Big thank you from

After half a century, the buzzard is truly back

by Paul Cormacain

ON a recent trip to Fermanagh we sighted a buzzard just a few kilometres into the journey. This bird is huge, majestic, and always appears unflappable.

Even when it is being mobbed by other birds, it seems to keep its cool, and just flies on until the attacking birds give up. Yet I have heard of it going upside down, and turning its talons on its attackers.

This particular bird was flying along, soaring in slow wide circles, a sure sign that it was hunting. Chances are that at this time of the year there are little buzzards to feed, so the parents have to catch twice as much as usual, to feed themselves and to feed the young.

When we reached Fermanagh what did we see soaring in the sky but another buzzard. We were talking to friend Nicola and she reckons there are about five or six buzzards in the townland of Largy. Such a profusion of buzzards!

Fifty years ago game-keepers had eliminated buzzards, and it was reckoned that there was not a single buzzard in the island of Ireland. Luckily, there are some knowledgeable game keepers about nowadays, and the law has been changed to enable the buzzard to live in peace.

It was just about fifty years ago that some nice Scottish buzzards decided to travel abroad for their holidays and they made their way to north east Antrim. They liked it so much they decided to stay, and a pair of buzzards bred there half a century ago.

Word was sent back to Scotland that Antrim was a fine spot. More birds came. Successful breeding was followed by a range extension and the birds moved south and west.

Successful buzzard breeding has now been reported from all counties in Ireland, a wonderful change from the situation of fifty years ago.

I would not say that it is a common bird, but large birds like that need a large area to forage for their food. They love rabbits, which is bad news for rabbits. They would not attack sheep, but they will surely clean up a mountain that has a dead sheep on it.

They eat smaller things as well. They would not turn up their nose at a bird and will eat worms, caterpillars, lizards, and indeed beetles. They have also been known to eat the odd berry.

We went to Locherbie last week and what did we see soaring nearby but a golden eagle. You think that the buzzard is a large creature, and so it is. But then when you spot an eagle you realise what a huge bird that is. The female buzzard is larger than the male, about 60 cms compared to 47 cms. The female eagle is also larger than the male, about 90 cms with the male about 75 cms. We have to thank the Scottish buzzards for flying over the ocean to live here. But did you know that eagles have been imported from Scotland, allowed to adjust, and then released. This is on an on-going basis with young birds being brought to the wilds of Donegal each year, and then released.

If you know where to go it is quite easy to see them, and hopefully breeding will commence any of these years. Then hopefully these magnificent birds will spread as successfully as the buzzards.

Neither the buzzard nor the golden eagle is a mighty breeder. Buzzards tend to have two or three eggs each year and the eagle would have only a pair of eggs.

Now that I am in Fermanagh I have to mention what the RSPB is getting up to in that county. The waders are doing well, and RSPB want to show them off.

So it is organising a boat trip on the 26th June, but not wanting to disturb breeding birds the boat will not land. However you should be able to see very many birds, including young waders. Excellent co-operation with local farmers will be highlighted.

Did you know that there is a fresh water colony of Sandwich terns nearby? I certainly had not been aware of this fact, but the trip is going to include Gravel Ridge Island, where the terns may be seen. Happy birdwatching, and get more information by phoning 9049 1547.

Coming Events

Saturday 5th June - Butterfly search, 11am, at Monawilkin, Fermanagh, with Ian Rippey, who can be called on 3833 3927.

Sunday 6th June - Practical volunteering, at 10.30, at the Lagan Meadows, contact Malachy Martin, Wildlife Trust, 4483 0282

Wednesday 9th June - Moth Madness at Sliabhnacloy, check out the local moths with the Wildlife Trust, details from Mark Edgar, 9060 1694

Saturday 12th June - Open Day at Belfast Harbour Reserve, more from RSPB on 9049 1547

Sunday 4th July - At midday, Crawfordsburn Country Park, explore the flowers and butterflies in the meadow, contact 9185 3621.

Ulster Star