The way it should be

My last post showed some random weather at the end of March and in this one all the photographs were taken during the following weekend when the weather was rather more in keeping with the season, the way it should be.

Another of the great British bird of prey success stories over the last two decades has been the resurgence of the buzzard (Buteo buteo, Dansk: musvåge). Up until the mid 1990’s I’d only seen buzzards on summer holidays in Denmark and the occasional sighting on the western periphery of the UK, in south Wales or in Cornwall. But then I noticed they were creeping further eastwards up the M5, year by year, and now they can be seen all over England, and it’s not at all surprising to see them over my garden. I think a major contributory factor to the increase in raptor populations has been the ban on the use of DDT.

A buzzard soaring over the farmland on the edge of Histon.

DDT, or dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane…

…was originally extremely effective in the control of insects but is very persistent in the biosphere, and because of its chemical properties it accumulates in the fatty tissues of apex predators such as raptors. The toxic effect was to cause thinning of the eggshells which would break before the chicks were ready to emerge. The consequences were devastating for many species inclusing sparrowhawks in the UK as well as peregrine falcons and bald eagles in the USA. The systematic use of DDT has been outlawed for many years  now, although restricted localised use for the control of malaria is still sanctioned, but here in the UK the long term benefit of the ban has been dramatic with these magnificent birds once again a relatively common site in our skies.

Other birds species were making the most of the change in the weather at the start of April too, including this female reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus, Dansk: rørspurv):

Reed buntings have been a common site in the fields to the north of Histon since the weather has warmed up and the males with their black and white heads cling to the top of wheat stems proclaiming their availability. The females are more reclusive but can often be seen perched in bushes

A less common visitor to the fields is the golden plover (Pluvialis apricaria, Dansk, hjejle). I love to see the plovers, because when they do arrive they come mob handed, and on this occasion there was a flock of approximately 500 birds which looped round at high speed in extended skeins which was great to watch!

Skeins of golden plovers

Golden plovers are amber listed in the UK but not of concern in Europe so I hope that means that the overall population is stable and we continue to see them over the UK. An amusing little factoid about the golden plover which I’ve unashamedly borrowed from the British Trust for Ornithology is that a question about the flight speed of the golden plover raised by a member of a shoot in Wexford, Ireland, prompted Sir Hugh Beaver to found the Guinness Book of Records in 1955.  And if you’re keen to know, the speed of the golden plover is around 60mph (100kmph).

The rook, Corvus frugilegus, Dansk: sibirisk allike

All the photographs in this post were taken during a walk in the fields adjacent to my home the weekend after the snow, except the rook. This miscreant had lifted the fatball feeder from the branch in the crab apple tree and dropped it to the floor where it commenced to single handedly empty it. But as it posed for several portraits in the process I reasoned that it earned it’s fill. I like crows and especially the rooks, they seem to have a sense of devilment akin to a childs… if not even a tad more sophisticated. Through history though, alas not everyone had such a benign attitude to the rook (and just about every other creature!), which you can read about here.

15 responses to “The way it should be

  1. Pingback: Rainham Marshes 1 | The Naturephile

  2. Crows are one of my favorites. I absolutely love them. I saw a video clip a few years ago that showed a crow bending a wire to make a tool and pull some tidbit (I forget what) out of a jar with a narrow opening. Amazing!

    • They are amazing birds. Keep watching, I’ve got a great series of shots of a raven razoring opening a public waste bin to find a meal which I’ll be posting soon. All corvids are smarter than the average bird… or most other creatures for that matter.

  3. I love rooks, Finn, and rookeries… those wonderful playing and cawing and chatting sessions in the evening before they all settle down to sleep are so amazing to watch, as they circle and swoop and soar, chattering away….!!!

    • Good for you Valerie, I think rooks are ace and jolly entertaining to watch. As with other corvids they have extremely high intelligence and I’m convinced they understand the concept of ‘having fun’. We have a rookery in the woods near the church in my village and there are hundreds of birds there which make a fearsome cacophony when they’re all chattering at the same time!

      When I’m out in the fields in the evening I regularly see them all heading home at dusk after a days foraging, and they fly in from various directions in their hundreds all heading for the church and chattering away to each other. It’s another one of those unique ‘English summer’ phenomena which make me very happy.

  4. Interesting about the buzzard – here in South Wales they are common over the motorways, but I’m told that (very successfully reintroduced) red kites are gradually moving south from Mid Wales into the buzzards’ territory. I always think they inhabit the same sort of niche…

    • They can certainly inhabit the same areas but their diets vary. The buzzard lives primarily on small mammals, whereas the lightweight red kite is a carrion feeder, but will occasionally take small mammals too. So there may not be too much competition between them for food allowing them to coexist.

      I think the red kite reintroduction has been an amazing success story. The site in mid Wales was the one where they actually survived in the wild but their numbers have been augmented by released birds. They were also reintroduced inintially in Scotland and the M40 corridor, Fineshade in Northamptonshire and I think there have been several other release sites too. If you’re interested I wrote about red kites here ‘’.

  5. I didn’t know that about DDT’s effect on eggshells, or about the founding of the Guinness Book of World Records! That flock of golden plovers must have been quite a sight, I’m not sure if they get up into this part of the world. My mum was commenting the other day that she remembers seeing them years ago but hasn’t seen one in ages. In my youth they struck me as something mythical. I think I must have had a book with one in it, or perhaps it was just the name that seemed magical to me. I love that picture of the rook, what a beauty.

    • I just checked the RSPB website and apparently they do inhabit the highlands of Scotland in the summer, I’ll have to look out for them. I think I didn’t realise they went about in such large numbers, maybe I’ve seen them and not known what they were.

      • They’re easy to spot simply because of the numbers, and they’re probably the only short billed wader you will see in such huge flocks. Let me know if you see them.

    • Hello Lorna, the goldies are lovely. We get huge flocks of them around here. Last year I was at Burwell Fen (around 6-7 miles away) in the winter time and theere were mixed flocks of thousands and thousands of golden plovers and lapwing. It was a glorious sight.

  6. Great photos and words, as always.

    It’s interesting that DDT is still allowed in a restricted way to kill malaria vectors – I should read up on that. One of my first blog posts was about the DDT story. Whether when Joni Mitchell sang, ‘Hey farmer, farmer, put away that DDT now!’ she was singing a death warrant for millions of children who’d be killed by malaria.

    About buzzards – yes, isn’t it great to see them all over the place now? Do you think that other factors, besides the DDT ban, may have helped buzzards? I’m thinking of police action against egg-collecting, also of woodland conservation. Years ago I was part of a buzzard survey in North Wales. We’d walk up mountains, find conifers, and count the buzzards’ nests. Nice work if you can get it!

    • Hello Sam, very nice work indeed, I could quite happily spend my life doing stuff like that!

      I think the DDT ban had a huge impact on bird of prey numbers but as with all these things it’s probably not the only factor, although how effective police action against egg collectors is I don’t know. I wonder if it’s because egg collecting is not such a big past time any more. And I don’t think Joni was singing a death knell, many species became resistant to DDT and if the Anopheles mosquito became resistant through over use of DDT many more poeple would die. And this view may cause controversy, but in a world which can’t support the current 6 billion humans, something has got to see us off. What do you reckon?

      • Not malaria, when I rule the world! You’ve reminded me of something my {ahem} relative said in the 1980s, when I told him I’m not homophobic. ‘It’s not just other men, its children! It’s animals! Thank heavens this new AIDS thing has come along to get rid of some of them!’

        For human populations in malaria-endemic regions, I’m more impressed by empowering women to choose, and to access, family planning.

        Anyway that’s interesting about resistance to DDT. Another topic for my to-blog list!

      • The family planning thing would be a very good solution, but isn’t it incredible that that is as controversial in large parts of the world as allowing people to die naturally!

        It seems that if humans are selfish enough to die, or not reproduce in the first place, then there won’t be enough consumers to inflate share prices of companies in the USA and Europe who market plastic junk made by slave labour in China, and the whole capitalist economic edifice will collapse. And that must be avoided at all costs!

        But I digress. DDT is bad stuff, but inevitably the target species developed resistance. And I’m looking forward to reading the results of your research into resistance.

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