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MISTAKEN IDENTITY

I have a confession to make and it's a cautionary tale. I had originally intended to write this blog about a new garden bird. Indeed, I had a piece already drafted and ready to type when I heard it again. But I am running ahead of myself. Let me start at the beginning.

On 26 July I was sitting in our garden reading the paper when I heard a call I didn't recognise. It sounded quite like the squeaky toy that my neighbour's dogs play with, and I looked up to see a large bird being mobbed by a crow. Panic set in while I retrieved my binoculars - just in time for a brief view before it disappear behind trees. My impression was a kite - a long winged raptor with a reasonably long tail. Admittedly, I was concerned not to see an obvious fork in that tail nor any rufous colouring, but the bird was silhouetted against sunlight. That call would be the clincher and I was soon listening to an audio file of Red Kite calls I found on the internet. I convinced myself the call was Red Kite, dismissed my tail and colour concerns on reasoning it was a juvenile, and wrote in my notebook that I had added species no. 94 to my garden list. And that was that... until I heard the call again 3 days later. This time my binoculars were to hand. I looked at the bird and realised my error. Strange call, familiar bird. Juvenile Common Buzzard - probably a female. I should have known better as I have seen hundreds of Buzzards in various shades of colour including pure white, but I had not expected such a different call. Why not? It seems obvious that young birds learn to call just as they learn to feed and fly, and those first attempts at calling will sound different to adult bird calls. After all, we don't expect a human child to sound like an adult.

Mark Winter


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