The Honey Buzzard Movement in Sussex in 2000
Reference: Cooper, J, (2001), The Influx of Honey Buzzards and other Raptors in Sussex during Autumn 2000, Sussex Bird Report no.53, 187-192.
In Sussex breeding was first suspected in 1971 and confirmed in 1976. Since 1997 breeding has occurred annually.
The number of autumn migrants has slightly increased in Sussex in recent years, presumably reflecting the improving fortunes of the species in Britain.
The majority of the birds identified in the autumn 2000 influx appeared to be dark morph juveniles with just a scattering of pale morph juveniles and only a few adults being identified.
To avoid duplication, some records were removed from the totals where similar numbers were noted at sites close to each other at similar times.
Daily totals were about 4 on 22nd September, 23 on 23rd, 6 on 24th, 15 on 25th, 27 on 26th, 35 on 27th, 30 on 28th, 105 on 29th, 156 on 30th, 66 on 1st October, 13 on 2nd and 9 from 3rd-8th. The total is therefore 489 birds (488 in the report) from 22nd September-8th October.
Principal sites in Sussex during the movement were Beachy Head 153, Pagham-Selsey 100, Hollingbury Camp 69 and Combe Haven 51.
From the records on 29th September, it is commented that "The largest numbers were reported from Sussex. Far fewer were being seen in Hampshire, Kent, Essex and the Midlands suggesting that the birds had by now moved south, out of the Midlands, and were leaving the UK largely via the Sussex coast".
Many observers were looking skywards for raptors during this passage period.
Other raptors also moved in high numbers, including Marsh Harrier (peak 29th September, 30), Osprey (1st October, 8), Hobby (23rd September, 24; 1st October, 24). Peak counts of Common Buzzards were 23rd September 9, 30th September 25 chiefly inland, 1st October 9.
A historical note is made that in the 19th century H. Gatke (1895, Heligoland an Ornithological Observatory, p.28-29, David Douglas, Edinburgh) reported that Honey Buzzards arrived during the autumn in tolerably large numbers on the east coast of England. They then turned south via western France and Spain to their wintering quarters in Africa. Remarkably he noted that very few of these birds were recorded on the western side of England.
A very thorough and detailed analysis has been given of the movement in Sussex.
The author (J. Cooper) had studied intensely the movement at Beachy Head and the total of 488 for the county was compiled after considerable effort to avoid duplication. It is therefore surprising that the Sussex total is second-guessed in the British Birds report at 680 Scarce Migrants 2000.
The concentration of most records from 29th September-1st October suggests a single movement through Britain rather than a succession of waves as suggested by Fraser & Rogers (2002).
Other raptors recorded (Marsh Harrier, Osprey and Hobby) also peaked at this time in exceptionally high numbers.
While not entirely clear, the Common Buzzards observed do not appear to have been crossing the sea to the same extent as the Honey Buzzards.
A number of counties on the east coast of England (Norfolk, Northumberland for instance) reported higher numbers of Honey buzzards in the 19th century than most of the 20th. These higher numbers are better correlated with higher British breeding populations in historical times than with stable populations on the continent.
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