It is already clear that the autumn of 2008 will be remembered for many years to come in the British & Irish birding community. However, not content with Little Blue Heron, Alder Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, Cretzschmar's Bunting and Brown Shrike, another mega has just been revealed. Unfortunately, it appears to have departed before anyone was aware of its true identity.
When a second calendar-year male Red-footed Falcon appeared on 14th September at Tophill Low in East Yorkshire, it attracted relatively little attention. This species has become increasingly regular in Britain in recent years, and is no longer considered by the British Birds Rarities Committee. However, during its long stay, it was admired by a steady trickle of observers. During most of this time, the bird's underwings showed the typical barring of a bird in its first year of life.
However, photos taken right at the end of the bird's stay show that it had begun to moult some of the feathers on the underwing. If this had been a Red-footed Falcon, the barred feathers should have been replaced by sooty-black ones. However, the photos show that the new feathers were a gleaming white - a diagnostic feature of Amur Falcon, the eastern counterpart of Red-foot.
Most unfortunately, by the time it was twigged what these photos represented, the bird had gone! A first for Britain had been present under everyone's noses for over 30 days and the only people who had seen it had not realised its identity at the time. This was not entirely surprising; the bird was regularly quite elusive, it was not at all obvious until the underwing moult had progressed, and the majority of observers probably didn't have a field guide that contained the species!
Amur Falcon breeds on the steppes of north-east Asia and performs a spectacular migration, passing down across India and then crossing the Indian Ocean to winter in southern Africa. There are only a handful of European records, and the only previous bird recorded in Britain (in 1984: hit by a car in Yorkshire, taken into care, released and then shot by a gamekeeper in Dumfries & Galloway) was found to be ringed and later shown to have been released from a rehabilitation centre in France. The circumstances of its appearance at this centre are not known.
BUBO Listing has now added Amur Falcon as a provisional species to all authorities available to British listers. As ever, if this species is later found not to be acceptable by the BOURC it will be removed from BUBO Listing.
Thanks go to Dave Mansell (www.eastaytonbirding.com) for allowing us to reproduce his critical photo of this bird.