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Published: 4/27/2020 10:46:57 AM

Today is an odd day indeed.  I am breaking with my normal routine because the whole notion of routine has just been tossed out the window.  For me, it is April 18 and I am writing this column before you even read last week’s column.  I don’t normally do this sort of thing, but circumstances are anything but normal today because it is snowing.

I was absolutely appalled to wake up and find heavy, wet snow covering everything this morning.  The only break that I caught was the fact that the driveway and the road are completely clear of snow because of the residual heat they still retain from past sunny days.  The snow was falling heavily in the morning, but started to lighten up by 11 a.m., so I took a chance and went for a drive.  Surely, there must be something interesting out there.

A few miles from my house there is a hay field that has proven rich in interesting species in the past.  I cautiously drove in, took a quick pass past a cattail marsh (where I found nothing) and then proceeded to slowly drive up the west side of the field.  It was just luck that an American kestrel (Falco sparverius) was sitting there on the phone lines.  But I will take a little credit.  After all, I put on pants, shook off my “Covid Coma” and got myself outside with my camera.  Fortune favors the prepared.

Like many other birds on this particular morning, I noticed a certain “confusion” on this bird’s face.  He seemed to be as surprised to find snow on the ground as I was.  He was high up on the wire, but I was slowly able to execute a series of repetitive maneuvers with my car that allowed my to gradually get closer and closer to him.  Then he flew and I held my breath.  Flying down the road would be good, but flying across the field would be disaster.

He flew down the road and actually allowed me to approach him from a different angle.  He was clearly concentrating on something in the field, so every time he turned away from me I moved closer with my car.  Whenever he turned toward me and gave me a first-class glare, I would stop the car.  Then he would turn away and I would resume my 1-mile-an-hour approach.  Eventually I hit the limit of his “personal space” and, with one last glare, he took flight and flew right over me.  I couldn’t believe how nice the photo was when I first saw it.

I turned the car to head south and take a swing by some grass growing in very wet ground, found a particularly cooperative female robin, and spent some time taking some very nice photos.  Then I made a U-turn and headed back to see if anything interesting was happening at the pond across the street from the hayfield.  Nothing there, so I turned to head off for greener pastures when I noticed the kestrel flying across the field toward a post that had been driven into the ground.  I held my breath.  He had a vole!

There was a patch of gravel road that went out into the field (straight toward the kestrel), but it was very wet and muddy.  Did I take the risk?  It meant the possibility of a photo paired with the possibility of getting stuck.  The sedan that I was driving wasn’t made for off-road driving, but I was familiar with the gravel, so I took the chance…and it paid off.  The kestrel flew from the post, but landed in the snowy field in a much more attractive pose and I got the photo I had hoped for without getting stuck in the mud.  All hail Nikonus and Iso!

The smallest falcon in North America, the American kestrel is a species that moves about the landscape to avoid the worst of the winter months.  We are at the northern limit of the kestrel’s winter range, but I would have to say that a winter kestrel sighting is a very rare occurrence in my personal experience.  In the summer, however, I see kestrels all the time because I live in the open country that they prefer, for it is the open fields that allow kestrels to hunt meadow voles, small birds and large insects.

Now that the kestrels are back it is just a matter of finding a mate, finding a territory and finding a suitable tree with a cavity large enough for a family of 4-6 little kestrels.  Once, many years ago, there was a rotten tree across the road from my house in which a family of kestrels was raised, but a storm took the tree and I haven’t had the joy of kestrel chicks since.  Perhaps this very odd year will bring them back to the airspace around my yard.  That would be amazing.

Bill Danielson has been a professional writer and nature photographer for 22 years.  He has worked for the National Park Service, the US Forest Service and the Massachusetts State Parks and currently teaches high school biology and physics.  Visit www.speakingofnature.com for more information, or go to Speaking of Nature on Facebook.

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