A female Amur falcon poses for me
At this time of the year until March/April we have flocks of falcons and kestrels swooping our skies. Last week while visiting in the Drakensberg, as we drove through Champagne Valley road, I spotted numerous falcons sitting on the powerlines. At one point Grant stopped and I was able to get several photos of a bird sitting motionless above the vehicle. When we downloaded the photos at home, Grant took our Roberts Bird Guide,(a comprehensive field guide to over 950 birds in Southern Africa) written by Hugh Chittenden and quickly identified it as an female Amur Falcon. The male is solid grey with a rufus/chestbnut lower belly and also has white underwing coverts very conspicious in flight. These little raptors are non-breeding Palearctic* migrants travelling huge distances from East Asia, where it breeds, to South Africa.
While having tea with Amanda and Angus on Saturday (which I have posted about on Friday!), I looked up and saw a huge flock of birds quite high in the clear blue sky. Angus focussed his binoculars on them and said he thought they were falcons or kestrels. Grant took the binos and stated that they were none other than our delightful visitors, the Amur falcons. They'd caught a thermal and within about eight minutes they were soaring so high, we couldn't make them out (with or without the field glasses). The Amur falcon eats insects and termites and occassionally small birds.
Falcons, kestrels and all other raptors are extremely important part of the environment, especially the food chain. In recent years finches and pigeons have become a pest to grain farmers and house-owners alike. The finches leave the roosting place in the morning, swoop down in their thousands, on grainlands and can wreak havoc on crops in a matter of days. Doves and pigeons roosts on house roofs and on churches and other buildings making a huge noise with their feet and of course, messing on the roof. Peregrine and lanner falcons are the only birds which are fast enough to catch these "pests" and keep their numbers down, but the extensive use of poisons and pesticides as well as decreased habitat have caused the falcons to be classified as "near threatened" in South Africa. You can read a post I did on finches here.
*Palearctic means the zoographical region that includes Europe, North Africa and north-eastern Asia, east to Siberia