07/05/2016
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Rarity finders: Amur Falcon - a first for Cyprus

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I moved to Cyprus from Essex just over 12 years ago. While I've always had an interest in wildlife, I began to concentrate more closely on birds and reptiles, with the former eventually becoming my main focus. Based in Paphos, I now run a birding tour company which allows me to spend plenty of time out in the field.

On 28 April 2016 I set out to a few of my favourite local sites in search of mid-spring arrivals and to focus on photography — I aimed to spend time with certain target birds, rather than simply rush from one spot to the next. The primary target of the day was a group of recently arrived Red-footed Falcons (RFFs). These colourful and graceful falcons have always been a favourite and routinely stage in Cyprus both in spring and autumn.

Sure enough the falcons were seen on arrival at Anarita Park, near Paphos, in addition to a trio of Montagu's Harriers — another personal favourite — elegantly hunting hoppers. I parked my car next to a lone male RFF on a power line with the aim of obtaining some hunting shots. The bird looked a little odd and my first impression was that it might be sick — the reddish colour on the bare parts looked different to the other RFFs present. I quickly noticed the white edges on its underwing coverts and a darker cap contrasting with paler throat and upper breast. As it took off to start hunting I registered a large flash of white on the underwing.


Amur Falcon, Anarita Park, Paphos, April 2016 (Photo: Matt Smith)

Now my brain was ticking. This was no ordinary RFF, but what was it? I was largely unfamiliar with Amur and Sooty Falcons and didn't have my field guide with me. Which one was it that displayed white underwing coverts?

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After an hour with the bird, I headed home to check literature. Before I could even crack open my field guide the answer was staring me right in the face: above my laptop, on the wall, I have an Eastern Hemisphere migration map from National Geographic, which features a beautiful illustration of an Amur Falcon in flight. Wow — this extraordinary migrant, which crosses the Indian Ocean twice annually on its way to and from breeding grounds in Eastern Asia, had somehow found its way to Cyprus! The little I knew about Amur Falcons before the sighting was that they used to be hunted and eaten on an appalling scale in Nagaland, India, until just a few years ago when a successful campaign had thankfully put a stop to that practice.


Amur Falcon, Anarita Park, Paphos, April 2016 (Photos: Matt Smith)

The Amur Falcon was still with the Red-foot flock on 7 May; in some years the falcons may stage here for two to three weeks so it may be around for some time yet. It's a wonderful privilege to have found a new bird for Cyprus!

More on the Amur Falcon (and Matt's tour company) can be found on his website.

Written by: Matt Smith

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