In the summer when we were out for a walk on the Trundle, my wife saw a buzzard circling low down, and said it was different, somehow.
It seemed to be more delicate, she thought, with shapely wings.
I was watching a Spitfire taking off from Goodwood, and should have paid more attention.
If she ever makes a comment, watch out. It will be brief, exact, and to the point.
The Spit climbed out and away. So did the buzzard.
“Well, there are lots about,”
I offered, adding vaguely, “kites, too”.
“I know what a kite looks like” she replied icily.
Gradually it all sank in. I started asking questions. Was the buzzard pale underneath? Did it have a D-Day tail? “Did the Spitfire?” she asked, adding: “I don’t know. You should have looked when I said.”
And that was that. I have been kicking myself ever since.It could have been a honey buzzard. It was certainly a ‘different’ sort of buzzard if she said it was and Pernis apivorus was the only possibility in July.
Yes, we do get them here in Sussex, although the breeding places are kept secret.
The good news is they are now increasing in West Sussex.
Very close up they are said to resemble a giant cuckoo with their barred breast, long tail and narrow, grey head.
They are more delicate, as my wife noticed.
After all, they do not attack rabbits and rats or roadkills as does the common buzzard, which is more of a small eagle in strength.
Honey buzzards eat wasps, and beetles, and woodlice and earwigs.
They are shy, nervous, and keep themselves hidden. You have to be sharp-eyed.
I have learnt my lesson. Now I am preparing myself for yet another type of buzzard that may visit Sussex.
The end of October is the time one might appear so I am sharpening my wits, especially when with my wife.
The bird will also look different from our common buzzard because it has a white rump as in the picture.
Rough-legged buzzards have fully-feathered legs, and are four inches longer, are whiter underneath and with strikingly black carpal (wrist) joints.
But they are as rare as Spitfires today. An easterly might bring one into Sussex.
About 25 years ago, birders near Eastbourne saw three over Lullington Heath nature reserve. I have often seen them on the East Anglian coast, where the give-away is the odd vision of a common buzzard hovering like a kestrel.
With us they are on the very edge of their wintering range, but you never know your luck.
A century and more ago, a favourite place for the occasional bird was in the meadows near the Witterings, and east to the lower Arun and Adur.
For the next six months, therefore, I shall pay more attention to what my wife says.