Sunday, 13 July 2014

Getting my Kestrel 'fix' at Cranford Park

Before I begin my blog post today, just a quick update on Spike the Hedgehog. He escaped from his 'pen' during the night, so must have been feeling much better after a long rest, some water and a bit of food. Mum reported his pen was completely trashed so Spike must have been desperate to get out. Good luck for the future Spike.
Back to today. I'd arranged to meet Mark C at Cranford Park. He has become as addicted to the Kestrel family as I am and wanted to try a different camera and lens out on them. I arrived before Mark and after briefly looking for the Little Owls, and not finding any, I headed out in to the grassy meadow.
First thing that caught my attention was two of the three juveniles squabbling. They were quite far away, so my photos aren't that clear, but they were definitely being quite aggressive towards each other.  

Later in the day, we found one of the juveniles with some fresh feather damage on it's wing.

I'm starting to think this was one of the juveniles that I'd seen squabbling with it's sibling. Luckily the damage seems to be more cosmetic than anything else, and several times  today we watched her flying ok, although her take off wasn't as fast as the others. But once in the air she had no issues.
Scruffy and her siblings spent a lot of time today on the grassy paths again, and also practise hovering just a few metres from the ground. The tree guards are also  proving to be very handy for the juveniles to perch on whilst scanning the grass. This is a very important lesson, as when they reach full adult hood and claim their own territories, a lot of their time will be spent on high perches like the tops of phone poles, looking for prey with their amazing eyesight. Cranford Park at the moment, is a bit like a Kestrel Academy. The juveniles are learning more and more each day.
When the birds weren't hunting on the grassy paths, or flying, or hovering, they were fluffing themselves up and preening their new adult feathers.


Several times today we saw all five birds, though both adults rarely came on to the grass. I managed one distant photo of the adult female.
and one distant shot of all three of the juveniles. Scruffy is on the left hand side.

Today I'm not going to post any photos of the Kestrels flying or hovering, basically because all of the photos I took are crap. The Kestrels don't care if the sun is behind you, or gone behind a cloud. The little darlings aren't that considerate. So every flight and hover photo was either shot against the sun, the bird wasn't facing me or the shot was too dark. So instead, here are six of my favourite perched photos taken  today. You can clearly see by my photos that we were really fighting against the odd light today. But it was just nice to observe these beautiful birds of prey at such close quarters.


So why do we keep spotting them on the grassy paths ? They're practising to hunt, and their prey are these.....
Grasshoppers. Plus the occasional butterfly or dragonfly. If you walk along the grassy paths, it's as if they become alive. Grasshoppers are hopping all around your feet. The sounds are really quite amazing. If you watch the juvenile Kestrels when they're on the paths, you can see them both listening and watching intently, before suddenly 'running' towards it's chosen grasshopper and grabbing it.
The photo that I really want to capture is of a Kestrel with a grasshopper in its talon or beak. I came close to it today, but my photo was out of focus. I'm hoping to get back to the park one afternoon next week. So if you are walking through and see a woman flat on her front with a  long lens camera resting on a rucksack, don't worry, it'll just be me. If I have a fag in my hand, it will mean I've been unsuccessful again !!
Lastly, a quick update on the Little Owl family. The last time any of my friends managed to see and photograph one was last Monday. This morning I briefly heard a juvenile one 'hissing' but couldn't locate it, and both Mark and I heard an adult calling later in the afternoon. We found the tree it was calling from, but it flew off towards the ancient woods before we could locate and photograph it.
Sue G and I had already previously seen one of the teenage juveniles eating a mouse, so I'm guessing the youngsters are already catching their own food, which possibly means they will  soon be moving on. The adults will stay. Occasionally Little Owls hatch a second brood of  chicks. As they had an early one due to our  great spring, it wouldn't surprise me if we see another batch of juvenile Little Owls in August. Last year there was  just one brood, again due to our weather. Spring 2013 was cold and wet which not only affected our Little Owls, but also our Kestrels. They too fledged their youngsters much later in the summer than this year.
So overall, it was a very pleasant day. The predicted rain didn't fall, we both got our Kestrel photo 'fix' and I got to sit and study my favourite birds of prey for hours.

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