Sunday, August 9, 2015

Red-footed Falcon

Last month I ventured over the Cheshire county border and into Staffordshire in search of an enigmatic and rare bird of prey, namely a male Red-footed Falcon. This dashing little raptor breeds  in Eastern Europe but a few vagrants appear in this country in most years.
I saw my first Red-footed Falcon at Hickling Broad in Norfolk in August 2003. It was a first-summer male, but it was so far away that even through a scope its was tricky to identify. Amazingly a few days later there was another (or possibly the same bird?) at Deeping Fen near Spalding in Lincolnshire. This bird spent most of its time perched on a distant fence, occasionally dropping to the ground to seize some invisible prey item. But I did manage to take a few shaky digiscoped photos of it as it shimmered in the heat haze,
I was determined to see an adult male, and so when one was reported from Tophill Low nature reserve in Yorkshire in 2008 I interrupted my journey to the East coast, in search of Autumn migrants, to try and get some photos of this bird instead. Unfortunately this bird did not show itself until mid-afternoon, and then only distantly, but I did manage to take some "record" photos. Imagine my surprise a few months later when this bird was re-identified as an Amur Falcon, a closely related species that breeds in Mongolia and Siberia! My record shots were then of interest to the wider birding community and featured in articles on the bird in the journals British Birds (December 2011, Vol. 104, pp 694 - 701) and Birding World (Vol. 21, No. 10 pp 432 - 435). It was the first British record of Amur Falcon; for details of the plumage differences I would recommend those two journals.
I still wanted some good photos of male Red-footed Falcon hence my trip to Staffordshire. I knew I was at the right location by the number of cars parked along the narrow road leading to a colliery. A lot of birders were leaving, which is never a good sign, but some were still looking through their scopes at some distant wires. Apparently the bird had been showing well in a nearby horse paddock but had flown off towards another field where it was giving occasional but distant views. I managed to spot the bird perched on the wires where it was being mobbed by a couple of magpies. Luckily these feisty corvids eventually chased the falcon back to the horse paddock where I finally managed to take some decent photos. This bird was identified as a first-summer bird so I still need to photograph an adult male! But I am not complaining, it was a stunning bird, and performed well for its many admirers, and it was not far from home either!

Amur Falcon, Yorkshire, September 2008

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