The weather was not what you would call ‘pleasant’, and it had not been pleasant for over a week; consequently the ground was like slurry and we were beginning to forget what blue sky looked like. But being self-proclaimed hard-core birders, John and I ignored the weather and set off that Saturday morning to go and look at soggy birds. Today was a bit different though; we were heading off with one particular bird in mind, a bird that had been hanging around in one particular area for nearly two weeks – a Rough-legged Buzzard or Buteo lagopus.
This species of Buzzard breeds throughout the Taiga forest that covers the most northerly parts of Asia and America, birds that are found in Britain are Scandinavian – having migrated south to spend the winter in more hospitable climes. It is rare, on average only about 50-100 birds are found in this country each year, I had yet to see one so when this individual turned up near Eastbourne and stayed put we were both eager to see it.
It was hanging around by this hamlet called Jevington; a tiny collection of houses tucked away in the folds of the downs on the eastern side of Friston Forest. It took a while to get there, but when we did we had no problem in locating the buzzard as there were four birders already in position with scopes set up and pointing towards the hillside. They kindly pointed out the bird which was sitting on the edge of a large copse that covered part of the slope opposite; it was clearly visible so John and I had good views through our scopes. It was a juvenile, so it had a pale white head and breast and the diagnostic black belly patch was striking, we could also glimpse the distinctive white tail with a black band along its bottom edge. The bird clearly had no intention of giving us a show for it sat in the same position for a good forty-five minutes; I thought that perhaps it was ‘pining for the Fjords’. Eventually though the birders version of a cheer (Oh, there it goes) was heard as the Rough-legged Buzzard took flight and began hunting over the fields, it has a lovely habit of hovering where it keeps its head quite still as its wings pump back and forth to keep it stationary in the air. It hovered frequently so we were able to get fantastic views of it – picking out all of the plumage details and identification features; it is actually quite a pretty bird as buzzards go, with lovely wing patterns and contrasting colours.
The Buzzard was in this copse – if you look reeeeeeally closely!
While we were there and waiting for the buzzard to move we also saw a pair of Corn Buntings; these are small streaky brown birds with thick bills and a lovely song of ascending tinkling notes. These buntings are farmland birds and like many other farmland bird species it has undergone significant declines of up to 80% since the 70’s – meaning it is now a rare sight, so we were pleased to see these ones.
Afterwards we drove over to the famous Cuckmere haven for a walk along the river, needless to say it was like walking through a marsh after all the rain had churned up the footpaths. We did see some good birds on our short walk, particularly a small flock of juvenile Brent geese of the dark-bellied race which breed in the direction of Greenland; they were a very smart mix of matt-black and white. A solitary Grey plover was interesting as sightings of these medium-sized waders are few and far between for some reason, we also saw a delicate Greenshank probing the mud of the meanders.
We decided to have a walk in Friston Forest in the hope of seeing some Bramblings (small winter finches) however after an hour-long walk we had seen hardly any birds at all. A goldcrest, great spotted woodpecker and some long-tailed tits were all we had to show for an otherwise nice walk. We did witness a shoot that was going on on some farmland on the other side of a valley that we had a view over from the edge of the forest, we presumed they were bagging pheasants or woodpigeons and had a short talk on the ethics of hunting for sport.
Alas we did unknowingly drive close by a Snow Bunting that was reported on Seaford beach, but it got dark early so we headed home (but not before a pit-stop to get some chocolate bars) satisfied with the great views we had had of a rare and interesting bird.