Tuesday, 25 October 2011


A big juvenile female saker falcon dropped into the country park on the morning of 24th October and terrorised the local birds for about an hour and a half. This big buzzard-sized falcon was first seen from the hide by the pond as it flew low over the nearby pools in the grazing field. After a few minutes of watching the bird flying around and perching on a tree, the bird was obviously hanging around the area. Andy Field, Martin Cock and Adrian Kettle all managed to dash to the hide and see the bird continue to put on a display.
Tim Mendham who just happened to be on site, took these two photos above and below. The picture above shows it amongst the pools where the grey phalarope and many other waders and wildfowl had been present first thing in the morning.

Several times the bird perched on an oak tree looking over the pools, towering over the much smaller magpies and carrion crows trying to mob it. Even a male sparrowhawk passing nearby seemed tiny in comparison. The bird made one low pass over the pond, nearly snatching a mallard and certainly frightening the wits out of the other ducks, cowering close to the bushes.
Several sorties by the bird above the pond saw it hang in the wind for a few seconds eyeing up the wildfowl below. Another memorable flight saw the bird heading hide-height towards us and then banking away just 15 metres from us.

Andy Field took these two digiscoped photos above and below of the saker, taken from the hide. The only view of the bird on the ground was this occasion captured by Andy above and by Tim from a different angle in the first photo above.
It appears that this bird is the same bird matching a description of one seen at Abberton reservoir five days earlier, which was also photographed.

The big debate concerning saker falcons in the UK is that none seen here have been proved to be wild birds, having flown from their breeding grounds in Eastern Europe stretching eastwards into Russia. Many sakers are kept in this country by falconers and some of these birds escape into the wild. It appears that in recent years roughly one saker a year is spotted in the wild in Essex and each year as in the rest of the UK, its origin whether captive-bred or wild remains unproven.
There is some fascinating research currently being carried out in Hungary with radio-tracking saker falcons. See http://www.sakerlife.mme.hu/intro.html;
Whilst watching this bird perform in front of us, we couldn't see any rings, jesses, or wires from transmitters, so it didn't show features of an escaped bird.
It would be great to think that we were watching a wild bird and not an escapee but we will never know. Either way it was an impressive display by a hugely powerful bird of prey.

Most birds had long departed the pools in the grazing fields except for just one or two common snipe. One jack snipe was seen flying away while the saker was flying about and then later one was seen feeding and bobbing on the spot by one of the pools. A swallow flew past the pond and 30 chaffinches were also feeding near here.

Bird news from the park for Tuesday included no sightings of the grey phalarope although a jack snipe was still present along with 10+ common snipe and a high tide roost of 150 redshank. A red-throated diver and a male red-breasted merganser flew out of the Colne in the morning. A lapland bunting was reported over some mudflat pools while brambling, a few siskins and a redwing were seen, while 40 goldfinches flew over the car park. Martin Cock saw four redwings near the Golfhouse and a pale bellied brent goose with a brent flock near Shop Lane.

The moth trap operated through a windy Sunday night and out of the small catch of six species noted, this dark chestnut was one of them. Others noted included silver Y, November moth sp, brick and lunar underwing.

Eleven green-brindled crescents were noted with one of them being the dark form capucina, on the right in the above photo, which hasn't been seen here before but apparently is more frequent in built up areas.

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