Anyone who birds with me knows that I’m a raptor enthusiast, and that I particularly love American Kestrels. These little falcons are my favorite raptors. No matter where I am, the thought of seeing a kestrel is always in the back of my mind. In the Black Dirt region, kestrels are pretty numerous. I find them on almost every daily travel, especially in the winter.
This particular bird, and adult male kestrel, happens to be a favorite of mine. I saw him almost every day of 2015 at a popular spot to us locals. I would observe him perched, flying, hunting, eating and even making sure the other birds in the area knew he was there, no matter how big they were. The only problem; getting a picture.
Fellow photographers can agree that kestrels are one of, if not the hardest raptor to photograph mainly because of their skittish nature. Finding a kestrel often means flushing a kestrel, and leaving without a picture. No matter how many times I missed out on getting the shot, I never gave up.
On New Year’s Eve of 2015, I finally got a break. On my way home I took my usual detour to see if the kestrels were out and about. Sure enough, the male was there and in a great spot: a roadside stick marker to keep plows off of the farmland. I saw him from a distance and decided to approach with stealth. On the deserted road, I shut my car off in motion about 30 yards or so from the bird and rolled up in silence. I stopped just close enough to where I could reach my lens out the window, around my side-view mirror to get a shot. Just when I raised my lens, the bird flushed to an identical perch just a little further up the road. I retried my stealth tactic, just with a little more stealth this time. Again I killed the engine and rolled up to the bird in silence. This time I stopped even closer. The bird raised his wings as if to take off again and my heart dropped out of disappointment. But instead of taking off he folded his wings down and relaxed. I was ecstatic! Not only was I so close to a kestrel, but it was the first time one of these birds had actually accepted my presence and stayed put.
I clicked away for about five minutes or so with him caring less about me there. I noticed the bird still had blood and a bit of fur stuck to his beak indicating he had just consumed a meal. This may have been why he stayed put for me. He continued to look around with an occasional glance in my direction. Then in the blink of an eye, he hopped off of his perch, and pounced straight down in the grass on a vole! It happened so close to me that I actually heard the poor rodent screaming for its life in the bird’s talons. The vole must’ve been half of the size of him! He sat on the ground with his meal for a few seconds and eventually flew to a perch well off the road to consume his catch.
It was without a doubt one of the coolest birding experiences I’ve ever had. The best part, it was the last of 2015. What an awesome way to end such an exciting year! Patience and persistence really do pay off! Remember that!