Rarity finders: Amur Falcon - a first for Cyprus


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?

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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