Three times in ten days I’ve seen a falcon hunting in the same area at White Rock Lake.  Between the Bath House Cultural Center and the north banks of the Sunset Bay confluence rests an area of sparse woods to the south, dense woodlands to the north, and a vast field of wild grasses and flowers sloping down toward the water.  The lake splashes happily to the west in view of the Peninsula neighborhood to the east.

Two walking trails run parallel and define the east and west boundaries of this field.  I’ve walked those trails many times, and I’ve walked through the field more often than I can remember.  It’s in this place that I’ve seen much of nature’s bounty, from innumerable bird species to wildflowers galore to reptiles and amphibians that would frighten most people, and that doesn’t include some of the lake’s various mammalian population ranging from skunks to rabbits and from minks to coyotes.

And I’ve now concluded this field marks the hunting territory of a male American kestrel (Falco sparverius).  I’ve seen him there on three separate occasions but always at the same time of day: mid-morning to early afternoon.

Our first encounter offered little in the way of photographic opportunities.  I spotted him as I walked toward Sunset Bay from the north (toward where the Dreyfuss Club once stood).  That put the low winter sun right in my eye—and in the lens.  I tried to snap a few pictures, though, with no success.  The best I captured proffered silhouettes of shadow that might as well have been a mockingbird.

Our second encounter mirrored the first in that I had walked all the way to Mockingbird from Sunset Bay and returned via the same path.  I spotted the kestrel perched atop the phone wires running alongside the field.  Oh, I tried to be sneaky and not put my gaze on him too directly, for I’m no fool in such matters: wildlife can tolerate humans better when they think you’re not looking right at them.  I veered off the path snapping photos as I marched quite loudly through dry autumnal ground cover.

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched on a wire (2008_12_25_003256)

He watched me.  That much I could tell.  And he watched me closely.  Yet enough activity took place throughout the area to keep him from primarly focusing on me.  Well, almost.

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched on a wire (2008_12_25_003262)

I approached while not looking at him except through the viewfinder.  Something about not seeing the forward-facing eyes of a predator looking right at you does wonders with creatures in the wild.  If only I had side-facing eyes like prey animals…  But I digress.

Too close for his comfort and forced to steer my body right at him because of the sun, the game was over as soon as I paused and turned.

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) in flight (2008_12_25_003263)

He vanished beyond the bare treetops and I left feeling an opportunity had been lost.

Our third encounter mimicked the second in that I walked south toward Sunset Bay, and that time I decided to be less surreptitious in my attempt to photograph the predator.  I at first didn’t realize he was there likely because he was hunting.  Only after I walked through the thin forest atop the Dreyfuss Club hill did I remember the falcon, and it was then I turned and walked down toward the lake to see if I could find him.

It didn’t take long.  As soon as I reached the clearing, I saw a bird land atop a tree near the shore, a bird too large to be common.  (Let me add I don’t think any wildlife is mundane no matter how ubiquitous it is.  That’s why I take photos of everything I see; no matter how many times I’ve seen it, all of nature fascinates me as though I were a child seeing it for the first time.)

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched in a treetop (2008_12_28_004089)

That image seemed arbitrary, nothing short of the first grasp at an ethereal ghost.  It would serve me no purpose other than to identify later what I had seen—assuming I never got closer.

But I did get closer.  And that was not a welcome turn of events so far as this kestrel was concerned.

He flitted into the still air and moved away, out over the field, and I feared I had missed my opportunity.  Even at great distance, however, he offered me something I hadn’t imagined: a brief hover-hunt example.

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) hovering above a field (2008_12_28_004092)
A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) hovering above a field (2008_12_28_004093)
A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) hovering above a field (2008_12_28_004095)

This species prefers the perch-and-attack method of hunting, but they also utilize the hover-hunt approach when they deem it necessary.  That usually means no agreeable perch can be found and/or winds are such that thermals can be utilized to preserve strength while hovering.

This bout lasted only a minute, maybe less, after which the bird dove into the tall dry grasses.  My approach from downhill meant he vanished.  I feared I’d lost him.

But not so.

As quickly as he disappeared, he climbed back into the air and landed on the phone wires.  And he was quite near where I started this pursuit.  Whatever he thought he was hunting on the ground apparently offered nothing of interest once he had it in his talons.

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched on a wire (2008_12_28_004127)

My climb back up the hill no doubt resembled a madman chasing headlights as they speed across a wall in front of turning cars.  First this way then that, first uphill then downhill.  What bizarre spectacle I presented to others…

I didn’t care, though.  I wanted a closer look at this beautiful creature, and pictures be damned!  (As I explained to Jenny today, there are times when diving into an encounter and witnessing it sans other concerns means a great deal more than capturing that one image for which publishers do battle.)

I no sooner got within my comfort distance (where I thought I could take a respectable photo given the lens I had on the camera) when I found myself witness to an increasingly familiar sight.

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) in flight (2008_12_28_004130)

This bird knew one thing above all others: how to frustrate and tire me.  There I stood at the top of the field and the doggone falcon made a swift retreat back to the bottom, back to the shore, back to where I had first seen it.

So off I went, stumbling through the expanse of uneven ground sloping down toward the lake, and I laughed at myself for what I knew must be the kestrel’s internal joke.  The hill didn’t bother him, didn’t pose any problem for his travels, yet the up-and-down coupled with the down-and-up for a simple biped like me turned it into a battle against fatigue and strain.  How long would I endure this before giving up?

Back to the same tree where it all started, I again tried to act disinterested and unaware.  The kestrel watched me closely even as he continued scanning his range for prey.

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched in a treetop (2008_12_28_004149)

As soon as I felt I had reached a spot where I could really capture its essence, off it went.  Uphill.  Away.  Easily.  And quickly.

I gave up.  I felt certain he laughed his tail feathers off when as he watched me walk away…

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] I use my 55-250mm (35mm: 88-400mm) telephoto zoom lens when I go for arbitrary walks.  The ability to capture distant objects without giving up wider views appeals to my random nature.  But the versatility of the zoom feature means I sacrifice quality.  A true static telephoto lens would serve me better in such cases.

[2] Although I realize I need further investment in this camera, finances and the economic turmoil of the day means I also realize I should stay where I am for now.  I’ve spent a great deal of money on The Kids recently for medical care.  The increased cost of food and sundries also diminished whatever flexibility I might have had.  Nevertheless, at some point I know I need to acquire a better lens for distance shots.  Consider it on the wish list of things not to be realized for some time to come.

[3] Shame on me for not having a lens hood.  We’re not talking about a great expense here, right?  Nope.  Yet I’ve not purchased this inexpensive augmentation for some bizarre reason even I cannot fathom.  For the price of a tank of gas—if that much—I could solve a great deal of the flair and perpendicular light source problems I have.  Some of the photos above were cropped and processed in order to remove my stupid primate paw from the edge of the picture where I rested my hand against the end of the lens in order to block sunlight hitting it from the side.  I can be so daft sometimes…

2 thoughts on “Falcon”

  1. Jason,
    When/if you have time, check out pawnshops. They are a true treasure trove for the photographer. I know several of the ones in Dallas buy/sell lenses consistently.

    1. Thanks for visiting, karry! And thank you for the pawn shop recommendation. I hadn’t thought of that avenue yet, although I’ll admit I’ve been a bit daft on realizing what all my options are…

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