Hello! I have several blog posts that I really should get up here as soon as possible, but I’ve decided on today’s post for two reasons. A) It concerns an amazing discovery that Robert and I have made, and B) Each blog post is, obviously, a painstaking labour of love, and they cannot be posted until absolutely perfect. They are like exquisite works of art.
Anyway, on with our amazing discovery.
Over the past year or so, Robert and I have spent a decent amount of time in ‘the field’ (also sometimes ‘on the moor’ and ‘amongst the wetlands’ etc.,). During this time we have acquainted ourselves competently with the great majority of British birds, excluding northern and southern specialities (Ptarmigan, Cirl Bunting etc.,) and those that don’t really exist (Spotted Crake, Black Grouse etc.,). One group of birds that we have come to enjoy and appreciate are the so-called ‘Birds of Prey’, a group often sadly overlooked by other birdwatchers who are too busy photographing pipits and staring dreamily at warblers.
One subset of BOP (Birds Of Prey) that I am particularly fond of are the falcons, represented in the UK by four breeding species. These four species, in size order from smallest to largest, are the Merlin, Kestrel, Hobby and Peregrine. Robert and I, however, are amassing evidence for the existence of a fifth breeding falcon – at least the same size and possibly larger than the Peregrine.
I cannot remember, unfortunately, when we were first confronted with the evidence for this bird. I do know, however, that it can be seen around East Yorkshire (with a coastal bias) and on the southern edge of the North York Moors with reasonable regularity; more common than Merlin or Hobby, less common than Kestrel, and with a similar abundance to Peregrine.
They are most often seen from a moving vehicle – possibly they are less bothered by cars than by people? Or does a car allow you to pass through more suitable habitat more quickly? – and are usually seen against the sky. When viewed against the sky (where the colours of the plumage are washed out) the bird in silhouette is uncannily similar to a Peregrine, with long, broad, pointed wings and a relatively short tail. Generally, at this point, one of us will call out ‘Peregrine!’. At this point, the bird will almost always do two things. Firstly, it will drop down much lower so its markings and colouration are more visible, and secondly it will begin to hover like a Kestrel. Closer inspection of the colours and markings will reveal them to be uncannily similar to those of the Kestrel; plumage is mainly light chestnut brown with blackish spots on the upperside and buff with narrow blackish streaks on the underside; the remiges are also blackish. At this point we would usually say something along the lines of ‘Oh, Kestrel’, and claim that the lack of reference made it look much larger.
Well, after many such sightings we realised that it couldn’t be us at fault, perfect as we are, and so we theorised we were repeatedly encountering an as-yet undiscovered falcon, which we christened the ‘Buff Kestrel’. (Buff as in ‘very strong or having defined muscles; hot’, not as in ‘a yellowish-beige colour’). Below is a drawing of a Buff Kestrel I created to allow other birders to look out for their own; it is placed next to a female Peregrine for scale, though the Buff Kestrel can sometimes be larger.
So I would encourage all birders to be on the lookout for this proposed species. Of course, the next stage will be to obtain photographic evidence (with some sort of suitable scale to differentiate it from Kestrel) and then a type specimen – though how to manage that is beyond me – perhaps someone will come across one as road-kill one day? If so please leave a comment here.