Tag Archives: Common Buzzard

A strange photograph (3)

In 2009, we were on our annual holiday in Cornwall, staying in a cottage near Penzance.  Here is Penzance, the last town in England and still plagued by pirates. Look for the sun tanned arrow:

On ‎August ‎17th , ‏‎around half past eleven in the morning, we arrived at Men an Tol, one of the most famous landmarks in this part of the world. Here’s  its location, right out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by other megalithic sites and lots of place names in Cornish. Look for the orange arrow again:

Men an Tol is a megalithic monument, supposedly, and we set off along the rough path out to the moors:

It was a nice day, lots of heather in bloom:

Standing stones are so plentiful in Cornwall that farmers even used them to build dry stone walls:

Here is a decidedly average photograph of the monument we were going to see. It  is a uniquely arranged Stone Age structure, although I have always felt that if it is uniquely arranged, that may be a negative feature rather than a positive one:

Here’s a better one:

Just for scale, the stones are perhaps three or four feet tall. I didn’t dare try to crawl through the hole, for obvious reasons.
There were a number of buzzards circling in the blue sky. This is a Common Buzzard:

The birds were all little dots high in the sky but I took some photographs, thinking that I could perhaps blow them up later on.
It must have been a couple of months later, as I worked my way through far too many mediocre photographs of our holiday that I noticed something a little out of the ordinary. Here is a full size photograph and the buzzards are still just tiny dots. Note the bracken though, because that will prove where I took all the photographs:

Here it is blown up. There are three buzzards in shot and the bracken is still there. Notice the tiny white cloud because that will reappear.

I started to try and look at the buzzards by blowing the picture up a little more. The little white puff of cloud is still there:

I immediately noticed something strange off to the right so I blew it up yet again. The white puff of cloud provides continuity of evidence:

What on earth is that? I blew it up again :

And again:

And this is the best I could do. I used “unsharp mask” on it this time:

I do not know what this object was. At the time I did not even know it was there.  It may have been an inflatable balloon or something from a pop concert or a festival of some kind, but that really is clutching at straws. No events like that happened in the area during our stay there. And it must have been quite big. A buzzard’s wingspan is around five feet and it is certainly bigger than that. I have never seen a children’s balloon that big. You could argue that it was a lot closer than the buzzards. But surely then I would have noticed it. Sooooo….by definition, it must have been a UFO. I just wish I’d seen it!

Incidentally. I have done very little with Photoshop to these pictures. They have been cropped, resized and may have had their brilliance and contrast levels changed to make the images clearer. These photographs are completely honest, in other words.

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Filed under Aviation, Cornwall, History, Personal, Science, Wildlife and Nature

A child minding dilemma

(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)

Saturday, June 11, 1988

I walk back home from the local newsagents, my eyes peeled as always for the odd brilliant white Gyrfalcon, soaring over the City Hospital. But, as always, without any luck.

zzzz gyr

Suddenly, a big brown raptor comes into sight, making its way purposefully along the Ring Road, flying along the line of the valley, heading roughly eastwards.

surf marsh harrier

At first, because of the time of year, I presume that it must be an Osprey, although I can’t really imagine why, because it doesn’t look anything like an Osprey and it isn’t carrying a fish.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzz  osprey-with-bass

For a start, it has an obviously pale, or even white head. It is this latter feature that makes me realise that it is a Marsh Harrier.

zzzzz  marsh_harier_

Then there is an agonising decision to face. Do I run a home like the clappers, and then the bird will become eligible to be included in my “Seen from the Garden List”? If it were left to me, there would be no contest, but the problem is that I have my Baby Daughter, aged two, asleep in my arms. Mum will be a bit displeased if I plonk her down on the pavement and leave her, just so that I can see the same bird a second time, only thirty seconds after I have seen it for the first time, although, granted, from a different place. So, I forget the idea of momentarily hanging Baby Daughter on somebody’s front fence, and walk maturely on, trying to persuade myself that moral ticks count just as much as real ones do. It’s a lot more difficult to make these decisions when you’ve only just moved house and your Garden List is not yet in double figures.

Twenty six years later and I still haven’t seen an enormous number of raptors from my back garden. Sparrowhawks are probably the commonest.

zzzzz sparrow

In nearly thirty years, there has only ever been one Kestrel.

zzzzzzzCommon_kestrel_in_flight

I have seen a good number of Common Buzzards.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz_Buzzard---Frisa

I have also seen Peregrines on several occasions, but this is because the latter now nest on the top of the Newton Building in South Sherwood Street in the middle of the City.

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The best bird of all has been Red Kite, which is a good bird to see out in the countryside of wildest Nottinghamshire, never mind in a suburb of its largest conurbation. 

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Birds of prey, or raptors, are notoriously difficult to identify, and fleeting glimpses, often without binoculars, quite often make you feel that you may have seen a particular species, but, alas, not well enough, or with enough certainty, to add it to your Garden List. In this category would be Hobby, Goshawk and Rough-Legged Buzzard.

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A Twitch to Flamborough

(An extract from my old birdwatching diary “Crippling Views”)

Sunday, August 28, 1988
The sea again. Its magic lure drags Steve, Alan, Paul and me off to seawatch, anywhere on the East Coast where, according to the weather forecasts, the wind should be suitable for our porpoise (as the spell check suggested). We decide to go to some place where we can seawatch but where there is also another specific bird to look for. In that case, we must head for Flamborough where there have been reports of a Desert Wheatear although there are no details to hand of either its exact location or its plumage. We arrive at about 8.30 a.m. and there is a lovely light foggy drizzle drifting around the cliff tops. Not too pleasant for the birdwatchers but brilliant for keeping down any lost little vagrant passerine.

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There are other birdwatchers around, all looking for the relevant little bird. We find a somewhat peculiar female wheatear within half an hour, and then another, and another. We soon realise that all female wheatear are somewhat peculiar. None of them seem to have a consistent set of plumage features that they have in common with all the other female wheatears.

northern 3ccccccccc

Nothing for it. We set off down to the lighthouse for a sea watch. Same old place as ever – we set up our telescopes on the slope below the main cliff edge and start watching. No sign of Flamborough’s most famous birdwatcher, its very own “Mr.Sea Watch”, Brett Richards.

twitcher6

There are some Arctic Skuas moving through and we are able to study their piratical antics in some detail. After about ten minutes I see one all dark bird flying steadily and heavily northwards. Then it seems to remember its error and sweeps back around in a huge arc. Then it starts flying around in very large circles as if it is by now completely confused. On the other hand, it could be some vaguely half remembered display flight of some sort.

Pomarine Skua 4vvvvvvvvv

Whatever the case, it finally stops its circling, makes a half-hearted attempt to harry a Kittiwake and then heads off out to sea. We all pick the bird up and we all agree that at long last, we’ve seen a Pomarine Skua. It’s bigger than all the Arctic Skuas and it’s obviously not a Great Skua. Its flight is heavier than an Arctic and its behaviour is completely different. Every Arctic we have seen today has been energetically and enthusiastically chasing Kittiwakes in a most agile and nimble way. They are all darting, lightly built birds that at no point have shown the slightest inclination to soar or circle like some marine Common Buzzard.
Ten minutes later I find another large and heavy skua but this time, it’s down on the water. Again, its structure is much more solid than the Arctics, its bill is more substantial, its body weightier, and it even has what may well be rudimentary spoons sticking up into the air at the back end.

pom on seacccccc

We watch it for a good twenty minutes as it cruises around, well separate from the rest of the birds on the water. We are all satisfied that it is a first winter dark phase Pomarine Skua.
If we think we’ve had a difficult time of it with bird identification so far, then we are sadly mistaken. In the next half hour or so, we’re going to get into very deep water indeed and I don’t mean falling off the cliff.
We still have the best part of a sunny afternoon left so we decide to walk slowly round to see what we can turn up in the way of migrants. It’s really rather pleasant. A nice day, a blue sky and the hope that more or less anything might be out there for us to find it. We turn up any number of Northern Wheatears, both male and female and a Short-eared Owl, that looks very pale and which we try very determinedly to turn into a Barn Owl, but without any success, because in the final analysis, we just can’t ignore those dark carpal patches. We stop at the top of the cliffs, a little way south of the lighthouse at a point about fifty feet or so above the sea. There are lots and lots of wheatears here, flitting around, most of them near some kind of ruined wooden landing stage.

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Alan soon spots what he thinks is a funny wheatear and we all set up scopes to examine it more closely. The first and most obvious feature about it is that its eye stripe is not as fully developed as the other birds. It seems to be more buffy, even russetty, in colour and seems to begin further back on the head, almost behind the eye itself.

desert 2ccccccc

The bird, a female, is obviously tired and is harried and picked on by all the other birds. Nevertheless it keeps returning to the landing stage steps and eventually begins to preen. That’s when we realise two interesting things about the bird. Firstly, its tail, as far as we can see, is completely black and although it has a smallish area of white in the top two corners, this is really no more than a slight curvature of the line between the white rump and the black tail. It is completely different from the T-shaped pattern that we have been looking at all day, more or less, on all the other Wheatears. Indeed, we’ve even noticed that with every Northern Wheatear that we’ve seen, this T-shaped pattern may even be visible when the bird is at rest. Not the case with this bird.

Desert-Wheatear-0bbbbbbbbb

The second feature, and for me, the one that clinches it as a female Desert Wheatear, is the fact that as the bird lifts its wing to preen, it reveals a snowy white underwing which is absolutely and totally white, except for a darker line on what must be the trailing edge. For weeks after this I look at Northern Wheatears and cannot find a single one, either in real life or in photographs, that comes even close to our mystery bird in the whiteness of this underwing. There is not a hint of brown or buff, just a brilliant white like a patch of bright fresh snow.
This bird, however, is not terrifically distinctive except for these two features and the eye stripe. This differs slightly from the Northern Wheatear but, in truth, if there is supposed to be a major difference in basic plumage, then there just isn’t one. It is perhaps a little peachier in colour but is not really fundamentally different from the Northern Wheatears that continue to chase and harry it. It is at this point that our problems start, because, as I later suspect, the mystery bird flies off without our noticing it, perhaps because the cliff is overhanging at this point and there is a vast area underneath it that we cannot see. It is certainly impossible to see the comings and goings of every single bird.

norethern flight ccccc

A few seconds later, a Wheatear of indeterminate species comes to perch on the landing stage, just as our bird has on several occasions in the past few minutes. A small crowd of some ten or twelve  birdwatchers has by now assembled, all trying to see whatever we’re looking at but apparently too shy just to ask us. We lead them to believe that this is the mystery bird even though we have not yet seen either its tail or underwing to confirm this. When the bird flies away, of course, it has the T-shaped pattern of an ordinary Northern Wheatear and this leads a high percentage of the new onlookers to think that we are a bunch of complete village idiots. Well, we are, but on the other hand, I know what I saw. And yes, I am more than a little put off by the episode at the end when I was fooled by the Northern Wheatear on the landing stage, but Steve soon calms me down.  He makes the valid point that whatever has happened subsequently, we did all four of us see a female Wheatear with an all-black tail, and an all-white underwing, whatever antics the bird got up to afterwards and whatever skilfully designed imposter came along its place. And surely even the most aberrant of birds could not have two diagnostic features of another species? That discovery would knock the Rarities’ Committee back a bit.
The whole appalling business does have its funny side however, because as soon as the assembled group of eight or ten becomes fifteen or twenty, this is easily a big enough crowd, particularly here at tight-lipped rare-bird-suppressing Flamborough, to attract an even greater number of birdwatchers. Very quickly, we have seventy or so people, all looking downwards with great deliberation.

Somebody on duty in the lighthouse then presumably thinks that one of us has had an accident and perhaps somebody has fallen off the cliff. Perhaps we are all looking at a corpse floating past. Whatever the case, it doesn’t take the RAF Rescue helicopter very long to get here and it soon arrives, a huge  deafening yellow whale that hangs, hovering loudly, about twenty yards from the cliff edge. I can’t really believe it’s here for an unconfirmed report of a female Desert Wheatear. News cannot possibly travel that fast. On the other hand, it would be really tremendous if that were the case and he could use the loudhailer – the electronic equivalent of Kevin’s voice:

“Hey, you on the cliff – yes – you – you on the left – in the green – yes – stop harassing that bird – return to your homes – and by the way, do you know they what they’ve had at Spurn?”

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Our final gesture is a last bit of seawatching as we give up hope that our Desert Wheatear will return to its original spot and we soon get a superb bit of unusual bird behaviour.

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It’s a Guillemot that is performing some bizarre sort of preening ceremony that seems to consist solely of the bird lying flat on its back in the water, with only its beak and its little legs sticking out above the surface. It remains motionless for minutes on end so that it looks just like a man bathing in the Dead Sea or a gigantic dead fly floating around in the bath. A strange end to a puzzling day.

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