Originally published October 2012
Hello everyone. I hope you all enjoyed the glorious tail-end to our Summer. Sitting here on a mild September day there seems to be little evidence that Autumn cometh; and cometh soon! Mabon is upon us and Ma Nature is endeavouring to provide her annual Cornucopia for the occasion. Well-thumbed recipes for blackberry jam, chestnut stuffing and sloe gin are seeing the light of day once more in kitchens and WI meetings (good luck to the Crowhurst ladies!) up and down the land.
Despite the fact that the hours of daylight are decreasing rapidly, the sun is still pouring life into our countryside. A stroll through the woodlands, whether by the light of Sol or by the eldritch light of the moon, is rewarded with the sights and sounds of the local fauna and flora preparing for the oncoming Winter. Within the magical chiaroscuro created under the tree canopy in our little reserve birds and animals scurry around; feeding to develop those life-saving layers of fat, seeking out a safe place to over-winter or simply putting their energy into a final, glorious Swan-Song. The opportunity to sit down and simply observe all this activity amongst our fellow inhabitants of the planet is, as far as I am concerned, one of the most fascinating and satisfying pastimes given to Humankind It is of little wonder that ancient civilisations incorporated their local fauna into their myths, religions and epochal transitions; from the Egyptian God Anubis and the Celtic Spirit Herne to the Native American birth animal and the complex zodiacs of the Far East. Living, as we do, in a country where the seasons are so clearly defined (despite the occasional wet Summer!) it is tempting to think that temporal demarkation should be based on the observeable natural world rather than a rather mundane chronological system. Numerous candidates for a nature-based calendar spring to mind; Robins, Blackberries, Chestnuts, Badgers, Squirrels, Newts, Orchids and various fungi to name but a few. However, this year has been marked by the presence of a single species that has dominated our landscape for several months and in my opinion rises above all other; literally! I forward the notion that 2012 should be declared the Year of the Buzzard.
The clear blue skies we have enjoyed over the past few months have given us ample opportunity to watch these magnificent Raptors (from the Latin rapere –to seize and take by force) dancing on the thermals above the fields and woods, their plaintive cry cutting through the air to alert us to their presence. These striking birds nest in woodland but, not surprisingly given their size, prefer to hunt on open ground. Their diet consists of just about anything small enough to deal with; from rabbits, voles and pheasants to snakes and earthworms. Hunting strategies include low-level attacks, pouncing off perches onto their prey and simply walking across fields in search of worms and insects.
Before the hunting fraternity discovered the dubious delights of gunpowder the Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) was true to its name and was ubiquitous throughout our rural landscapes. Being a large bird had its disadvantages in the 19th and early 20th centuries when they were shot with gratuitous efficiency. The population rose briefly between 1914-18 when men left the land in large numbers and their shooting skills were utilised in the horror of the trenches. However, a combination of intransigent gamekeeping practices, the widespread use of organo-chlorine pesticides in the 1950s and the introduction of Myxomatosis to cull rabbits kept the bird on the brink of extinction in the UK. Around thirty years ago these threats were lessened as we took a more holistic approach to all things environmental and Buzzards started to recolonise those areas they occupied before the mid 19th century.
Once again our most common Raptor can be seen in every county in England and, with a feeling of depressing familiarity, is in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. The old battle between gamekeepers and Buzzards has reared its ugly head again as links between birds of prey and unsustainable Pheasant shoots have been declared by the sporting parties. The arguments between conservation groups and the spokespeople for field sports rage on and both sides are appealing to the Government to be sympathetic to their respective cause. We should not be surprised if measures are taken to limit the number of raptors as we live in an anthropocentrically orientated society and economic view-points are too tempting for the powers-that-be to ignore.
It would appear that the Buzzard has been treated with disdain for several centuries. Due to its slow flight and willingness to eat worms rather than chase larger prey, falconers were scornful of the bird and to call an Elizabethan ‘a buzzard’ was to denounce him or her as stupid. Sadly even the Bard reflects the thinking of the times on more than one occasion.
O slow-winged turtle, shall a buzzard take thee?
The Taming of the Shrew
In his play about the infamous Son of York, he makes the distinction between the noble Eagle and more base species such as the Kite and Buzzard; the king falling into the latter category!
More pity that the eagle should be mew’d,
While kites and buzzards prey at liberty.
Whatever views you hold about the natural denizens of our green and pleasant land please spare a thought for a truly tenacious bird of prey that has overcome adversity through the ages to grace our skies once more and demand both our admiration and respect. So raise a glass of that five year old sloe gin, (Elderflower cordial for the younglings!) and celebrate the Year of the Buzzard!
As always, put me right at firstname.lastname@example.org