Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Buzzards

Only two species of daylight raptor are at all common in the skies above Sliabh Mannan, buzzards and kestrels. Owls are frequently to be heard at night but almost impossible to see amongst the woodland. I have not yet succeeded in photographing one.
The more common of the daylight birds of prey is the buzzard (buteo buteo). A neighbour of mine claims to have once seen a dozen in the air at one time; I have a feeling that I may once have seen as many as five, but the memory is too hazy to attest with any certainty.
One pair breeds annually in a wood not far from my home and they are frequently to be seen hunting over the open farmland and the embankments of the long-defunct railway line that used to carry coal across the moor. At high altitude a buzzard is capable of spectacular soaring flight.
In the last couple of years another bird, perhaps one of their offspring, has also moved into the area. This one is remarkably noisy, regularly mewing in flight and advertising his presence to every rabbit and vole in the area. I am not sure why this method should be effective, but since he has been around for at least two seasons he is evidently not starving.
When out walking, I am quite often alerted to the presence of a buzzard by a tremendous commotion amongst local rooks, who resent the intrusion of a predator into their airspace and frequently despatch a squadron of interceptors to see him off. At low altitudes buzzards are cumbersome, lumbering flyers, easily outmanoeuvred by rooks and other smaller, nimbler birds who will readily mob them.
Even single rooks think nothing of attacking an interloping buzzard in the air. I have seen rooks dive into the attack with such speed that it seems inevitable there will be a mid-air collision. Once I wondered whether an impact had truly happened, but both birds went on seemingly unharmed. Usually the buzzard decides to pretend that he was already on his way somewhere less noisy and departs, escorted on his way by a final patrol rook. Honour is perhaps satisfied, but the observer on the ground is not fooled.