Amur Falcon coverage in BBC’s “The Hunt”

BBC television began a new series of natural history programmes on Sunday 1 November 2015. The series is called “The Hunt”. It illustrates the theme of predation with the kind of stunning photography that we have come to expect of David Attenborough programmes and their production units at the BBC Natural History Unit in Bristol. And this first programme lived up to its reputation in grand style! As usual, its coverage is global and embraces a wide range of species, with some familiar tales like crocodiles attacking wildebeest in East Africa, but it also introduces some less well-known stories.

The entire programme was spectacular but one section in particular caught my eye on Sunday evening. This concerned Amur Falcons, beautiful small raptors that breed in eastern Asia, centred in south-eastern Russia, eastern Mongolia and north-eastern China. They winter in south-eastern Africa, reaching that destination by a remarkable migration. The early part of their autumn migration takes them to northern India, from where they travel to western India and then over the northern Indian Ocean to reach Africa’s east coast.

Distant view of a male Amur Falcon on Bird Island, November 2012
Distant view of a male Amur Falcon on Bird Island, November 2012

I was particularly interested in this part of the programme as I had seen two Amur Falcons on Bird Island in November 2012, when Christine and I watched them with bird fanatics John and Viv Phillips. I had become aware of this bird visiting Seychelles in 1972, when Jeremy High recorded an adult male that spent the northern winter at a marsh at North-east Point on Mahe; unfortunately I failed to see it.

Recently they have become more regular visitors, in a few years in considerable numbers especially on Denis and Bird Islands, leading to frantic panic flights by White Terns even though these are unlikely to fall prey to the falcons: they are largely insectivorous out of their breeding season.

The BBC programme (available for a short time on BBC i-player) filmed them in north-east India, where they assemble in their thousands to fatten up for their migration. The footage is remarkable, showing clouds of birds foraging in the air above the forest. This assembly has made them vulnerable, however, since people in Nagaland formerly trapped them in large numbers as a food source. A publicity campaign (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/05/world/asia/falcon-hunters-become-fervent-preservationists-.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=mini-moth&region=top-stories-below&WT.nav=top-stories-below&_r=0) appears to have stopped this exploitation. If this can be sustained, perhaps we shall see more of these super little birds in Seychelles!

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