Monday 17 September 2012

Red Footed Falcon at Chichester GP's 09 September 2012

I just love those orange thighs!
Regular reports of a first summer/second calendar year male Red Footed Falcon at Nunnery Lake, just by the A27 at Chichester in West Sussex and showing itself really well was, eventually, just too much to resist. Badger was meant to come with me on the planned Saturday morning and we would leave Abingdon at a very civilised 8am in the morning instead of at some ludicrous early hour which is more the norm for twitching. At the last moment, Badger succumbed to the temptation of a juvenile Baillon's Crake at Rainham Marshes and the prospect of rising at 4.30am on Saturday morning to rendezvous with Justin somewhere in south Oxfordshire. This to spend a few hours in a hide at Rainham Marshes RSPB staring at mainly nothing and being elbow to elbow with hordes of fellow twitchers attempting to defy the laws of space and time by seeing how many of them could get in a hide at once without a fight breaking out. The prize would be views, probably for seconds of the Baillon's Crake, a notorious skulking species. The views were duly achieved, all ten seconds of them, in return for a three hour vigil. Congratulations however to Badger and Justin for their endurance and actually seeing the little blighter. 

I must be getting soft as I declined this opportunity, but instead took comfort and reassurance from the fact that I still seemed to have some common sense left. I confess however it was touch and go whether I joined them. So, with my mind made up, it was the male Red Footed Falcon or nothing. It was, after all, in a nice location with unrestricted views, just a 100 metres from where you park the car, the sun was shining and the bird was very showy and easy to see. All the direct opposite of the skulker at Rainham! I duly arrived at the lake around 9.30am and the falcon was putting on a grand display of catching and eating Migrant Hawker dragonflies in the morning sun. The falcon perched on the dead branches of a large Ash and would make regular dashing sallies out over the reed bed below the tree, manoeuvering with much agility to catch one of the many dragonflies cruising over the reeds and then swooping upwards before returning to the favoured tree to eat it's capture. Whilst I was there it must have consumed in excess of ten dragonflies holding them in its feet as it disposed of the wings and ate the body. To my eyes male, well in fact any Red footed Falcons, are immensely attractive birds. Some species have it and others do not. This one definitely does it for me. The orange feet and legs with rust coloured thighs, belly and undertail coverts contrast strikingly and attractively with the pale grey breast. The combination of plumage colours just seem to click the right boxes. This particular bird was in an interesting state of moult with some inner secondaries and primaries already replaced as well as the two central pairs of tail feathers, all these being pure grey in contrast to the remaining juvenile feathers which were variously buff or brown with striking pale bars and spots. Most of the body feathers had also been replaced with adult grey and some of the upper and underwing coverts were being renewed. Particular attention was paid to the underwing coverts with wild hopes of a possible Amur Falcon but the moulted lesser underwing coverts were dark and not the diagnostic white of a male Amur Falcon. Oh wouldn't that have been sweet!

Note the contrasting old and new feathers in the wing and tail as well as some wing coverts being replaced.This bird will probably arrest it's moult now until it gets to it's wintering quarters

Eventually a thuggish Magpie took exception to the falcon's presence and constantly hassled it by driving it from perch to perch in the Ash and surrounding trees. The falcon evaded its attentions easily but soon tired of the endless chivvying and harrying and flew off strongly to the South. It did not return, although I waited a full hour before leaving for home 

Migrant Hawker-food for falcons!

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