Friday, October 27, 2006

Kestrel Konfusion

I hear you all asking "What did Ernie shoot today?" and I have the answer right here. I was visiting my parents house, picking up my cat (she stayed up there while I was in Ohio). I was about to leave when I hear some bird commotion going on out in the pasture. I saw a small bird flying up and down, up and down, squawking and crying like crazy. After watching for a few seconds, I grabbed the camera and started heading in that direction. Naturally, as soon as I had the camera in my hands, the activity stopped. I walked slowly towards the trees where the action had taken place, and as I got closer, the hawk above took off out of the tree. I'm not sure if it's a red-shoulder or a red-tail. The red-shoulders are much more common, and my parents have seen them around, but the guy above looks suspiciously like a red-tail to me. But either way, I was surprised. I was quite far away from him, so what you see is a very tight crop of a much larger picture, as are all the ones I'm sharing tonight. If anybody wants to chip in and get me a larger lens, please feel free. Anyhow, I followed this guy into the trees, and kept shooting. It wasn't until I got the pictures onto the computer tonight that I realized he was a different bird than all my other shots.

When I shot this picture, I thought it was the same bird as earlier, but you can see that it's not. Look closely, and you can see this is a much lighter bird, and it's actually much smaller. Looking closely at the 100 or so shots I squeezed off, I believe this is an American Kestrel, which would make it the first time I've seen one of those in the wild. The giveaway is the bands of dark feathers on the face, as well as the small size. I only wish I could have gotten closer, because in good light, those bands on the face are blue!

Maybe this shot of the Kestrel on a fence post will give you a better feel for his size. He flew from post to post for quite some time, perhaps scanning the grass for some prey. I was trying to slowly get closer the whole time, but probably never got closer than 100 yards or so.

When he got tired of hopping from post to post, he flew into a large dead oak tree on the other side of the fence. I couldn't get any closer at this point, so he stayed still longer. I've shown you this tree before, with a beautiful full moon behind it. (Well, I thought I had, but I can't find the post. I'll have to dig up that picture for you.)

From my far away vantage point, I could see other specks moving around my bird. I couldn't tell what they were, other than they didn't act like the kestrel. Looking at my pictures, I figured out that they were blue jays. You can see the one I caught on the wing at the upper left of this shot. Look close and you can tell he's certainly blue.

Here's a shot of another blue jay in flight. The color here is really evident. I wish I could get in-flight shots like this when I'm closer. Gotta work on getting that longer lens. Anyhow, what I finally decided happened was that the kestrel had spotted the bigger hawk in a tree, and was trying to scare or intimidate him. That was the behavior that initially drew my attention. The big hawk wasn't scared until I got closer, then he took off and flew away. The kestrel then probably returned to the area to hunt. My eyes weren't good enough to spot the difference in the field, but the camera was, thank goodness. This is all terribly exciting, isn't it?

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