Author Mike Russell
If you want some good exercises for your back and your neck then now is the right time, and all it involves is going outside, arching your back and looking to the skies.
Should the weather be reasonable, and not too windy, you may see some dark bird-shaped silhouettes circling high above your head and if you do, then they might be buzzards. The rise in the number of buzzards in Sussex is one of those rare good news stories, a bird that is actually doing pretty well.
On arriving in Sussex 27 years ago, common buzzards were a rare sight, with just a handful breeding in the county, but since then they have spread and now can be found right across Sussex and the numbers are now close on 300. So what has precipitated this rise in population? For much of the last two centuries buzzards were persecuted by landowners, as were most birds with a hooked beak and talons, so were virtually shot of existence in much of the UK. They survived in the western and northern areas of Britain where agriculture was less intensive and in the wilder uplands.
Throughout the 20th century game keeping declined, though it wasn't until the last few decades that buzzard numbers began to recover nationwide. The main reasons for this were that buzzards became a protected species, though sadly some still are killed illegally, and more abundant food as the rabbit population recovered after the devastation caused by myxomatosis in the 1950s.
At this time of the year the population becomes more mobile as they look to re-establish their breeding territories and last year's youngsters have to move away and find their own range and mate. They take advantage of the warming up of the air which creates thermals on which they hitch a ride with their wings outstretched and slightly tilted upwards. This way they can cover huge distances with very little effort.
Many people are now reporting these thermals of circling buzzards, we had nine over Woods Mill last week, and sometimes they can be joined by other species such as the also increasing red kites. Often you can hear their 'plaintive' mewing call before you see them, and it is a very welcome addition to our skies over Sussex.