On August 8, 2004 the first Red-footed Falcon (Falco verpertinus) to stray into the western hemisphere was identified at Katama Airpark on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. In addition to the bird creating a media frenzy - a news helicopter nearly took out the falcon while landing - birders from all 50 states and all 11 provinces came to see the bird. The falcon was very cooperative and stayed until at least August 16th. A group of friends from Baltimore arranged a bus and ferry trip to the Vineyard to see the bird but I was not with them. Unfortunately, I had moved to Michigan a month earlier.
Then the Red-footed Falcon was gone. I always wonder, when such a special bird is found so out-of-place, where does it go to never be seen again? From Martha's Vineyard the best answer to this might be back out over the Atlantic Ocean.
Despite hoping for it, we did not see Red-footed Falcon in Bulgaria. So it was another target bird to see in Hungary - especially after I missed the Martha's Vineyard visitor. Leaving the Saker Falcon we moved on to find the Red-footed Falcon. Keeping my days straight, this is Sunday, May 25th.
Before we could find the guys below, we went through a small town which had an ornately steepled church. Hungary is a country of churches; most Hungarians are Catholic, but Orthodox and Muslim religion is also common. The denomination of the church can be identified by the symbol at the top of the steeple. I think this church was an Orthodox church.
We drove out of town and were in farming habitat with barns on one side of the road and open fields on the other side.
Along a somewhat busy two-laned road Gerard stopped the car to check out a dead bird at the edge. As with the Saker Falcon boxes, nest boxes are also placed in trees for nesting kestrels. Often these boxes are in trees right at the edge of the road, as was this one, and not all that high up either. That might be an adult female in the nest box above, but it could also be an almost ready-to-fledge juvenile. Just below the nest at the edge of the road was this road-killed kestrel. Gerard took several photos. He uses this evidence to warn against road-side placement of nest boxes. Another adult Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) was nearby hunting over the road and adjacent fields. If the bird in the box was a juvenile, perhaps there was another parent caring for it.
This was the first of several stops we would make like this and, in addition to being an excellent learning experience, I would come to recognize it as one of the perks of being on a one-person trip.
The Little Owl was perched on some large hay bales deep into the fields. Finally, a single Red-footed Falcon was flying and hovering. Red-footed Falcons are colonial birds and where there is one there are more.
While photographing this bird close to the edge of the road, Red-footed Falcons began to appear at intervals hunting over the field for about the next 100 meters.
Something about the way this bird its hovering...
... the position of its body is more vertical. This is different from kestrels which have a more horizontal body position when hovering. Third life bird of the trip.
Red-footed Falcon and Kestrel hunting grounds.
A soaring Kestrel.
On future days we would occasionally see Red-footed Falcons over farmland along the road. On the last full day of birding I was able to get quite closed to this perched bird. Unfortunately, the light was dreadful and all of my photos are severely backlit.
I tried to improve both photos with the rudimentary iPhoto editing tool without much luck. In general, I struggled with the light for photographing throughout the trip. I thought back to the crystal clear light in Costa Rica and then considered the hot, humid and hazy light in eastern Hungary. This did not impact the excellence of the birding experience, but did impact the photos I have to share.