This is another bird I have observed just once previously. I do recall the old Wiltshire sighting in the summer of 1989 and that it was fairly distant. Several of these attractive vagrant Falcons have been reported in England in 2015. I was first tempted by one at Wareham, Dorset back in the spring but didn’t bother to go for it in the end. Next I read of one near Stoke-on-Trent being enticed with food by batteries of 50 or more photographers, to hover above their heads while they competed for the perfect shot. To my mind, the unnaturalness of such a contrived situation meant that Falcon might as well have been in a zoo or brought out to perform for evening classes at a birds of prey centre somewhere.
Then a couple of weeks ago today’s little number turned up in the Lincolnshire fens. After going to north-Norfolk a week ago for an Icterine Warbler (see here) I realised that this latest Red-foot was well within my preferred range at a mere 110 miles. This was the one to go for and a very hot Saturday was an apt time to re-acquaint myself with the species.
Arriving on site just before 11am, I turned into a car park full of birders one of whom pointed out a hazy blob in his scope. By the time I set up my own scope the Red-footed Falcon had moved, so I followed the main track into Willow Tree Fen then turned left along the top of a dyke. Apparently, prior to my arrival the bird had posed for an hour on a fence post along this access track and hovered over people’s heads. When I caught up with the RFF it was hunting from a favoured tree, perched into the sun looking away from its audience most of the time.
Red-footed Falcon is similar in shape and flight to the more familiar Hobby, but hovers like a Kestrel though with deeper wing beats. A slate blue grey in tone with striking red undertail and legs in the adult male, they hawk mainly for insects from bushes, overhead wires or fence posts in a Shrike-like manner. I watched this one for some time in the heat haze before wandering off to explore some more of the reserve.
Willow Tree Fen (TF181213) was purchased by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust in 2009 since when the site has been restored from arable farmland back into the region’s largest area of natural fen habitat. The reserve comprises a mixture of reed beds, shallow meres, seasonally flooded pastures and hay meadows. This is part of an ongoing conservation programme to increase the county’s wild fenland by 200%.
After a lunch break I went back with my digiscoping collar to try to gain some at least half decent images. The Falcon had remained faithful to the same spot and the light was now better as cloud gathered ahead of a forecast showery breakdown. But as in the morning my efforts didn’t bear consideration. Then at some time after 3pm the bird began to move around the reserve more. Someone alerted me to a growing cluster of birders along the access track and I headed there. The situation had turned full circle from that time before my arrival, with the RFF hunting from fence posts to one side of the track.
Now I was rewarded for my uncharacteristic devotion of more than four hours to this bird. It’s admirers, most of whom had only just arrived, were being treated to displays of aerobatics, hovering and fairly close perching on fence posts. What a stunner! The expression “cracking bird” could have been coined just to describe it. With acceptable pictures taken and cumulo nimbus building up it was time to head home after a day well spent.