Caught by the River

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Nick Small | 29th September 2013


The Return of the Buzzard
Words and pictures: Nick Small

When I were a lad, I was obsessed by birds of prey. The trouble was, aside from Kestrels and Sparrow Hawks, I seldom got to see any. I’d persuade the family to take me to Loch Garten just to see the Ospreys (they didn’t show) and on one school camp in the Lake District, I managed to see Peregrines, a Golden Eagle and Buzzards all in the same week. Back then, the only place you’d see a Buzzard was up in the Lake District… or maybe in Devon. Obsessed as I was by raptors, it was as exotic and impressive as a Sea Eagle to this lad and a glimpse of this fine bird riding a thermal was about as thrilling as bird-watching got, whether it was over Kirkstone pass or the hard shoulder of the M5.


One of my teachers, who knew of my obsession, recommended that I buy a book: “Flight Identification of European Raptors”. It wasn’t cheap and it had to be mail ordered but with some Birthday money, I made what has turned out to be a quite brilliant investment. Over the years, from the Spanish plains the Pyrenees to the Alps it taught me to instantly recognise a tiny silhouette against the biggest skies. One silhouette that gives me a great thrill to this day, is the graceful round winged beauty of a soaring buzzard.

Ten years ago, I was commuting from Yorkshire to Bristol on a weekly basis. I would entertain myself by counting buzzards: a sport which by this time would commence somewhere just south of Birmingham. It was not a sport that could be enjoyed on the M1 as, for some reason, England’s buzzard population had a range which didn’t extend that far east.

Over the course of a couple of years, I was not only able to get into double figures, but would gradually start to see Buzzards that little bit further north on the M6. On a journey down to the midlands two years ago, I even saw my first Buzzard just to the west of Manchester. I started to dream that pretty soon, I’d have Buzzards in my back yard.


Last year, I had reason to travel up and down the M1 and the A1. I had a bit of a moment when I caught a glimpse of the familiar twin silhouettes of a Buzzard and the Carrion Crow that was giving it some serious harassment. Fortunately, plod wasn’t following me and no-one else’s life was put in jeopardy when I deviated from the lane I was supposed to be in, whilst I marvelled at this first, and landmark, sighting. As the year progressed, I would see them encroaching further North until this June, when I caught a glimpse of the unmistakably majestic form of a buzzard in the none-too-majestic surroundings that are the Wakefield exit of the M1.

Buzzards. In West Yorkshire. Now you’re talking. I was ecstatic (I know, I’m a sad man). Buzzards within 35 miles either side of my Pennine home!! But it didn’t end there. In July, I was en route to a photography assignment in Rotherham when, just off junction 25 of the M62, in woods overlooking the river Calder (now hosting a come-back of its own …. the Atlantic Salmon) a Buzzard soared under gloomy skies.

They are, inexorably, coming. There’s just ten more miles for buzzards to extend their range before they land in the mixed woodland surrounding Halifax’ beautiful Ogden Reservoir. With flocks of Red Kite now soaring over Leeds on a regular basis, things have never been so good for this Yorkshire raptor fan.

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