After my recent birding travels today’s excursion was more of a “bijou twitchette”, to borrow a popular Gnome-ism. I had seen RLB twice before but not since 1991, and on both occasions would have accepted others’ identification at distance. Last Thursday at least 17 of these Scandinavia and tundra breeding raptors were reported on RBA, the most convenient being an 86-mile drive to east Hertfordshire. So this was an opportunity to gain a better understanding of a tricky species.
If more experienced readers will excuse me for a paragraph, Rough-legged Buzzard is most often encountered on the English east coast in October and November and most birds present at this time are juveniles. Great care is said to be required in identifying them as some paler Common Buzzards can look very similar. For confusion species I usually consult the Macmillan Field Guide to Bird Identification, a little gem of a book published in 1989 and now out of print. When the Herts RLB was still present on Friday I read up on the plumage diagnostics that this photograph on RBA shows very well.
I arrived at the village of Braughing along the A10 shortly before 9am to find just four birders surveying a falling landscape that was cloaked in dull grey murk (below). This was clearly going to be a bit of a wait. After 75 minutes visibility had not improved so I decided to return later.
I had lived near here at Broxbourne in the two years immediately prior to settling in God’s own county (Oxon) in 1986, and so went off to indulge a little nostalgia. In the event I recalled very little about the area except for the row of glass fronted shoe boxes divided into four that had been my first step on the property ladder. Cue Garsington’s shanty town 16 years later and ever since! But Herts was where I first began birding, inspired by the Lea Valley Park with its Great Crested Grebes and all those different winter wildfowl.
Back at the RLB site a couple of hours after I left there had been no improvement in the weather conditions. Around 20 birders were now present, making this seem like a proper twitch, but the bird had still not been seen. By 12:30pm the sun began to take charge. A few birders who had separated from the main group were watching something intently further down the lane. Another birder said: “I think they’ve got it,” and set off at pace. I followed and indeed the rough-leg had been located sitting in a tree and looking very unlike a Common Buzzard. The digi-scoped image below is distant, grainy and a record of how I observed the bird. Everyone present enjoyed this view.
Eventually the bird flew out from its perch to one side, revealing briefly its wing pattern for all to see. So I had gained a tutorial on and satisfactory views of Rough-legged Buzzard, a species that though on my life list had been just a name previously.