Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Mon Amur!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday 6th July 2017
It had been a lovely evening with the Cambridgeshire Self Sufficiency Group. Good people, good food and an interesting talk on water conservation and making your own borehole. Out of decency I had set my phone to silent and hadn't even looked at it all evening.

As we pulled away a call came in but I couldn't take it, then I noticed 46 messages on a WhatsApp group. I quickly scrolled through and in amongst the usual banter there was mention of an Amur Falcon somewhere in Cornwall. AMUR FALCON!!! My mind went into a scramble. What time could I be there? Was there anything I needed to reschedule? Should I take Sue home first? What was the bird doing? When was it last seen?

The race home was tortuous on twisty fenland roads which I didn't know. I had managed to confirm that the bird was at Porthgwarra, at the far south-western tip of Cornwall and that it had been observed for a couple of hours before flying off, hopefully to roost somewhere locally.

Before I continue, a word or two about Amur Falcon.
Amur Falcon breeds in East Asia and migrates in large flocks through India to South East Africa. So for one to turn up here is quite a feat of poor navigation. But it's not unheard of. They have occurred several times in North-west Europe and there was an infamous one in Yorkshire for 32 days in 2008. Yes, that's right, 32 DAYS. It was a first for Britain, yet no twitcher knowingly saw it. For throughout its stay it was identified as a Red-footed Falcon (of which Amur Falcon used to be considered the Eastern race) and few birders made the detour to see it, even when we all passed very close on our way back from a Brown Shrike at Flamborough which was a tick for many birders. A couple of days after it was last reported it was reidentified from photos. There was a large crowd of twitchers, me included, stood around the next day rueing the missed opportunity.

So you see now why last Thursday night I was in a bit of a frenzy.

I dropped Sue at home, made a few quick preparations and jumped back in the car. It was 23:40 and I was keen to eat into the 380 mile drive before tiredness set in. It would be getting light from about 4.30 in the morning and people would already be out looking for the bird before I could even arrive.
The drive down to Cornwall was thankfully clear of incident. I had to stop for a power nap at one point - I set my alarm for 16 minutes time and was out like a light. Next thing I knew the alarm went off, I tilted the seat back up and turned on the engine. It's amazing how such a little amount of deep sleep can refresh you.

At just gone 5am the sun was rising as I passed The Hayle Estuary. There were just a few miles to go until Penance but I just had to stop and take a picture. Here's why.

By half past five the sky was light and I was completing the last short stretch of the journey along the steep-banked, twisty lanes of the tip of Cornwall. I took the turn to Porthgwarra - the falcon had been along this stretch of road last night. Every available parking space was taken up, but there was not a birder in sight. I had no news so presumed people must have spread out across the valley to search. Falcons can take a while to wake up in the morning, especially those which specialise in a diet of flying insects, but I was beginning to wonder if the long drive had been a speculative effort too far.

I turned around by Polgigga quarry and headed back into the village to park up safely and responsibly. It was only a few hundred yards to walk back. I threw a few provisions into my bag in preparation for a long day away from the car or any shops and marched back along the road.

As I approached the turn to Porthgwarra, through a gap in the hedge I saw a hoard of birders suddenly appear along the lane and plant their tripods down right by the quarry where I had just turned the car around. I quickened my pace as it was obvious they were on the bird. It crossed my mind that the bird must be somewhere close to where I had parked my car, for I imagined that views would be distant across the field.
But as I arrived there was the bird sat totally unconcerned at the edge of an elder bush right by the small quarry, no more than 30 yards from the assembled crowd of onlookers. Well, that was easier than I thought.

Looking tired and dishevelled,
I looked through my scope and there it was

I honestly thought I'd never see an Amur Falcon in this country.

And relax.

The bird was facing away from us and the air was still misty. Its feathers looked tatty and it was struggling to keep its eyes open. It looked tired and dishevelled, not unlike myself!

It didn't take long before somebody worked out that there was a better view from the field on the other side. Over the next hour the Amur Falcon slowly dried off and woke up. The long line of twitchers were joined by a herd of cows as the farmer drove his tractor into the field and dropped off their silage breakfast. Farmers are a funny breed. A hundred or more strange people in your field and you just get on with your normal early morning routine as if nothing was any different!

I was surprised to see Number 32 hadn't made it the night before.

As the light improved and we approached slightly closer, the bird started preening and looking much more alert. It dropped down lower in the bush and then, again, deeper into the bush.

At this point I decided to try to crack the journey home. I would have loved to stay in Cornwall and spend the day birding, but I had arrangements for later in the day back in The Fens. Of course, I would have stayed all day had the falcon not shown, but there was no need to let people down if I didn't need to.

I needed another 15 minute power nap at a services on the way back, but I pulled back onto the smallholding before 4pm, 16 hours, 760 miles and one very special Amur Falcon under the belt.

Bemused locals awake to strange scenes

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