A protected bird of prey died when an oil executive shot a buzzard he thought to be a pheasant when it flew out of woods on a Highland estate, a court has heard.
Keith Riddoch, of Craigden in Aberdeen, was on a shoot on the Ralia Estate near Newtonmore last November when he made the fatal mistake.
Even after he fired the first shot of the day, the 65-year-old self-employed consultant was convinced he had bagged a hen pheasant.
All but one of his fellow “guns” on the same shoot knew that the bird was a raptor. Riddoch was informed of his error at the end of the shoot, Inverness Sheriff Court was told.
They said it was the first time in their experience that a raptor had been shot by mistake.
The buzzard was so badly injured by the shotgun blast, it had to be destroyed.
Riddoch on Monday denied injuring the bird by recklessly shooting it on November 26 last year at a corporate shoot.
However, after hearing evidence from the people accompanying him, including gamekeeper Alistair Lyon, Sheriff Margaret Neilson convicted the businessman of a contravention of the Wildlife and Countryside Act. She fined him £500.
Riddoch refused to comment after the trial, but told the court: “I made a genuine mistake. I didn’t misassess the situation.”
Defence solicitor David McKie accepted his client had made a mistake, but added: “It was negligent or perhaps careless, but not reckless.”
It was accepted by both prosecution and defence that a buzzard was of a similar size and colour as a brown female pheasant.
Mr Lyon was in charge of the outing where beaters scared the birds out of woods into the line of fire.
The 52-year-old gamekeeper told the court: “It was the first shot of the day and I glanced round. I saw the bird falling. It was a brief glimpse. But it didn’t look right.
“Buzzards fly differently to pheasants. But if it just came out of the trees it would look similar.”
Defence solicitor David McKie said the guilty verdict may have wider consequences for his client, saying he frequently travelled to the US and the conviction could present problems for entry to the country. He could also lose his shotgun licence.