Monday, 3 September 2012

This week I have mainly been hearing buzzards...

If the the wild geese provide the soundtrack to my winter walks, the warblers to the spring, and the screaming swifts my summer music, then it is the incessant piping of the young buzzards that dominate these not-quite-summer, not-quite autumn days.

In truth the adult buzzards have been calling to one another most of the year - only falling silent in the spring when they are making their nests and raising their young. But it is now, when most of the summer orchestra has gone home, that their offspring take centre stage.

The call is really more like a distant child's whistle, blown over and over again on the same note. It's a very different sound to the wild and melancholy 'mewing' that the adults use to communicate with each other, strengthening the bonds between them, mapping out the territory that they guard jealously all year round. Instead I imagine the young pursuing their parents, mithering for titbits like nagging toddlers in a supermarket. It's one of the few natural sounds I can get tired of.

I should count my blessings. It's only 30 years ago that buzzards were relatively uncommon here, and only 60 years ago when they were a rare sight in most of the British Isles. Persecuted by gamekeepers for a 150 years, then, just as they were making some kind of recovery, starved out by the myxomatosis epidemic that decimated their staple food, buzzards have had a rough ride. Living in buzzard-empty Essex 20 years ago, I envied my Welsh friends, who could sit and watch those big, fingery-winged birds circling above, mewing - and piping - to each other. It made their lives seem closer to wildness.

There are at least two pairs around the village that I know of - one to the south that nest in a tall larch at the foot of the Big Field, one to the north, in the dark plantation that rings the Estate across the fields. I often see them launch from the depth of the trees as I walk out, drifting nonchalantly above my head before catching a thermal and rising inexorably to a speck.

Recently the UK Government contemplated funding a study to see what effect controlled culling and nest destruction might have on their population - a scheme dear to the hearts of the pheasant shooters and gamekeepers. Happily the resultant outcry brought a rapid volte face, and it seems buzzards are safe - for the moment.

For buzzards - despite their sometimes irritating children - carry a sense of wilderness wherever they spread. And we all need more of that.

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