Tuesday, 22 February 2022

0941 : The One That Got Away (19/2/22)

I have a rather large post for Saturday still to type up. However, this post is in addition to that still to come post. There is a very good reason for that, which will hopefully become clear as you read through this one. The weather on Saturday was sunny and with very little wind was probably the best birding weather so far this year. I wanted to get out birding and to be out for most of the day. However, I slept in again. It was around 0830 or thereabouts when I did finally get out of bed. I decided I would try to get out for around 0930.

Looking out the window just after breakfast to gauge how warm it was, I noticed a skein of Pink Footed Geese and got some photos of them. A few minutes later, the Feral Pigeon flock that sit around on the surrounding roofs took flight. This usually means there is a raptor around somewhere nearby. Sometimes it is a distant dot, sometimes a bit closer but usually a Sparrowhawk or sometimes a Buzzard. At other times it has been a Peregrine or White Tailed Eagle. Kestrel and Osprey have also been noted upsetting the locals. Looking for the cause of the disturbance I spotted a falcon not too far away at around eye level. I grabbed for the camera and opened the window properly to try to get some photos.

By the time I got organised the bird had moved a bit further away. It didn't look quite right for Peregrine or any other raptor I'm used to seeing, though it was clearly Falcon-shaped. I quickly managed to get the camera onto the bird and fired off a number of photos. I tracked the bird until it disappeared out of sight to the north. Only then did I look at the photos. They weren't particularly sharp but they showed enough detail to confirm it wasn't a bird I'd seen before. There aren't too many times now where I'm faced with a bird I don't recognise quickly. This was one of those few times. I transferred the photos onto my computer to get a better look. It was immediately apparent that the bird was a falconer's bird, with a piece of leather jesses visible from one of the bird's legs.

I quickly edited a few of the better photos and uploaded them to my Twitter feed (@SFbirding). As I knew the bird wasn't a wild bird there was no great rush to get an identification for the bird, so I got organised and headed out to get some more birding in. Surprisingly, around 2 hours after my initial sighting and around 2.5 miles to the east, the very same bird put in an appearance as myself and Lainy were looking for a Kingfisher by the Baldovie recycling site next to the Dighty Burn. I expected that the bird was moving east on its way to who knows where and I'd just been incredibly lucky to run into the bird twice.

However that theory was blown out of the water on Sunday morning when the pigeons again alerted me to a raptor. I'd seen a Buzzard go over a little earlier but looking out this time, I quickly realised the odd Falcon was back again. Once again I grabbed the camera and got a few more photos. It was a shorter sighting and the bird was a bit further away in less favourable lighting conditions but it was still clearly the same bird. I posted the best ones on Twitter again. Later in the afternoon, the light had improved a lot and the bird put in yet another appearance and actually flew right over my roof, though I didn't quite manage to track it well enough to get the photo I hoped I would get. There were still a few reasonably decent ones and once again they were posted to Twitter.

Comments on the posts were coming in with suggestions as to what the bird actually was. There was some variety in these suggestions. One of the young birders Zsolt Semperger (@Zsemperger) I follow on there commented to say the bird didn't look right for Saker Falcon which he has experience of from his home country of Hungary. My own suspicion was that the bird was likely a cross bred falcon with some Saker Falcon in the family tree. Both Peregrine and Gyrfalcon are often cross-bred with Sakers by falconers. Rather than put a definite name to the bird I called it a 'mystery falcon' which did lead to more comments about what it might be. I also tried to find out where the bird had come from as it was obviously a 'lost' bird.

There was mention of 4 falcons from the Huntly falconry centre having gone missing when their avaiary was damaged in a storm a month or so ago. I sent them an email asking if the bird was one of theirs. As I type this on Tuesday evening, I haven't had any reply but a further link posted in the Twitter comments showed their missing birds to be more like Gyrfalcons rather than Sakers. Another suggestion was to contact the Independent Bird Monitoring Network which helps to return lost birds to their 'owners', so when it was apparent that my bird wasn't a Huntly bird, I attempted to send them a message. It bounced due to looking like Spam (probably as a result of twitter links to the photos I'd included) but there was a contact address for incorrectly categorised messages, so I've contacted them to allow the message to get through. As of Tuesday evening, I've had no emails from either the site itself or the contact address admin.

As things stand, I've no idea where the bird has come from. However, Julie Mailer who I know of via Chirp Birding saw a bird that looks a lot like being the same bird around the Auchmithie/Arbroath area last September which suggests it has been missing since one of its early flights (I think it looks like it might be a young bird). If as it appears, it might remain local to me then there is a chance it might be reunited with the 'owner' at some point. I'd really much rather hope that it remains in the wild, doing its own thing, and getting to be a bird, rather than a possession. The one thing I do hope to discover for certain is what the bird actually is - a Saker or a cross-bred bird, and if so, what mix is involved. Enjoy the photos.....   

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