Thursday 10 March 2011

Falcon punch

Having checked the gull gathering on Legal & General I was walking towards Reads Bottom this morning when the tits started alarm calling and I spotted a small, quick falcon with blue-grey upperparts dash past. It was on view for literally about two seconds and I spent this time concentrating on photographing it so didn't get any detail in the field. My initial impression was Merlin (mainly because of its size) but, glancing at the photos, it didn't look right on several counts. I decided to wait till I got in to have a proper look and sent out a text saying 'I might have just had a Merlin' (just in case it did turn out to be one) but I wasn't at all confident, I have seen several Merlins before and this bird didn't fit, though it was the closest thing I could think of at that point.

black tail tip visible in above image

I showed the pictures to Kojak (after twitching two Stonechats that he located) and he agreed that it didn't look like a Merlin but we both came to the conclusion that it didn't look right for a Peregrine either. If it was one it was one freaky specimen. Reasons why it doesn't fit a typical Peregrine include its size (it appeared about as big as a Collared Dove), the black tip to the tail, the lack of a pale grey rump, the relative weakness of the head pattern (e.g. the moustachial strip looks too long and thin) and the apparently plain belly and underwings. If it were bigger any of this wouldn't matter too much - it was just so small! I have no clue about this bird, perhaps it's some sort of falconer's hybrid or perhaps I'm losing the plot and it's a runt Peregrine.


Kojak and I did have a typical Peregrine, a female, from Woodpecker Meadow at Banstead Woods and Mark Stanley picked the bird up pursuing Rose-ringed Parakeets over his Chipstead Valley garden later that afternoon. We staked out Harrier Field till well after sunset for Barn Owl, but had no luck, only hearing a Little Owl.