Sunday, 9 January 2011

Five-raptor day (updated!)

One of at least 10 Marsh Harriers at Capel Fleet, Isle of Sheppey, today.

I woke up very early today (too early, really), so decided to break with tradition and head down to the North Kent Marshes. Glad I did, as it's been a while since I've had six raptor species in a day in Britain. First up was a Eurasian Sparrowhawk across the road as soon as I came down off the bridge onto the island. This was followed by the first of at least 10 Marsh Harriers in the Capel Fleet/Harty Marshes area - though getting close enough for decent images proved difficult.

Another Marsh Harrier. Harty Marshes is a good area to study variation in this species' plumages.

While watching one of these a Merlin tore through a flock of Linnets, scattering birds everywhere. It was too quick to see whether it actually caught anything, but an impressive sight nonetheless. A Eurasian Kestrel in the same area was less dramatic, choosing to hunt from wires and also on the ground.

Linnets (or, in Merlin language, brunch).
After a while, having seen little else but a few waders, I headed up farther along the road towards Harty Ferry before retracing my route, now with the light behind me. As I glanced out to the right a very distant herd of swans caught my attention, so I returned to the raptor watchpoint and got out my scope and camera to check from the high ground. They proved just to be Mutes, but as I was scanning the background I picked up an even more distant raptor perched on a pile of hay bales. Zooming in to confirm it was a Common Buzzard, the bird was suddenly flushed by another buteo which clearly had a darker belly.

Buzzard, but which one? The dark chocolate belly and tail pattern led me to think this was originally a Rough-legged Buzzard, but thanks to comments received it appears it is a well-known local Common Buzzard.
The carpal patches on this bird are not that well marked - a feature to which I should originally have paid more heed.

I swapped the scope for my 500mm lens and converter, during which time the buteo moved to a nearby bush. As I started shooting it flew off east towards a fencepost where the Common Buzzard had taken up position, again displacing its congener.

These record shots were taken with a 500mm lens, 1.4x converter and 1.6x crop factor - effectively 22x magnification. In this shot the Buteo looks at its most Rough-leg-like.
The indistinct trailing edge to the underside of the wings suggests this bird is a juvenile.
By this time, even through the camera's viewfinder at such a distance, I'd seen enough to convince myself it was a Rough-legged Buzzard - a complete surprise, albeit a species which favours these marshes most years. However, it subsequently transpires the bird is actually a Common Buzzard, albeit one that seems to recall Rough-legged Buzzard in certain respects. Thanks to Rob Clements, Marc Giroud and an anonymous correspondent for pointing this out - I think some more field experience with Rough-legs would be good!

Corn Buntings still occur in good numbers on Sheppey - these birds were in a flock of 20 at Capel Fleet.
With c40 White-fronted Geese, 12 Red-legged Partridges, 100+ European Golden Plover, three Ruff, a Green Sandpiper and a flock of 20 Corn Buntings, it proved to be an excellent session. And with United beating Liverpool 1-0 in the FA Cup this afternoon, what more could you want?


  1. What a great visit! Like the new-look blog, by the way. Thought I'd mention that the masthead is bleeding off on the right - small point.

  2. Hello,

    Maybe stupid but I cannot understang why the Buzzard is a Rough-legged and not a Common Buzzard. The carpal patches is very pro-Common Buzzard, no?

    Marc Giroud

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hi Marc, looking at this again, and with comments from others, I now agree that you are right - it is a Common Buzzard, even if the dark belly recalls Rough-legged. Thanks for pointing this out.



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