Sunday, 27 May 2012

Treaddur Bay Buzzard - good learning!

Yesterday, at 11.50am a Buzzard sp. was picked up coming in off the sea being chased by Gulls. It flew past six observers - Ken Croft, Mike Duckham, Alex Jones, Chris Jones, Zac Hinchcliffe and myself. It was first called Honey Buzzard, then Osprey, then Buzzard and after some confusion finally called Honey Buzzard again based on structure and baring on the secondaries. The bird was very sgraggy and was really struggling as it came in, looking shattered as it battled against a brisk easterly wind. When it landed it had a very strange looking profile, almost like a massive gull! It was being given a really bad time by the local corvids and gulls. At this point and with this profile we were happy that by process of elimination it was a Honey Buzzard and thus, albeit rather hastily, put the news out as such.

Meanwhile Chris Jones and Alex Jones had run almost half a mile to the car to get their scopes and scoped the bird at closer range. When they walked back they looked disappointed as what they had seen didn't add up to Honey Buzzard and were worried that we had mis i.d. the bird and it was infact Common Buzzard all along due to the yellowish cere, some streaking on the head and hint of a pale breast band above a darkish chest - all pro Common Buzzard features.

On downloading the pictures last night, Mike and I spent a long time looking at them, humming and haaing, about some of the features. One thing that we were fairly sure of is that the bird was not in moult as any missing feathers were far from symmetrical. The bird had lost at least p6 and p7 on the left and perhaps p9 on the right (although this was only picked up in photos later).

Some features that are really puzzling me - some seen in the field, others from a set of poor quality photos are as follows-
  • On the side on image when blown up the bird seems to have 6 primaries on the right wing. P10 is there, p9 is missing and seems to be hanging off and twisted. p8 is there, p7 is partially hidden by the twisted pale feather (which i think is p9), p 6 is there and p 5 is there = 6 primaries. Black Kite has six primaries, Common and European Honey Buzzards have 5.
  • Longish tail and protruding head.
  • evident notch in tail - looking almost forked.
  • Bulging secondaries in some photos.
  • Pinched in wings at body
  • barring on the secondaries. In one photo where the underwing is backlit the barring seems to go right into the body.
  • Common Buzzards were not being mobbed and the three in the area were being left well alone - this bird caused 18 Chough, Carrion Crows a Raven and several gulls to get very agitated and even dive bomb or chase it.
  • Have you ever seen a profile of a Common Buzzard on the ground that looks like this? Leggy and long. Look at that head shape. To me it almost reminds me of a large gull.
  • The fact that it was called as a Honey Buzzard / Osprey as it came in and was only questioned as a Common Buzzard as it flew past, but then Honey Buzzard again when relying on jizz. You'd think six fairly experienced birders could decide on a species of bird that most see thousands of Common Buzzards each year and many Honey Buzzards abroad!
  • If it was in moult (which we don't think it was, as the feather loss was far from symmetrical) 2cy Common Buzzards moult their inner primaries around May-June, leaving just the outer most primaries, while 2cy Honey Buzzards moult in Feb-March in the same way. If it was moult, then this would rule out 2cy Honey Buzzard, especially as 2cy birds don't leave Africa! However, the bird looked battered and bruised rather than being in moult.


  1. Thanks again Marc for another interesting post.

    What a remarkable looking bird. I know photogrpaphs can lie but... is that really a dark trailing edge on the wing? Is the tail really that forked? Looks weird on the deck, I am really confused by this one... have 'Raptors of Europe' here and none the wiser.

    Looks like some kind of dark female Honey Buzzard/Black Kite hybrid!

    Suggest you email Mr Forsman and get his opinion.

    Well done on the bird race - grand total that is!

  2. Actually i'm no longer not sure that p9 is missing, as you can see a full set on the spread upperwing in one of your other shots - 6 primary tips.
    (Tried to edit comment above to add clarification but couldn't.)

  3. Btw, nice one on getting the shots!

  4. Looking at the new pix, all seem to show a shallow fork to the tail unless angles are wrong in all flight pix deceiving me. Although not totally adding up and looking a bit messed up I cant seem to rule out Black Kite (moreso eastern) other than people's comments saying it definitely wasn't a Kite and them having actually seeing the bird!
    So what are the other options?

  5. A very similar looking bird was called as a Honey B coming in off the sea opposite Ramsey Island a couple of days ago - see - several of us don't think it was a HB (it was well worn for a start), but a few features don't add up. I strongly suggest getting in touch with Dick Forsman for a view. Dave Astins

  6. I'm not sure that there are primaries missing in the right wing just out of shape- looks to have been shot at with a clear hole through the left. It kind of marries with Pete's bird and his underside shot?

  7. Dave. Interesting. Link is here -
    Did you see the pembs bird? Wouldn't mind hearing your thoughts on both birds. You still got my email?
    Does anyone know Dick Forsman's email?

  8. Odd looking buteo!
    On some pics I think honey due mainly to protruding head and the pic of the bird on the deck.
    On others it looks like a common.
    Can't make my mind up on this one. Perhaps it could have passed through Europe and been blasted at, hence it's in such a mess indicating a honey.

  9. Some interesting feedback from Dick Forsman – he says it’s a 2nd cal Common that’s been shot at. Going back to the pics now with the scales off my eyes, I can see this ID, I think I got tunnel vision once I got the idea into my head that it could be a Honey. Watching it fly past, I was saying, no, no it’s just a Common – then I started looking for features that could fit HB. It’s a reminder of what you can convince yourself of really. But full marks to Chris Jones for getting it right and sticking to his guns! I often think that I learn something about bird ID most times I go out, and it’s certainly true that you learn by your mistakes….

  10. An extremely interesting few days. I think most of us were expecting this outcome really. It was great the phone calls, emails and discussion it created with species ranging from Honey buzzard, common buzzard, long legged buzzard, oriental honey buzzard, booted eagle, black kite, golden eagle and even hybrid mentioned!!!

    We see 1000s of common buzzards each year but this bird has shown that in strange circumstances- battling into a strong easterly wind, half it's primaries missing, coming in low off the sea, sitting on a cliff face rock etc can make even the most familiar of birds look different.

    Thanks to all those who have ventured an opinion, well done to Chris for getting it right and thanks to Dick Forsman for settling the matter and giving reasons over his thoughts. Certainly some great learning.

    One positive from all this is that we don't have to drop the day list to 132 now as we forgot to put down pied wagtail, thus leaving the total at 133specues for the day.

    Right, I'm off to grill buzzards :-)

  11. Anyway, you have had a response from Dick F, but for what it is worth....

    I would have suggested common buzzard simply on leg length – having been present at many a honey buzzard ringing session I have always been struck by how short the legs are (You can only just get a darvic ring on them!) – when you see them on the ground they have very short legs (unlike the “leggy” bird you saw).

    Had a similar experience at a BBRC meeting at Portland when an identified (by 4 BBRC members) honey sat on a post and I had to say I didn’t think it was wasn’t! It was a head-on flight view followed by looking into the sun.

    As for structure and plumage and moult (=shot) they have all been dealt with..