A species new to Cornwall, and the first twitchable individual of this species in the British Isles.
Found by Mark Wallace on the evening of the 6th July (Thursday) at Raftra Crossroads near Porthgwarra and later suspected of potentially being this species as opposed to the more expected Red-footed Falcon – this was confirmed from the photographs taken at the time and from discussion with Kester Wilson and others.
The bird was refound/still present the following day for those dedicated enough to try for it, along the roadway on the approach into Porthgwarra an hour or so after first light, showing well in the fieldside hedgerows, and continued to show well for those present and those arriving soon after.
Potentially the fourth for Britain, after 2 separate individuals in Shetland, and Dumfries and Galloway back in 1984 (both retrospectively considered to be this species from a time when it was widely considered to be the eastern subspecies of Red-footed Falcon, and not a separate species) and the Tophill Low, Yorkshire male in 2008 which was identified from photographs after the bold white underwing patches were noted in photographs taken of the bird after its month long stay.
(More on the Dumfries and Galloway bird and it’s interesting story Here )
The bird showed well for most of the morning, preening and being seen to cough up 3 pellets shortly after being relocated first thing, and was seen catching and feeding on dragonflies almost immediately upon taking flight in the morning (insects taken on the wing being the main feeding stategy of this species).
So what was this bird doing in Cornwall in early July when it should be on breeding territory in Eastern Siberia or North China? Without doing any deep analysis, it should be noted that there is an interesting precedent for rare birds turning up in the UK in July to tend to be ‘very rare’ species as opposed to the normal run of ‘ordinary rarities’. This is certainly very rare or indeed, a ‘mega’ in anyone’s books.
Whether it accidentally hooked up with Red-footed Falcons in winter quarters, subsequently doing its own thing, or as an example of a ‘reverse migration’ mis-orientation (flying North instead of North East in this case) we will perhaps never know. Recent high pressure and record high temperatures in Western Europe this summer would seem to have little to do with it at a first glance, although it could have potentially been pushed northwards more recently from SW Europe.
Turning up on the south Cornwall coast means that it could have come from the south or the south-east in the first instance (or indeed the north even); as a migrant the bird is a long-distance migrant travelling from South Africa to north east Asia via the Indian Subcontinent with a long sea crossing along the way.
Interestingly a female was reported from a Red-footed Falcon colony in Romania back in late May this year, and there have been increasing mid-summer records from elsewhere in Europe in recent years in addition to the slightly more expected passage spring and autumn periods.
This bird appears to be a first summer (2nd calendar year) female, so probably not a breeding bird – most ‘lost’ birds tend not to be full adults which have already made a successful trip to traditional winter/summering areas (as we see, for example with many autumn migrants which tend to be first winters rather than adults).
Identification from Red-footed Falcon can be confirmed from the white underwing coverts and overall white underparts as opposed to being buffy in Red-footed Falcon.
It does look potentially a bit scruffy/worn in some photographs – this is probably due to moult timing, with a partial moult occurring during the summer months rather than anything else. There has never been any evidence of this species being kept in captivity in Europe, and there is currently no reason to suspect that this bird is anything other than a genuine migrant.
It continues a good run of rare falcons in the Porthgwarra area, following the Eleonora’s Falcon seen and photographed in 2012. It should be noted that Red-footed Falcon is normally a relative rarity in Cornwall with most records in late spring – two of which were recorded at nearby Nanjizal this spring.
Although last seen flying off to the north late morning of the 7th, it may yet be relocated. In any case, it would seem that this species has been overlooked in the past and certainly should be on every bird finders potential finds radar. A cracking find for the observer and a reminder that just about anything can be out there.
Slideshow of photos received of this bird (click on images or buttons below to pause or hopefully restart)
Dan Chaney, 8th July 2017