I always like to look out for Buzzards on the way down to Peterborough as there are plenty of places to see them.
When I was a youthful birdwatcher, around 10 or 11 years old, I was fascinated by Buzzards, which were not as easy to see in those days. From Peterborough we had to go to Scotland, The Lakes, Devon or Wales before finding any. Even then they weren’t common.
Gamekeepers killed so many that they were confined to the north and west of the UK by the end of the 19th century. Things eased up a bit after the Second World War – said on the RSPB website to be due to a new enlightened attitude to birds of prey, though it might have been more to do with the decline in country estates and a lack of keepers. At that point other factors came into play, such as lack of rabbits (due to myxomatosis) and problems with pesticides (which caused thin egg shells and reduced hatchability).
From the 1960s, with the withdrawal of the pesticides and the increase of rabbit populations, Buzzards started to recover. From the 1990s they started to expand. First I saw them in Derbyshire, then Sherwood Forest, then over Bulwell Golf Course…
Now I can see them all the way down to Peterborough.
Of course, they weren’t the only bird to suffer – Peregrines, Red Kites, Sparrowhawks, Kestrels, Marsh Harriers and other birds of prey all suffered. Red Kites were down to 10 pairs in the 1930s (up to 500 pairs by 2006 due to the reintroduction programme started in 1989). Marsh Harriers were down to 1 pair in 1971 (now up to 360 breeding pairs due to habitat restration). Peregrines slumped to 360 pairs in 1963 (now up to 1,400 pairs, often nesting on tall buildings instead of cliffs. You can watch them on a number of video links from Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield and Norwich if you don’t mind the detritus of dismantled pigeons around the nestlings.) Even Sparrowhawks and Kestrels declined significantly.
Things aren’t all good, though. Sparrowhawks declined again in the 1990s, though they are now stable. Kestrels are currently in decline. In both cases this is thought to be due to a decline in prey species. That’s the trouble with being a bird of prey, you can only expand to the limit of your food supply.
My count was three Kestrels, two hovering and one flying by the roadside.
I also saw eleven Buzzards. Yes, eleven. One in a tree followed by four perching on the lamp posts as the A52 comes up to the A1. There was another in a tree, two more on a field looking for worms (they have no pride) and an ninth as I neared Stamford. That one was flying, and I initially hoped it would be a Red Kite. If anyone had told the young me that I’d be disappointed to see nine Buzzards on a trip to Peterborough I’d have laughed. There were two more to come, one on a road sign (I’ve never seen them do that before) and one in a tree.
Finally, soaring over the site of an old Roman town, I spotted a Red Kite. Just the one, but it was nice to see.
The Buzzard photo is from the lawn at Rufford earlier this week, and the Kite from Northamptonshire last summer.
No photos from today, as you can’t do much photography at 70 mph.