Tag Archives: American kestrel (Falco sparverius)

Four score and four months ago

Seven years ago today I began a wee experiment: this blog.  My capricious tendencies have seen it through many incarnations.  It has traveled across domains and has lived and died on multiple platforms and multiple servers.  Historically I gave it a face lift almost as often as I posted.  Yet through all of that, 84 months have passed since it came to life in 2003—and it’s still here.

Through this online journal I have met many fantastic people.  It has gifted me with new friends and it has helped me find a community of like-minded individuals.

Blogging also has given me a chance to exercise my writing and my photography.

But why did I start?  More importantly, why do I still do it today?  Instead of trying to answer those questions anew, let me republish something I wrote last November, something that perhaps was meant more for this anniversary than it was the random writ it seemed to be at the time.  Hereafter is The journal is the thing, only this time I will augment it with images of my favorite kind of creature: raptors.

* * * * * * * * * *

A turkey vulture (Cathartes aura) flying overhead (2009_12_13_044565)

Should I waste that which spills from my soul?  Should I dispose of haphazardly the many tellings which spring forth from cluttered and uncluttered thought alike?  Such writs take shape with ease, gleaning from life’s treasures the simple and complex notions that wind their ways through labyrinths of ideas until finally taking shape in the guise of pedestrian words.  Dare I forsake such a thing?

I am but a tool in the hands of creativity.  A lithe bit of sandpaper destined to remove sharp edges from nature’s display.  A rigid scythe meant to clear a path through grasslands too overgrown to be enjoyed by the masses.  A sturdy bridge meant to convey observers across imagination’s mire.  And a supple cloth to dry the sweat from a hard day’s work.  These things am I…  And more.

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched on a wire holding prey (2009_11_28_042860)

Green pastures stretch out before me like maidens lying in wait for gentleman callers.  Hills rise like breasts from an earthen mother, and shores stretch like her lips around warm waters.  Trees sway in the breeze like dapple braids of hair touched by loving hands.  If indeed life is anything more than existing, it is a consummation, a marriage betwixt what is and what can be.  I fear ever denying the embrace of this seductress.

In the tiniest of things I find inspiration; in the notation of them I find being.

A juvenile sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus) hiding in a tree (2009_12_20_046363)

I reap from fields sown of the universe’s seed.  What comes from me, then, is the simplest interpretation of the greatest mysteries.  To find magic in a single leaf hanging above my head while I travel paths ancient and new…  To bend a twig and find upon it the hopes of a timeless soul wrapped in winter’s slumber…  To stand by the riverside and hear sweet whispers from the commotion that hides beneath its still surface…  Ah, to live in the now, in such a wondrous place, and to never wish to lift a pen so that I might complete the journey that I began…  Blasphemy, it is.  I would rather die.

Why toil with clumsy language?  It remains clumsy only in the hands of those unlearned in its use, uneducated to its robust expression, and unfamiliar with its mystic secrets.  Nay, the journal is the thing in which I conceal and through which I perform.  Find within its borders the vellum of life, a papyrus upon which I paint in fine and broad strokes of words every bit of me, and every bit of the world where I reside.

A red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) in flight (2009_12_20_046514)

Catharsis barely scratches the surface of why I blog; expression even less.

I find everywhere the riddles begging to be solved, the confidences left openly where none shall see them only to be discovered by those truly looking.  By the rhythm of the sentence and the cadence of the photograph do I reveal such things as much to myself as to others.

A female red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus) perched on a limb (2010_01_12_048405)

For decades have I reveled in the joy of the journal.  For almost a decade has that joy found new life in blogging.  The universe opens her dress for me, welcomes me to her bosom, holds me close as I ponder the magnificence of her being.

Never could I give it up.

A female Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) flying overhead (2010_01_24_049071)

— — — — — — — — — —


[1] Turkey vulture (Cathartes aura)

[2] American kestrel (Falco sparverius); male

[3] Juvenile sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus)

[4] Red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)

[5] Red-shouldered hawk (Buteo lineatus); female

[6] Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii); female

Where have you been hiding?

Picture restoration from backups.  Half a terabyte of data.  Nearly 72,000 images.  What a tedious, mind-numbing exercise in busywork.

The excitement of downloading and processing photographs explodes all over me when the camera holds new discoveries, new moments captured in digital form.  But this time around?  It’s been less and less like Christmas and more like drowning under the weight of my own pictorial flood.

Nevertheless—and even when it’s become so difficult to focus that I fear I might miss something important when opening the next file—many times I’ve stared unblinking at the screen as I asked the scene in front of me, “Where have you been hiding?”

A female American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched in a tree (2009_02_15_009810)

A female American kestrel (Falco sparverius) gave me the chase of a lifetime.  Her afternoon activities focused entirely on hunting around Winfrey Point.  Each time she settled, I would move in carefully, quietly, nonchalantly as though not paying attention to her.  Not that she was fooled, mind you, and not that she cared.  Her concerns were about filling her belly, not posing for or avoiding my camera lens.  Mostly what I walked away with were images of empty branches, clear sky, blurs escaping at the edge of the photo that might as well be my finger in front of the lens.

A male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) perched on a wire (2009_02_15_009596)

This male American kestrel (Falco sparverius) was only slightly less active when I found him and a friend hunting in the field between the Bath House Cultural Center and what was once the Dreyfuss Club.  It struck me as somewhat odd that two males shared the same territory, yet I felt certain there was a story hidden there that only they knew.  Besides, I had no doubt the female would not share her banquet with them and the males would have to make do with sloppy seconds.

A tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) with a large seed in its beak (2008_12_28_003881)

When I first spied this tufted titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), I could see it had something in its beak.  I moved closer hoping to get a photo.  Titmice are active creatures, yammering and chattering while bouncing from branch to branch, joining in the mobbing when a threat moves too close, and otherwise being boisterous fun to watch—assuming they sit still long enough.  So when this one paused briefly in perfect profile, I aimed and fired the shutter as quickly as I could.  Only later when I processed the image did I realize the seed it carried was a whole meal for a bird that small.

A male yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) climbing the side of a tree (2008_12_28_004024)

A male yellow-bellied sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius).  It’s not just an insult anymore.  In truth, I’m not sure why the name has such a negative connotation.  These birds are aggressive, vigorously defending their territory from other birds.  This one spent the afternoon feeding from the many holes it had drilled in various trees (which are visible in this photo), all the while chasing away chickadees and titmice and woodpeckers, along with various other avian visitors who came along.

A great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) perched in a tree (2009_07_18_026997)

A great crested flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) sang and sang and sang from deep within the woods.  I knew it was there but couldn’t see it, so I waited.  And waited.  Then waited some more.  Its voice carried throughout the confluence, sometimes coming nearer and sometimes moving further away.  I finally gave up on seeing it and turned to leave.  Suddenly its voice filled the air around me.  When I looked, it had taken up position across the creek from me.  The moment lasted about ten seconds; nevertheless, I was thankful for it.

A neotropic cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) sleeping at White Rock Lake (2009_07_20_027453)

This sleeping neotropic cormorant (Phalacrocorax brasilianus) perched atop one of the pillars at the water theater during a hot summer evening.  I had to move well north of its position to get the sun out of the lens—and out of my eyes!—but found the effort worthwhile upon discovering this wasn’t one of our resident double-crested cormorants.  The neotropics aren’t unheard of here; they’re just rarely seen and often overshadowed by their more prolific cousins.

A yellow-billed cuckoo (a.k.a. rain crow or storm crow; Coccyzus americanus) perched in a tree (2009_07_19_027436)

If you live anywhere in their territory, you’ve no doubt heard a yellow-billed cuckoo (a.k.a. rain crow or storm crow; Coccyzus americanus).  Their voices are familiar and distinctive, their songs identifiable with ease.  But even if you’ve heard one, you might never have seen one.  These birds spend much of their time lurking about in thick foliage searching for insects and fruit.  It’s not that they’re secretive; this one didn’t mind me one bit as I followed it for almost half an hour.  It’s just that their hunting keeps them in the shadows, behind cover, hidden within the concealing arms of plants that harbor the goodies they like to eat.  I fought with ticks and a few snakes to locate a position where I had a clear shot of this one.

[all images are from White Rock Lake]


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…

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[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…