Sunday 12 July 2015

The RED-FOOTED FALCON in Staffordshire

RED-FOOTED FALCON (first-summer male)
Brindley Ford, Staffordshire.
Photo by Adam Archer

Late last Thursday night, there was exciting news of a RED-FOOTED FALCON that had been photographed earlier that day just north of Stoke-on-Trent. Despite a few local birders following up the lead, there was no sign of the bird by dusk. Unfortunately, it seemed as though a regional MEGA had slipped through the net.

The following morning though, a few tenacious clay-heads decided to give it another shot and at around 7.00am Phil Jones relocated the bird, a handsome first-summer male (the bird, not Phil). It was a very long day in the office that Friday as news, both positive and occasionally negative filtered through. Then came the inevitable gripping photographs from pals who had seen the bird, just to add to the agony.

At around 3.30pm, I finally abandoned work and took the 'highway from hell' M6 motorway north from Birmingham up to the Potteries. A few hours later I had finally reached the sun-drenched, former colliery site of Chattersley Whitfield and within seconds I was watching the bird. The falcon showed remarkably well as it scoured the area for insects around a horse paddock.

RED-FOOTED FALCON (first-summer male)
Brindley Ford, Staffordshire.
Photo by Adam Archer

As the evening progressed, more and more familiar faces showed up to admire the bird. A good number of West Midlanders were in attendance as was the odd twitcher or two from further afield. One of those was the infamous 'Andrew Ridgeley of birding' who strutted around bedecked in fake snakeskin slip-ons, Persil-white terry towelling socks, a skimpy pair of goldcrest smugglers and not a great deal else! To be honest I was quiet surprised to see him on site bearing in mind his staunch Nigel Farage style political views. Perhaps this was an eastern European immigrant he actually welcomed making landfall in his precious, 'over-crowded' country.

A scruffy miner takes a peek after a long shift down t'pit!
Photo by Adam Archer

Other birds on site included a curious Little Owl perched up along the perimeter fence at the back of the paddock, the odd Kestrel and a flock of 8 Mistle Thrush. It was pretty difficult to tear myself away from such a regional rarity showing so well, but with hunger finally getting the better of me and after a few hours of excellent views, I headed back home very happy indeed. At last, I had managed to see a RED-FOOTED FALCON in the West Midland Bird Club recording area. This was a long overdue 'tick' for the vast majority of Staffordshire County listers with the last truly 'twitchable' bird being over forty years ago.

RED-FOOTED FALCON (first-summer male)
Brindley Ford, Staffordshire.
Photo by Adam Archer

Following a strenuous Saturday spent watching non-league football and sampling local cider at an ale festival in Hereford, Sunday was planned to be a day of quiet reflection and recuperation. By the afternoon though I had become restless and after a quick visit to see Nadia and a rather showy Water Rail chick at Sandwell Valley RSPB, I decided to head back up to Stoke-on-Trent for seconds of the RED-FOOTED FALCON.

This time I had remembered to pack my binoculars and bridge camera and not just my scope as I had on Friday evening. Once again, the falcon performed incredibly well for the crowd as it hunted around its favoured horse field. Unfortunately, it seemed as though a few photographers were not quite satisfied with the bird's already confiding nature and had decided to provide a bit of supplementary feeding. As well as the usual mealworms being offered there were even rumours of locusts being thrown into the paddock the previous day. In my opinion it is about time that a bird photographer's 'Code of Conduct' was introduced in order to put an end to such stupidity.

Between bouts of raptor appreciation there was also a juvenile Black Redstart to enjoy nearby. With plenty of suitable, secure breeding habitat around the colliery site and reports of an adult female bird too, surely this had to be a locally fledged bird.

Black Redstart (juvenile)
Chatterley Whitfield Colliery, Brindley Ford, Staffordshire.
Photo by Adam Archer

The RED-FOOTED FALCON in the West Midlands Region

This continental species of falcon breeds in a band that stretches east from Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary through Russia as far as the Lena River. The European population is estimated at between 23,000 and 55,000 pairs with around ninety per cent of these breeding in Ukraine and Russia. The main wintering areas are in Botswana, southwest Africa, South Africa and western Zimbabwe.

Although a regular spring overshoot to Britain their numbers fluctuate year on year. As touched on above though, this is an extreme rarity in the West Midland region and if accepted, the Brindley Ford individual will be just the eighth record for the entire region.

All previous records are as follows:

2003 - Warwickshire - Wormleighton Reservoir - first-summer male - 15th May only.
2002 - Staffordshire - Essington Quarry Pools (sex & age unknown) - 27th July only.
2001 - Worcestershire - Westwood Pool - adult female - 15th May only.
1977 - Staffordshire - Brewood - male - 23rd August only.
1973 - Staffordshire - Chasewater - immature male - 28th May to 6th June.
1967 - Warwickshire - Middleton Hall - immature male - 14th to 21st May.
1870 - Warwickshire - Welford-on-Avon - adult male - June (no exact date).