Every summer if rain has fallen when and where it should in southern Africa and the expected transformation of landscape has occurred there is a veritable explosion of arthropod life from beneath the soil. This insect and arachnid eruption attracts birdlife from as far afield as Scandinavia and central Asia. One of the most beautiful is a small, highly gregarious little raptor known as the Amur Falcon.
These little kestrel sized falcons breed in the northern hemisphere summer in the far-flung hinterland of Siberia and northern China. They are named incidentally after the Amurland region of south eastern Siberia. Each northern autumn they begin a perilous voyage across India, Sri Lanka or southeast Asia and the Arabian Sea toward the dark continent. These huge flocks of falcons have been seen in passage over the Maldives and other islands as the make their way ever south-westward. It is said that they feed on migrating dragonflies to supplement their energy while flying over the ocean.
Their arrival in southern Africa is one of the most beloved heralds of summer. Perching multitudes of Barn Swallows, Red Chested Cuckoos and Woodland Kingfishers vocalising incessantly and the circling, aerial feeding frenzy as vast Amur Falcon squadrons gorge on emerging termite alates…these sights will stir up a nostalgia for spring and summer in any African wildlife enthusiast.
Interestingly…these little falcons do not repeat the ocean crossing when they return. The recent GPS transmitter fitting on to three mist netted birds in India should deliver much needed insight into the details of their return journey. It is thought that the flocks trek northward across Africa and move back into Asia west of the Himalayas. Vagrant birds have been seen as far west as the UK and Italy.
When next you happen to travel the southern African interior in summer…take a moment adjacent to open fields to watch these little raptors and their delightful aerobatics…and spare a thought for the impossible journey they undertake each year.