close-up of a female Honey Buzzard flying past at low altitude.

19th August: another male Honey Buzzard was seen in Hexhamshire above the canopy for ten seconds on 17th but he obviously decided the breeze was too strong and retreated. The weekend has been wet but today went to the South Tyne anyway, expecting it to clear this afternoon. It didn’t! On visiting a well-established Honey Buzzard nest site, found the nest already starting to shrink and the juvenile below the canopy away from the nest making food calls to its parents. These calls are rather chicken-like, described in BWP as ‘like call of domestic hen’. Standing in a clearing, fending off the midges who were evidently impervious to repellent, the adult male Honey Buzzard flew right over my head about 30 feet away. It did not realise I was there in the gloom. The chicken-like call was recorded last year on 24th August on camcorder and digital voice recorder at a site in Hexhamshire. This and two videos of adults from Hexhamshire and Devon will be posted on my web site directly. Daughter has returned to Sussex, helping me from OHA2C → OHAC!

16th August: finally we have fledging, defined as juveniles above the canopy. Arrived at a site in Hexhamshire at lunchtime to see a male Honey Buzzard already patrolling over the nest site, which was a surprise in the fresh W breeze. Soon there were two adults up in vigorous display with much display and chasing for 30 minutes in all. Then all went quiet for 30 minutes before the process resumed. This time though the pair of adults moved much lower over their nesting area, repeatedly gliding fast over it, obviously desperately trying to encourage a youngster to fly. After 15 minutes the juvenile finally was persuaded to get above the canopy in weak flight, looking rather shaky with compared to adult, shorter wings with squarer wing tips (primaries not fully grown), shorter tail (tail feathers still growing) and wings raised in shallow V, not kinked at the carpal (to gain more lift). This looked like a maiden flight above the canopy and lasted about five minutes. The juvenile did not do much flapping but hung there with wings fully outstretched and adults flying close by in support. I don’t think Common Buzzards would have done a maiden flight in such a breeze but then they have all autumn to get established. The male here will be likely now to leave in 5-7 days for Africa. A Hobby briefly got mixed up in the various displays and a total of 25 minutes video was obtained. At a further site, in the Tyne Valley, an adult female and fledged juvenile were later found up briefly in the air, suggesting some significant fledging at this time. Relaxation is essential after the concentration needed to monitor such events: dinner in the Welli with daughter – very nice!

15th August: another male Honey Buzzard well up over it site in Hexhamshire this morning and flying off several kilometres to the NW; such moves indicate some break down of territoriality and long distances to fetch food to feed large young. It’s great to see such fine birds coming out of the woodwork! At another site in the Tyne Valley, the enormous Honey Buzzard nest was in fine fettle after the drenching of the last day and night and at least one bird was giving piping calls. However, nearly all splash and feathers on the ground had been washed away. A nearby Common Buzzard nest was looking much the worse for wear after the downpour but the adults still put on quite a territorial show with much aggressive calling. Their young are of course already fledged. Finally it’s off to the Tap!

14th August: things are definitely looking up. Got a male Honey Buzzard up above the canopy at a site in the Tyne Valley (not that visited recently) in bold display. The bird soared amazingly quickly and steadily in turbulent, steamy conditions, before moving into flap-flap-glide mode, beating the bounds around its site. Also one of the feathers found at a Tyne Valley site in the last few days is a female Honey Buzzard P4 (300mm long, broad dark tip, few broad bands), the largest feather routinely moulted on the breeding grounds. Had a very welcome sighting in Hexham!

13th August: phase 4 (fledging) approaches but may be delayed a little. Visited three nest sites since return, including two of the earliest to arrive initially in the Tyne Valley and Allen. Neither has fledged yet, although there were enormous amounts of splash and feathers below the nest at one. Prospects for success I would estimate as moderate: wasp numbers are low but Woodpigeon numbers are very high in the Tyne Valley, Allen, lower South Tyne and parts of Hexhamshire and their feathers are all over the place near the Honey Buzzard nest sites in these areas. Season looks rather like 2004 when it was also very wet. Nearly all pairs were successful in 2004 but one young raised was the rule, visibility of the birds was poor in August and fledging was late, perhaps because pigeons are not as nutritious as wasps. With their adaption to tropical jungle, rain does not affect Honey Buzzards significantly, provided there’s a food base. Back to work this week seeing research students and daughter’s visiting.

10th August: just got back via eurostar from six days in Liège, Belgium, where stayed at the Campanile. Weather was disappointing — dull, no wind, drizzle — for most part. Last visit was in the great French heat wave of 2003 when it was 38 degrees, this time it was 21. Liège is on the edge of the Ardennes, a mixed wooded and farmland area, and is excellent for Honey Buzzards, so not unsurprisingly planned a couple of excursions. First was by train on 7th to Eupen, a town with very large forests to its south and east. Success was immediate on entering the Hütte area, the first large forest to the south. An adult male Honey Buzzard was flushed from a tree near the edge and seemed to panic, taking another bird with it through the top of the trees. The male then started long calls (disyllabic and trisyllabic) and from another group of trees another two birds were seen moving through the treetops. These gave about five minutes of alarm and anger calls. All the calls are on camcorder: they appear to match precisely those noted in Northumberland. They then went completely quiet. It is presumed that this was a family party with just-fledged young, which had been caught off-guard. As suspected from other visits to this part of the continent, the season here must run 1-3 weeks ahead of that in Northumberland. Another adult Honey Buzzard was seen soaring over a forest near Pepinster in a brief bright spell. Second trip on 8th was around the Tawes area of Liège, where the birds had been seen close-up in 2003. This area is dominated by enormous old coal spoil-heaps, now covered in mature birch and looking rather surreal. In the drizzle no Honey Buzzards were seen this time. It may seem strange that old spoil heaps should provide Honey Buzzard habitat but the woods on them were by far the wildest part of the countryside. In Northumberland at least one site in the South Tyne and two in the Tyne Valley are on old mine workings. Total for visit was 7 Kestrel and 5 Honey Buzzard. Reason for going there was attending CASYS, a lively international maths modelling conference (or something like that!), at the Business School, University of Liège. Gave two full papers and chaired one long session. I like the Walloons: they’re dynamic and attractive like the French but warmer I feel. Anyway now knackered and off to the Welli!

5th August: two visits to the South Tyne in the last two days, one in the Haltwhistle area, the other further upstream. Idea was to look for Honey Buzzards in areas where recorded last year, but not so far this one. No luck on 3rd but the 4th was very profitable. I was actually about to give up on a site when a local farmer came up to me. From his steely eye I thought this would be a brief encounter but we soon got talking and 40 minutes later were still at it. Then a male Honey Buzzard climbed out of the site behind us, soared to a great height and went off E to hunt. So it pays to be sociable! Later went to a site in the area where there had been very bad flash flooding recently to see how the nest had got on. The nest was intact and there was a lot of splash, feathers and prey remains (mainly pigeon) close by so I presume it’s OK. No birds were seen or heard in the area. The general impression is that, in Northumberland, the birds are still remaining very secretive, which is quite normal for early August. Anyway, off to CASYS, for a bit of CHAOS.

1st August: another visit to Devon over the last 3 days, this time by train, staying at the Langstone Cliff who do a very nice pint of Guinness. Had an interesting bit of fieldwork on Wednesday morning (1st) attempting to locate a Honey Buzzard pair on the west side of the Exe Estuary, where rumour has it that they’ve bred. Spent four hours walking around various woods, finding many Common Buzzard family parties (estimated 25 birds in all), before fastening onto a largish wood with a good mix of tree species of various ages, steep sides, generally rough for access, little disturbed and with nice views over the river and moors. After 30 minutes at 12:25 a male Honey Buzzard arrived over the wood with a very vigorous bout of deep flapping. It then patrolled over the wood, interacting with a Common Buzzard, which it saw off: this was very interesting as they do not interact very much in Northumberland and I wondered which would dominate. I suppose that in this area you have to take on Common Buzzard in order to survive because there are so many of them. Anyway it’s all captured on video. This brings my total of Honey Buzzard sites in the Exeter area to five, but there must be 10+ looking at the habitat. Reason for visit was the funeral in Exeter of my step father (my mum’s a widow for the second time).

30th July: with water levels falling back yesterday, finally managed to get into the Hexhamshire site protected by the Devil’s Water with nothing worse than wet feet. The Honey Buzzard nest here is colossal, with much piling up of sprigs on its sides and feathered-down below indicating growing young. It’s certainly in its third year of use but could well be older, being spread out on a side bough of a Norway Spruce. There was quite a lot of splash around and a few feathers but the only direct evidence for the birds was a single owl-like call. You have to listen very hard during visits to hear some of the alarm calls, which are meant I suspect more for the partner than for us. Had a Sunday evening stroll to the Stocksfield Burn (Guessburn) to check on its suitability for Honey Buzzards. There’s certainly scope for a pair on the south of this area in the Tyne Valley. I did see a Sparrowhawk: these are very common in Stocksfield and eat all the song birds!

29th July: been away in the Isle of Man for the last week (with another Nick, from Stocksfield), arriving back from Heysham this morning. Excellent weather — out every day in bright sunshine, and can recommend the Sulby Glen Hotel for refreshments and the like. Hen Harrier were the main feature with some 12 seen in total in 5 areas from coastal heath and scrub to upland moors, almost the commonest raptor after Kestrel (18 seen). Also seen were 7 Peregrine, 6 Sparrowhawk and 3 Common Buzzard, the last named at 2 sites near Ramsey. Chough were very common in the south west and local elsewhere. There was more woodland than expected: there’s quite a lot of recent plantings of Sitka. The areas around Sulby Glen and Glen Rushen/Foxdale have potential for Honey Buzzard though none were seen. The oceanic climate is not supposed to suit Honey Buzzards so it’s probably a long shot but as seen from Birdguides one or two passage birds have been seen recently, presumably on passage to/from Galloway. The heather moors were generally in good condition but we did not see any signs of Red Grouse: obviously they’d all been eaten by the harriers and peregrines!

20th July: an important (human) visitor to the study area this morning, who was escorted to a site in Hexhamshire. Arriving in a sodden site with a soaked nest, very little splash and only a few feathers and prey remains below, the omens did not appear to be good for any action. This is not unusual for Honey Buzzards: signs beneath the nest are often not obvious and their first reaction to people entering the site is to keep quiet and wait for the intruders to move on. After 30 minutes though one bird’s patience became exhausted and at distance it had a fierce interaction with Carrion Crows before giving two multisyllabic long calls. Then it came much closer, beating angrily over the site for about five minutes with frequent anger calls, before disappearing back into the trees. When coming over a site, for obvious reasons the birds try to keep as much cover from trees as possible. Shortly after, we left, retreating for lunch to the Welli at Riding Mill, one of my favourite haunts! Today was dry but dull, not a bad day in the context of this summer.

18th July: 2 Hobby actively hunting over Ordley at 14:30 were very welcome, the first for Hexhamshire this season. They do seem to have crept in in June and are now as widespread as we’ve come to expect over the last few years. A visit to Warden looking for Red Kite, which had been quite territorial there in April, was not successful. The afternoon was generally damp with low rain clouds eerily swirling around in all direction. In the steamy conditions, 2 Whimbrel S fitted in well with the atmosphere of a beach in Kenya, but this was the South Tyne! It was no surprise, when going to the Tap, to find Hexham awash after a cloudburst.

17th July: phase 3 under way. Much strong sunshine but heavy showers make ground conditions difficult. Yesterday afternoon’s visit to a site in Hexhamshire had to be aborted because a burn which blocks entrance to the site was too swollen by overnight rain to cross. Today’s visit to a site in the Tyne Valley in the evening suffered from long wet vegetation, particularly brambles, and a refusal of the Honey Buzzards to perform. Mind you there was a lot of splash and one feather under the next site and the local Jays went berserk at one point, but it was not that illuminating. Good features of the visit were Common Buzzard juveniles giving hunger calls from their nest and a Hobby flying fast over the tops of the trees. It is actually quite difficult to hear soft calls in this site, which lies close to the A695 Hexham-Stocksfield road and the Hexham-Newcastle railway line and right under the Newcastle Airport flight path. Still the birds of prey don’t mind: human disturbance on the ground is minimal and six species breed.

Half-time summary in study area:

Honey Buzzard: 25 sites – 7 Hexhamshire (Devil’s Water), 6 Allen (main, West, East), 5 Tyne (Tyne Meet-Bywell), 4 South Tyne (Gilderdale-Haltwhistle), 2 lower South Tyne (Plenmeller-Warden), 1 Beldon. Ten of these are target sites – all occupied – 3 Hexhamshire, 3 Tyne, 2 Allen, 2 South Tyne.

Hobby: 7 sites (not complete, birds have been seen elsewhere by other observers) — 3 South Tyne, 1 Allen, 1 lower South Tyne, 1 Tyne, 1 Beldon.

15th July: all of ten target sites visited now and all occupied though today’s was very frustrating with a long search in enormous Norway Spruce trees. After five hours in the valley a female Honey Buzzard actually got up above the canopy at another site and did some nifty display, being intercepted by a Hobby at one point. Mind you it’s not only Honey Buzzards that are difficult to see at the moment. There must be at least ten Common Buzzard sites in the area I was in but not one bird was seen, the only signs being scattered fresh Rabbit fur. We’re now starting phase 3 of the season: further checks on key sites and stepping up of general observations over the whole study area to look for continued/new occupation. Visited the North Yorkshire Moors on Saturday (14th). This does have one official Honey Buzzard site of course. The habitat looks favourable in general with a mixture of timber and heaths.

11th July: another site visited in phase 2 and found to be occupied; the recent drier spell meant there was much more splash and many more feathers in the nest site. Judging by the reactions of the local Swallows, a Honey Buzzard did come off the site as I approached it but I did not see it. The amount of timber around most nest sites makes it easy for Honey Buzzards to avoid you, in spite of their size. Just one call in the visit, that of anxiety.

10th July: phase 2 is now almost complete with 8 out of 10 sites in the initial list checked and all found to be occupied. The Honey Buzzards are very reluctant to get above the canopy at present. In a typical visit you reach the tree where the nest is with no signs of any birds at all. If you then search the area around the nest, you might after a little while get alarm calls from Jay or Common Buzzard, followed by a few waling, owl or anger calls from Honey Buzzard. The suspected scenario is that the Honey Buzzards go deeper into the surrounding wood to escape your presence and enter Jay or Common Buzzard territories, giving rise to interaction. At a few sites the Honey Buzzards are more aggressive, going into full anger mode right over the nest, but the majority are quite retiring. A further Hobby site was found on 8th July in the South Tyne with a single bird up briefly. At a site in Hexhamshire tonight a Honey Buzzard gave one wailing call at 21:50: nest duty transfers appear to take place at sunset giving rise to such calls. The weather has improved with a succession of fine days but the ground, especially in the woods, remains very wet and all rivers and streams are still at a high level. June was the wettest June on record in south west Northumberland with 8.5 inches of rain. Indeed it was the second wettest month recorded across all months.

2nd July: phase 2 in Northumberland continues rather slowly with five sites now checked and all occupied. Weather continues to be a pain with the bottom of the woods regularly washed out and signs lost. You need to know the wailing calls to find Honey Buzzards at this time of year: such calls are given only around the nest (see calls ) and are a feature of the incubation stage. Had a flying visit to the Chilterns. Never seen so many Red Kite. In the Ibstone area a walk produced 26 birds at eight sites and on the M40, in a traffic jam, 16 were seen between junctions 4 and 5 with another single at junction 2. Of course the kites are at the fledging stage so they were very visible. Also saw three Common Buzzard at separate sites, six Kestrel and a Sparrowhawk. No Honey Buzzard were seen: the habitat looked suitable with a mosaic of woods of various ages and meadows. The woods tend to be on the tops of hills rather than in the valleys as in south west Northumberland.

29th June: in Northumberland phase 2 activities continue with four sites checked to date and found to be occupied. Northumberland escaped the worst of the bad weather early this week and it’s now showery with sunny intervals.

24th June: a flying visit to the Exeter area of Devon. I had hoped to visit a number of heathland sites but weather limited the activity. In the end had substantive visits to two and had one Honey Buzzard up at a new site in rather typical late phase 1 activity with solitary patrol high up over its territory. At the other site, occupied last year, Common Buzzards were very plentiful but no Honey Buzzards were seen during the visit which is no great surprise at this time of year.

22nd June: at 13:00 a Honey Buzzard was soaring high over a site in the Tyne Valley with a Common Buzzard out below just over the trees. Opportunistic sightings such as this are very valuable: it is a great help living in the middle of the study area.

20th June: now into phase 2 of the Honey Buzzard season with visits made to two nest sites in the last two days under disturbance permit from Natural England. Weather has a drier feel with the wind moving to a light south westerly.

18th June: another Hobby reported in the Tyne at Widehaugh, Hexham (Birdguides). They certainly like to be near Sand Martin colonies. Recent reports of Hobby suggest the population is being maintained but the arrival has been late this year.

17th June: another humid but almost dry day and visited Plenmeller Common for four hours where there is a very successful Black-headed Gull colony (some 1,450 birds including about 500 flying juveniles). Five gull species in all were seen as well as breeding Wigeon and Teal and many, many waders. One Honey Buzzard was soaring very high over the moor at 13:30 before gliding off for several kilometres to the east. Earlier over this same moor at 09:25 another observer had seen a Hobby moving east and another Hobby was at Berwick the same day (Birdguides). In the afternoon in brighter sunshine further east along the lower South Tyne at 15:15 a male Honey Buzzard was up in robust display with exaggerated flap-flap-glide actions.

16th June: very humid but dry morning with very brief bright interludes descending into a cloudburst and local flooding in the evening. Visited the lower South Tyne and was treated from 13:25-13:30 to a very energetic and agile display by a pair of Hobbies. From Birdguides a Hobby was also seen at Whittle Dene at about 10:00 this morning; no doubt the increased coverage there through the very visible Osprey has assisted in showing its presence. Hobbies should be laying very soon. No Honey Buzzards were seen today and the second stage of the season is on hold until the weather improves: disturbing the nest sites is unjustified in the present persistent wet weather as it might cause chilled eggs.

15th June: it’s been monsoon-time here since the last report: virtually continuous heavy rain mainly on a NE wind. Field work has been virtually impossible. We are now in any case moving into the second stage of the season – looking for nests – as the birds have now clearly settled to breed. Monsoon conditions appear to not affect Honey Buzzards significantly – wet jungle is their domain – but Hobbies are more susceptible. They are on the edge of their range and any that have bred early may be in trouble. So far Honey Buzzards have been found at 21 sites in the study area and Hobbies at four.

11th June: very sunny and hot in the morning, turning to rain in the evening. A visit to the Tyne Valley produced no Honey Buzzards.

10th June: another settled day albeit with more persistent cloud and a light NE breeze. Visited the South Tyne where walked to Whitfield Lough (497m): Black-headed Gulls have returned here to breed in small numbers and so have Wigeon with two broods of 5 and 4 young respectively. Three Dunlin together (two adults, one juvenile) was another fine sight, confirming their continued breeding in the North Pennines. Raptors were scarce and no Honey Buzzards were seen either in the valley or on the moors.

9th June: another fine day with very strong sunshine albeit slightly hazy, wind NE light. Visited the Allen. In a three-hour watch on one site, got two of the thin pipe calls at 12:33 from a pair of birds perched a little distance apart. Without knowing the calls, the visit would have been a blank at the site. Watching neighbouring sites though was more rewarding with an adult Honey Buzzard soaring at one from 11:20-11:25 in classical rather muted behaviour for this stage of the season. In Hexhamshire at 16:54 a male flapped through the trees at another site.

8th June: sun finally emerged late morning and immediate response by Honey Buzzards with one floating effortlessly over a Tyne Valley site at 13:00.

7th June: thick cloud off the North Sea has prevailed this week so far; this happens every spring so has to be built into expectations. No Honey Buzzards have been seen since the last entry but field work has also been rather light.

3rd June: a day which would be described in Devon (or perhaps by older people generally!) as ‘close’ – calm with high humidity and mainly overcast but it did brighten up a bit shortly after lunch and that brought out a lot of raptors. Spent five hours in the South Tyne from 11:30-16:30 and got a pair of Honey Buzzard at one site at very close range and a single bird at another floating across the edge of the moor. ‘Pairs’ of Cuckoo at two sites were also a bonus: they have been scarce this year. A Hobby was found at one regular site, mobbing a Common Buzzard. Hobbies have been slow returning this year.

2nd June: another fine morning which is so helpful at this stage of the season. Visited the last outstanding site in Hexhamshire and got the female Honey Buzzard flapping into last year’s nest site at 11:20. This was followed by both birds up in mutual circling for a short time at 11:25 with the male then patrolling the territory alone up until 11:45. It clouded over a little in the afternoon but it’s not possible to relax at this time of year. So off to the Allen after lunch where, at 15:55, one reared up out of the trees, stayed up for about 20 seconds and then flew into thick cover in the valley. A Hobby was reported to me from the Beldon Burn.

1st June: rare visit to Kielder Forest. Honey Buzzards did not appear to fancy the habitat here when it was wall-to-wall Sitka Spruce but much of it is now less evenly aged and there are large clearings. So it was not too much of a surprise to have one in full display at 13:10 with the very exaggerated wing beating. This one called – half a dozen long flight calls with the typical weak upstroke — the first calls heard anywhere this year. The birds often do not call much on first arrival so this is not unusual. The display was completed in very fine weather just before a thunderstorm struck this western part of the county: the east of the county has had finer weather recently facilitating coverage there. Amazing numbers of Siskin were found including a flock of 105 but Common Crossbill were scarce.

31st May: hot sunshine, very good visibility, light westerly breeze, would normally indicate a good morning for Honey Buzzard at this time of year and today was no exception. In Hexhamshire four birds came up between 9 and 11 am, one per site, but none stayed up that long. Typical activity was to rear up fairly quickly from site, then circle a few times and retreat back to the trees where the bird floated through the tree tops for a short time. Still today added 3 sites to the annual total and it looks like numbers will be increasing in Hexhamshire this year.

28th May: after more showery rain this morning, a brighter afternoon but with a very cool northerly breeze. Honey Buzzards responded quickly to the brightening with two fresh sites for this year in Hexhamshire and the Tyne Valley: a) one bird up at 16:55 before plunging back to the tree tops and flying through them out to feed; b) one bird floating at 17:35 over the site but again diving back into the trees again all too quickly. At another site in the lower South Tyne, there was more activity. First a female Honey Buzzard was up with a Common Buzzard at 17:50 in brief interaction, then at 18:20 the female floated and hanged over the site, finally at 18:25 the pair of Honey Buzzards was over the site hanging in the breeze.

27th May: an unsettled day but drier by mid-afternoon in the west so visited the South Tyne. Willow Warbler and waders seemed to be thriving in the cool conditions. A fine male Honey Buzzard came out of dense vegetation by the river at 17:35, mobbed by Oystercatcher and Jackdaw, and flew right over my head. A pair of Honey Buzzards came out of the site here at 17:45 planing away to the north-east with one bird returning at 17:55. This is the second site for the South Tyne this year.

26th May: a walk in the Cheviots (high point Windy Gyle, 619m) in rather mixed weather (sunshine and hail showers) but excellent visibility and a light westerly breeze. On the northern fringes of the Kidland Forest from 13:50-13:55 a pair of Honey Buzzards were soaring to a great height, eventually going into the cloud base. These birds were together and at height were doing the follow-me display. This coniferous Forest is a good area for Honey Buzzards from past experience: on the northern side, it has lots of rides and open areas and heather moors, always a plus point for the species.

25th May: further good raptor weather with light to moderate westerly breeze, excellent visibility and strong sunshine. Some vigorous display by Honey Buzzards over the Beldon Burn this morning from 11:10-11:25 with one bird patrolling over a wide area, plunging and rising with exaggerated wing flapping, joined by a second bird briefly on two occasions. Later at 14:05 another Honey Buzzard was in full display outside the study area to the east over a village on the River Tyne. This is a new site to me, although not unexpected.

21st May: one Honey Buzzard at 11:05 high over the site in Hexhamshire, first occupied on 5th, soaring without a wing beat until lost from sight. No pair here yet apparently.

20th May: after yesterday’s big blow, a much better raptor day with a milky sky, a scattering of low fine weather clouds and a light westerly breeze. Honey Buzzards are becoming more visible with, in Hexhamshire, two birds briefly mutually circling at 11:40 at what would be a new site for a pair. In the Tyne Valley a female was briefly up twice around lunchtime at the site first occupied on 28th April so there appears to be both a male and female here. Also here were a pair of Hobby soaring with a male Goshawk below and five species of raptor in all at this one site today. At a nearby site, where one also noted on 11th May, a female was up briefly at least twice over the same period, causing a lot of alarm calling from a resident Common Buzzard.

One on the coast yesterday (19th) at Holy Island in Northumberland was interesting. This bird had presumably drifted to the east in the strong westerly winds from its normal migration path up the spine of the country. See for instance the counts for Honey Buzzard in Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg for 2006 on the map(fuller details visit http://www.trektellen.nl/). These show most birds moving inland.

18th May: today was bright and breezy. In the South Tyne at 16:30 a Honey Buzzard was flushed from the floor of a wood near a regular site where it was presumably feeding. A Hobby was briefly over an oak wood by the South Tyne, showing well its facial pattern.

17th May: after a very wet day yesterday, conditions were slightly better today with warm drizzle this morning. So a Honey Buzzard was floating at moderate height in drizzle at 10:50 over the site in the Tyne Valley where the first bird was seen this season.

14th May: the site at Hexhamshire, after a lengthy watch, finally at 19:40 produced a lone bird, flapping over the area while being mobbed by a Carrion Crow. This bird was up for about two minutes, a lengthy flight for the season so far.

13th May: no luck in a visit to the South Tyne but it was cool with monsoon conditions at the start.

11th May: another evening sighting at 17:30 with one beating the bounds at a second site in the Tyne Valley including shaking wings. Evenings can be quite productive, particularly if the weather is bad in the daytime.

8th May: very little in the way of fieldwork over the last few days but this fine evening at 19:30 a lone Honey Buzzard came up for 40 seconds over the same area in Hexhamshire where one was seen on 5th. Weather has been poor over the long weekend.

5th May: more signs of arrival. A pair of Honey Buzzard were floating briefly over a site in the Allen at 12:25, this flight heralded by 4 Common Buzzard overhead, another Common Buzzard angrily calling and 2 Jay in aggressive mode. The Honey Buzzard flight lasted barely a minute, quite typical for birds soon after arrival. Different site to that on 3rd. Another Honey Buzzard was found opportunistically in Hexhamshire, floating briefly over a site at 14:40, another flight lasting only about a minute. Garden Warbler were singing today at two sites in Hexhamshire.

3rd May: report from another observer of one at 12:50 drifting along a ridge in the Allen over moorland.

28th April: grand sight at 14:25 of male Honey Buzzard arriving up the Tyne in power flight from the east. It immediately explored a regular site in the Tyne Valley with quite energetic patrolling for 15 minutes over a large area before settling down in the trees in the nesting area. Also in the area were Hobby soaring overhead and two groups of Swift totalling 8 birds. Maybe these insectivorous birds arrive together.

26th April: in spite of some 12 Honey Buzzards recorded nationally by this time, none have apparently reached here yet.

Recent relevant BB references:(more reading here)

Duff, Daniel G, Has the Plumage of juvenile Honey-buzzard evolved to mimic that of Common Buzzard? British Birds 99((3) 118-128 (2006).

Elliott, Simon T, Diagnostic Differences in the Calls of Honey-buzzard and Common Buzzard, British Birds 98(9) 494-496 (2005).

Panuccio, M, Agostini, N, Wilson, S, Lucia, G, Ashton-Booth, J, Chiatante, G, Mellone, U, & Todisco, S, Does the Honey-buzzard feed during Migration? British Birds 99(7) 365-367 (2006).

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One thought on “Notice Board: the Honey-buzzard Season in Northumberland 2007 as it happened – Nick Rossiter

  1. hurtige penge

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    Reply

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