Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

The River Arun, Horsham, West Sussex, November 2020

Again we must stay close to home. The oaks are in their orange and gold phase. The bright sun catches in their leaves against blue skies, darkening their grey-black trunks. I stop to look out over the Arun’s water meadows. Two large white Sussex cattle rest on a hillock, doing nothing.

From the mature trees that edge the Arun, a bird swoops down into the rushy grasslands that spread away from the river. I can see from its size and underwing that it’s a buzzard. It returns to a perch in a bare ash tree on the river’s edge. I don’t have binoculars so I can’t see what it has, but it took something. Surely it’s too late for frogs or toads.

A man and a woman approach from behind me to share the view across the river’s wet edgelands. The woman has an orange bin bag and a litter pick.

‘Seen anything good?’ she asks.

I point out the buzzard, that it’s hard to see because it’s so well hidden.

‘No,’ she says. ‘I’ve just seen it because it moved.’

Impressive, but perhaps unsurprising for someone with an eye for litter picking.

I say that I don’t know what it has. She tells me that she only ever sees them soaring but never perched. She and her partner live on the edge of the farm. They see buzzards all the time.

All summer I heard a young buzzard calling from a nest along the river, It was incessant, persistent. Every time I visited I could hear it calling. Then I spotted a huge ash tree and saw it sitting up there, calling still. It was out on a branch, begging to be fed by its parents.

As an exiled Londoner, it feels an intense privilege to be able to walk ten minutes from home and happen upon the breeding ground of this great and prospering hawk. A fellow exile said much the same to me, that he had found buzzards roosting in trees across from his new home in Peterborough.

Our conversation about the buzzard dissolves in that awkward English way, and the couple head off in search of more litter. I stay on, wondering what it is the buzzard is having for its lunch.

The Sussex Weald

6 Responses to “The Sussex Weald: the buzzard’s lunch”

  1. Mick Canning

    Seeing buzzards now right over the streets and gardens on the edge of Tunbridge wells. They’re certainly doing well, although it’s sad they’ve obviously out-competed the kestrels – I rarely se any of them around here, now.

    Reply
    • Daniel Greenwood

      They certainly are doing well in Sussex! I don’t know of any evidence for them out competing kes. The problem there is likely loss of suitable buildings to nest in and small mammal prey due to agricultural intensification

      Reply
      • Mick Canning

        It’s hard to tell. I see them occasionally once I’m away from the town around Groombridge and the Ashdown Forest, but certainly fewer than they were. On the other hand, I never seem to be out of sight or sound of a buzzard.

      • Daniel Greenwood

        Kestrels have definitely suffered serious declines in England. Buzzards on the other hand are now the most common bird of prey in the UK. Definitely watched them become more common over the past ten years.

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