Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Day Six - 20th May 2010 - solid gold, easy action

One look out of the window this morning did enough to lower expectations for today's watch - thick grey cloud, without a break in sight. So up the tower (just the three of us, with a lot of sky to cover for the early shift) and out onto the roof - apocalyptic skies and a thick shroud of hazy cloud around the horizon. At least it was warm; very humid in fact, with temperatures already high by 10 a.m., and higher than at ground level, with a light and variable wind.

Musing on the numerous thermalling gulls picking off the multitudes of newly-hatched flying ants, three of us waited to be ushered up onto the roof. We'd barely set up scopes and settled in before, lolloping out of the battleship-grey haze to the south-east, a very promising-looking large raptor appeared, roughly following the river and half-approaching the tower..... Even at first glance, it looked good; a lazy, flapping flight on long, broad wings, just below the horizon and heading west.

Evidently expending plenty of energy and finding itself surrounded on all sides by the most unforgiving of environments outside of a sea-crossing, the bird headed purposefully for a thermal-full of gulls just to the south-west of the tower and roughly over the Thames. Joining the gulls for the next couple of minutes (and inevitably hassled by a few), even in far-from-ideal light, all the features fell into place.....

..... a dark(ish)-morph Honey-buzzard, out of nowhere, pausing only to gain height alongside us, and then clean through the heart of the city and west out beyond Wembley. Jackpot.

The weather continued to mess around, with the cloud slowly retreating and then encroaching again, the light winds changing direction regularly, odd spots of rain, and odd rays of sunshine.... not that any of that really mattered, when at around 1215, another large raptor approached, again from the south-east and again just below the horizon.

Following a similar path to #1, the bird looked to be heading along a similar route out of town, until something extraordinary happened. Honey-buzzard #2 (a 'medium-morph' this time, with strong, striking barring and paler areas across the underparts) gave beautiful views as it steadily dropped altitude, turning around before reaching the Barbican (close-by to the north-west), banking in full view against a backdrop of offices, descending suddenly again, and then closing its wings, bulleting diagonally towards the river.

Following the bird's flight path closely, we watched as it passed directly against the facade of Parliament (pun almost intended), and incredibly, dropped like a stone - almost certainly landing on the South Bank, apparently in the grounds of either Lambeth Palace or the Imperial War Museum. An absurdly unique experience.

Of the rest of the day? Well, there were a few Swallows, plenty of Swifts, and a Common Buzzard west over the mid-Lea valley at 1230; the afternoon became sunnier and even warmer as it wore on, but somewhat ironically the skies were progressively quieter. Who cares?

A vindicating day, and a marvel to watch such impressive trans-Saharan birds of prey from a skyscraper in the heart of Babylon.

Mark Pearson

(photos - Honey-buzzard, Tower 42, 20th May 2010 - c Mark Pearson)

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