2cy male Red-footed Falcon, Willow Tree Fen, Lincs, 25 August 2015
Spending hours thumbing through my father's old field guides as a kid played a strong part in fuelling my early interest in birds and birding, and there were a handful of species that jumped out at me as 'must-see' birds in my lifetime. In particular there was a small bird of prey that never failed to catch my imagination, not only for its beauty but for its variability: the male was a pristine slate-grey with bright red highlights; the female, predominately orangey-buff with greyish upperparts, was so strikingly different that it might well have been another taxon altogether.
At the age of eight or nine, Red-footed Falcon seemed an exotic, distant and altogether unattainable species. I'd naively hope to bump in to one while on summer holidays in various corners of the Med - of course we never did - and it was only as my interest in British birding began to cement itself (when I was about 12) that I became truly aware that, with luck, it was possible to see the species over here.
By the time I reached my teens I had started to visit what would become my local patch and had also joined the local mailing list, Peterbirder. In June 2003 I remember seeing a message on there reporting that James Gilroy had found a male Red-footed Falcon as it flew over Baston & Langtoft Pits - yes, my patch! I couldn't believe it - my dream bird on my doorstep, and I hadn't seen it!
As it turned out that bird went on to spend the summer on the adjacent fen, and I saw it on a couple of occasions. The first viewing was courtesy of Nicholas Watts at Vine House Farm, whose land the bird was favouring. We headed out one evening in his Land Rover and had crippling views of the bird sat on small bushes and fence posts at point-blank range. Though not an adult, it was a pretty advanced first-summer and showed brilliantly well. Exactly how you want to see a lifer!
The reason for all this waffle is that I was back home in Lincs over the week, staying at my mum's while working at the Birdfair. Though six excellent Black Terns and a nice selection of waders were great to see on my old patch, the highlight for me was the Red-footed Falcon present at Willow Tree Fen. As the falcon flies, this bird is present little more than two or three miles from where the 2003 bird spent much of the summer. Everything about it is similar: the setting (favouring fence posts on open farmland), both were first-summer males, both were brilliantly showy, both were long-stayers ... local birder and photographer Phil Ackerman took some great shots of the 2003 bird, which are still online here.
It's a nice coincidence, and brought back some happy memories. It's also a stark reminder that it's now over 12 years since that warm summer's evening on which I celebrated seeing what was my most-wanted bird!