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Cycling path stare down!

They’re a common sight near most highways and polders: buzzards. Sitting on a lamp post or fence, on the lookout for a meal, waiting for the perfect moment to strike. Their keen eyesight makes them excellent hunters, but also, very wary of their surroundings. One sudden move or noise, and they’re off. Photographing buzzards is quite a challenge, that requires a lot of patience and sometimes, a bit of luck.

On a Tuesday morning in October I cycle through some nearby polders. October is one of the peak months in fall bird migration. A variety of species, from geese to stilts, migrate south for the winter, and use the Dutch polders to forage on their way south. This attracts all kind of attention from birds of prey, so plenty of reason to go out and explore!

In a pasture near the side of the road I spot a foraging buzzard. It’s sitting on the ground, behind a fence, and plucking something. I park my bike a little further up the road, sneak back and position myself behind some bushes. Every now and then it looks up, but continues to forage. I photograph through some leaves and branches, which gives a nice halo effect. After a minute or so the buzzard flies away. Did it see me? Did I scare it? It doesn’t look like it. It lands a couple of meters further down the cycling path on a fence post and starts hunting again. I use a row of trees to stay out of its sight and crawl the last couple of meters, so I can get a clear shot.

Everything tells me this is a young bird. Adults buzzards are shy and very wary towards humans. This bird sits a couple of meters from a busy road and doesn’t seem to be bothered by it at all. Its breast feathers still have a rough vertical pattern, and its iris is light. Over time the breast pattern will change to a horizontal, half circled banding, and his iris will turn dark.

His iris? Yes, it’s a male buzzard. This particular buzzard has been ringed as a nestling, and because I can get so close to it, I’m able to read the ring number. It turns out this is a four (maybe five) month old male, born near Castricum. A ringing recovery is a nice extra for me and the information helps scientific research, so it’s a win win situation!

From his new post, he constantly scans the side of an opposing ditch. Something grabs his attention. He braces himself, and then, he jumps towards the ditch side. A muffled thud. Some fluttering of feathers. Then nothing for a couple of seconds. The buzzards flies up, back to his post, empty handed. Looks like it missed its prey. Slightly bewildered, it starts to remove the duckweed from its tail. He flies to a new post and starts hunting again. This process repeats itself a few time. He scans his surroundings, plummets into the ditch, with no results for his efforts. He might not have mastered the fine art of hunting, but at least he’s persevering!

The whole scene attracts a bit of attention. Which makes sense, because I’m spend a good hour or so sitting on the side of a cycling path, in a negligible patch of grass, with a huge telephoto lens, looking at something; people tend to notice that sort of stuff. Most passers-by notice me, check where my lens is pointing at, and are able to enjoy the sight of an up-close buzzard. The buzzard just keeps on hunting, unaffected by my or anyone else’s presence.

After a while two cyclists pass by and notice the buzzard. One of them calls out ‘Wow, that’s amazing!’, at a volume a sports coach or market trader would envy. The buzzard flies off, into the polder. It looks like it got scared. To avoid any change of disturbance from my side, I decide to leave to bird alone. I count myself lucky I was able to spent such a long time with it at such close range.