Appendix 2 – Review of The Honey-buzzard Review of 2003-2005 Part 2: Negligence, Bias and Ignorance

2.1) Full text of a letter sent to Ian Fisher (CR) by experienced raptor workers in which concern is expressed about the recording of breeding Honey Buzzards in Northumberland:

Ty – Canol

Church Lane

Llanfair Kilgeddin





Ian Fisher

74 Benton Park Road




Dear Ian

We are writing to you in connection with the “Honey Buzzard” breeding records that have been provided to the Northumbria County Recorder by Nick Rossiter over the period 1993-2003. We have spent many hundreds of days working on Honey Buzzards at their breeding sites in many parts of Britain. Over the past twenty years we have gained experience of this species in all types of habitat throughout their breeding cycle. We hope that you are prepared to consider our informed opinion on these “Honey Buzzard” records.

We have seen the debate on “birdforum” where many experienced raptor watchers, including Dick Forsman, have given their opinion on the supposed Northumberland “Honey Buzzard” pictures posted on Mr Rossiter’s website [sic, an email address!]. We did not add our opinions as we had no wish to add to Mr Rossiter’s embarrassment in a public forum. We recognise that, as Mr Rossiter stated during the debate, he had every right to establish a website and publish his opinions on ornithological matters. However, as described below, Mr Rossiter’s pictures are clearly almost all Common Buzzards.

However, data provided to the Rare Birds Breeding Panel is another matter. The Honey Buzzard remains a rare breeding species. It is important that its current status be accurately recorded. If it is obvious to all experienced raptor workers that inaccurate data is being submitted and published, it detracts from the reputation of the Rare Birds Breeding Panel. Since this data is used by the RSPB, BTO, English Nature and other conservation bodies, it is important that all data published be, as far as possible, accurate. While we are certain that Mr Rossiter’s records are provided in good faith, we feel that the weight of evidence against his local breeding raptors being Honey Buzzards is compelling. In consequence, we hope that the Northumbrian Bird Club will reconsider its current policy of passing on his records to the Rare Breeding Birds Panel.

Below is a brief summary of our unanimous opinions on the data provided on Mr Rossiter’s website.

The original pictures posted on his website of raptors photographed in Northumberland are either unidentifiable or clearly show Common Buzzards. Not one of the Northumberland birds can be clearly identified as a Honey Buzzard, and, indeed, are evidently Common Buzzards. After amending his website with several pictures from locations outside Northumberland clearly showing Honey Buzzards, there are still pictures of Common Buzzards that have been incorrectly identified as Honey Buzzards. These opinions were echoed by Dick Forsman, a published raptor expert, in his posting on the previously mentioned “birdforum” debate. We note that, despite the overwhelming evidence from contributors to this debate, Mr Rossiter does not appear to have sought any opinion on the pictures from any experienced British Honey Buzzard worker. He could have phoned Steve Roberts, who he has made contact with in the past, or asked him privately for his opinion at the recent raptor conference at Penrith. His failure to do so brings into question his commitment to publishing accurate data.

The accompanying text on ‘jizz’ also records the behaviour of Common Buzzards. We have never seen Honey Buzzards perform “a series of dives…each one taking the bird lower”. We have, of course, seen Common Buzzards regularly performing this display. The “vulture” poses he describes, with wings pressed forward, fanned tail and “repeatedly com(ing) to a brief, almost complete, standstill (or stall)”, is regular Common Buzzard behaviour. We have never seen this behaviour in Honey Buzzards.

On Plumage, he states that the tail bands are “invisible”, even in active flight at low altitudes. In various parts of his text he ascribes this “invisibility” to the gloomy light conditions prevailing in Northumbria. He quotes Steve Roberts out of context, who quite rightly suggested that identification of distant Honey Buzzards is most easily done by “jizz” and flight posture, and that a reliance on tail bands to confirm identity shows a lack of field experience. However, we commonly see tail bands quite clearly on low flying Honey Buzzards. Even the pictures of Honey Buzzards on his website, taken in Finland and Belgium, clearly show these tail bands. All adult Honey Buzzards have these tail bands. The sole reason why tail bands are not visible on his local birds is that there are none because the birds are Common Buzzards. In pictures 4 and 8 of his Staufen series, the Common Buzzard is so close that the fine barring on the unbanded tail is visible. To suggest that there are really three wide bars present that are “invisible” due to poor light conditions is manifestly absurd.

On identification by “jizz” and flight posture, he suggests – rightly – that the small head and protruding neck, pinched-in wings and long tail are the features by which experienced raptor watchers differentiate Honey Buzzards from Common Buzzards. Unfortunately, his lack of experience with Honey Buzzards means that he “sees” these features in “bog-standard” Common Buzzards, even at close range. (See the Staufen series of pictures.) This experience can only be gained by repeated watching at sites where both Common and Honey Buzzards are regularly seen. In time, it will be seen that there is no secret formula to identifying these species: they are really very different in almost every feature of behaviour, structure and plumage, and can be confidently differentiated at almost any range.

There are numerous other discrepancies within the text. Mr Rossiter doesn’t realise that Honey Buzzards are most active in display throughout July and August, when wing-clapping is seen on a daily basis. Indeed, Honey Buzzards wing-clap vigorously if neighbouring males are in sight – almost certain within Rossiter’s alleged distances. He appears never to have seen his birds carrying wasp-comb, an unsurprisingly common feature of Honey Buzzard behaviour. His “Honey Buzzards” appear to live in discrete “nuclear families” with one or two juveniles. At all the sites we watch there are numerous non-breeding birds present throughout the latter part of the breeding season, with regular interaction between four or five adult birds. In contrast to Mr Rossiter’s experience, juveniles at our sites are rarely seen above the canopy before departure. To record the number of juveniles produced without visiting the nest sites would be an impossible task, especially if there were up to fifteen territories in one area, as he claims. Also, satellite tracking has revealed chicks in September residing in woods up to 30km from the nest site. The Honey Buzzards we have studied are almost invariably silent except when nest visits are made. Mr Rossiter’s birds call “wildly” even apparently during display. We note that Mr Rossiter identifies his birds as male and female without commenting on, or photographing, the grey head of all male Honey Buzzards, a feature that is obviously the most easily visible identification mark for sexing this species, noticeable often at considerable distances.

To summarise, even without the photographs there would be a weight of evidence that Mr Rossiter has been monitoring a population of Common Buzzards. We believe that this mistaken identification has been made from the best of motives and applaud Mr Rossiter for his enthusiasm and his creation of a detailed and thought provoking website on the 2000 Honey Buzzard “invasion”. We think that the Honey Buzzard is a possible coloniser of Northumbrian woodland, and hope that Mr Rossiter and other Northumbrian birders will be successful in finding a genuine breeding pair. We would be happy to discuss this matter with Mr Rossiter, or any other Northumbrian birder, with an interest in this fascinating species. However, in the meantime, Mr Rossiter’s records should be reassessed urgently and the Northumberland data cancelled at county level and national level in the interests of genuine Honey Buzzard research.

Yours sincerely

Steve Roberts, on behalf of,

Steve Roberts – Wales and the Marches

Rob Clements – Kent

Malcolm Cowland – South East England

Wayne Percy – Hants, Dorset, New Forest

Reg Thorpe – Wales Raptor Study Group

cc Malcolm Ogilvie RBBP, Nick Rossiter