Appendix II: Regional Reports and other Original Sources for the Honey-buzzard Movement in September 2008

1. North-east England

Birds in Northumbria 2008, Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club

(Systematic List: p.97-98). The Northumberland report for 2008 for Honey-buzzard is informative, and responsive in that it at last recognises that there are historical breeding records of Honey-buzzard in the county. The autumn report opens: “One of the highlights of the autumn was another influx in September (cf that of 2000)”. Obviously it was an influx and gratified that Scandinavia is not mentioned.

Details of the record are: “On 13/9, juveniles involved a single at North Seaton with 3 in the Holywell/Earsdon area and one with an adult female at at Low Newton. Adults involved singles at Cambois, Haughton Strother and Woodhorn (which later landed briefly at Newbiggin). Also unaged birds [taken as one bird] were seen at Whitley Bay (which was different to those in the Holywell area). The next day [14/9] single juveniles were on Holy Island and flying W from Staple Island (Farne Islands). The latter islands hosted other juveniles on 16/9 and 17/9 (the former bird landed on the cemetery wall, c20 metres from the startled observers!). Other juveniles were noted at Cresswell Pond on 18/9 and 20/9 and at Corbridge on 19/9. Finally an adult male was seen at Scotswood ([west] Newcastle) on 21/9”.

Records can be summarised as 10 birds on 13/9 (4 adults (1+ female), 5 juveniles, 1 unaged), 2 on 14/9 (2 juveniles), 1 on 16/9 (juvenile), 1 on 17/9 (juvenile), 1 on 18/9 (juvenile), 1 on 19/9 (juvenile), 1 on 20/9 (juvenile) and 1 on 21/9 (adult male). So total is 18 birds (5 adults, 12 juveniles, 1 unaged). The totals include 4 birds from the Farne Islands, discussed separately below. A photograph of a juvenile on 13/9 at Earsdon confirms the ageing with yellow bill, extensive black on wingtips and 4 bars across remiges, including subterminal band.

Directions of flight are in general omitted in the report but could be obtained for the mainland, excluding the Farnes, from the reports on BirdGuides. On 13/9 8 flew S, 3 W and 4 E; from 14/9-28/9 4 flew S and 1 W. This suggests a strong S bias. The birds moving W were 2 in the Earsdon/Wallsend area on 13/9 and 1 at Corbridge on 19/9. Not all the records are on or near the coast: Haughton Strother is a Honey-buzzard breeding site on the North Tyne and Corbridge is another breeding site on the main Tyne Valley.

In addition as discussed below in detail, on 13/9 5 birds (all adult, 4 female, 1 male) moved SE in Tyne Valley west in the Stocksfield area from 11:38-13:17, obviously following the Tyne Valley initially but as they disappeared from view they appeared to be turning SE towards Newburn and Blaydon. The ageing is very interesting as it supports a working hypothesis that the very start of the movement involved quite a mixture of adults and juveniles, with the adults rapidly progressing out of the UK into Benelux, leaving the weaker-flying juveniles to make their own way S through SE England to Normandy. Some stronger-flying juveniles may have been able to accompany the adults on the sea-crossing to Benelux. Linked with this hypothesis is the view that the 'influx' was a sudden exodus of birds from their breeding grounds in the UK as the weather cleared after a long spell of persistent rain.

Marsh Harrier (p.98-99). Well reported - “ September saw a flurry of records to end the species' year in in Northumberland; a female and an immature bird at Cresswell Pond on 10/9, females/immatures at Amble on 13/9, Cresswell Pond on 4 dates from 2/9-15/9, Druridge Pools on 3 dates from 5/9-15/9, East Chevington on 2/9 and 14/9, Hauxley on 3 dates from 2/9-8/9, Holywell Pond on 18/9, Prestwick Carr on 14/9, St Mary's Wetland on 2/9 and Swallow Pond on 16/9 before the final bird of the year at Prestwick Carr on 21/9”. So from 10/9-15/9 perhaps 7 birds were noted, though the species is quite mobile.

Common Buzzard (p.102-103). Stated origin of passage migrants is open to question: “although the species now has a widespread breeding population throughout the county, some records clearly relate to passage birds from continental Europe/Scandinavia: groups of 5 and 12 were noted coming in-off the sea at Cocklawburn on 24/8, one flew W over the Farne Islands towards the mainland on 13/9 and one flew S through the Inner Sound of the Farne Islands on 13/10”. The records at Cocklawburn are very early for a continental origin as the main movement out of Scandinavia is in October. Coasting birds can appear to be in-off if they have deviated over the sea to some extent and are trying to recover their position.

Osprey (p. 103-104). There was a notable influx in mid-September: “return passage generated a crop of records in September; 2 birds on adjacent poles at Pilgrims Way [Holy Island] on 14/9, with singles there on 13/9 and 15/9, one at Fenham Slake from 13/9-18/9, and singles in-off the sea at Newbiggin on 12/9, over Inner Farne on 13/9 and 15/9, fishing at Big Waters on 13/9 and 14/9, flying SW at Marden Quarry on 14/9, a juvenile at Hallington on 19/9, and an adult at Derwent Reservoir in 21/9”. The report confirms the displacement of birds on 13/9 and 14/9: “the records around the 13/9-14/9 seem likely to have been birds arriving as part of the large raptor movement which brought remarkable numbers of Honey-buzzard to the east coast”. Quite but where did they come from!

Hobby (p.106). There were 4 reported in mid-September: “one was at Branton GP from 10/9-12/9, a juvenile was at Widdrington on 13/9 and finally, adults were seen in the Druridge Bay/Cresswell Pond area and on Brownsman, Farne Islands, both on 14/9”. The localities are on or near the coast, except for Branton.

For passerines, Swallow (p.170) passage was noted as peaking in September in the middle of the month with 600 S at Cresswell, 300 S at Gosforth Garden Village and 200 S at both Hauxley and Whitley Bay in an hour”. The highest count of the year for House Martin (p. 171-172) “came from Backworth where 150 were recorded on 14/9”. For Meadow Pipit (p. 173-174) “large movements continued throughout September, particularly from 13/9-16/9 when 600 flew S at Druridge Pools in 5 hours on 14/9, and 400 passed St Mary's in one hour on 15/9. Other flocks and movements, including 200-300 birds on dates during 14/9-19/9, were reported from Backworth, Cresswell Pond, East Chevington, Garden Village (Gosforth) and Hauxley.

Birds on the Farne Islands in 2008, Natural History Society of Northumbria, volume 69(2)

In the Migration Overview 2008 (p. 56) it is noted: “as well as the outstanding highlights, it was an excellent year for raptors as unprecedented numbers of Honey-buzzard (4) and Osprey (4) were recorded with other notable sightings including [Common] Buzzard (2), … with Hobby recorded for the 6th occasion.

(Honey-buzzard, Systematic List: p.69-70). This reports that “it was an outstanding year for this spectacular raptor with four records eclipsing all previous island records. An adult (probably female) was flushed off the north end of Brownsman on 6 July .... However, this was just the start of things to come, as a national east coast invasion involving up to 500 birds in mid-September brought no fewer than three, all dark-morph juveniles, to the islands. The first battled its way westwards from Staple Island on 14/9 and dropped altitude as it approached Inner Farne. Amazingly it decided to land on the cemetery wall, with disbelieving observers only 20 metres away. After a three minute pause, the bird took flight and eventually flew west directly over Inner Farne. More followed as another flew west in mid-afternoon over the inner group on 16/9 whilst the third juvenile of the invasion followed the same flight pattern over Inner Farne just after midday on 17/9. Putting this truly spectacular event into context, these four records doubled the Farnes overall total, as only 4 previous individuals have been logged with 2 during their last invasion in September 2000, a juvenile in September 2002 and a male in July 2005. It was an impressive year for an impressive raptor”.

It is interesting that all the Farne records have occurred since the recolonisation of Northumberland and the increased breeding population in Scotland. There are no Farne records in the 20th century when the Scandinavian population was much higher. While some may be tempted to equate the movement of the birds with that of Honey-buzzard freshly arrived from Scandinavia and moving W through the island group, a much more likely explanation is that these juveniles were coasting down the east coast of Scotland into Northumberland and strayed out into the North Sea. The juveniles were rather desperately trying to reconnect with the mainland. The exhausted nature of the first juvenile is not surprising if it had been over the North Sea for some time. Hancock in the 19th century thought Honey Buzzard found drowned on the Northumberland coast were UK-bred birds that had got lost over the North Sea, perhaps in mist. Not sure that anyone has worked out yet any figures on the size of the 2008 movement total so the 500 birds involved in the 'invasion' can only be regarded as a rough number for the present.

Common Buzzard account (p.70-71). Starts with a rather questionable assumption that “this large raptor breeds in small numbers in Northumberland although all records of birds over the island are considered to be migratory birds from the near-continent”. It could be added that it actually breeds in high numbers now in both Northumberland and the Scottish Borders and that there are very few ringing recoveries in the UK from the continent. There were 2 records in 2008, 14th and 15th for the Farnes, and the 1st since April 2005. They involved one west over the outer group on 13/9 before flying through the Kettle on the inner group and continuing its journey west towards the mainland, and one flying south through Inner Sound on 3/10.

Osprey account is well-written (p.71). It starts: “As the British population increases, it may be reasonable to predict that the number of sightings on the islands will also increase. The Farnes boast 9 previous records of this large elegant raptor following the 1st on 18 June 1978, with the most recent involving one through Inner Sound on 19 June 2003. However, all that was forgotten as 4 different individuals were logged during the year”. After describing 2 spring records, it is noted: “from the previous Farnes records, autumn has only produced 3 sightings with returnees seen in 1989, 1991 and 1995 and therefore it was a surprise when one was seen heading east, then west over the inner group on 13/9. Eventually the outer group got in on the act when an individual flew west over Big Harcar on 15/9, before heading west over the north end of the inner group of islands and making landfall at Bamburgh. The 2 autumn birds were part of a large raptor movement which brought an invasion of Honey-buzzard to the east coast”.

The Hobby account in the same report (p.72) is also interesting with 5 of the 6 records having occurred since 1998, shortly after the species began to colonise Northumberland. In 2008 an adult was seen on 14/9 to land on Brownsman, before disappearing round the south end of Staple Island (moving S).

For other migrants, a noticeable peak for Meadow Pipit was 60 on 12/9.

Observations on 13 September 2008 at Tyne Valley west, Northumberland, Nick Rossiter

A collection of video material was obtained by NR at Stocksfield Mount on 13/9 of the exodus of Honey-buzzard. Stocksfield Mount is on the south side of the Tyne Valley, 32 km from the coast in the Tynemouth area. A number of Honey-buzzard breed in the area, with 9 pairs in 2008 in the Tyne Valley from Hexham to Wylam, of which 9 were confirmed and all were successful with 16+ juveniles raised (7x2, 2x1+). Bywell is on the north side of the Tyne Valley directly opposite Stocksfield Mount; Shilford is adjacent to Stocksfield Mount, lying on its western side on the south side of the Tyne Valley; Ovington is a village to the east of Bywell on the north side of the Tyne Valley.

Here's an overview written at the time. Actually arrived back home at 03:00 on 13/9 after driving up the A1 from Robin Hood Airport, near Doncaster, in the wee hours! Was expecting a morning to catch-up with things, but BirdGuides news flashes showed that there's obviously a big emigration of Honey Buzzard going on, so dashed out to the Mount at Stocksfield. The Tyne Valley was indeed very interesting today. I was present on the Mount from 11:30-14:30 and saw single adult female Honey Buzzard depart E from two nearby sites at 11:38 and 12:52, both off in energetic flap-glide fashion. Later at 13:17, 2 more adult females appeared from the north and moved down the Tyne Valley. Also in the area were 4 more Honey Buzzard, 3 Common Buzzard, a Kestrel and a Sparrowhawk. These latter Honey Buzzard were juveniles, presumably the 4 raised at the 2 nearby sites. They spent most of the visit doing mock exits, a very common activity for this age group, in which they move purposefully to the edge of their territory and then come to a juddering halt! They are still on site. So the massive movement noted nationally today may well comprise more adult females than documented, finally leaving as the young become more independent and the weather offers a small window. Note: an additional male Honey-buzzard, not picked up at the time, was seen leaving with the female at 12:56. These clips are pretty devastating to the idea that the Honey-buzzard arrived from the continent. If I'd been on watch earlier I'm sure I would have seen more birds as noting one 8 minutes after arrival does seem too close for comfort. All activity did seem to have ceased though when I left and indeed 14:30 did seem a closure for migration in NE England that day, except for 2 outliers at Cleveland at 18:30. The main congener was the Swallow with 104 in total moving S throughout the visit, largest group 15. The details of the videos are given below:

Here's 1st clip, with derived stills 1  2  3  4, showing a female Honey-buzzard coming in from the W over Shilford and moving to N side of valley over Bywell before disappearing to SE over Ovington. She was in view from 11:38-11:42 for 3 minutes 51 seconds in all, covering 3.5km so averaging about 55km/hour in a steady flap-flap-glide action with no attempt at soaring. This shows an example of a Honey-buzzard migrating in dull conditions with a light wind, determined to exit, ignoring the Pennines and moving towards the east coast to continue her journey. Tynemouth is 32km to E of Stocksfield but the bird was looking to cut off this corner by moving SE to the Durham coast. With observers lined up on the coast and very few inland, such birds will not have been generally picked up in the national data. At the time I thought she may have come from the Shilford site but she could have come from further W.

Here's 2nd clip, with derived stills 1  2  3  4, from Stocksfield Mount showing from 12:52-12:56 another Honey-buzzard female coming from the NW over Newton and moving to S over Bywell Castle, NE over Ovingham and SE towards Ovingham. She flap-flap-glides the whole way except for a little attempted 'thermalling', which fails, around 2:00 in. She could have come down the A68, think some birds follow that -- whether it's a river or a road, it's still a good straight landmark feature, and it's been there since the Romans were here (as Dere Street). There's a surprise at the end around the 3:20 mark. A male appears over her and does a playful dive. They then go off together, more slowly. The clip is 4:08 long and she travels 3.5km from NW of Bywell Cottagebank to 1km to E of Ovington, so about 51km/hour – slightly slower than the other bird; if she hadn't had the distraction of the male, the speed maybe would have been similar! Meyer, Spaar & Bruderer [2000] indicate for Honey-buzzard speeds of 37.4 km/hour in soar-glide mode and 49.7 km/hour in horizontal flapping mode so the speed of the 2 females is very much as expected for flap-flap-glide, which is relatively fast but uses more energy and cannot be sustained for long periods. Winds were light and variable so neither bird was wind affected. After this analysis we've got 3 Honey-buzzard moving SE from respectively W, NW and unknown (the male); the male was not picked up when doing the actual recording, might have thought it was a crow or maybe napping (as not home until 03:00 after driving up A1 from Doncaster).

Here's 3rd clip (large, 53MB, 11:46 long) from Stocksfield Mount showing from 12:31-12:43 a male Honey-buzzard attempting to leave to the SW, failing and coming back, where he meets a female circling around. These may have been the 2 birds that left to SE about 10 minutes later in clip 2 but it has to be said that the female appearing at 12:52 seemed to be coming from the NW; I suspect the male is the same in both clips. The clip has not been tidied up in the usual way as absolute timings might be important. This clip does support strongly the idea that the birds would rather move S/SW and migrate over the Pennines than choose another route. The male is indeed quite persistent making 3 determined runs but finally gives up with the lack of W breeze and poor visibility. In more detail the male does some attempted thermalling at start, then goes off confidently to SW in flap-flap-glide mode until 03:10 when more thermalling is attempted; he then drifts back slowly E until 04:25 when more thermalling attempted; there is then a long drift E gaining some height until 05:20; he then tries another strong movement SW gliding quickly until 06:15 when attempts thermalling again; the final SW drive is done up to 07:20 when he appears to give up, coming flap-flap-glide to E up until 08:50; he then meets a female at 09:00 with which he does some mutual circling and a Sparrowhawk which comes across NW-SE from 10:10-10:50; finally the female is seen circling on her own. A plane comes over at 08:30, on its way to landing at Newcastle Airport, suggesting the wind is in the E. These clips are pretty devastating to the idea that the Honey-buzzard arrived from the continent: can add some more arrows to the map of the movement!

Here's 4th clip from Stocksfield Mount showing at 13:06 3 juvenile Honey-buzzard floating around the hillside to N of Bywell. They don't make any attempt to leave though they do lean a little to SE, the direction the adults were taking. They may have been locally bred.

Here's final clip from Stocksfield Mount showing at 13:30 a juvenile Honey-buzzard floating around the hillside to N of Bywell.

The total number seen moving SE from 11:38-13:17 was 5 birds (male, 4 female). At Fellgate (NZ3262), near Hebburn, in Durham from 11:45-13:40 4 Honey-buzzard passed S, together with 2 Hobby (BirdGuides). This site is 24km E of Ovingham, a distance which at 55km/hour would take the birds 26 minutes. The last birds at 13:17 are close enough to the end of the count at Fellgate to be recorded there so there does seem to be a reasonable tally between the counts at Stocksfield and Fellgate, with the birds turning S as they approached the coast. However, birds were moving through SE Northumberland around midday with all reports on BirdGuides from 12:50-14:35 except for one at Cambois at 09:55, so would not want to read too much into this. Indeed in Northumberland other than 2 at Low Newton in N of county and the birds at Bywell, all other reports were from the south-east of the county. The 11 birds reported on 13/9 in Birds in Northumbria comprised 5 juvenile, 4 adult and 2 unaged.

Occupation by Honey-buzzard in Study Area, SW Northumberland, 1-7 September 2008, Nick Rossiter

Quite a number of the birds in Benelux were adults, which fits well with the British population, where my own studies showed many family groups of 4 present right up to 7/9, before I went to Poland. The field trip reports below (2008) show Honey-buzzard still present at all sites, with totals from 1/9-7/9 of 28 birds (6 male, 5 female, 17 juvenile). Productivity was high but the weather was appalling, pinning the birds down in their breeding areas when the adults, at least, would like to start leaving.

September 8th: after the great deluge did a sweep from Haltwhistle to Prudhoe yesterday (7/9) in still pretty grotty weather from 12:00-18:00 visiting 4 Honey-buzzard sites. Total for trip was 20 raptors of 4 species: 8 Honey-buzzard, 7 Common Buzzard, 4 Sparrowhawk and a Kestrel. The Honey-buzzard were in groups of 4 at 2 sites so productivity is brilliant this year and the males are still largely on site. Today in the Tyne Valley the train stopped close to a site because of flooding on the track and 2 Honey Buzzard juveniles were seen fooling around in the canopy near their nest. Good numbers are now exiting over the south coast so the exodus is gathering pace! Weather was terrible on Saturday (6/9): took daughter to airport mid-day and Ponteland was like a lake. The subsequent problems in Morpeth were not a great surprise. Only problem at home is the loss of broadband with the damp somewhere! Anyway off to WOSC.

September 5th: out early morning 08:30-11:00 (when daughter asleep!) to try and get the best of the day weather-wise and had 2 Honey Buzzard juveniles at a site in the 'Shire, with the local Crows being very helpful in tracking them down. The birds were attached to Scots Pine close to the presumed nest site on the edge of a stubble field with one bird seen flitting through the canopy and another briefly feeding on the edge of the field. The weather then became very, very wet (almost Devonian!) and abandoned fieldwork for the day. Trip to Welly later in the floods involved an adventurous drive on the Linnels Bridge route with a total of 4 temporary partial cut-outs of the electrics. But company made it worth it, even with excuses from 2 regular attendees. So I would expect the summer migrants to be moving out after this deluge on cool breezes, with Honey Buzzard adults exiting in strength on Sunday (7/9), if it fairs up by then.

September 4th: no fieldwork today – thought might just get time in Close House area before trip to airport to fetch daughter but exam lasted almost 5 hours and I was not far off an hour late getting to airport. Tomorrow is better time-wise but don't look at the weather forecast! Broods at 21 sites is very good but how many more will be found.

September 3rd: a tougher day with weather becoming cooler and wetter and some meetings at work in the middle of the day but managed early on to nail the top-most site in the Tyne Valley. This was the site where the Common Buzzard and Honey Buzzard were nesting very close together and neither party has moved! Today there were 2 Common Buzzard juveniles giving hunger calls and 2 Honey Buzzard juveniles, both seen close-up, one briefly and the other for over a minute. The dull conditions necessitated getting into the site to get results. Did investigate a couple of further sites briefly – both notoriously difficult – and was very pleased to get a male Honey Buzzard up over the one site where earlier nest visits had been inconclusive. But no family party emerged in the few minutes left for the visit.

September 2nd: another good morning, very similar to yesterday but visited just 2 sites in the upper South Tyne, seeing a marvellous kettle of a family group of 4 Honey Buzzard near Haltwhistle and a sole juvenile Honey Buzzard at another site further up the valley. Also seen from 09:30-11:40 were 3 Common Buzzard, an adult Hobby and, yes, speak of the devil, an adult male Goshawk! It might be asked why I do not simply carry on, do the whole study area and wrap everything up quickly. Well the window of opportunity for a soaring family party is actually quite small, perhaps from 09:30-12:00 on a fine morning, or the sun coming out in a poorer day. Of course the birds are not invisible for the rest of the day but their visibility is much reduced. Tomorrow sees some very early attempt at fieldwork, then work and the Tap!

September 1st: very good weather this morning with strong sunshine and a moderate westerly breeze. Went to the Allen and from 10:20-12:00 had 3 Honey Buzzard family groups of 4 (pair adults, 2 juveniles), 3 (pair, juvenile) and 2 (both juveniles). Also had 5 Kestrel, 2 Sparrowhawk, an adult Hobby and a Barn Owl. On the day's final leg through the 'Shire at dusk, when almost home, had a juvenile Honey Buzzard flying across the road. So that's an incredible 4 broods added today: 2x2 1x1+ 1x1. Tomorrow more of the same but pushed a bit earlier.

Birds in Durham 2008, Annual Report of the Durham Bird Club

(Systematic List p.55-56). The Honey-buzzard movement is “what many would describe as the highlight of the birding year in Durham. A record southerly passage took place between 13/9 and 24/9 involving about 55 individual sightings, part of a superb movement down the east coast of England, very much reminiscent of that witnessed in 2000”. Totals of accepted records for Durham by day were:

13/9 27; 14/9 13; 15/9 1; 16/9 0; 17/9 4; 18/9 4; 19/9 0; 20/9 5; 21/9 0; 22/9 0; 23/9 0; 24/9 1.

Obvious duplicates have been removed: “There will obviously be some element of repeat sightings as birds moved down the coastal strip , especially over the weekend of 13/9-14/, but the figures account for the obvious duplications”. At least a further 25 sightings were not submitted with descriptions, “some of which were undoubtedly correct”. Full documentation of such sightings “would have added more accuracy to the overall picture in Durham”.

For other raptors, a total of 10 Marsh Harrier “were estimated to have passed through the North Tees Marshes between 12/9 and 21/9. On 13/9 the initial day of the raptor influx, one flew S just off the cliffs at Marsden and 2 further juveniles passed through the Whitburn/Cleadon area during the day” (p.58).

For Common Buzzard (p.61) it is stated that “it became evident during September that this species was associated with the record breaking Honey-buzzard influx. Migrants were seen, predominantly moving S, from several vantage points within sight of the coast between 13/9 and 29/9”. The only bird on 13/9 was one crossing the Tyne from Tynemouth to South Shields. On 14/9 singles were at Cox Green, Hurworth Burn Reservoir, and Picktree. On 18/9 6 flew W at Clara Vale and others followed up to the end of the month. These localities are far from coastal in the normal sense!

For Osprey (p.62-63) the “interesting run of records involving juveniles from the Loch Garten satellite tagging project” in late summer is highlighted. In August 2 passed over the Wear on 1/8, a third bird passed on 14/8 and one from the Loch Garten nest settled briefly at Oakenshaw LNR on 22/8. This shows a clear passage route for Scottish-bred birds through Durham. A distinct passage was noted in mid-September “linking in with the Honey-buzzard influx” with 3 birds on the coast on 13/9 and one S over Hurworth Burn Reservoir on 14/9.

The Hobby account (p.65) concludes: “the passage of Hobbys during September was reflected in other east coast counties and constitutes the best ever autumn for the species in the Durham [area]”. For individual months “September was the best month as small numbers were involved with the raptor movement from mid-month”. Sightings on 13/9 included 2 at Fellgate/West Pastures with singles at Dalton Park, Greatham Creek, Hendon and Trow Quarry. Another bird was at High Sharpley on 14/9 with further reports up to 29/9.

Records for Meadow Pipit (p.122) “concerned quite a strong S passage during September” with 260 S over Blackhall Rocks in 2 hours on 9/9, 170 SW at Waskerley on 10/9, 1,000+ S at Whitburn by 08:00 on 12/9 and 800+ S at Whitburn in 90 minutes on 14/9. Swallow (p.119-120) were “still widespread and common during the first week of September, but numbers quickly fell away thereafter”. Visible migration counts showed perhaps that high numbers continued into mid-month with 200 S over Blackhall Rocks in 2 hours on 9/9, 900 S at Hurworth Burn Reservoir on 14/9 and 175 S at Penshaw Hill on 20/9.

Controversy returns for House Martin (p.120-121): “a strong S passage of hirundines including 400 House Martin was noted at Hurworth Burn Reservoir on 14/9, which may well have included continental birds swept across to our area by the same weather system that produced the exceptional Honey-buzzard Pernis apivorus influx, with 50 S at Dawdon on 19/9 perhaps of similar origin”. Suggest 'may well have' is a little strong: Hurworth Burn Reservoir is not on the coast, House Martin are a common breeder in northern Britain and there is no evidence for a continental origin.

The Monthly Summary for September (p.10-11) sums up well the local feeling:

This set the scene for a major influx of raptors on the second weekend of the month as further easterly winds displaced birds west from Scandinavia. The result was an unprecedented influx of Honey-buzzard with numbers far exceeding the excellent passage of 2000. A minimum of 55 birds were adequately documented with ta least 40 over 13/9-14/9, and they were amply supported by 15 or more Marsh Harrier, 5 Osprey and 10 Hobby, along with noticeably increased numbers of Merlin and Sparrowhawk. While most activity was over 13/9 and 14/9, the third week of the month saw further raptor reports, albeit in smaller numbers, although Common Buzzard appeared to peak on 20/9 when at least 14 birds moved through. A few more scarce passerines were also displaced, with a Hoopoe, 3 Red-backed Shrike, another Wryneck and a Black Redstart, whilst 2 Dotterel moved through at Whitburn and West Boldon”.

Two Wryneck were noted on 13/9-14/9 out of a monthly total of 18 birds (p.116-117) so there is nothing unusual about its frequency and these birds may well have arrived a week earlier; a total of 2 Black Redstart were recorded in September (p.128) so this is indeed a scarce migrant; the Hoopoe record was the only one of the year but this species is not a Scandinavian breeder; the autumn fall of Red-backed Shrike of 4 birds did occur entirely from 13/9-19/9. The main arrival of drift migrants on 6/9 was a week before the raptor movement (p.10). So very importantly the raptor movement was not accompanied by any of the usual suspects in drift migration from Scandinavia.

Newsome, Mark, The Honey-buzzard Passage in Autumn 2008, Birds in Durham 2008, Durham Bird Club 177-186 (2009).

The unsaid hypothesis in the Durham paper is that the Honey-buzzard is a drift migrant in the same way as passerines. There's no evidence for this in the literature.

Going through the paper page by page. On p.177 it is said that the passage in 2000 was then rightly described as once in a lifetime. No, it was wrongly described as once in a lifetime as we've had 2 major movements in 9 years from 2000-2008.

It is claimed that the species has never bred in Durham, but it certainly has in the Derwent valley around 1900. Temperley (1951) provides the authoritative documentation with a nest found with 2 young in a beech tree in 1897 at Gibside in the Derwent Valley; an adult and a newly-fledged bird were killed and stuffed. The same nest was repaired but no eggs laid in 1898 and breeding was suspected at nearby Shotley Bridge in 1899. The map in The Historical Breeding Atlas for 1875-1900 (Holloway 1996) at pp.102-103 shows that North East England was a significant area for Honey-buzzard at this time. Selective amnesia has affected both Durham and Northumberland CRC in recent years!

The downward trend in Swedish migration counts is noted but then ignored as presumably it does not help the hypothesis.

A very useful summary of the sightings accepted in Durham is given on pp.178-179 totalling 55+ from 13-24 September with 27 (3 adult, 13 juvenile, 14 unaged, total apparently 30 but presumably obvious duplicates removed) on 13/9, 13 (1 adult, 6 juvenile, 6 unaged) on 14/9, 1 unaged on 15/9, 4 (2 juvenile, 2 unaged) on 17/9, 4 (3 juvenile, 1 unaged) on 18/9, 5 (1 adult, 4 juvenile) on 20/9 and 1 unaged on 24/9. So total is 5 adult, 28 juvenile, 25 unaged. Photographs are shown of 2 birds, neither aged in the caption, which appear to be a pale-phase juvenile at Sunderland on 14/9 and a dark-phase juvenile at Whitburn on 17/9. Quite a number of claimed sightings were not supported by documentation from observers – 25+ according to p.56 for Honey-buzzard in systematic list. So the movement, which easily exceeded the 25 birds in 2000, could quite possibly have been significantly greater than the 55 quoted as the official total. Quite rightly the difficulties of raptor identification are stressed on p.179. In-off claims included 3 on 13th, 1 on 14th, 1 on 18th and 1 on 20th. The total of 6 were all in the Hartlepool area except for 1 at Marsden. There is a big headland at Hartlepool with a bay to the south. A coasting bird, finding itself out in the North Sea as the headland turns sharply W, would correct its course westwards, that is back towards the land, and give the impression that it had crossed the North Sea.

Much of the article (pp. 180-183) looks at the weather patterns. While these show a prevailing E wind during the Honey-buzzard passage period there is nothing unusual in the patterns observed to tell us why these 2 large movements occurred in 2000 and 2008 and at no other times in the 20th/21st century. The weather conditions have been repeated many, many times and no Honey-buzzard have been seen moving down the east coast of England. Further it is not pointed out that the winds on the western side of the southern North Sea were actually W on the morning of 13/9 at the start of the movement. This enabled birds moving down the North Sea coast of England to travel easily eastwards for the start of their journey across the southern North Sea into Benelux. Evidence for this comes from the time difference between the movements in East Anglia and Benelux and the lack of a significant follow-through movement into SE England from East Anglia. There is an error in reviewing Génsbøl's work: Génsbøl used his own observations to specifically reject the idea that Honey-buzzard would move W across the North Sea from Denmark as they actively resisted drift over the North Sea in easterly winds. The idea that the large number of birds in NE England had crossed the North Sea on a 600km journey is very fanciful: it is contrary to all that is known about Honey-buzzard migration and there are no observations to support it.

It does appear from the literature though that Honey-buzzard can fly at night, making very early starts or late finishes if necessary: this could explain the relatively early arrival at Ketelbrug in Holland from eastern England on 13/9 from 11:00-12:00 CEST (not 10:00-12:00 as given in Durham paper). But another explanation is that the birds at Ketelbrug in northern Holland had arrived from Germany, having crossed from Sweden into Denmark on 11/9. Some 801 Honey-buzzard were recorded in Denmark that day, mainly in Sjælland, having presumably crossed at Helsingør, taking a more northerly route than the normal one at Falsterbo. Maps on 12/9 -13/9 on rather limited data on Trektellen show small numbers travelling SW from northern Germany towards northern Holland but very few birds on the North Sea coasts themselves. Other birds from Sjælland on the E side of Denmark will have gone due S on the normal route into southern Germany. Newsome takes the view that the birds moving into northern Holland were the 'lucky' ones who had escaped a crossing of the North Sea. My view is that this was normal overland migration from Denmark but drifted slightly to the W by the E winds and concentrated by blocking weather fronts.

My final thoughts are that there was a pincer movement on Holland and Belgium with a rush of late-breeding Honey-buzzard migrant flocks arriving from both the NE (Denmark/northern Germany) and the W (East Anglia). This is still under investigation but there seems to be the right feel in that the pincer movement explains the observations in Benelux, Denmark, northern Germany, Sweden and even indeed the UK! The paper reporting the movement in Benelux by Desmet & Faveyts [2009] provides the invaluable analysis of the weather from 11/9-14/9 (see review of their paper below).

In the section on ringing data (p.183-184) Newsome does acknowledge that no continental-ringed Honey-buzzard were recovered in the UK in September 2008. He does rightly indicate that in the European ringing scheme since 1940 only 345 dead Honey-buzzard have been recovered compared to 26,451 Kestrel but in a major displacement such as that proposed by Newsome for 2008 the chance of a recovery should be higher. The number of Scandinavian-ringed Kestrel and Osprey recovered is interesting but the relevance to Honey-buzzard migration is not clear.

It is always rewarding to look at other species involved (pp.184-185). Marsh Harrier, Osprey and Hobby may have been involved in greater numbers than usual but all have thriving and increasing UK populations which we might expect to result in increased passage over the years. Nowhere is this clearer than for Common Buzzard which has had a vast increase in range and population size in the UK while it has always been common on the continent. So recent rapid increases in Common Buzzard migration are surely of UK-bred birds. When Common Buzzard was absent from eastern England and eastern Scotland up until the early 1990s, east coast passage was on a very much smaller scale. It is interesting to record that the Common Buzzard passage ran later than that of Honey-buzzard: this is normal on the continent and probably reflects the Honey-buzzard diet of insects, whose numbers decline rapidly through September.

In reviewing the past (p.185) it seems most unlikely that Honey-buzzard invasions have gone undetected. Indeed this suggestion might be greeted with incredulity! Numbers were higher in the 19th century when migrants would have been shot but then the Honey-buzzard was still breeding in the UK, managing to survive to some extent the first onslaught from the guns. For the great majority of the 20th century the Honey-buzzard was a very rare breeder in the UK and reports on the east coast declined. Now it's back breeding and passage numbers are increasing. The correlation is obvious! As an example of a species well-recorded in the 20th century and less common now, look at the Rough-legged Buzzard, where a number of invasions were recorded using what might be regarded as more primitive alerting techniques.

The 1993 movement of raptors at Minsmere is mentioned as an earlier movement, which may have involved more sightings if observers could have been alerted. But it is possible that, with raptor populations in the UK rising steadily since the 1970s, this movement was a small-scale version of that in 2008, smaller simply because the UK populations were smaller. Further information is being sought on the 1993 movement, the study of which could provide a valuable additional perspective.

So I enjoyed reading Mark's paper. It encourages a constructive debate to find the truth. But I think the paper is too predicated on a continental origin for the UK birds and as a consequence suffers in places from a lack of credibility. So when, for the Honey-buzzard, will it be 'thrice in a lifetime'?

Cleveland Bird Report for 2008, Teesmouth Bird Club No.35

Whereas on BirdGuides in the original submissions no birds were reported as in-off for the county we now have (p.40-41) at least 5 birds in this category. In-off is of course highly subjective but adding this description of the movement after the event might lead to questions over scientific integrity. The in-off has been applied to several records in the Seaton area just south of Hartlepool. Birds coasting over the headland at Hartlepool which is angled NW/SE are going to drift out to sea if they follow the coast literally. Finding themselves out to sea they are then going to correct their course moving SW towards the land at Seaton or even reversing back NW to the headland. So they might appear in-off but the birds are simply coasting and have not crossed the North Sea as perhaps is implied. This report is much better in giving details of the individual records, including age, direction and times, and for such a spectacular event, it's a pity Norfolk did not follow the example of Cleveland; the extra page in Norfolk's report would have been so useful from the raw data point of view.

Some ageing data is given which shows that of the 18+ birds recorded on 13/9 2 were thought to be adult and 7 juvenile; on the 14/9, of 7 recorded, one was thought to be adult and 3 juvenile. Records extended to 15th-20th with one on 15th, 3 on 18th (3 juvenile), 3 on 19th (1 juvenile) and 2 on 20th (2 juvenile), making a total of 34+ from 13/9-20/9.

Suggested cause of the movement is rather hackneyed: “It would appear that birds moving south out of Scandinavia on the edge of a high pressure system, met a weak low-pressure system moving eastwards across the southern North Sea and to the south of the high pressure system, with a resulting easterly air stream that funnelled them into eastern counties of Britain. The majority of birds reorientated themselves quickly on meeting the coast and moved southwards, before leaving our shores either via East Anglia [perceptive!] or southeast England. A similar influx occurred in Sept 2000, when an estimated 500 birds were recorded in Britain”.

A useful summary is given: “during the period 13/9-20/9, a minimum of 34 Honey Buzzards passed through Cleveland, compared with 15 during the 2000 influx. Those birds which were aged were mainly juveniles, with all birds heading in a southerly direction”.

Other raptors were also moving in mid-September. 14+ Common Buzzard were recorded between 13/9-24/9. 4 Osprey were seen on 13/9 followed by 6 more by 27/9. A record-breaking 12 Hobby were seen from 13/9-29/9, including an adult on 13/9 and 12 juveniles (8 from 13/9-14/9). From 12/9-21/9 10 migrant Marsh Harrier were noted at North Tees Marshes. A major Swallow movement occurred from 12/9-13/9 with at Hummersea 500 SE on 12/9 and at Skinningrove 1200 noted on 13/9.

York Ornithological Club Report 2008

(p. 36 in systematic list) Some interesting passage, mostly S, was recorded of Honey Buzzard with a total of at least 11 birds passing through the Lower Derwent Valley on 14/9: 6 though Bank Island in afternoon (group of 4, 2 singles), 3 over East Cottingwith and 2 over North Duffield Carrs. Further singles flew over Ellerton Ings on 18/9 and North Duffield on 21/9.

The Lower Derwent Valley is 50 km W of the coast at Hornsea so the main body of 11 birds is moving well inland, a day after the movement started. Suggestion is that the body comprises juveniles bred in North Yorkshire (where presence known); the group of 4 could have left together from the breeding sites further N. The direction S means that they might avoid the E coast altogether, ending up at Sussex or Hampshire on the south coast, prior to making the crossing of the Channel.

Other raptors were reported as follows: 3 Common Buzzard flew over Bank Island on 14/9; 2 Osprey were seen, one at Castle Howard on 13/9, the other at Bank Island on 14/9; 3-6 Marsh Harrier were at North Duffield Carrs from 12th-17th.

Lincolnshire Bird Report 2008, Lincolnshire Bird Club

(p.39-40 in systematic list). Spring passage just involved one bird. Autumn passage in contrast was of a magnitude only seen once before in the county [in 2000]. Autumn total was approximately 63 individuals, although some overlap may have occurred. A table itemises all the records. Totals for each day were 4 at 3 sites on 13/9; 35 at 8 sites on 14/9; 3 at 3 sites on 15/9; 2 at 2 sites on 16/9; 2 at 2 sites on 17/9; 6 at 3 sites on 18/9; 7 at 5 sites on 20/9; 1 at 1 site on 21/9; 2 at 1 site on 02/10; 1 at 1 site on 27/10. No details are given of direction of flight, age or gender.

On 13/9 2 were at Donna Nook and singles at Gibraltar Point and Pyes Hall. Donna Nook is about 10 km S of the extreme tip of Spurn Head; Gibraltar Point is near Skegness, at the northern tip of the Wash. The 14/9 was the big day for passage with 16 passing Gibraltar Point [10 by 08:18, 6 more by 09:45, BirdGuides], 6 Frampton Marsh (on NW bank of Wash, near Boston), 3 at Saltfleet (just S of Donna Nook), Welton le Marsh (10 km inland WNW of Skegness) and Barton (on south bank of Humber, 35 km inland from Spurn Head), 2 at Candlesby (12 km inland WNW of Skegness), and singles at Donna Nook and Spilsby (18 km inland WNW of Skegness). So on 14/9 9 of the 35 birds were actually moving in inland locations.

Lees, C Alexander, The 2008 Honey Buzzard Influx, Lincolnshire Bird Report 2008 124-129 (2009)

Well my old sparring partner! Beckmesser and Meistersinger come to mind! The paper does include 2 plates of Honey-buzzard, one at Frampton Marsh (presumed 14/9) and the other at Gibraltar Point (dated 14/9). Neither is aged. The one at Frampton Marsh appears to be a juvenile with pale bill and an extensive dark area on the wingtip. The one at Gibraltar Point is certainly a juvenile with pale bill and an extensive dark area on the wingtip.

Lees does raise some interesting questions from the historical perspective: “that migrating Honey Buzzards followed the high pressure south and then met with the low-pressure system that drifted them across into the UK. This is a convincing proximate reason for the drift, but why have there not been any past influxes, given that such a compilation of circumstances would be expected to occur at least once or so a decade?” Well that's an easy one: the Honey-buzzard is not a drift migrant like say a passerine. Lees continues:

The explanation for this almost certainly lies not with any change in status of either Honey Buzzards or prevailing weather systems but with observer behaviour. There are now more active field observers in the country than ever before, and modern telecommunications efficiency (pagers and the internet) means that once the first inkling of a major ornithological event is under way, then observers are able to react to it and get into the field immediately. Still, careful searching of historical literature does reveal several smaller influxes, which had they been monitored with the same number of observers as today might have proven to be equally large. These movements included a major displacement of over 100 individuals in September 1993, including 11 past Minsmere (Suffok [sic!]) in four hours. Other broad winged raptors caught up in this last influx included substantial numbers of Common Buzzards, Ospreys and two Black Kites over Minsmere (Moss 1995). Autumn 1976 also produced a similar incursion associated with an easterly airflow from Sep 17th onwards (Wallace 1981). Going much further back, in September 1881 between 20 and 30 Honey Buzzards were collected in Norfolk (Riviere 1930). How many were actually involved in this influx is anyone's guess. Back in Lincolnshire there were records of four birds in autumns 1864 and 1908, which also hint at a possibly more widespread arrival (Carley 2001). “

In reviewing the past it seems most unlikely that Honey-buzzard invasions have gone undetected. Indeed this suggestion might be greeted with incredulity! Numbers were higher in the 19th century when migrants would have been shot but then the Honey-buzzard was still breeding in the UK, managing to survive to some extent the first onslaught from the guns. For the great majority of the 20th century the Honey-buzzard was a very rare breeder in the UK and reports on the east coast declined. Now it's back breeding and passage numbers are increasing. The correlation is obvious! As an example of a species well-recorded in the 20th century and less common now, look at the Rough-legged Buzzard, where a number of invasions were recorded using what might be regarded as more primitive alerting techniques. The 1993 movement of raptors at Minsmere is mentioned as an earlier movement, which may have involved more sightings if observers could have been alerted. But it is possible that, with raptor populations in the UK rising steadily since the 1970s, this movement was a small-scale version of that in 2008, smaller simply because the UK populations were smaller. Further information is being sought on the 1993 movement, the study of which could provide a valuable additional perspective.

For the movement in 2008, Lees suggests that the Honey-buzzard on the east coast of England in large numbers came directly from Denmark in a strong easterly airstream. He claims that precise details are not known of the large influx in Denmark on 11/9. He reckons that the Honey-buzzard in England were all juveniles. He calculates that the Honey-buzzard moved from Denmark to England at sea at 23km/hour over 30-32 hours, arriving simultaneously along the whole of the east coast of England.

This view is erroneous. There is a button on the DOFbasen data, which gives much further information on the Danish observations on 11/9 (grand total 801), involving 524 birds at Nordsjælland, crossing from Sweden, on to the eastern side of Jutland. The comment from the observer was:

It must have been a great day Honey-buzzard in North Zealand today. I came first in kl.1600. Highly concentrated drag from 16.00-17.45. The last Honey-buzzards came at. 18.35 in pretty high altitude. Hvepsevågerne [Honey-buzzard] may have noticed cool air north, several flocks of 80 to 135, they were really busy to get away, and continued to pull in a nice height, until late in the day. Min. 26 1.k. birds seen, it was only when some came low that they were picked out, so there was probably no more first k. birds”.

This records a significant last movement through Scandinavia in 2008 in cooling weather conditions. Most birds were adult apparently with only 26 juveniles (1k) noted. Juveniles do indeed normally fly lower than adults so there is a tendency to overestimate their proportion in migrating flocks. The direction of SW is normal for Nordsjælland in northern Denmark as the birds are aiming for the Lubeck area. Counts on Trektellen for 11/9 indeed do show 52 birds on the northern coast of Germany to the east of Jutland, which is in the expected line of direction of SW from Nordsjælland to Schleswig-Holstein, particularly in easterly winds. This is the flock of mainly adult Honey-buzzard, which is now going to cross the North Sea to England, according to Lees. The winds were light to moderate easterly in Jutland, increasing from 5-15 kph on 11/9 to 20-35 kph on 12/9, with dry weather on both days. The birds would have to cross Jutland to approach the North Sea but there are no observations in Jutland to support such a movement. It also appears most unlikely that a flock of adults would perform such an energy-intensive and potentially dangerous movement. In Collins Bird of Prey by Benny Génsbøl, it is said that:

The autumn migration takes place in a roughly 50km broad corridor between south west Skåne (Falsterbo) and the island of Fehmarn, southwards over the Danish islands. Thereafter the route is southwest towards Hamburg, and then quickly fans out. Each year some 50,000 Common Buzzards and 10,000 Honey-buzzards pass rapidly through East Holstein. If the prevailing westerly winds switch to the east, the route is diverted westwards and this can result in Honey-buzzards for example being deflected as far as over the North Sea, where they then correct their course by flying back towards the mainland before continuing south.”

So Honey-buzzards actively resist the potential for drift across the North Sea in Jutland. The flight speed postulated by Lees for the journey from Denmark to England is very low at 23km/hour. Normal flapping speed for Honey-buzzard is c50km/hour so with a wind behind of say 20km/hour, they would travel at c70km/hour, doing the journey in c10 hours, arriving on the morning of 12/9, 24 hours before Lees' schedule. The simultaneous movement of birds along the east coast of England is better explained by there being a synchronised movement from the hinterland (the breeding areas) to the east coast in poor weather conditions. This movement involved a mixture of adult and juvenile, mainly the latter, and was picked up later in Benelux, following a E/SE diversion over the southern North Sea from East Anglia. So what happened to the birds in eastern Denmark: 700 Honey-buzzard were counted in Malta on 19th September 2008, so the Danish birds on 11/9 may well have moved S through Italy and crossed the Mediterranean via Malta.

While completely dismissing Lees' version I do have some empathy with people trying to reason about the movement while the estimated breeding population for the Honey-buzzard in Britain in the literature is so ridiculously low, compared to the real situation. A marvellously patronising comment on which to finish!

East Anglia

Norfolk Bird & Mammal Report 2008, Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Association

In the Review of the Year (p.10) it is reported that “ … was a precursor to exciting times as high pressure over Scandinavia brought a halt to Atlantic weather systems and delivered 8 days of constant easterly winds. It produced an unprecedented displacement of Honey-buzzards from continental Europe on 13/9-14/9 accompanied by good numbers of Ospreys, Marsh Harriers and Common Buzzards”.

(Systematic List p.71). All Honey-buzzard sightings are given on a daily basis. It is considered with some justification that “estimating actual number is virtually impossible due to the mobility of the birds, the high risk of duplicate counts and an inevitable degree of misidentification of Common Buzzards, Ospreys and Marsh Harriers, all of which were obvious at the time”. However, it does appear clear that in Norfolk the movement of 2008 was far bigger than that of 2000: “if all sightings are counted individually, an amazing 267 birds passed through the county, a total far in excess of the 60 recorded in the last great Honey-buzzard displacement of 2000”. In the main passage period the report reveals 73 birds on 13/9 and 105 on 14/9. Birds continued to be recorded after this with 28 birds on 15/9, 3 on 16/9, 5 on 17/9, 16 on 18/9, 10 on 19/9, 2 on 20/9, 8 on 21/9 and 8 singles from 23/9-2/10.

The highest counts for Honey-buzzard (4+) were 8 at Welney (30 km S of Wash), 7 at Breydon (Norwich), 7 at Scolt Head (near Burnham, N coast), 6 at Titchwell on 13/9; 9 at Burnham Overy Dunes, 8 at Sidestrand (near Cromer, NE coast), 7 at Aylmerton (near Cromer, 4 km inland), 6 at Lyng (25 km SSW of Sheringham), 6 at Northrepps (near Cromer), 5 at Cromer, 4 at Blakeney Point, 4 at Nar Valley fisheries (10 km SE of Kings Lynn), 4 at Titchwell on 14/9; 4 at Sheringham Park on 15/9; 5 at Beetley (35 km E of Kings Lynn) on 18/9. These sites are very widespread across the county; the impression that all birds are coasting is far from the case with Welney, Lyng, Nar Valley Fisheries and Beetley inland, suggesting that some birds were moving S/SE from the Wash perhaps to gain more lift over the land than over the sea.

Osprey (p.75-76) also appeared in numbers mid-month with 3 at Cley, 2 at Blakeney Point and Breydon and singles at 13 further localities on 13/9; 2 at West Runton and singles at 21 further localities on 14/9; 2 at Ranworth Broad and Thetford and singles at 3 further localities on 15/9; numerous records thereafter until end of month.

Marsh Harrier (p.72-73): small-scale movement continued into September and included a bird in off the sea at Cley on 14/9.

Common Buzzard (p.74-75): “good numbers of passage of migrants mid-September associated with strong movement of Honey-buzzard, all moving east unless stated” with 3 Titchwell, 8 Burnham Overy Dunes/Holkham, 6 Warham Greens, 5 Sidestrand and 2 west Paston on 14/9; 5 Brancaster Staithe, 3 Walsey Hills, 3 Kelling, 2 Weybourne, 3 Sheringham on 15/9; 11 Thornham on 18/9; 38 more by 28/9; none in October. County population “must be close to or even exceeding 100 pairs”.

Hobby (p.77-78): widespread influx 13/9-16/9, including up to 5 Holkham GM and several in off sea including 3 Sheringham and singles Kelling WM and Walcott 14/9 with 1-2 at around 30 sites.

The report is highly speculative in its comment that “over 13/9-14/9 a major displacement of Honey Buzzards from continental Europe occurred”. No evidence is given for this. Indeed the report rather conveniently ignores direction of flight altogether and no comment is made on the eastward lean in the birds moving through the county, as recorded in the original BirdGuides sightings. This is not good scientific reporting: the reader is not given the facts on which to form his/her own opinion. The report finishes with the comment “an indication that some of these birds were very tired when they initially arrived came from Northrepps on Sept 14th when a dark phase juv was found by the roadside, allowing approach to within 3 feet by an observer using a car as a hide. It eventually flew into a woodland when another car came along from the opposite direction”. This comment may be designed to support a North Sea crossing. But young migrants do get tired for many other reasons: for instance they can get lost over the sea while coasting or they might be exhausted through inexperience in judging flight limits. It doesn't mean they've crossed the North Sea. The report also does not mention any ages for the birds, which is surely known for many as their descriptions will have been assessed by the records committee.

It is good to see the full data compiled for the other migrant raptors. It does appear that, contrary to the claim in the Review, very few Marsh Harrier were moving but that large numbers of Osprey and Common Buzzard were indeed accompanying the Honey-buzzard. Hobby could have been added as a congener. As all these 4 species now breed in increasing numbers in the UK, my query is: why are these birds not of British origin? Cannot their increasing numbers at coastal watch-points be correlated with rising UK populations? Maybe there was a displacement of migrating raptors in mid-September 2008 but -- was it a displacement within the UK rather than from the continent?

The information that the Honey-buzzard summering in Norfolk and so visible are non-breeders is what we have been saying for some time in Northumberland. Breeding Honey-buzzard are so secretive. The number of birders who have said to me -- “the birds in Norfolk are regularly seen so why are yours so invisible” -- well that's the answer: they are not my birds but they are breeding! Particularly interesting is the statement: “wing-clapping was noted frequently but yet again no attempt at nesting was made”. Wing-clapping is rare at sites in Northumberland and may be associated with display of birds, still apparently seeking mates, rather like a bird continuing singing past the normal period.

Norfolk Ornithologists' Association Annual Report 2008

Covers the Holme Bird Observatory, on the Norfolk side of the Wash, near Hunstanton. Systematic List (p.18-19). One record in September of 2 birds on 14/9: “the second date coincided with a major influx into Britain with in excess of 600 reported between 13/9 and the end of the month”. It is noted for Common Buzzard that there was “evidence of movements in both spring and autumn” with 4 noted in each of August and September and 13 in October.

Suffolk Birds 2008, Suffolk Naturalists' Society

The Honey-buzzard account occupies ¾ page in the Systematic List (p.68). If the purpose of a county bird report is to document unusual bird-events in a county for the purpose of posterity then this report for Honey-buzzard is not a success. This is unfortunate for an event that in the Brief Review of the Year (p.8) is described: “In September the big event was the movement of Honey-buzzard, especially near the coast”. In spite of the Suffolk CRC carefully compiling acceptance figures for 105 Honey-buzzard (2 adult, 2 juvenile, 101 no age information) and 0 not proven from 13/9-04/10 there is no mention of this total in the annual report. Instead we are given the 250-270 total for East Anglia. We are told that this is about half the number estimated in 2000. This may be so for the region but the distribution by county nationally is very different between 2000 and 2008 with most passing inland in 2000 and concentrating in Essex, where they were blocked by adverse winds. We are indeed told that about 50 birds passed through Suffolk in September 2008 but, while it is very difficult to work out precise figures it would have been useful to give the total for accepted birds as an absolute maximum figure for analytical purposes. Since 18 alone went through Minsmere on 13/9 prior to 13:30 the figure of 50 might seem a little low and it would be interesting to know how duplicates were removed. For instance on 13/9 a total of only 25 birds is estimated which seems very low when the CRC accepted 51 birds including the 18 at Minsmere: surely the other 33 birds counted throughout the day at other sites does not boil down to just 7 extra birds! Publishing the whole CRC dataset, which includes times, is an obvious tactic to let people perform their own analyses. We are given a story about the cause of the movement. This is given verbatim with my comments in square brackets:

The autumn influx of 2008 was on a smaller scale than the largest-ever recorded influx in 2000 [evidence?], but still involved an estimated 700-800 birds nationally [source?]. It was caused when large numbers of birds (mostly juveniles [only 4 birds are aged in the Suffolk dataset – 2 adult, 2 juvenile]), about to embark on their long journey to Africa, were delayed by adverse weather conditions in Scandinavia [weather was fine at Falsterbo – steady emigration there, no blocking]. When they did finally set off, easterly winds forced them to drift across the North Sea [any evidence on North Sea itself or on E seaboard of North Sea?] and hundreds poured into the UK [passed through]. A large percentage of these misplaced migrants passed down the eastern side of England; between 250-270 were reported in East Anglia (about half the number estimated in 2000 [when East Anglia was bypassed to some extent]). Other species also involved in this major passage movement included Marsh Harrier [yes – on 13/9 up to 10 moving S at Orfordness and 4 S at Landguard], Common Buzzard [no passage data in report], Osprey [yes – on 13/9 3 moving S at Minsmere and 5 S at Landguard] and Kestrel [yes – on 13/9 7 moving S at Landguard].

Two in-off records are claimed at Lowestoft and Corton on 13/9 in NE Suffolk. These could represent birds that had crossed the Wash and were skirting the coast on the S side of the Wash before making landfall.

Records itemised are: on 13/9, 18 passed Minsmere prior to 13:30, 9 flew over Southwold and 5 S at Landguard; on 14/9, all moving S, 6 flew over Boyton, 3 flew inland over Thetford and 2 at Landguard; 15/9-19/9, fewer reports were received; 20/9, 4 passed over Bawdsey; 28/9, up to 4 flew over Landguard; 3/10-4/10, 2 further singles were last records.

A very interesting ringing recovery is documented. A 3cy Honey-buzzard, ringed as a chick in Drenthe, Netherlands, in July 2006, was found dead on railway lines near Ipswich, Suffolk, in August 2008. This was only the 3rd foreign-ringed Honey-buzzard found in the UK, the others being from Germany (July 1973, hit wires in Kent, injured) and Sweden (October 1976, hit wires in Yorkshire, dead). It's disappointing for proponents of the continental original for the Honey-buzzard on passage that no recoveries of foreign-ringed Honey-buzzard were made in either September 2000 or September 2008.

It was good to see the reference to the concurrent movements of other raptors in the overview. In more detail, and with the addition of Hobby, these are:

Marsh Harrier (p.70): “Other singles were logged flying S at Landguard on four dates in September, and 4 passed S on 13/9. It was a similar picture at Orfordness, where 10 were seen on 13/9 and 21/9, some of which were clearly moving S as part of the wider raptor movement at this time.

Common Buzzard (p.72-73): “There are now very few places in Suffolk where buzzard are absent”. So a very large increase in presence in the county. No details of any passage are given.

Osprey (p.73): the report starts on an upbeat note: “2008 was another record-breaking year for this species. The 80 submitted reports received easily surpass the previously highest number of 51 in 2006”. For the relevant period, we are told: “Autumn passage was much more pronounced and apparently involved many Scandinavian migrants moving south, with Honey-buzzard and other raptor species. September produced no fewer than 45 reports and the vast majority of these were from coastal locations. Notable movements included 3 S at Minsmere on 13/9 and 5 S at Landguard the same day. Other multiple accounts included 2 at Breydon South Wall on 13/9 and 2 at Herringfleet on 22/9”. It is of course total speculation as to the source of the Osprey on passage; there is a large population in Scotland now; why is this not the source?.

Kestrel (p.73-74): “at Landguard a maximum of 7 was logged flying S on 13/9, and another 11 either in off the sea or flew S there between mid-September and mid-November.” So some passage was noted at Landguard on the critical day of 13/9.

Hobby (p.75): “There were 13 reports from September, including multiple counts of 6 at Ashby on 14/9, 12 at Minsmere on 13/9 and 7 at Redgrave and Lopham Fen on 10/9”. While not seen on passage the peak counts in the critical period of 13/9-14/9 do suggest movement at this time.

Movements of passerines included: Swallow – 100, Minsmere, 13/9; House Martin – 1,000 flying around Sizewell A power station, 13/9, “most significant” of autumn; Meadow Pipit – 300, Orfordness, 13/9.

Cambridgeshire Bird Report 2008 No. 82 Cambridgeshire Bird Club

(Systematic List p.49-50). Noted for Honey-buzzard as “the second best year ever in the county, with an above average spring total followed by an influx of continental drift birds from mid-September onwards. The numbers reported in the county during 2008 surpassed the total from 2000, but in both years a number of reports remain unsubmitted, making a fuller analysis impossible. Nationally during 2008 fewer birds were seen than during the record influx of 2000”. A table summarising annual totals shows 20 records in 2000, 16 in 2008 and 11 in 2006. A sign of its increasingly frequent occurrence is the comment: “as the record total now exceeds 100, it will no longer be published in the status summary”. Interestingly as revealed in the annual totals as many as 72 of these 100+ records have occurred since 1996.

In more detail the 13 records for 14 birds are as follows: a dark phase S at Grafham Water on 7/9, singles S at Morborne Hill on 13/9 and 14/9 (latter also presumed noted at Ferry Meadows on 14/9), an adult at Ely on 14/9, 2 pale-phase juveniles S at Little Paxton on 14/9, a dark phase at Wicken Fen on 14/9, one at Witcham on 14/9, a dark-phase juvenile at Fen Drayton on 18/9 (photographed [indeed a juvenile with yellow bill, 4 bold bars on remiges and extensive dark on wing-tips]), one S at Girton on 18/9, a rufous-phase juvenile at Ely on 20/9, one at Littleport on 20/9, one at Ouse Fen/Earith on 20/9, and a dark-phase juvenile S at Farcet Fen on 26/9. So for the critical period, just one bird was recorded on 13/9 (unaged) and 6 (1+ adult, 2+ juvenile) on 14/9. Another 4 (1+ juvenile) were noted from 18/9-20/9. Overall 7 out of the 14 flew S with no direction given for the remainder.

While above the report writers allude to the number of unsubmitted reports of Honey-buzzard, a closer look reveals that it is the Records Committee that has made any deep analysis untenable. An incredible 14 records, involving 19 Honey-buzzard, were judged as not proven. These included 4 birds in 3 records in May and June, 6 birds in 5 records on 14/9, 1 bird on 18/9, 1 bird on 21/9, a series of 6 birds in 3 records from 24/9-28/9 at Fowlmere RSPB and a late bird on 4/10. I think it's fair to say that peer review has broken down completely with such a high rejection rate. Often such mismatches between observers and county records committees are caused by unrealistic expectations as to what is visible under field conditions; political motivations may also play a part in the breakdown of the system. Whatever about half of all the records not proven for 2008 are Honey-buzzard! It is also quite possible that some of the Common Buzzard migrants are in fact juvenile Honey-buzzard. In the Review of the Year 2008 (p.16) it says that “the drift migration of European Honey-buzzards coincided with impressive movements of Common Buzzards and Marsh Harriers providing quite a spectacle, as well as a few identification headaches!”. Well don't think it's drift migration in the classical sense and feel that the rejection of so many Honey-buzzard records, particularly for 14/9, is scientifically unsound, giving a bias towards precision while sacrificing recall (accuracy).

For other raptors a gathering of 13 Marsh Harrier at Ouse Washes on 25/9 is highlighted (p.51).

Common Buzzard concentrations were exceptionally well reported (p.53) with 25 at Grafham Water on 13/9, 20 S at Paxton Pits on 14/9 and 20/9, 20-25 at Ouse Fen on 14/9, 19 at Coploe Hill on 14/9, 15 at Fulbourn on 20/9, 15 at Fen Drayton on 21/9, 15 at Woodwalton Fell on 21/9, 12 at Magog Down on 21/9, and 10 at Melbourn on 21/9. Passage of Common Buzzard remained in double figures until 6/10. Only on 14/9 and 20/9 at Paxton Pits is a direction given (S).

The status of Osprey is given as an “uncommon, but increasing passage migrant” (p.55). In a table showing the number of sites recorded per month from 2006-2008, September is comfortably the highest scorer with 25, indicating this is peak time for return passage. In 2008 the Osprey records are quite evenly distributed through September though the 13/9 does feature with 2 sites and the 14/9 rather more so with 5 sites.

Peak Hobby numbers in autumn occurred in mid-September with, on 14/9, 11 at Coploe Hill and 10 at Ouse Fen, 9 at Hemingford Grey on 20/9 and 6-7 at 3 other sites from 7/9-14/9.

The highest autumn passage counts for Meadow Pipit and Swallow were both on 14/9 with 350 Meadow Pipit at Coploe Hill and 523 Swallow at Coploe Hill. House Martin peaked at 585 on 7/9.

3. South-east England

Sussex Bird Report No. 61, 2008, Sussex Ornithological Society

(Systematic List p.65). This report can be readily praised: informative with details of breeding birds and migrants, and no spin or unsubstantiated statements. The group which monitors Honey-buzzard in SE England reported for Sussex 5 breeding pairs (all-known breeding pairs), 4 of which were successful (3x2, 1x1) with one unsuccessful. Casual records were received of birds at a maximum of 6 inland localities from relatively early date of 11/5 through to 22/7, including 4 birds at one site.

Colonisation of Sussex seems to now be well established, so a significant area of SE England from Hampshire to Sussex is now Honey-buzzard territory. And I think Kent has some pairs as well. There's certainly at least one pair in the Chilterns (Bucks) from my own observations. It's good to see the birds in Sussex are breeding successfully; the nonsense in Norfolk with the conspicuous but non-breeding birds has badly set back the understanding of Honey-buzzard in the UK (see above). A number of regular breeders are back in Northumberland in early May so would not think that 11/5 is an early date for returning birds.

In Sussex there were no spring migrants on the coast but “there were a good number of autumn migrants” with three adults (male, female, no gender assigned) at Beachy Head on 30/8, adult male on 1/9 and an unsexed adult on 8/9. During the major UK movement, 2 unsexed adults were at Seaford on 14/9, single dark phase juveniles in Beachy Head area on 20/9, 21/9, 26/9, 27/9 and 28/9 with a further bird (unaged, unsexed) in same area on 21/9.

An obvious speculation is whether one of the birds, seen crossing on the 21/9 at Beachy Head, was the marked NE Scotland bird (see NE Scotland Bird Report). Well the Scottish bird appears to be dark-phase when ringed (with dark grey feathers replacing the white down on perched bird): see So it would appear to be a plausible proposition. Not critical but worth noting is the fact that the satellite-tracked juvenile is captioned as a male on the web site, while it's a female in NE Scotland Bird Report.

Most migrants this year went from East Anglia to Benelux so it is not surprising that many fewer were recorded in Sussex in 2008 than in 2000. Indeed in the Review of 2008 (p.12) no mention is made of the raptor movement in mid-September.

For other raptors a male Marsh Harrier flew S over Shoreham on 14/9 (p.67). For Common Buzzard “indications of probable migration in September included 17 over Pulborough Brooks on the morning of the 8/9 before they drifted S and on 20/9 at least 40 were seen moving mainly E over Brighton. September was the peak month in autumn for Osprey passage with a total of 30 noted with one remarkable record of 5 on fence posts over east side of Thorney Island on 17/9. No particular concentrations of Hobby were noted on autumn passage.

Large counts in autumn for Meadow Pipit on the coast started on 12/9 with 400 on fields west of Selsey, followed by 230 W over Brighton on 14/9, 350 E over Hastings on 20/9 and other similar counts through to 27/9. Peak Swallow passage coincided very much with the national Honey-buzzard movement with the largest counts of 1,000-6,000 from 12/9-20/9. On 13/9 3,000 were at Pagham Harbour and 5,000 came into roost at Pett Level. On 16/9 6,000 were at Pagham Harbour and noticeable movement E was 1,500 over Goring Gap on 18/9 and 2,000 over Beachy Head and 3,500 over Newhaven Cliffs on 20/9. House Martin passage followed a similar pattern to Swallow with 1,000 in the lower Cuckmere Valley and Pagham Harbour and 2,500 over Beachy Head on 13/9, 4,000 at Pagham Harbour on 16/9 and a peak of 5,000 E past Newhaven Cliffs on 20/9. Passage continued at peak levels for one more day though to 21/9 with 2,700 E at Beach Head.

Hampshire Bird Report 2008, Hampshire Ornithological Society

Hampshire: very interested in Hampshire Bird Report 2008, which I've purchased. From systematic list (pp.70-83) can make interesting comparisons of New Forest in 2008 with SW Northumberland in 2009:


New Forest 2008

SW Northumberland 2009


10 pairs raising 21 young, + 2 single adults

10 sites, breeding confirmed at 2, raising only 3 young

Common Buzzard

70 territories, productivity poor with only 18 successful raising 21 young

75 tetrads occupied, much higher productivity, rabbits are a plague species in game rearing areas as their predators are eliminated


8 pairs located of which 5 bred raising 9 young, other 3 did not attempt to breed (singles at 3 other sites away from the Forest)

39 sites with 37 pairs in 2009 raising 67 young

Red Kite

(In county as a whole 7 pairs mostly in the NW)

3 sites occupied


13 sites checked, most produced young but at least 4 failed

24 tetrads occupied


(In county as a whole confirmed in 24 tetrads, probable in further 81)

41 tetrads occupied


Only one successful pair reported (In county as a whole 9 pairs confirmed with 7 raising 13+ young, pairs in 30 further sites and singles in 32)

15 sites occupied, confirmed at 2, probable at 7

Major differences are, from New Forest perspective, much better productivity for Goshawk, much lower productivity for Common Buzzard and lower population and productivity for Honey-buzzard. These differences might be attributed to the intensity of game management, which is surely higher in Northumberland. If you're part of the in-crowd then your population can rise enormously as competing species decline and prey is freely available. If you're on the outside, you've had it.

Systematic list (p.70), Honey-buzzard. Analysis of the quoted 41 autumn migrants shows the following seasonal pattern: 6 in August (22nd-31st, including 4+ adults), 2 in early September (1st-7th, 1+ adults), 22 in mid-September (12th-20th, 6+ juveniles), 8 in late September (21st-29th, 3+ juveniles, 1+ adults) and 2 in October (2nd-8th, unaged). That makes 40 actually! Number initially reported on BirdGuides for Hampshire was only 20 (1 August, 11 mid-September, 5 late September and 3 October) so this is one area where BirdGuides has substantially under-recorded. It does surprise me in county reports how many accepted individuals are not aged. But juveniles do appear to feature relatively well from 12th September.

In the critical period from 12/9-15/9, 1 flew SW near Mottisfont on 12/9; a dark juvenile flew E from Tournerbury to East Head (Sussex) on 13/9; 2 flew W over Farlington Marshes and 3 over Fareham in 7 minutes on 14/9; 1 flew SE at 12:15 over over West Wellow, 1 S over Brook at 14:30, 2 juveniles over Hayling Island, one of which left E, the other S, on 15/9.

The table on p.83 summarising totals of migratory species by year is very worthwhile. Honey-buzzard came in as 124 bird-months in 2000 and 43 in 2008. The lower figure for 2008 is due, in my view, to much of the the large movement that year, particularly of adults, going E on 13/9 and 14/9 across the southern North Sea from East Anglia to Benelux. Many juveniles following on behind the adults, plodded on S passing over the south coast, because that is where their instinct takes them. So Honey-buzzard in 2008 was not nearly as noteworthy in Hampshire as in 2000 and there's no mention of it in the Review of Birds in Hampshire 2008 (p.20-22).

The peak Honey Buzzard passage as usual coincided with large hirundine movements: 95% of migrating Swallow were recorded in September, with 73% in the middle third of the month and 64% from 13/9-17/9 alone. The 7 top counts of the whole year came during this key 13/9-17/9 passage period (p.145). Real exodus of House Martin began on 12/9 but with a later peak from 23/9-26/9. Autumn passage for Meadow Pipit started on 13/9. So the peak Honey-buzzard movement coincides with strong movement of other UK-breeding insectivores, as in 2000. This report has much good analysis in it: very useful.

London Raptors: a review of September 2008, Des McKenzie, Inner London Recorder, BirdGuides webzine, url below

The review commences: “September 2008 turned out to be a memorable month for raptor-watching across the London recording area (and elsewhere), the most memorable since the jaw-dropping and unprecedented influx of Honey Buzzards back in 2000, when London amassed 161 records between 21st September and 14th October (Self: 2000)”.

Expectations were raised on 13/9 once it became clear that “'numbers' of Honey Buzzards were clearing east-coast sites and beginning to head inland and south (along with enhanced numbers of Ospreys and Common Buzzards)”. But there was some disappointment in London: “As it turned out, this year's influx wasn't as sustained as that in 2000, nor were there as many birds involved”. It was, however, a noteworthy event wherever it occurred. The review raises the questions 'why?' and 'when next?', but wisely does not attempt to address them.

For Honey-buzzard “the 13/9 saw the first real signs of a national influx, with at least 170 birds reported by dusk, mainly from east-coast counties, the majority over Norfolk and Suffolk sites (but with a further four counties reporting double figures). The largest numbers seen anywhere that day consisted of 18 birds drifting south over Minsmere RSPB, Suffolk, over a 4-hour period. London, predictably, did less well but did score a single bird, a (probably) dark-morph individual that moved high west over Rainham Marshes at 15:50.

The movement continued the next day “the 14/9 saw continual arrivals at east-coast sites and a conspicuous southward movement had became obvious. Some 190 birds were logged before dusk (possible duplication from the previous day's birds aside) with Norfolk in pole position in terms of the number of individuals reported”. The first strong wave of sightings now began to be reported across the London area with a maximum of 13 birds at ten sites by the end of the day. Of these, five were dark-morph juveniles, two were intermediate and one was pale, with 5 unspecified. This was the peak of the movement in London. A further 10 birds were recorded from 15/9-21/9 with 3 lingering birds noted from 28/9-29/9. Three of these birds from 15/9-21/9 were aged as juvenile on BirdGuides with the remainder from 15/9-29/9 unaged.

The summary gives total for Honey-buzzard in September 2008 as: “a maximum of 28-29 (though this probably actually related to 20-23) Honey Buzzards over a total of 24 widespread sites across the London recording area, most notably so on the 14th when reports came in ten sites (maximum of 13 birds)”.

For other raptors 8-9 Osprey were noted on 14/9 and 4 Marsh Harrier passed through from 13/9-15/9. Common Buzzard were noted at 10 sites on 14/9 including Beddington Sewage Farm where 13 passed over during the course of the day, Amwell with eight over and London Wetland Centre and Tyttenhanger where both four over.

The relatively low numbers of raptors in London, and SE England generally, in 2008 is very instructive. First, how ever many observers you have, you cannot see what is not there. Second, the poor showing confirms that the birds passing through East Anglia in numbers had 'disappeared' from the UK: they had crossed the southern North Sea to Benelux!

Attitudes are always interesting as well. The statement: “many of us back then considered the [2000] influx a spectacle we'd probably never witness again over these shores, and indeed the sheer volume of birds involved may never be equalled” is out of date. Soaring raptor populations in the UK mean that numbers on passage will rise over time though numbers from year to year at a particular location will be very erratic depending on weather conditions.

Since very large numbers of observers are on the east coast in September, it would be expected that most reports would come from this area if there were a movement down the eastern side of England. Observer bias needs to be considered.

Colour-morph information is interesting but not nearly as valuable as information on the ages of the birds. Very few juveniles were reported on BirdGuides at the start of the movement, suggesting adults were involved, which are much more likely to know what they are doing migration-wise.

The reported movement of Common Buzzard with Honey Buzzard is strange at first glance. The two species are not closely related, have different feeding strategies and the Common Buzzard has been thought of as highly sedentary in Britain. In Scandinavia Honey Buzzard move in September and Common Buzzard in October. Further, numbers moving through Falsterbo of Common Buzzard have been declining in recent years, not because of a population decline but because of more birds choosing to overwinter in Scandinavia. A Scandinavian origin therefore appears unlikely with the increase in migratory Common Buzzard apparently correlated with the recent increase in breeding Common Buzzard in eastern Britain. There may be an identification problem with some birds: recently fledged juvenile Honey Buzzard are very easily confused with Common Buzzard as they are extremely close to Common Buzzard in structure with shorter wings and tail than adults and juveniles that fledged some time ago. However, it does appear that the Common Buzzard is now a regular migrant in eastern England, perhaps because of irruptions from saturated UK breeding areas.

4. Scotland

Borders Bird Report No. 25, Scottish Ornithologists' Club Borders Branch

Very straight-forward this one with just one Honey-buzzard record all year (p.44), in June. I've never seen a Honey-buzzard in the Borders in spite of many journeys on the A68 from Hexham-Edinburgh. So no counter-evidence.

No significant passage was reported in mid-September for Osprey, Common Buzzard, Marsh Harrier, Swallow. House Martin and Meadow Pipit.

North East Scotland Bird Report 2008, North East Scotland Bird Club

(Systematic List p.33). A paragraph is given on the satellite-tracked juvenile female Honey-buzzard from Spey/Moray, bred presumably near the north coast to the west of Aberdeenshire. She was tracked along the N coast to Tore of Troup on 25/8 and was in the Braemar area from 29/8-3/9 before moving to near Airdrie on 6/9. The bird moved down through western and central England to Sussex and crossed the English Channel on 21/9. She moved through western France and eastern Spain, crossing into Morocco on 30/9. The last signal came from central Morocco during October-December, suggesting that the bird had died there. Comment: looking at the Inverness web pages for Honey-buzzard (Highland Foundation for Wildlife) we see that quite a lot of detail is omitted in the NE Scotland report. This juvenile was near Castle Douglas in Kircudbright, SW Scotland, on 7/9. On 14/9 the juvenile had travelled only a little way to the very north of Lancashire, near Kendall; on 17/9 she was near Manchester; on 18/9 and 19/9 near Coventry, before more decisively moving to near Beachy Head, Sussex, on 20/9. Well I'm not a conspiracist but this detail is actually vital as this bird of known UK origin is following very closely the schedule of the large UK movement with birds passing though NE England in strength on 13/9 and 14/9. The Scottish bird is further to the W but this is a result of the geography of the Highlands. Exodus of juveniles from Sussex peaked in 2008 from 20/9-28/9. So this marked bird is in pace with the main movements of Honey-buzzard in the UK! The bird may not have died: its satellite transmitter may have dropped off.

Also in the report 5 juveniles were recorded, 4 in the Aberdeen/Ythan area on the coast from 12/9-17/9 and one at Lyne of Skene [11km inland on moorland] on 14/9. Indeed 3 of the 5 birds were seen on 14/9 with singles on 12/9 and 17/9. Breeding-wise single birds were found inland in the breeding bird atlas in 2005 and 2006.

Comment: the movement coincides precisely with that in NE England but is on a smaller scale. The movement would be expected to gather pace as the birds move S, passing over other breeding areas. The picture shown on the plates between p.80-81 of a Honey-buzzard at Ythan (12/9 or 17/9) is not a juvenile as claimed in the text. It's an adult female with dark bill, evenly spaced bars across remiges, 3 bars on tail and black on wingtips restricted to the fingers. It seems unbelievable that an adult Honey-buzzard would cross the northern North Sea from Norway to Aberdeen. Hope people don't think I'm contrary.

Swallow numbers peaked in mid-September with up to 2,500 in a reedbed roost at the River Dee at Aberdeen on 8/9 rising to 4,000 by 20/9 and dropping to 300 on 23/9.

5. South-west England

Devon Birds, Devon Bird Report 2008, Journal of the Devon Bird Watching & Preservation Society volume 62(3)

(Systematic List p.64). Noted as “a good year, with around 4 spring and 7 autumn records” for Honey-buzzard. More details on the autumn period showed that “an apparent influx, mainly of juveniles, saw at least 7 birds reach Devon. Of those submitted, the first was at Wembury on 16/9, followed by a dark/intermediate morph juvenile at Start on 20/9 (see colour photo section [it's definitely a juvenile with yellow bill, 4 bars on remiges and extensive dark wing-tips]), 3 different juveniles (including 2 dark morphs) W over the Haldon Ridge on 21/9, one E at Prawle on 25/9 and the last, a cracking black morph juvenile at Start on 26/9”. Both the birds at Start were followed for some time: “Of note, on both days at Start, the birds came in from the E across Lyme Bay, and on reaching land gained height and headed out due S”.

The picture here confirms the lack of migrants in western Britain in September 2008, compared to further east. Perhaps over-provocative but it is possible that the birds at Haldon on 21/9 were locally-bred juveniles, grouping together just like the birds in SW Northumberland after fledging and pre-migration. These post-breeding groups are very mobile and can give the impression of being long-distance migrants: they even do mock movements practising their departure.

Breeding-wise Honey-buzzard bred on Haldon 1979-1995 and at other sites 1996 and 2004. From my own studies the breeding figures are a clear underestimate: 5-10 pairs in the area around Exeter seems a more realistic estimate.

For other raptors, a few Marsh Harrier were seen in mid-September with 2, female and juvenile, flying S at sea from Lundy on 18/9 towards Hartland Point; single female at West Charleton on 21/9, Woodbury Common on 16/9 and Beesands Ley on 23/9; a juvenile/female soaring just inland from Start Point on 26/9.

During a period of sustained easterly winds in late September all the following Common Buzzard were presumed to be migrants (p.67). 10 headed straight out to sea from Start on 19/9; at Dawlish Warren 1 moved S offshore on 18/9 and 11 passed through on 28/9; at Prawle on 28/9 35 were seen of which 25 were moving through, 7 were following a plough and just 3 were thought to be local birds.

Osprey were noted in numbers in autumn with 120 records, mostly from south coast estuaries, from July to October (p.68). 40+ individuals were thought to have moved through the county, with peak passage typically during September, when 23 individuals estimated in 2008 (12 mean from 2002-2007) with 4 in the Exe Estuary and 3 in Axe Estuary and Tavy/Tamar Estuary.

A notable record was 3 Hobby heading straight out to sea from Start on 19/9 during a strong easterly (p.70).

Passerine passage coincided broadly with that of Honey-buzzard. At Prawle 10,000 Swallow moved SE on 21/9, 3,000 were at Lundy on 17/9, 1,500 flew out to sea in one hour at Berry Head on 25/9 and a roost at Slapton Ley held 7,500 on 27/9 increasing to 50,000-75,000 on 28/9. For House Martin 3,000 headed W in 2 hours on 28/9 at Prawle, the highest mainland count of the year. Other high counts included 1,000+ at Budleigh Salterton and at Soar on 22/9 and 1,000+ at Haven Cliff on 25/9. The highest September count for Meadow Pipit was 300+ birds over East Soar on 18/9 but there were also up to 250 at Lundy and 200 at Prawle and Start on 29/9.

6. North-west England

Birds and Wildlife in Cumbria, January-December 2008, a County Natural History Report

Cumbria: The report for Cumbria gives the status for Honey-buzzard as rare passage migrant, breeds in very small numbers. In 2008 a pair was in residence throughout the breeding season for the third successive season at a new breeding location but it was not clear whether breeding was successful. Autumn movement included one bird on 27/7 and 2 more from 14/9-28/9 so very light; the bird on 14/9 was the satellite-tracked bird from Scotland. Previous history indicates that 2 separate breeding sites have been occupied in recent years, the first such records since breeding finished in the early 20th century. So the report confirms the light passage on the western side of the UK. The Lake District is perhaps too far W to attract birds moving down the spine of northern England; the western edge of the north Pennines would be more promising but how well is this covered. I've found 10 breeding sites in Cumbria on Windermere, Ullswater and Morecambe Bay without that much effort. But maybe the breeding population is considerably less than that of Northumberland because the habitat is less suitable. For instance the Goshawk population is quite small with just 5 records in 2008 in the breeding season.

At Walney Island peak Swallow passage was 1,840 on 14/9 and 2,270 on 22/9 and peak House Martin passage was 'a spectacular' 415 on 14/9.

7. Benelux

Toptrek boven de Lage Landen: Hoe bijzondere weersfactoren leidden tot buitengewone roofvogeltrek boven Nederland en Vlaanderen op 13 en 14 september 2008, Desmet, Emmanuel, & Faveyts, Wouter, Het Veld, Natuur.oriolus 75(3): 73-78 (2009), available at

The English abstract for the title Top Migration over the Low Countries:
How special weather factors led to extraordinary raptor migration over the Netherlands and Flanders 13 and September 14, 2008,

Top migration over the Low Countries: Unusual numbers of raptors migrated on 13 & 14 September 2008 over the Netherlands and Flanders. They were mainly Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorus, Marsh Harriers Circus aeruginosus and Ospreys Pandion haliaetus. Specific meteorological circumstances, which created a bottleneck in time as well as in space, were the cause of this phenomenon.

In the Introduction the expectations of raptor migration in Flanders are reviewed. The migration corridor here for raptors in the flat Flanders extends across a broad front, without straits or mountains to concentrate it. Weather has an effect. In the spring on strong winds from the E to SE, large numbers of migratory birds move along the coast. The birds are drifted by the wind to the west pressing them up against the coast. Once there, they avoid ending up over the sea, making them follow the coastline in numbers. It is under such circumstances, that peak days [for raptors] are set at sites such as Zeebrugge or Breskens (Netherlands). Occasionally there are also, in the interior of the Low Countries, top days for raptors (Leysen 2003).

The main paper deals in detail with the weather patterns over the continent in Benelux and northern Germany and the southern North Sea from 11/9-14/9. It mentions the numbers over Falsterbo in the first ten days of September: only 842 Honey-buzzard, 170 Marsh Harrier, 3053 Sparrowhawk and 6 Common Buzzard. It then considers that the weather systems over Benelux on 11/9 and 12/9 blocked the birds until the sudden clearance on 13/9 enabled them to continue their movement in spectacular fashion. The narrow corridor (50-75 km wide) of movement of both Honey-buzzard and Marsh Harrier through Benelux is highlighted but no particular explanation is given for the concentration on the coast around The Hague. Pretty-much mixed groups of adult and juvenile Honey-buzzard were noted whereas adult Honey-buzzard had already left western Europe. In Benelux, counts were for Honey-buzzard 285 on 13/9, 539 on 14/9 (together 54% of autumn total for 2008), Marsh Harrier 387, 582 (52%) and Osprey 68, 72 (25%). The largest movement was therefore on 14/9, in time from dawn to shortly after noon. The parallel movement in the UK is mentioned but no attempt is made to analyse it.

Reports from 5 recording stations are highlighted:

Ketelbrug (Netherlands):

Great raptor migration as the weather cleared up. 140 birds of prey in about 10 minutes.
Largest group Honey Buzzards 44 in total of 146 Honey Buzzards, 128 Buzzards, 88 Marsh Harriers, 5 Ospreys ...

Tafelbergheide (Netherlands):

Exciting hours! It is not often that ospreys give such a new record ... 16! All between 12:15 and 14:00, many pairs, all by tight, almost all between S and SW.
Honey Buzzards also highly concentrated in the first two hours immediately after the rain front; largest group of 31, 111 in total.
idem especially first hours (52 Marsh harriers), massive daily record.

Black Stork new to this (young) telpost, the day will continue for Sparrowhawk,
Tufted Duck, Grey Heron. Ico, thanks for the tip that "they" were coming!

Kinderdijk (Netherlands):

Bizarre!! These days, the memories in as "Harrier Big Day". The totals of
incredible day! some NATIONAL RECORDS: Brown Kiek [Marsh Harrier] 164 (was Breskens 156 on 13-5-2001) and Purple Heron 209 (was 168, ...). Incredible by migration of robbers [Honey-buzzard] afternoon after passing rain front. THIS DAY BREAKS ALL RECORDS!

Noordelijk eiland (Belgium):

What a day! From 15h30 to 18h30 an incredible stream of raptors, storks and herons. We had never experienced something like this in our own region and it was also incredible 3 hours kick!! 19 Ospreys (with a group 4), 77 Marsh Harriers, 83 Wasps thieves [Honey-buzzard], 28 Storks and Black Stork ...

Anderstad (Belgium):

From 16.15h. remarkable prey migration. The 10 Ospreys, 78 Brown Kieken and 87 Honey Buzzards are new maxima. Particular was a group of 27 Marsh Harriers, 4 Ospreys and a group of 44 Wasps thieves.

The incredible enthusiasm and the emphasis in some reports that the movement immediately followed the rain clearing are both obvious.

The progress of the movement is discussed, starting with:

12/9 Their [the raptors'] trek ends in the extreme north of the Netherlands and the German border up against a rain front. So here arises what you could call a 'jam' built up over several days, so the birds of prey cannot continue because of bad weather above the lowlands.

13/9 The now weakened rain front remains above the boundary between the northern Netherlands and Germany and steps back initially, even though driven by the ENE wind. Once the rain front has actually passed [south], the conditions suddenly become unexpectedly favorable and the raptors that were stranded for the last [few] days are massively on the wing. This is seen first in the north (see Ketelbrug) and later in the centre and the south of the Netherlands (see Tafelbergheide [and Kinderdijk]). In the late afternoon the 'stream' reached the Belgian limit (see Noordelijk eiland, Anderstad). If we take the route of this concentration of Honey Buzzards and Marsh Harriers, it is striking that the corridor which they employed was actually quite narrow (50 to 75 km), while the rain front was right across the width of the Benelux. There is therefore an additional factor in the game: the large concentration of raptors established in a narrow corridor.

Around noon the narrow front [giving the rain] over the southern Netherlands largely dissolves but in South-east Belgium a related active part of the same rain-front pushed in at 14:00 in Wallonia. The birds of prey in the northern Netherlands after being stuck for two days see their migration corridor to the south closed again. Their only opening is above Flanders, further to the west. Driven by the east wind they remain therefore, as long as possible on the edge of the rain front to the south. However, by late afternoon the rain spreads into the south of West and East Flanders. The whole gang of raptors along the emerging rain front over an ever narrower corridor, must return back to the ground.

14/9 In the night from Saturday 13 to Sunday 14 September the dry east wind completely dissolves the rain front. The migration route is now completely open from Flanders to Spain. Already at the dawn the birds of prey are up in the air. After Netherlands had experienced a massive part of bird watching, Flanders now has the time of its life. For a change and in comparison with what is common for raptor migration, it is mainly in western Flanders that this top migration is enjoyed. Shortly after noon, the entire fleet has passed and the champagne corks are popping everywhere.

The blocking weather patterns identified from 11/9-12/9 also applied to the eastern parts of the UK. So the spectacular movement on 13/9 in UK could have arisen as well from the end of the blocking weather formation. The current thinking on these web pages is that there was a pincer movement on Holland and Belgium with a rush of late-breeding Honey-buzzard migrant flocks arriving from both the NE (Denmark/northern Germany) and the W (East Anglia). There seems to be the right feel in that the pincer movement explains the observations in Benelux, Denmark, northern Germany, Sweden and even indeed the UK! But final analysis showed that the movement from the W clearly predominated over that from the NE.