Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Long-legged Buzzard - Santorini

As noted in the post below I had the opportunity to watch and photograph two Long-legged Buzzards, an adult (or perhaps third year as it still had the iris paler than the pupil) and a juvenile whilst in Santorini. The light was generally excellent although once the sun was high in the sky the birds were generally backlit, although the plumage details are still readily discernible it had a marked effect on the colour of the underparts.
Long-legged Buzzard - adult
Long-legged Buzzard - juvenile

Long-legged Buzzard - juvenile
These birds are of the  nominate eastern race Buteo rufinus rufinus which are found from Eastern Europe across Central Asia. Most winter in the Middle East and North Africa but some are said to winter in southern Greece so I'm not sure whether these birds were local breeding birds, migrants, or birds on their wintering grounds. The migration of Long-legged Buzzard peaks in late October and continues well in to November so these may be local birds.
The birds could be found each day sat on the coastal rocks adjacent to the tip just outside Fira but on most days I was there they spent part of the day hunting over the neighbouring fields.
This involved quartering the fields at around 200m to 500m height with prolonged periods of hovering. I did not see them take any prey but assume this is predominantly Erhard's Wall Lizard when hunting over the fields, as they were very common and there were few other potential food items that I saw.
Adult hovering
Juvenile hovering
I've included a few photos of them hovering and showing the extended head position which is described in field guides and which may help in identification of a lone bird in a difficult plumage. 

Adult stretching neck whilst hunting

The local Hooded Crows were often in attendance when the birds were hunting over the fields which gave a useful size comparison and occasional views of the upper wing.

Adult with Hooded Crow
I did see several Common Buzzards which looked much like UK birds to me but could have been the grey brown morph of Steppe Buzzard Buteo buteo vulpinus.

Common Buzzard
With good flight views, ideally of both upper and underwing the identification of Long-legged Buzzard in Europe is relatively straight forward.
The juvenile is only likely to be confused with Rough-legged Buzzards but their ranges seldom overlap. The absence of a dark tip to the tail separates the two from both above and below.
The adult (or 3cy bird) is only likely to be confused with the 'fox-red' morph of Steppe Buzzard but Long-legged is a larger bird with a more powerful flight action but the pale, gingery tail, black carpal patch and generally plain underwing coverts are helpful characteristics.

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