A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

A tale of nature, wildlife and birding from Cheshire, North Wales and across the globe....

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Red-footed Falcon wows the crowds in Staffordshire

When a report of a Red-footed Falcon photographed in Staffordshire broke early on the Thursday evening, I saw this as a welcome opportunity to catch up with this beautiful species which has so far managed to elude me. With negative news on the Thursday night however I assumed the bird must have moved on, so was pleased to see it had been re-found and was showing well early on the Friday morning.

Heading to the fields outside Whitfield Colliery in Chatterley that the falcon had been frequenting after work on the Friday afternoon, I immediately saw the bird as soon as I had stepped out of the car – possibly the fastest twitch in existence!
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
Sat on the grass right in front of the fence where the assembled birders were stood, this stunning falcon was showing much better than I could have ever imagined, foraging for insects amongst the earth and making short flights to its favoured perches in the field. 
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
Favouring the last horse paddock on the left before the entrance gates to the Colliery, this particular individual has been faithful to this location since it was discovered, ranging between the telegraph poles, wires and fence posts and rarely moving far. With several horses churning up the soil, it’s clear that there is an abundance of insects here for the falcon to hunt, keeping it locked down to this one particular site.
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
With such a showy individual this was a fantastic opportunity to get some photos, and the bird’s tendency to perch on the wire relatively close to the road was welcomed by all those that had come to admire it.
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
I’ve missed several of these eastern falcons over the last few years, with a first summer male in Derbyshire back in 2011 (which was unfortunately found dead later on) and a fantastic adult male at Lakenheath Fen in Suffolk both sadly out of reach. With relatively few individuals reported in the UK last year, I had made Red-footed Falcon a definite target to see this year, although the birds reported further down south earlier in the spring were just a little bit too far. With an apparent invasion of Red-footed Falcons in Spain this summer, there may yet be more of these fantastic little falcons reported from our shores as the year progresses.
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
Whilst the Staffordshire bird was a first summer male as opposed to one of the more colourful adults, Red-footed Falcons change their plumage at different rates, and this particular individual was extremely well advanced, with a gorgeous sooty grey body complete with vibrant orange legs and bill and fiery red eyes. The barred underwings and tail were the main features separating it from an adult male, as well as a little bit of chestnut colouration on the neck.
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
Several birders present were checking the underwings to make sure this wasn’t an Amur Falcon – very similar to Red-footed Falcons but with a white underwing. With just one British record to date from Tophill Low in Yorkshire in 2008, the individual in question was originally thought to be a Red-footed Falcon, until it was later re-identified from photos as an Amur Falcon almost a month after it had first arrived (and ironically it wasn’t seen again!) Having been present for a month from the middle of September to October and being in moult for the duration of its stay, the bird was only identified when the white underwing coverts became clear to see on several photos after it had completed its moult. There is every possibility that this extreme mega may be overlooked in the UK, and a recent record from the Faroe Islands offers some hope that this far eastern falcon may make a return to Britain in the future.
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
No white on the underwings here!
Heading back to the Red-footed Falcon on Sunday with Alex, we both had excellent views as the bird performed for the crowds once again, sometimes even coming to within 5 metres as it hovered above the grass looking for insect prey.
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
Red-footed Falcon - Chatterley, Staffordshire
Being so obliging ad putting on such a show, this is most definitely one of my favourite birds of the year so far, and one that is definitely worth making the effort to go and see! 

2 comments:

  1. Hi Steff, great write-up as always! I've read elsewhere that photographers were putting out food for this bird, did you see any evidence of this whilst you were there?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was there on the Friday afternoon and lunchtime on Sunday and no one was putting out any food whilst I was there, although apparently people were putting out locusts on the Saturday?!

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