Large dark raptor hovering over water?

While waiting for a train at Cardross station 20th August 2019 with a good view of the nearby Clyde estuary we observed a large dark raptor repeatedly hovering over the shallow water just beyond the sand. Unfortunately we had no binoculars but the bird had a larger wingspan than the gulls (herring?) that were mobbing it. It had rounded wingtips and was clearly not a falcon, too big and wrong shape. Coloring was difficult to determine but it appeared quite dark. Could it have been a kite?

  • Hi Redrider, I'm not an expert so can only add my own ideas about the bird you saw. My first thought from your description of large (dark coloured) raptor, larger than a gull, is that it could have been a Common Buzzard (which vary in colour from a pale variant to darker varieties) and they do hover occasionally but wouldn't associate them with hunting over water,  whereas I'm not sure a Red Kite ever does hover. If you saw the tail, the Red Kite has a very distinctive fan/forked tail which acts almost like a rudder. A Buzzard has a fan shape but not forked. Wait for other forum members opinions but I would rule out a Kite due to the fact you said it was hovering. Kestrels also hover but they are smaller than the size you thought it was.

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    Regards, Hazel 

    "Each kindness shown to birds or men is sure to flutter back again" 

  • Hello Redrider.
    To add to what Hazel's said, I see Red Kites every day of the year and Black Kites from April to early August, at which point they start moving south. This for over ten years now.
    If 'hovering' involves wing movement, and not 'simply' setting in the air and remaining stationary in a breeze, I've yet to see either do that. In fact, I've never seen quick movement from kites' wings, even when---on occasion---they're mobbed and under a bit of pressure; so, no movement of the kind one would associate, say, with a kestrel's hover.
    I have, on occasion, seen Common Buzzards hover, which is an impressive sight from such a big bird (not quite as impressive as watching Short-toed Eagles do it), but they appear to need a decent headwind or stiff breeze to do so.
    That said, I've also never seen Common Buzzards low over water, which I would expect to have seen as they're also a local species and I see them regularly around both deep and shallow water.
    Nothing conclusive, but I hope the above helps.
    Not sure what harriers you have in the UK, or at this time of year...

    All the best -
    Dave
  • Almost certainly a buzzard. There are a lot of youngsters about now.