Sunday, 21 September 2003

21st September 2003 Beachy Head, East Sussex 5.45am – 3.30pm. Light SW and overcast becoming sunny but then mist rolled-in mid-afternoon

Common Buzzard 1
Honey Buzzard 1 dark morph probably adult. 1.00pm – 1.05pm.
Having just walked up through the rides from Whitbread Hollow towards the Cattle Field I noticed a large dark raptor quickly approaching from the north. On seeing it my immediate reaction was that it was going to be female/juvenile Marsh Harrier but on raising my bins I immediately saw dark barring across pale flight feathers that contrasted with uniformly dark coverts and combined with its small-protruding head and long-winged appearance I soon realised it was a Honey Buzzard. All too quickly it was overhead and becoming completely silhouetted against the glaring overhead sun and although I could see a long narrow tail, no plumage detail could be seen against the light. It continued quickly on its way heading due south and just as it seemed that nothing would stop it from its course, as it approached the cliffs, it began to circle and gain height. By now, being a distant speck, I ran to the fence of the Cattle Field to use a post on which to rest my scope. I quickly picked it out by now heading north-west but no plumage detail could be seen and I soon lost it as an even more distant speck behind the trees at the western edge of the Cattle Field. To my surprise, several minutes later, it re-appeared distantly over the trees circling for several minutes alongside a Common Buzzard before again being lost from sight behind the same trees.

Overall appearance was of a very dark bird clearly a dark morph individual. Upperparts only seen whilst circling in the distance alongside the Common Buzzard appearing uniformly dark apart from a broad pale crescent formed by pale bases to the primaries of each wing. Head, body and underwing-coverts uniformly dark brown. Flight feathers contrastingly paler but boldly barred darker forming several neat rows across the flight feathers. I looked for, but couldn’t see, any bars across the tail but this may have been a result of looking up against strong light. Whilst powering south it flew with purposeful deep wingbeats covering a fair distance very quickly. Whilst circling it held its wings flat, never raised, and this was particularly noticeable in direct comparison with the Buzzard that held its wings in a shallow V. It was also noticeably larger and longer-winged than the Common Buzzard that in turn appeared far rounder-winged and shorter-tailed – it was once seen to drop its talons towards the Honey Buzzard.
Having not seen any yellow cere and combined with the boldly barred flight feathers I suspected the bird was an adult (dark morph)

Sparrowhawk c.1
Kestrel c.2
Meadow Pipit c.40
Tree Pipit 1
Yellow Wagtail c.8
Redstart 1
Wheatear c.10
Garden Warbler 1
Blackcap c.20
Lesser Whitethroat 1
Whitethroat c.5
Reed Warbler 1
Willow Warbler 2
Chiffchaff c.30
Goldcrest c.5
Jay c.3