Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Silver Spotted 17th July 2017


One of my favourite butterflies is the Silver Spotted Skipper. It is only found in England and was very rare in the 1970's, almost reaching the point of extinction, with only twenty five or so sites supporting sixty eight small populations in the south of England but it has slowly recovered with sensitive habitat management from conservation bodies and their current strongholds in The Chilterns, Hampshire, The North and South Downs and south-east Kent now hold  more than two hundred and fifty colonies between them. It is still a rare butterfly but where it does occur numbers can be very high. Historically they were found as far north as Yorkshire but now their northernmost colonies are in The Chilterns on the Buckinghamshire/Oxfordshire border.

Silver Spotted Skipper
It is likely that this skipper will always remain scarce or even rare as it shows a marked reluctance to disperse from existing colonies, even a distance of just a couple of kilometres between an existing colony and eminently suitable habitat seem beyond it.

One of the latest of our native butterflies to be on the wing, some appear in late July but the majority are usually found in the second half of August, although this year, after such a warm Spring they are early and already on the wing in small numbers.

Today's predicted sunshine in our fickle climate duly materialised and I took myself to a favourite place called Bald Hill, part of the Chilterns escarpment, where I knew Silver Spotted Skippers were to be found. Leaving the stress and noise of the forever busy M40 Motorway, I followed the old A40 and drove uphill to the top of the escarpment and after a few miles left the car in the tree shaded car park at Cowleaze Wood. I crossed the road, passed through two gates and out of the green shade of the trees into a world of sunlit waving grasses and downland flowers. I was but a couple of miles or so from the Motorway but the noise of this monument to officially sanctioned vandalism, passing slap bang through the  escarpment and Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve was silenced by the contours of the cutting it was sunk into. There was no sound other than that of insects and Red Kites mewling overhead. I was alone and in  another world for as long as I wished

Bald Hill is classic downland habitat, a thin soiled, south facing and steep scarp slope, with a mixture of short grass, herbs and flora, and where the Silver Spotted Skipper's foodplant Sheep's Fescue grows. The habitat is maintained by being grazed by sheep in the winter which are then removed in early Spring and the site is left to become a nirvana for this tiny, feisty Skipper and a host of other butterflies and insects.  


As befits its mainly European distribution the Silver Spotted Skipper requires warmer conditions than any other British butterfly during its life span of around six days, seeking out the sunniest and hottest parts of the unshaded slopes where it can sit and bask, mate and lay eggs in its short life, centred on sheep tracks, bare patches and chalk scree baked by the sun.


Of all the skipper species they are for me, after the Chequered Skipper, the most attractive. They are small, no bigger than a Small Skipper but unlike that species they are exceedingly fast flying, zipping forwards, sideways and even backwards at high speed, making them very difficult to follow against the short sward and reflected white sunlight from the bare chalk patches they love. They have character in both form and movement, a streetwise cheekiness, with stout bodies liberally covered in dull greenish brown fur  and large dark, fathomless eyes that for all the world make the butterfly look as if it were sporting a pair of Rayban sunglasses to shade the sun it so loves. I read recently that the fur on butterflies bodies is to trap heat and when a butterfly spreads its wings it is not to absorb the heat through their wings, as their is no mechanism to do so, but to trap it underneath their wings.

The Silver Spotted Skipper's wings when open are the colour of a good malt whisky or a highland stream, dark tawny gold. The underside of their hindwings gives rise to their name, being however, not so much spotted but with squares and triangles of silver white on a pale olive base and like all skippers when at  rest, they usually hold their upper and lower wings at different angles but always in the skipper characteristic of a V shape.Two older names known to earlier entomologists were Pearl Skipper and August Skipper denoting both their distinctive patterning and their time of flying.




Today they took some effort in finding and it was only when I descended onto the steepest and barest parts of the scarp slope that I found, over a period of three hours, some twenty individuals, mostly males, scattered across the slope nectaring on Small Scabious, although never still for more than a few seconds before flying off at speed or sitting on or just above the ground on a grass blade waiting to intercept passing females, and when one passed, flying up at incredible speed to intercept her and together they would fly low over the ground before separating. On one occasion two, presumably a male intercepting a female,commenced a brief, wild circling flight over the slope before making an impromptu and none too textbook crash landing, in a flurry of wings, on the sward, scuffling with each other as the male pushed his luck. The female was having none of it however and departed almost immediately to fly up and go on her way leaving the male to resume his perch on the ground awaiting the next female to pass by






My first encounter today was fortuitous, in that a bumbling Meadow Brown, coming too close, incurred the ire of a hitherto unseen Silver Spotted Skipper which flew up from its hidden perch in a rage and intercepted the 'brown' before dropping back to earth and settling on some Eyebright.  I lay on my side on the sloping turf to align my camera with its tiny form that I could just about make out in the short grass stems, a green shaded triangle of wings patterned with white angular squares of variable size. It was beautifully camouflaged and without seeing its initial flight I would never have known it was there. I looked down for a second to check my camera and when I looked back up again it had gone. Literally in the blink of an eye




It really was a joy to be out today as Bald Hill in high summer is at its peak of fecundity. The downland flora was in its pomp with  Marjoram offering its small open flowers in flat clusters of pale pink and darker purple buds to any passing insect, the heavenly blue lilac of Small Scabious flowers were held up to the sun on a single green stalk, pale blue Harebells  hung down from delicate, bent stems, while the sturdy stems and purple ragtop flowers of Greater Knapweed, bright pink Common Centaury, golden yellow Cats-ears and tendrils of pink and white flowered Rest-harrow all served to create a carpet of colours, a living palette that stretched away into the distance. The air was delicately scented by the perfume coming from Wild Thyme, their bosomy, dark green clumps randomly scattered across the sward,  each clump stippled with minute purple flowers.



Harebells

Marjoram

Small Scabious

Common Centaury
This profusion was of course attended by many butterflies. By far the commonest were the engaging Gatekeepers or Hedge Browns, to give them an older more countryfied name, feeding on the frothy pink heads of Marjoram or jinking in and out of the bramble leaves. The smaller males opened and closed their wings, as if winking as they flashed an eye on each bright orange patch of their forewings. Six Spot Burnet Moths, with portly black bodies flew laboriously between scabious heads, landing on the blue mauve flowers and, furling wings of green glossed black and scarlet spots, crawled with black legs and long waving antennae across the petals. A lone Chalk Hill Blue, pale as the sky above flew at great speed from below me and up and over the ridge. A male Brimstone, palest yellow and bright in the sunlight hung from some Marjoram, its closed wings forming a distinctive geometric outline whilst  orange and brown Small Heath butterflies rose unsteadily, to weakly fly from my tread, then almost immediately settled, only to fall sideways on the dry grass as if spent of further energy,



Gatekeepers

Six spot Burnet Moth
Brimstone

Small Heath
Dark Green Fritillaries, mainly males, almost as big as their cousin the Silver washed Fritillary but a duller ginger rather than bright orange, careered at intervals across the downland often to be intercepted by Meadow Browns, possibly mistaking them for one of their own, and then the two would subsequently whirl along at speed before the Meadow Brown realised its error and dropped back from the fritillary's slipstream into the grass. I came across several female Dark Green Fritillaries in the vegetation, their wings becoming worn to almost transparency where the coloured scales had been erased by the butterfly's constant burrowing and fluttering deep in the grass, presumably looking for Violets, their caterpillar's food plant, on which to lay eggs 

Dark Green Fritillary
Small and Essex Skippers flew daintily and demurely amongst the longer grasses settling to absorb the sun on flower heads or grass blades whilst Marbled Whites sat on the heads of knapweed, an attractive combination of strong colours, purple pink, black and white amongst the sun scorched grasses.

Small Skipper
Essex Skipper

Marbled White
After a couple of hours wandering up and down the steep scarp slope of Bald Hill I took a leaf out of the Silver Spotted Skipper's book and sat on the short turf and basked in the sun, shining brilliant white from a pale, milky blue sky.

Matthew Arnold based his poem The Scholar-Gypsy on a three hundred year old legend about a Scholar who forsook the University and roamed the countryside around Oxford. It was put to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams and to this day the words and music can move me to tears. Tears of that bitter sweet amalgam of joy and hope as well as, not really sorrow, but something personal and deep within, a yearning for something that I feel is now forever lost. The poem was written in 1853 and there are many references to places around an Oxford that must have been very different to what it is today. Godstow, Bagley Wood, Cumnor, Fyfield, Wychwood and Hinksey are all mentioned and as I sat, an exquisite line from the poem  'All the live murmur of a summer's daydescribed exactly what I was experiencing at this very moment on Bald Hill, and the poem and the legend on which it is based came to extraordinary life around me.


I looked away from my elevated position, north to the Vale of Oxfordshire stretching to a distance, lost in a blue summer heat haze and rejoiced that I was alive and maybe an echo of the Scholar Gypsy, from down the years, was somewhere nearby.

Why faintest thou? I wander'd till I died.
Roam on! The light we sought is shining still.
Dost thou ask proof? Our tree yet crowns the hill,
Our Scholar travels yet the loved hill-side

Matthew Arnold 1866













Saturday, 8 July 2017

The Amur Falcon in Cornwall 7th July 2017


I worked late into the night on Thursday catching up on work emails and administrative matters that I had been putting off. Earlier in the day I had spent a fruitful but hot and tiring day in Bernwood Forest looking for Purple Emperors-see my previous blog post Back to Bernwood 6th July 2017

I finished my work at one in the morning and collapsed into bed. Bliss. As is my custom each night before going to sleep I  consulted the Twitter feed on my phone and was intrigued to see a couple of tweets about an Amur Falcon in West Cornwall, one of which was from Justin, an Oxonbirder colleague, saying he was going to 'go for it' tomorrow afternoon if it was still around. There was also a very good photo of the bird in question posted by someone else. I was incredulous. 

Only one other Amur Falcon, an immature male had been seen in Britain up to now and that was at Tophill Low in Yorkshire from 14th September-15th October 2008. At first this bird was considered to be a Red-footed Falcon and many birders consequently showed little or no overt interest in going to see it. It was only after photos were examined late on in its extended stay, when it had commenced moulting, that it was discovered its underwing coverts were changing to white which is a diagnostic feature of an adult male Amur Falcon. The falcon then inconveniently disappeared just as its true identity was revealed, so many missed seeing the bird and have been regretting it ever since. It is a very, very rare bird in Britain. a mega in twitcher parlance and the presence of this individual in Cornwall, if true and the identification was correct had all the makings of bringing on a major twitch, despite it being a weekday. 

To try and get further information I then checked the Rare Bird Alert (RBA) app. on my phone which in my tired state I had not checked since getting home from Bernwood in the afternoon. Well nothing rare turns up in July does it? Of course not! We will gloss over the fact that I found Britain's second ever Crag Martin at Beachy Head in West Sussex. The date?  9th July 1988!

On RBA I found several entries about the Amur Falcon, which had been found in the evening by a local birder, Mark Wallace, on his regular walk down Bosisto Lane, near Porthgwarra, with the entries commencing from ten past nine onwards. So it was true. The falcon was a first summer female which means it was a bird in its second calendar year and not a full adult and it was to be found at a place called Raftra Farm Crossroads near Porthgwarra, two and a half miles southeast of Lands End. Just to rub it in the reports said it was showing well but ominously it was last seen at nine forty in the evening when it flew off south.

I lay in bed, staring at the ceiling, my heart racing and inwardly cursing at the situation now confronting me. Tired, mentally and physically I had just been contemplating the sleep of the just and then a gentle shopping trip to Oxford tomorrow and now those two old friends, adrenalin and excitement were turning my world upside down and blowing any chance of sleep out of the proverbial window. I was in a quandary as it was daunting to contemplate going all the way to Cornwall tonight on such flimsy news. It is such a long way and the tedious drive, from previous experiences, seems to go on forever. It's a long drive just to get to Cornwall and then I would have to drive the entire length of Cornwall  as the falcon was seen virtually at the westernmost tip of Cornwall. I put out the light and tried to calm myself and go to sleep. After all I could go in the morning if it was still reported as present. I tossed and turned, my mind racing, mentally tortured by an onslaught of anxieties.What if it had flown off forever this evening? It was after all last seen to fly south. What if it was not there the next day? If I waited for positive news that it was still there tomorrow and then went to see it, the traffic in Cornwall on the notorious A30 would be horrendous. It would be a Friday and it is school holiday time. It would take many frustrating hours to get there. Why can't I stop worrying about all this?

An inner voice of sanity and reason said 'Leave it, there will be other twitches'. I resolved not to go and put out the light once more.Minutes later I switched on the light. It was no good. I could not rest. The challenge was irresistible. It was a very rare bird and who knows when another would be seen in Britain. I had no choice.

I am going for it. What now? Are you crazy? said the voice of  sanity and reason. Yes now said another irrational but beguiling voice.  I now knew I would not sleep and rather than just lie in bed fretting I may as well drive to Cornwall. Well you would, wouldn't you?

At one thirty in the morning I donned tee shirt and shorts in double quick time, grabbed the camera bag, checked I had fully charged batteries for the camera, collected bins and scope and crept downstairs as quietly as possible and loaded everything into the car. I entered the post code for Porthgwarra into the Satnav and drove slowly down our drive. An adventure into the unknown had begun. Outcome uncertain.

I got to the end of the drive. Oh! Oh! I forgot Mrs U! Back to the house and I left a scribbled note on the kitchen table to explain my absence when she rose next morning.  'Gone to Cornwall - Amur Falcon x'

I drove off into the warm night. The darkness in our rural village was familiar and re-assuring but doubts and anxieties whirled in my head. I did not feel good about this and common sense said forget it but something inner and not to be denied urged me on. This was a supreme gamble as no one knew if the bird would be there tomorrow. I was going to drive through the night for four and half hours on nothing more than a vague hope. Yes,  I know, but this is what twitching is about. A gamble, an addictive, irrational pastime involving  dicing with fate and chance, with no financial reward, in fact the opposite, but just the promise of an indescribable feeling of well being borne on a huge swell of emotion and triumph if the gamble pays off. Heady stuff.

I was tired, very tired but for the first hour sheer adrenalin kept me going and the comforts of the automatic Audi hardly taxed my driving capabilities. Having cleared the rural roads crossing the Cotswolds I joined an M5 Motorway devoid of private cars, instead harbouring convoys of steadily moving huge lorries, those night time leviathans, each lorry spaced apart as they progressed in the inside lane, with four red mesmeric lights in the blackness denoting the square back of the container each was hauling.

An hour and a half later I pulled over into Sedgemoor Services and entered the spookily deserted rest area. Not a soul was to be seen  Dazed and still wondering what I had got myself into I stared about with glazed eyes smarting from the bright neon lighting, an optical assault after the darkness of the road. I needed coffee badly. I knew my blood sugar was at its lowest at this time of night, creating mental mayhem and distorting my outlook on life but perversely this was a re-assurance about what I was doing for I knew I was not unique or alone in feeling as I did as other service stations would be providing similar brief sanctuary and/or torment for other anxious birders embarking on the same mission as me.

Someone materialised from behind a counter. I ordered a large latte. He was a young lad, a student and chatty. 'Long journey?' he enquired 'Lands End'. I replied. 'On holiday? 'You don't want to know.' I mumbled. 'Oh go on tell me' 'I'm going to see a rare bird'  'Oh!'

A few sips of coffee, a short stroll to stretch my legs and I was revived enough to carry on. I felt better now and by Exeter was almost bouyant of mood, no doubt due to the coffee and its caffeine fix but this soon dissipated, as reading the passing road signs, names and mileages, I realised just how much further I had to drive. Doubts and anxiety closed in again.

I turned from the Motorway onto the A30, that like a spine runs down through the centre of Cornwall and at this ungodly hour was traffic free, with every caravan parked up for the night in the numerous laybys. The dawn was already rising, pale grey through the windscreen as I headed west whilst a delicate shade of pink rising in the east, filled the rear view mirror. The comfort of the all encompassing darkness had now gone and the increasing visibility of the contours of the surrounding countryside seemed to accentuate my apprehension and sense of insecurity. Soon now I would know whether my gamble was going to pay off as birders would be out looking for the falcon at first light and were probably doing so right now. I pressed on, crossing Bodmin Moor, wild and empty, the road a ribbon of grey in the morning light, lonely and unwelcoming. I descended from the moor and patches of low lying mist, like strands of cotton wool, snuggled in the folds of the land below. It could almost be Avalon.

Truro, Redruth, Penzance came and went and now I found myself in that part of Cornwall that to me always conjures up romantic images from a childhood holiday  in Cornwall. A triangle of land, that seems to have slipped back through time. An imagined time warp not real at all but just wishful thinking on my part of high banked, winding, curving, secret lanes, rural hamlets, occasional farms, isolated old cottages that are almost part of the land itself, tucked away and reminders of another time. A corner that time forgot maybe but with its apex  being Lands End  where any semblance or indulgence of romanticism comes to a juddering halt in the harsh reality of rampant commercialism. You even have to pay to get in these days.

I had commenced checking my RBA app several times with the onset of dawn as I progressed westwards but there was no news about the falcon.This could go either way but surely if it was there it would have been reported by now? I was in glass half full mode and already dreading the long drive of shame back home if the falcon was no longer there.

I felt flat, not quite depressed, more apprehensive, as  surely  with the time now approaching six am news should have been available if the falcon was present. There was still hope. No news either way is good news. I slid into a morose mood, tired, dispirited and frayed from a night of no sleep. I was very close to my destination and the moment of truth would soon be upon me and all the other birders who had made the journey. Robotically I guided the car down the final leg of narrowing, sinuous lanes, turning right, turning left, going straight on, obeying the Satnav as it intoned its directions. I came to a crossroads. I turned yet another blind corner and came to a junction with cars randomly parked wherever possible on the surrounding narrow grass verges. Two birders carrying scopes were running along the road, across the junction, towards a stile that gave entrance to a large field that sloped upwards.

My heart leapt. A surge of adrenalin consumed me and immediately I felt energised. The long night hours and hard driven miles were forgotten in an instant. Although there had been no news on my RBA app the behaviour of the birders told me all I needed to know. They were on a mission with which  I was all too familiar. The falcon was present and they were running to see it! What I  learnt later, was that birders had been looking for the falcon since 4.30am but there was no sign of it until it was found roosting in the hedge running between the field and the lane just before I arrived. The running birders were consumed by that irrational paranoia that grabs each and everyone of us in such situations, that the bird is going to fly off at this very instant and we will have missed it. Daft and illogical but then maybe that is what we are in a way.

I parked the car on the only available patch of grass verge that was left, well off the narrow lane to avoid blocking any tractors and gathered myself and my birding equipment together. Camera, bins and scope, all present and correct. Wallet and phone. I was having to think slowly and methodically due to tiredness whilst, with only partial success, restraining my growing excitement. Remember to lock the car. I headed for the wooden stile in the hedge that led into the field and over which anxious birders were at this moment clambering. My turn came and on entering the field I found, about fifty metres up the sloping field, well over a hundred birders ranged in a long line as if awaiting an order to march forward. Bins, scopes, cameras of all shapes and sizes fronted a line of predominantly green, khaki and black clothed men and it has to be said a few ladies. There were inevitably some extroverts in bright colours. They were all intently looking across at a straggly unremarkable hedge running between the edge of the field and the lane behind it. 

The falcon was perched in the hedge just below the left telephone pole


Twitchers on parade
I arrived to stand next to the first two birders in the line and uttered the immortal words. 'Is it showing?'

Fellow twitchers will know that the first priority is to see the bird by whatever is the quickest means possible and in finest twitcher protocol the two birders offered me a view of the falcon through their already set up scopes. I looked and I saw and I relaxed. Done it!  The two birders smiled knowingly. Now I could enjoy and admire the falcon for as long as I liked or for as long as it remained in view. I took a few photos and began to relax.


The Amur Falcon was perched near the top of an Elder, on the sheltered side of the hedge that ran along the edge of the field about fifty metres distant. It looked tired and dishevelled, sitting with head hunched into its feathers and occasionally closing its eyes. I noticed that on the other side of the hedge birders  were also looking at it from the lane.They seemed closer to the falcon than we were in the field but apparently they could only see the back of the falcon whereas from the field we could see it fully side on.




At intervals, slowly, like an inexorable tide, the line of birders I was part of  commenced to advance towards the falcon, getting closer but not that close that the falcon would be disturbed.These advances happened several times by some sort of mutual unspoken consent.Eventually again by unspoken agreement the advances stopped as it was decided that enough was enough and no further encroachment was to be attempted. Everyone settled down to look at the falcon through their scopes and/or take as many photos as they wanted.The falcon was still a little distant for my lens but the images I got were just about adequate.







The bird itself was untroubled and relaxed, just as we were, now we had seen it, and each birder  did his own thing, admiring it, commenting on its state of health and then in my case just standing and enjoying the moment of redemption and catharsis. In situations like this a benign, all encompassing sense of well being and camaraderie descends on the assembled throng.  Everyone is in a good place and happy with life. Each of us has gambled, thrown the dice and for once won.  Many like me have come long distances, Newcastle, Coventry, Northampton, Hull, London - were all mentioned this morning. Others were local  but we are all as one, conjoined in our mutual delight at having seen a very rare bird that the odds suggested we would fail to do.

As I mentioned, worries about the falcon's state of health were forming the basis of discussion amongst us but after some time watching it I realised that there was nothing wrong with it. It was still early in the morning, just after seven am and this falcon feeds on large insects such as dragonflies and the like, but there would not be any around at the moment as there was a slight chill to the air. The falcon was I felt, waiting until the sun came out, the air warmed and insect life took to the wing. It regurgitated at least three pellets whilst I watched so it had obviously fed well the previous day or earlier this morning.

In size it was similar to a Kestrel and overall appeared as a compact small falcon with long wings. Its plumage was pleasing on the eye being, predominantly grey above with darker barrings, a Hobby like face pattern of black and white and a grey crown. Its underparts were white, profusely streaked and barred with black. A circle of  bare orange skin surrounded its eye and its cere was also a similar bright orange. Its legs and feet were an even brighter reddish orange. The moult of this falcon as with so many raptors is complicated and prolonged. and the upperparts of this female seemed to consist partly of newer pure grey second year feathers while still retaining some browner older first year wing feathers.The tail was grey with horizontal  bands of darker grey and its underwings were white, barred with fine grey lines.


Amur Falcons are confusable with the  similar Red footed Falcon which strays to  Britain on a more regular basis. The main difference between the females being the female Amur Falcon does not have a buff ginger crown but is grey and there are broad chevrons of black on the rear flanks of female Amur Falcons whereas on Red footed Falcons there are steaks.

I alternated between looking at the falcon through my scope and taking photos with  my camera. Several people I knew came and went which always happens at gatherings like this. We only ever meet at these random twitches but it becomes quite a social occasion and often new friends are made as well. We are all united by our mutual interest and obsession and often we have shared experiences together before, seeing other rare birds in other parts of Britain and it is a pleasant way to spend one's time looking at the latest rare bird whilst reminiscing and catching up on each others exploits and travels.


Some who were here today had taken quite a risk. One birder I knew from a previous twitch had to make a call to his work explaining he was sick and would not be in today and I am sure he was not alone, this being a weekday. My phone pinged. It was Justin sending me a text asking if I had gone for the falcon. I replied I was currently watching it.

Geoff  the only other Oxonbirder to make it to Cornwall this morning was standing further down the line. We had a brief chat and then I left the field to try some views of the falcon from the lane. It was a tight squeeze in the narrow lane but you could get closer to the falcon although it was silhouetted against the sky and made photography difficult. Cars also came down the lane necessitating every birder to hastily  make for the verge carrying scopes and tripods but everything was generally genial with the locals. I took some photos here and then the falcon flew down and out of sight. A Quail called briefly from the field behind but no one seemed to notice






The falcon flew to another perch in the hedge and was still out of view. I retreated back to the field where it was easy to see and watched as it occasionally moved  to another perch. As the early morning wore on and the sun broke through the clouds it was definitely becoming perkier and more interested in its surroundings, moving its head to follow passing insects and even  having a brief preen.



If it remains until tomorrow, Saturday, there will be a vast crowd coming to see it but that should not pose a problem The field we were viewing the falcon from is commodious  and apart from a herd of cows was empty and could accommodate as many birders as were likely to turn up.The restricted parking, however, would be another matter  in the narrow lanes around about.


I had been watching the falcon for two hours and now considered I had seen enough. It felt like most of the morning had passed but my phone told me it was only nine am.

So another major twitch came to a happy and fulfilling end. The long drive home would now be far less daunting.

Sadly the Amur Falcon did not remain until Saturday much to the disappointment of many who planned to come and see it. After feeding on dragonflies for a brief spell the falcon flew off towards Nanjizal at 0920 and was last seen, briefly at 1103 when it rose high in the sky and headed off north and has not been seen again. Consequently there are still many yet to see an Amur Falcon in Britain. I estimate that approximately two hundred birders saw this Amur Falcon before it flew off.




Amur Falcon Facts


Amur Falcons were once considered to be a sub species of Red-footed Falcon and called Eastern Red footed Falcon but are now regarded as a species in their own right.

They breed in southeast Siberia, northern Mongolia and parts of North Korea and in autumn migrate on a broad front, in large flocks, across India and Sri Lanka and then over the Indian Ocean to their wintering areas in southeastern Africa. Their total population is estimated to be over 1,000,000 birds. On their 22,000km migration they are said to coincide their migration in order to catch and eat similarly migrating dragonflies whilst making the five and a half day crossing of the Indian Ocean. Less is known about their return migration to breed in Asia and Siberia but it is thought they avoid the long sea crossing and migrate along the East African and Arabian coasts. Vagrants have been recorded from Italy, Sweden, St Helena and Britain.


In 2012 an estimated 120,000-140,000 were trapped and killed in Nagaland, India, creating an international outcry and the Indian Government took measures to stop this slaughter with the result that none were killed in 2013.


I have seen this falcon on a friend's farm in eastern Zimbabwe, where a flock of over a hundred females were present in November. I have also found them frequenting the high rise Harare Hilton, flying around the top of the building catching insects