RBBP Honey-buzzard survey 2020-21
Following travel relaxations across Britain, it now permissable to conduct fieldwork for this survey during July and August 2020, as planned. However, because of the limited opportunities for fieldwork preparations earlier this year, it is currently expected that the survey will continue in 2021. Fieldworkers should only undertake Honey-buzzard surveys if relevant Covid-19 legislation and guidelines continue to permit, and only if volunteers are able to follow relevant social distancing and other health and safety practices, and that they respect the wishes of landowners and managers. As this survey is intended to run over two years, we expect to be able to achieve good survey coverage regardless of the impact of Covid-19 in 2020.
In association with the RBBP, a group of Honey-buzzard enthusiasts have organised a survey of Honey-buzzards in 2020-21, ensuring 100% coverage of all known sites but also and importantly also doing vantage point surveys of potential sites. The team, led by Rob Clements (England), Steve Roberts (Wales) and Ken Shaw (Scotland) have been in touch with individual county/regional bird recorders about how the survey can be progressed in their local area; below Rob Clements and Ken Shaw give more detail.
The 2015 Rare Breeding Birds Panel Report records a maximum of 39 pairs of Honey-buzzard but notes that there are large areas of Britain where no-one is looking for Honey-buzzards and the population could be more than double the total given here. The 2000 national survey organised by the RBBP consolidated a steady increase in numbers reported during the 1990s, with an increase from a maximum of 22 pairs (only two confirmed) in 1992, to 51 pairs (30 confirmed) in 2000. Since then there has been little increase in reported numbers (47 pairs were reported in 2018), but an increasing awareness that the numbers reported are too low, less through reluctance on the part of observers, as was formerly the case, but more through inadequate coverage. Roberts and Law (2014) used RBBP data to show that birds have been recorded in suitable habitat in 34 counties since 2000, but only 17 counties provided records in 2013. Clearly, if a true picture of the species current status is to be gained, increased survey effort is required in many counties where Honey-buzzard habitat is present but few observers visit. Having consulted with other Honey-buzzard field-workers in England, Scotland and Wales, we feel that the time is right for a new national survey to improve our coverage and knowledge of the current distribution of this fascinating species. The following notes are provided to enable recorders and volunteer surveyors to improve coverage for their county.
Honey-buzzards in Britain typically occupy large areas of woodland (deciduous, mixed or pure conifer) in both upland and lowland locations. They have been recorded as breeding in around forty counties, from Devon to Highland Region, so breeding should be a possibility in any county with substantial wooded areas.
Although Honey-buzzards are typically present in Britain from early May to September, their presence is most easily confirmed in July and August when both breeding and non-breeding birds engage in aerial activity above occupied woodland areas. Wing-clapping display and food-carrying flights are typical sightings during this period. The peak in activity for most breeding Honey-buzzards is around July 20th to August 20th. Fledged juveniles may be seen in flight above the canopy from around August 20th to September 10th, depending on the timing of the breeding attempt. Activity is most visible from around 9.00am to 4.00 pm in sunny, breezy weather, though breeding birds especially will also be active in cloudy or rainy conditions. Aerial activity may be seen in a wide area above occupied woodland with birds often flying three to four miles or more from the nesting area. Non-breeding birds are even more likely to wander widely. Honey-buzzards vary considerably in plumage allowing the identification of different individuals within a population. Prolonged observation of an occupied area allied to modern long-range photography allows an accurate picture of the numbers of individuals using a particular area to be assessed.
Surveyors are encouraged to find watch-points that give clear views over large areas of woodland. Some areas of woodland will require several watch-points to ensure full coverage. A typical watch should be of 3 to 4 hours duration in good weather during the period July 1st to August 31st. Two or preferably three visits at least a week apart over this period are necessary to confirm the presence of Honey-buzzards though hopefully most surveyors who find Honey-buzzards will be keen to put in more time confirming breeding and the presence of fledged juveniles. It should be stressed that visits to probable nesting woods are not required, and that the presence of breeding birds can be confirmed by observation of behaviour from the view-point. This means that survey participants do not need a Schedule 1 licence to carry out the fieldwork. Surveyors should also record sightings of other RBBP species such as Goshawk, Osprey and Hobby which will be of interest to the relevant Recorder.
Most experienced birders/field-workers nowadays have little problem with identification of Honey-buzzards, even at long range. Less experienced volunteers should be encouraged to watch for the unmistakable wing-clapping display which is frequently given by breeding and non-breeding birds throughout the watch-period.
The Regional Organisers will use their Honey-buzzard field-worker contacts to set up a system of local co-ordinators, responsible for ensuring good coverage at county level. They will contact County Recorders to discuss local coverage and provide advice and encouragement. Where it is clear that some areas will not be covered adequately we will consider the possibility of directing observer effort from other counties to fill the gap.
ENGLAND: Rob Clements (with local co-ordinators for South-west, East Anglia, Midlands and North)
SCOTLAND: All counties Ken Shaw/Chris McInerny (except Highland and Moray & Nairn: Rob Clements)
WALES: All counties: Steve Roberts
For further information, please contact the RBBP Secretary who will forward requests to the relevant organiser.
All records of Honey-buzzards collected as part of the survey should be submitted to the survey coordinator for the country in question (or can be sent to email@example.com). The RBBP recommends the use of this form to submit records and also to ensure the recording of survey effort when Honey-buzzards were not detected.
In addition, we strongly encourage all records to be submitted to the relevant County Recorder, in confidence. In many counties, Honey-buzzard is rarity requiring a description to be submitted for acceptance, so supporting evidence may be required. A list of County Recorders can be found here.
Photo of Honey-buzzard (left) by Ian Andrews; photo of potential habitat (right) by Mark Holling.