The 2000 Honey Buzzard invasion: a Berkshire perspective
6 Feb 2001 | Marek Walford
Juvenile Honey Buzzards Pernis apivorus leave their breeding grounds in northern Europe during September and head south through Europe to their wintering grounds in Africa. However, during the night of the 19th of September 2000 birds leaving Scandanavia were caught up in strong south-easterly gales and carried across the North Sea to the east coast of Britain. On the 20th of September, 25 were counted heading south over Gibraltar Point, Lincolnshire and a further 12 were counted over Spurn, East Yorkshire. County after county had records broken as it became increasingly clear that a large proportion of the several thousand birds that usually pass through eastern Europe had been misplaced. Over the thirteen days from the 20th of September as many as 1,000 birds passed through Britain.
Honey Buzzards are slighly larger and longer winged than Common Buzzard Buteo buteo. At close range Honey Buzzards can be seen to have a slim neck with the head held forward in flight, recalling Cuckoo. The tail is longer with the sides slighly convex and the corners rounded. It glides on smoothly down-curved wings and lacks the obvious bend at the carpal joints which is so distinctive of Common Buzzard. Plumage is highly variable and includes dark, medium, pale, and rufous morphs.
Status in Berkshire
The Birds of Berkshire reports Honey Buzzard as a "rare summer migrant". It was not reported in the 20th century until 1964 and since then there has only been 13 records involving 14 birds. The first was at Ham Sewage Works on 4 September 1964, followed by records at Silwood on 8 July 1965; Swinley on 16 September 1968 and 3 May 1975; Whitenights Park on 8 May 1976; Theale Gravel Pits on 2 September 1979; two at Midgham on 1 June 1980; Windsor Park on 13 June 1981 and 22 September 1984; Crowthorne on 8 May 1989; Eversley Gravel Pits on 3 August 1991; Reading on 19 July 1993; and near Bracknell on 4 June 1994. Prior to 1900 there are just three records; a female shot near Reading in 1793; one trapped in Windsor Forest in 1860; and one shot at Bucklebury in 1875.
The 2000 Berkshire records
The first bird seen in Berkshire was a pale juvenile over Eversley Gravel Pits on the 22nd. Another was seen over Lavell`s Lake, also on the 22nd. Ten birds were seen on the 23rd; one over Lavell`s Lake; two over Widbrook Common; one over Caversham; three over Bracknell; two over Cookham Dean; and one over Cookham Rise. Despite the 24th being a Sunday only two birds were recorded; over Queen Mother Reservoir and over the M4 at Chieveley Services. Ten birds were seen on the 25th; one over Wellington College, near Sandhurst; one over Winter Hill, Cookham; and eight recorded by one observer over a six hour period from Long Lane, Cookham. Surprisingly none were recorded on the 26th. Five were seen on the 27th; one over Cookham Dean; one over Maidenhead; two over Cookham Dean Woods; and one over Cliveden Woods that may not have entered Berkshire. The 28th was another blank day but a further three were recorded on the 29th; one over Widbrook Common; one over Cookham; and one over Cookham Dean Woods. Three were recorded on the 30th; one over Widbrook Common; one over Theale Gravel Pits; and one over Hindhay Farm, Pinkney`s Green. Three were recorded on the 1st of October; one over Cookham Dean Woods; one over Slough Sewage Farm; and one over Theale Gravel Pits. The last recorded bird was a dark morph juvenile over the British Airways Pit, Wraysbury Gravel Pits on the 2nd. During the period from the 22nd of September to the 2nd of October a total of thirty-nine birds were recorded in Berkshire, more than double the previous county total.
- Clews. (2000) Berkshire Bird Bulletin. Privately published.
- Standley et al. (1996) The Birds of Berkshire. Berkshire Atlas Group. Reading.
- Svensson et al. (1999) Collins Bird Guide. Harper Collins. London.