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Identifying Honey Buzzards 2; Jizz and Plumage? (1 Viewer)

cuddy

Brian Robson
Northumberland and Tyneside bird club , have decided to review all recent Honey buzzard records due to membership inquires and the Honey Buzzard threads in this forum,.

October newsletter requests that members resubmit reports, perhaps the Northumberland Birders who have been requiring an in depth report that details all relavent facts will have something solid to support the status of Honey Buzzards In Northumberland.
 

Andrew Rowlands

Well-known member
cuddy said:
Northumberland and Tyneside bird club , have decided to review all recent Honey buzzard records due to membership inquires and the Honey Buzzard threads in this forum,.

October newsletter requests that members resubmit reports, perhaps the Northumberland Birders who have been requiring an in depth report that details all relavent facts will have something solid to support the status of Honey Buzzards In Northumberland.

I hope that your people who have genuinely seen and reported Honey Buzzards in that recording area don't read these pages by Nick! They may get confused.

These latest additions to his site (13th and 21st of December), have been added since Nick received the newsletter then. Maybe he thinks everyone should be using his criteria to i.d. them?

Hope someone's bought him the large format Collins Guide for Christmas.........

Andy.
 

cuddy

Brian Robson
October newsletter was delayed Andy, did not come out untill 3rd week of December.

I dont have any people, or an axe to grind with Nick, but like many local birders i have questioned the lack of sightings of displaying Honeys during breeding season.

This has been going on long before BF got involved, and i am glad that N&TBC have taken time to ask for a review, i am patient enough and have faith that all matters will eventually be resolved.

I make no judgements either way, im sure the status of HB's will be resolved in Northumberland hope everyone can be patient as it may not be so cut and dried as many have assummed.

Northumberland is a large county and has a large range of habitats, just because i have not seen everything does not mean that that species dont exist here.

I have seen HB's in Northumberland 2 to be precise, i put them down to passage birds due to timing and age.
 

Andrew Rowlands

Well-known member
Hi Cuddy,

It would be great if Nick would just remove any references to me from his site. Some of my colleagues have expressed the same wish.

Misapplying references to this species; then trying to apply them to photographs of a different species is not the way to gain friends.

He has my phone numbers and email addresses, yet refuses to answer or contact me. Making inane coloured comments on his site is not going to make him right.

Northumberland should have a population of Honeys (not that we know anything of their requirements). If Nick was to CRITICALLY review his work then he may well be able to help us fill some of the gaps in our knowledge.

His site makes a mockery of the hard work that has gone into studying this species.

Andy.
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
I also noticed the new pages on Nick Rosster’s site and most revealing reading they make too. He claims that “It is only recently that plumage has been elevated to high importance in identifying Honey Buzzard”. To justify this he puts together a string of very selective quotes on HB plumage from Ferguson-Lees & Christie (2001), Forsman (1999) & The Collins Bird Guide (1999). This certainly misrepresents the Collins Guide as it ignores that the opening lines of its section on identification are entirely devoted to structure; I’ve not checked but, if memory serves, has done a similar disservice to the other quoted volumes..

This claim is an absurd simplification; both structural characters and plumage details have long been used to identify Honey Buzzards. For the inexperienced, unlike structural characters, plumage criteria do not require such familiarity with Common Buzzard nor a subtle judgement of shape or form. Hence it allows more confident identification of HB for the uninitiated. What has happened is not that plumage details have only recently been “elevated to high importance” in terms of identification to species level (as the quote implies), but rather there has been a greater understanding of plumage as a guide to ageing and sexing the species. This is quite a different matter. Mr Rossiter then goes on to observe that "Experience in Northumberland has shown that the tail bars are hardly ever seen in the field” and that “I suspect they are not visible on the closed tail because no light comes through”. OK , the tail bars can be tricky to spot and at very long range impossible, but to suggest that they are “not visible on the closed tail” is absurd. Yes, as also claimed, they can be more easily seen when there is strong reflected light from below (i.e. in the desert), but they can be seen, and well, on the closed tail on birds over woodland/farmland in northern Europe. I can certainly I think of an alternative explanation as to why this feature is “hardly ever seen in the field” in the Northumbrian population …….

Nick Rossiter goes on to observe further that “Another disappointing feature is the underwing coverts where the broad bars do not show up at all well. The sparse broad barring across the outer primaries is much easier to see, perhaps because of the better light on this area. However, the bars do not photograph well with burn-out tending to occur. Also some birds naturally show very few markings here at all. The limited black on the fingers, dark trailing edge and square carpal patch show up reasonably well”. In fact, the “sparse broad barring across the outer primaries” can (and does) show well in many photos even relatively poor ones. Oddly enough some photos of claimed Honey Buzzards on Mt Rossiter’s site don’t show these bands but do show the less marked barring exhibited by Common Buzzard! So, very conveniently, those features characteristic of HB seem get “burnt out” and become strangely invisible whilst those shared with Common Buzzards remain visible!

Mr Rossiter goes on to quote Steve Roberts as saying that "To try and identify them (ie Honey Buzzards) from plumage I think is a loser to begin with. If you’re still going to go down that road you’re going to be very, very limited. You need to be able to identify Honey Buzzards from their structure. Every book you pick up will tell you that a Honey Buzzard has got three bars on the tail and I can imagine loads and loads of birders going out looking for three bars on the tail….. If you start thinking that you’ve got to see plumage details to identify Honey Buzzards, you’re missing the point. You’ve got to identify Honey Buzzards from their shape and structure”. The important words in this quotation are, I suggest, ‘limited’ and “thinking that you’ve got to see plumage details to identify Honey Buzzards”. As advice for identifying Honey Buzzards at long range this is sound enough. However, it is misleading to generalise from this, as Mr Rossiter seems to, that plumage details are not useful

To further his cavalier attitude to plumage detail he also quotes Roberts as follows - “The difference in structure is obvious, forget plumage. If someone starts describing plumage to you, stop listening. Someone should be telling you about the shape of the bird.” With all due respect to the writer, this is absurd advice. It is never a good idea to imperiously ignore what people tell you about what they saw. By all means exercise some caution if they don’t pick up on structural points, but if they give a precise and accurate description of HB plumage don’t ignore it! Apart from anything else, when taken by surprise by a low level view even experienced birders can be so overwhelmed by the plumage details that structure seems less obvious. Certainly I’d pay rather more notice of plumage details well & accurately noted by an inexperienced birder than relatively subtle judgements of structure. How ever ‘obvious’ to some such points still require subjective judgement rather than clear cut observation.

Common sense suggests that all characters should be used in the identification of Honey Buzzards (and any other birds come to that). You have only ‘got to’ identify Honey Buzzards using structure if you have no reasonable expectation of seeing other features. These quotations sound suspiciously like advice given to birders, already reasonably experienced with HBs, wishing to identify them at all ranges (e.g. when doing survey work. Have they been wrenched out of context?

Elsewhere in his comments Nick Rossiter observes of Honey Buzzards that the “neck is often retracted during soaring so the well-known small head and thin neck are not that obvious”. This is a new one on me and one which I’ve not seen reported elsewhere. Interestingly, and perhaps significantly, the oft quoted Mr Roberts does not seem to be the origin of this novel observation. Nick Rossiter makes a big thing about the fact that Mr Roberts “does not mention this (i.e. the slender head) as a good identification feature…”. However, it cannot be concluded from this, as implied, that this feature is not highly significant as every authoritative guide stresses the point (e.g. HBI “… very characteristic slender neck and small, rather cuckoo-like head..“). That this one source fails to mention this (and the linguistic context suggests that this was in a lecture where such things are easily omitted) is hardly significant.

Now to be fair there is a some useful stuff mixed into the discussion of jizz – sorting the wheat from the chaff is another matter! Steve Roberts obviously knows Honey Buzzard so well that he’s forgotten how difficult the inexperienced can find it to judge structure. However, the general ‘spin’ put on this by Mr Rossiter appears to be more concerned explaining away the absence of various characteristic features of Honey Buzzard in so many of his photos.

So to sum up:-
a) it is misleading to state “it is only recently that plumage has been elevated to high importance in identifying Honey Buzzard”. Plumage has always been used for specific identification and its recent use has been for ageing and sexing.
b) Tail bars are visible on the closed tail and can be seen in UK conditions. On a spread tail they can be observed at moderate range.
c) Even relatively poor flight shots can (and do) show the very distinctive wing barring.
d) Plumage details, if seen, are always worth noting and for the inexperienced they can be vital. Structure is, of course, extremely important and does allow identification at greater range.
e) The slender neck & small head are universally acknowledged by authoritative sources as good field characteristics.
John
 
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