Honey buzzards make second surprise invasion

By Brian Unwin

Last Updated: 6:01pm BST 16/09/2008

Verbatim Account: When a mass movement of migrating honey buzzards occurred over England it was labelled a "once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Honey buzzard: over 300 sightings were reported in four days

But most who witnessed that unprecedented event in September 2000 are still around for a repeat performance almost exactly eight years later.

Only a few dozen pairs of these 5ft wing span summer-visiting birds of prey nest in Britain and on a typical mid-September day the national sightings barely reach double figures.

So clearly something extraordinary was in progress when there was a sudden flood of reports from every coastal county between Northumberland and East Anglia.

Most are believed to be the youngsters of birds nesting in forests across northern Europe that have been drifted off course by recent bad weather after beginning their migration to Africa for the winter.

Normally birds of prey avoid crossing large water expanses on migration and as the buzzards set off south in search of a short sea crossing back to Europe, the reports became more widespread.

By the fourth day of the movement the BirdGuides Online rarity information service had published around 300 reports from 26 counties - the largest single number being 18 birds over Minsmere nature reserve near Southwold, Suffolk.

When London's built-up sprawl came into view some flew around the fringes but others went straight over the top. Alexandra Park, Leyton, Paddington Green and Wormwood Scrubs were among locations that produced reports.

Mark Golley, who produces BirdGuides' Weekly Review, said: "Nothing on the scale of the 2000 honey buzzard influx had been recorded previously and it seemed unlikely that anyone would live to see anything like it in Britain again.

"So it's quite amazing that it's happened again after just eight years. As in 2000, we can't work out how many birds are involved, as it's likely many individuals were counted several times as they moved south, but the number is obviously exceptional."

On average more than 5,000 honey buzzards migrate over Falsterbo, an island in the narrow gap between southern Sweden and Denmark each autumn. Over the four days before the UK arrival more than 400 had been counted there

Normally they would remain over the European mainland as they continue south but that route could well have brought them in contact with the deep depression that had recently deluged Britain with heavy rain.

In trying to avoid the depression these inexperienced birds on their first migration appear to have been drifted across the North Sea by easterly winds circulating around the top of the bad weather system.

Source: Daily Telegraph blog by Brian Unwin

Comment: blue font indicates statements made without justification or evidence. At least there is recognition that we are in uncharted waters with the current abundance of Honey Buzzard in the UK and genuine surprise that Twice in a Lifetime has actually occurred. However, the explanation is very journalistic with far too many unsupported statements. In particular there is absolutely no evidence that the deep depression which we had about a week earlier was still around to interfere with migration patterns around 13th September. The viewpoint of this article is effectively the Spiral Model which is an act of faith, not science.

Nick Rossiter 2008

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