• BirdForum is the net's largest birding community dedicated to wild birds and birding, and is absolutely FREE!

    Register for an account to take part in lively discussions in the forum, post your pictures in the gallery and more.

Rough legged buzzard? Goshawk? - NE Scotland (1 Viewer)

curlewsandpiper1980

Well-known member
Location NE Scotland, inland, mixed habitat heathland and dense conifer plantation.

Today, besides seeing several pairs of displaying buzzards, I saw a pair of two unidentified raptors and what was remarkable on them was:
- their bright white tail base. As the birds soared and reflected sunlight, the tail base shone remarkably white in several occasions. I don't experience this with the many buzzards I see every week.

Besides this I noted these other traits:
  • The tail was broad, buzzard-like (unlike a hawk or falcon).
  • The silhouette was not dissimilar from that of a buzzard but wings were a bit narrower. This also caught my attention. But it wasn't any falcon. I initially even suspected hen harrier.
  • These birds were first spotted flying above conifer plantation and 10 second later soaring high above the adjacent heath (and after a minute, they were too far to continue looking)
  • The flying pattern was nothing of remark. I didn't catch any of V pattern of common buzzard, nor any distinctive different flying style.

The area is known to contain breeding goshawk, hen harrier and merlin. As well as osprey in summer. So I walk there regularly in hopes of spotting those scarcer species, while hiking on main paths/ road tracks (so I don't disturb any of those species). Eagles would be more uncommon in this location.

I don't think that this pair were goshawks (I would expect a long tail and also short broad wings but because of distance I could have been fooled). I have seen unidentified hawks flying in the area before, above conifer woods, but I was never able to positively identify those as goshawks instead of sparrowhawks. These weren't hawks.

I could have been a pair of rough legged buzzards. Especially because of a brilliant white tail was stood out. But is there any chance that a common buzzard could present an unusual bright white tail base? Rough legged are possible in the area.

I am also relatively unfamiliar with hen harrier. But to the best of my knowledge I wouldn't expect them to soar high and I would expect a long narrow tail.

No photo. Sighting took 40 seconds and I remained focused in the eyepiece of the scope. The raptors were quite far, so I would have probably ignored these as an unidentified pair of raptors or unconfined buzzards if it wasn't for the bright white tail base.

Any ID guesses?
1
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
Buzzards moulting their uppertail coverts.

Rough-legged Buzzards do not have a white tail base. They have a white tail with a broad dark terminal band: in adults the white is somewhat sullied but always noticeable as being on the tail, not at the base.

Like many other ID issues with unfamiliar species, if you think you might have one, you haven't. The real thing leaps out at you.

John
 

Butty

Well-known member
Rough-legged Buzzards do not have a white tail base. They have a white tail with a broad dark terminal band: in adults the white is somewhat sullied but always noticeable as being on the tail, not at the base.
When I read, or write, 'xxx-base', I understand, or mean, 'the base of the xxx', and not 'the part of the bird that is close to the xxx but not the xxx itself'. Thus 'wing-base' always means 'the base of the wing', never 'the part of the body near the wing'. As far as I've always been aware, the rest of the serious-birding world also sees the xxx-base thing that way.
Thus rough-legged buzzards do have a white tail-base.

The real thing leaps out at you.
You would seem to be denying that the observer saw something striking. The feature clearly did 'leap out' at her/him: 'bright white tail base', 'the tail base shone remarkably white', 'brilliant white tail', etc.
 
Last edited:

Farnboro John

Well-known member
When I read, or write, 'xxx-base', I understand, or mean, 'the base of the xxx', and not 'the part of the bird that is close to the xxx but not the xxx itself'. Thus 'wing-base' always means 'the base of the wing', never 'the part of the body near the wing'. As far as I've always been aware, the rest of the serious-birding world also sees the xxx-base thing that way.
Thus rough-legged buzzards do have a white tail-base.


You would seem to be denying that the observer saw something striking. The feature clearly did leap out at her/him: 'bright white tail base', 'the tail base shone remarkably white', 'brilliant white tail', etc.
Yes, and as I said quite clearly, the Rough-legged Buzzard doesn't have a white tail base. It has a white tail with a dark tip. There's a big difference between that and a white tail base, which the observer may or may not be using in the sense you do.

John
 

Butty

Well-known member
as I said quite clearly, the Rough-legged Buzzard doesn't have a white tail base. It has a white tail with a dark tip. There's a big difference between that and a white tail base
So just to clarify... You do think that the term 'tail-base' means 'the part of the bird that is close to the tail but not the tail itself'?
If so, the way that you use 'tail-base' needs to be defined before it can be understood. So to you it means... upper (or under) tail-coverts? or those plus rump/vent? or it's a loose term that takes in part of those tracts but excludes the tail?
 

Farnboro John

Well-known member
So just to clarify... You do think that the term 'tail-base' means 'the part of the bird that is close to the tail but not the tail itself'?
If so, the way that you use 'tail-base' needs to be defined before it can be understood. So to you it means... upper (or under) tail-coverts? or those plus rump/vent? or it's a loose term that takes in part of those tracts but excludes the tail?
I should say includes but is not limited to the most basal part of the tail feathers. When the terms for the other feathers there are "upper-tail" and "undertail" coverts, I think their position is pretty clear: they cover the base of the tail. Plus the observation, by the word of the OP, was fairly distant even at the start, at altitude, in strong light. In those circumstances I've seen Buzzard wings and tails flash white when actually its just reflection from brown feathering. The description doesn't begin to add up to a Rough-legged Buzzard (much less a pair of them) but accords well with my experience of high, soaring Buzzards in strong light.

John
 

curlewsandpiper1980

Well-known member
The two raptors were quite far away so it wasn't easy to see any plumage pattern. But I wil clarify that the bright white was at the tail or part of it.

As I was hiking to my vantage point site, I was making stops on the path to search for potencial goshawks displaying above conifer plantation with the binoculars. Obviously I keep seeing a lot of buzzards, some close by, some far.

What strike me about this pair of raptors was, after a few seconds of flying, the shining white on their tails of perhaps by the point where the tail meets the body. I couldn't clearly tell it but I was aware that rough legged have a white tail with a black end. The thought of being an eagle also came to mind. I couldn't see that from this distance. So I watched for other things. No other sign of plumage could be spotted in the rest of the body, just the tail reflected a bright white. No signs of other color or white elsewhere.

As they soared, the flying behavior looked buzzard-like, so I excluded being a goshawk (no sign of long tail or a hawk flap flap glide style of flying). But the wings also looked odd. Longer, or narrower. A bit like a hen harrier almost (which by the way is another species which I am rather unfamiliar with).

So I was (and I am) quite convinced I was seeing a species which I quite unfamiliar with and new to me. But I cannot say what it is. (And I think this sighting will remain unidentified)

Eventually they soared quite high and became too small even at 40x in the scope. So by then it was already too late to take any pic or make a video.
 
Last edited:

Farnboro John

Well-known member
The two raptors were quite far away so it wasn't easy to see any plumage pattern.

As I was hiking to my vantage point site, I was making stops on the path to search for potencial goshawks displaying above conifer plantation with the binoculars. Obviously I keep seeing a lot of buzzards, some close by, some far.

What strike me about this pair of raptors was, after a few seconds of flying, the shining white on their tails of perhaps by the point where the tail meets the body. I couldn't clearly tell it but I was aware that rough legged have a white tail with a black end. The thought of being an eagle also came to mind. I couldn't see that from this distance. So I watched for other things. No other sign of plumage could be spotted in the rest of the body, just the tail reflected a bright white. As they soared, it looked buzzard-like, so I excluded being a goshawk (no sign of long tail or a hawk flap flap glide style of flying).

Eventually they soared quite high and became too small even at 30-40x in the scope.
I think you have been commendably cautious and your description as far as it goes is pretty useful. Unfortunately sometimes you just have to end with a shrug and hope for better views next time and I think this is one of those occasions. But its still always a good idea to ask because with precise description sometimes something definitive will come out.

Cheers

John
 

curlewsandpiper1980

Well-known member
Sure John, what else should I look for, next time I suspect a rough legged?

Like you, I also have seen many times buzzards reflecting white patches in their wings and tail in bright sunshine. This felt very different. The white was only at tail and notorious brilliant. (Plus the narrowerer wings added to the mystery)

I also consider, could it have been a goshawk pair. I mean, they do soar, and if the tail was always fanned, I wouldn't suspect it would be a hawk from that distance. The region has goshawk, so maybe it is another possibility, perhaps.

But I agree with you, this sighting will go as unidentified, as often with far away raptors.

The site is just a short drive away, so I will probably go there in the next few days again.

Many thanks to all of you, for the feedback.
 
Last edited:

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Sound like ringtail Hen harriers can’t be ruled out even though you felt the tails weren’t long enough, they do have noticeably narrower wings than Common Buzzard. I have seen Common Buzzards too with white rumps or white bases to the retrices, so I don’t think CB can be ruled out either.

I agree with John, they can’t be identified on such a broad description so hopefully better luck next time and longer views. Try and note the underwing pattern on flying raptors too, that can be a really helpful identification feature.
 

curlewsandpiper1980

Well-known member
Sound like ringtail Hen harriers can’t be ruled out even though you felt the tails weren’t long enough, they do have noticeably narrower wings than Common Buzzard. I have seen Common Buzzards too with white rumps or white bases to the retrices, so I don’t think CB can be ruled out either.

I agree with John, they can’t be identified on such a broad description so hopefully better luck next time and longer views. Try and note the underwing pattern on flying raptors too, that can be a really helpful identification feature.

Thanks. It's the thing with raptors; one sees them, more often than not, quite far away, through a scope often in windy conditions, so identification is a challenge in those circumstances.

Do hen harriers also soar in thermals like buzzards do? I wasn't aware of that.
 
Last edited:

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Do hen harriers also soar in thermals like buzzards do? I wasn't aware of that.
All large and medium raptors use thermals to fly (in varying degrees) versus active wing flight as the most conservative energy expenditure for travelling distance. High ringtails in NE Scotland this time of year could be short distant migrants returning to breeding areas or natal areas in Northern Scotland (female and male tend to migrate separately).
 
Last edited:

David Roche

Well-known member
FWIW I cant help but wonder if you might have been slightly too quick to dismiss Goshawk? The white you describe on the tail could easily be explained by the under-tail feathers being fluffed out, as often seen on displaying birds. Your description of long wings, being almost Hen Harrier like, also sounds like a much better match as does the overall behaviour you describe, though a broad tail obviously less so. Goshawk are often very relaxed in flight, gliding and circling for long periods, so a lack of the typical Sparrowhawk "flap flap glide" motion would also count in their favour.
 

curlewsandpiper1980

Well-known member
Thanks David,

I still consider goshawk.

I had 4 suspected goshawk sightings in recent months, all from afar. Three of those four sightings, including this one, are within a 1.5km region (the fourth was 3km away). And this is an area with large conifer patches (often dense larch) and goshawk is known to breed there. So goshawk is definitely possible.

In all other instances the sightings remained as an unidentified hawk (sparrowhawk vs goshawk) individual or pair. But this sighting (which was at a farther distance) did not reveal any hawk tail and instead it was the brilliant white that stood out.

In the first sighting there, I saw a hawk raptor (a "flying T") gliding fast above the woods and by the slope of a hill along a stream. It barely flapped wings for the 40 seconds I followed it. In sighting n2 I saw a pair displaying just above the same woods and the jizz was more hawk than buzzard (but sighting was too short). The third sighting was the one 3km away and it was a pair with flap flap glide style and it also showed some white in the body (it was just for a few seconds and this felt it was it). The sighting in question is closer to ge first two.

In general I found it really hard to know what to look for, when considering both goshawk and sparrowhawk (when I know both species could be present).



Hen harrier also resides in the region. I have seen a hen harrier last summer that region but about 10km away. In the wider region there are only a handful of breeding pairs for both hen harriers and goshawks.

Buzzards are very abundant in the region here, and I am very familiar with them. So anything with a different feel will call my attention. Peregrines and kites are infrequent and clearly these weren't what I saw. Eagles are the other possibility to consider. As raptors are now beginning to occupy their breeding territories, it's just a question of doing another vantage point watch over that specific area and record it on camera (and I am also careful to watch these from 1+km away so the suspected region to not disturb the birds and have a better change of spotting them above the woods).
 
Last edited:

curlewsandpiper1980

Well-known member
I went again to the area where I saw the unidentified raptor.

After a while of waiting, I heard something like a merlin but saw nothing. After a few minutes, and in the same location (a valley of wet heath with just a few scattered trees) I saw what looked like a buzzard flying from a tree and it perched in a dead tree trunk and I was able to capture a few pictures.

It looked like a buzzard. I did noticed some bright white feathers by the tail but I don't think it is a rough legged. They are rare so chances are that it's not. Have a look and let me know.

Unfortunately the bird was still quite far, so the quality of the photos is quite bad.
 

Attachments

  • IMG_20210319_164508_441~2.jpg
    IMG_20210319_164508_441~2.jpg
    41.2 KB · Views: 36
  • IMG_20210319_163959_634~2.jpg
    IMG_20210319_163959_634~2.jpg
    39 KB · Views: 35
  • IMG_20210319_165904_421~2.jpg
    IMG_20210319_165904_421~2.jpg
    74.5 KB · Views: 33
  • IMG_20210319_164935_10CS~2.jpg
    IMG_20210319_164935_10CS~2.jpg
    48.4 KB · Views: 32

Deb Burhinus

Used to be well known! 😎
Europe
Looks fine for Common Buzzard.

I should add, a Rough-legged Buzzard would be fairly unlikely this time of the year - most records that I can think of (from one’s that I’ve seen in Norfolk anyway) have been in the Autumn - Common Buzzards are hugely variable with some quite pale, so ruling out CB first before considering Rough-legged is the safest approach. Of course, if you see a Buzzard perched, check the legs( tarsi) to see if they are feathered or unfeathered - if the latter, you have a Common Buzzard without worrying about plumage.

In the air, look out for hovering Buteos with strangely twisty postures and dark bendy elbows!
 
Last edited:

curlewsandpiper1980

Well-known member
I have some good news.
Not a rough legged but a potencial goshawk instead

I went to the other location, about 2-3km north and where I had two suspected goshawk sightings in past weeks.

As I walk through the forest path (it's a jeep track) towards the area, I saw what was almost certainly a goshawk. It was about 300m away, flying above the tall larch and spruce trees, got a got a good look at the hawk tail with rounded corners (that's what I paid attention to during those few seconds), it flapped wings for one instance in hawk style, got a glimpse of seemingly white barred body, and it looked big, buzzard sized, definitely bigger than a sparrowhawk.

But size estimation can be deceiving of course.

I barely had time to notice the tail and say wow before it disappeared out of view. Mindful of being a potencial goshawk, I quickly walked away along the path, so not to cause disturbance.

Couldn't say 100% it was a goshawk. As usual it was a very brief encounter. By the time I reached for the camera it was gone.

Anything else to pay attention to if I happen to see it again? Can sparrowhawks do long glides without flapping wings or is that distinctive of goshawk?
 

Users who are viewing this thread

Top