Birdwatch: Rough-legged buzzards

Rough-legged buzzards have been arriving along the east coast with at least four seen in the Spurn area last week.

Rough-legged buzzards have been arriving in Yorkshire.  Pic: Phil Jones
Rough-legged buzzards have been arriving in Yorkshire. Pic: Phil Jones

Others have been reported further inland at Holme on Spalding Moor, East Yorkshire, Milford Common, York, Paull Holme Strays and Sunk Island on the Humber, Featherstone, Silverwood Lagoon, Rotherham, the Saltholme RSPB reserve in Teesside and from the Welbeck raptor viewpoint and nearby Budby Common in north Nottinghamshire.

They’ve come here from northern Scandinavia and Siberia where an abundance of voles this year has resulted in bigger broods successfully fledged.

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Some of these visitors will set up a winter territory; often alongside resident common buzzards although any stretch of open country with a plentiful supply of rabbits to hunt can be chosen.

Rough-legged are the most northerly occurring of the buzzards and so named because, to cope with the extreme cold the feathering on their legs extends to the talons. This feature is not always visible although it can be seen in the photograph taken by Phil Jones last week at Skeffling village, East Yorkshire.

Rough-legged buzzards are generally paler than common buzzards. The best way to tell them apart is that the rough-legged has a white tail with dark bands running along the edge, a juvenile has a single band, a female two or three and a adult male three or four.

The rough-legged is slightly larger than the common with longer more harrier-like wings. The rough-legged tends to hover more frequently and for longer periods than the common.

Some rough-legged buzzards return to the same areas each winter with Sleddale and Bransdale on the North York Moors a regular haunt.

Another bird arriving on the Yorkshire coast from Scandinavia has been the great grey shrike with five in the Spurn area, two at Flamborough and one near West Ayton, Scarborough. Some of these are also likely to move inland and set up winter territories where they are a dangerous predator to small birds and mammals.

Like other shrikes they will set up a ‘larder’ and impale their prey on thorns to be consumed later.

Some sites such as Wykeham Forest, North Yorkshire hold a great grey shrike in most winters where it will remain until the following April before leaving for Scandinavia again.

More yellow-browed warblers have been seen, with four in the Spurn area, while a yellow-browed and Pallas’s warbler were at Thornwick Bay, Flamborough. Some yellow-browed warblers have been reported inland and more can be expected.

Three Slavonian and a red-necked grebe have been seen on Hornsea Mere along with a female scaup. A juvenile storm petrel, brought to Spurn by the RSPCA on Tuesday after being found on the Hull to Rotterdam ferry flew off strongly after being released. A grey phalarope was seen off South Landing, Flamborough.