Tuesday 18 May 2021

It's my Hobby! 16th May 2021

With little on the twitching front to get me excited I have spent most of my time in Oxfordshire these last two months, mainly visiting Farmoor Reservoir and occasionally roving wider to other locations in the county. 

Today I took a fancy to go to a place just a few miles from my home to try and see Hobbys.I had no idea what to expect but knew they were often seen there at this time of year and sometimes would come close which is often not the case at another favoured location, the RSPB's Reserve at Otmoor.

For  a while I saw nothing of them but was aware it was probably too early in the day. Hobbys are late risers, only becoming seriously active as the morning warms and the dragonflies and other large insects they prey on, take wing. Finally, after a long wait I saw the distinctive angular profile of a Hobby across the lake,  sweeping and swerving at great speed above the reeds.It soon pitched onto a fence post and sat there for a very long time.Scanning the northern shore, where I sat in a hide, I found another perched on the ground and also remaining immobile for a considerable time.

After an hour or two, the sun had warmed the air sufficiently and there was suddenly much more action, as up to eight Hobbys began cruising along the hedgeline behind me, sweeping low over the grass and lakeside in search of their prey.

Their flight is a marvel of speed and dexterity. First, beating pointed wings rapidly and powerfully they gain speed, then sweep low and fast over the grass, before looping up into the higher airspace, sometimes clutching an insect they have captured in their talons, bending head to their raised and bunched feet to consume the insect, all the while gliding on long pointed wings. Then the whole process is repeated over and over with a flight which is both consistently graceful yet purposeful. It is not only insects that form their prey, as their flight is so rapid and agile they are capable of catching such fast flying birds as Swifts and House Martins, even bats.

They are pretty birds with an upperpart plumage of dark slate grey, and white underparts heavily streaked black-brown.The underwing coverts are profusely barred dark brown but most distinctive of all are the rust orange thighs and undertail coverts. Its head is black and white with prominent black moustaches.

Hobbys are summer visitors to Britain, having spent the winter in southern Africa. They are communal for most of the year outside of the breeding season but even when breeding birds will seek out opportune places to feed and be content to share with others of their kind, although they usually breed solitarily, often utilising an old crow's nest. Whether the eight birds I was watching were local breeders or transiting the county I do not know but I do know that now is the time when I can see them very close and that the opportunity will soon be gone until next year.

One encounter was particularly memorable.I was sat in the hide and looking out through the viewing slat when a hunting Hobby approached low over the grass, heading at high speed directly towards the hide and the viewing slat behind which I sat. Closer and closer it came until I felt it would collide with the hide or, at the least, I feared it was going to come through the viewing slat and collide with me but at the very last moment it lifted above the side of the hide and pitched on the roof, no more than a foot or two above my head. So close was it I could hear its talons scratching on the rooftop.Never in my life have I been able to truthfully say I have been eyeball to eyeball with a Hobby.

Five minutes later the falcon dropped off the roof and recommenced its low level hunting before returning and repeating the same manouevre. It did this at least three times more to give me the same thrill each time and then departed to another part of the lakeshore.

It was too fast for my camera and way beyond its focusing abilities but that really did not matter. The experience was enough.and these encounters will go to join all the other memorable moments I have had whilst birding.


  1. You know how I feel about hobbies - great stuff as usual! x

  2. Great stuff. Does the lack of black marks in the plain orange thighs/vent mean, on balance, that the top bird's a male Ewan? I've been trying to sex and age local hobbies. Just about manage to determine 1s/2cy (sometimes!) but sexing adults is v hard cos they move so quickly. But, photos a great help.