This morning was amazing. I returned to see my beloved perch and saw the male kestrel sitting on it. Again, I pulled up about 30 meters from the spot and slowly assembled my tripod then mounted the camera and slowly inched my way towards him. I tried to – and always try – to only step one or two steps at a time when he was turned away. His hearing is awesome and the smallest rustle in the grasses would make him scrutinize me big time. However, he did not exhibit any ill feelings or certainly not stress.
I managed to walk up to the 10-meter line and start clicking off the frames. One after the other. I watched him preen his tail and wish he were turned side-on to me and not face dead on, but that’s how it was and I really did not want to stress him. All my movements were slow and deliberate and began shooting with the 2x converter using manual focus as my 30D does not focus at a maximum aperture of f/8. With the 300mm f/4L IS lens and a 2x the total focal length becomes 600mm f/8 with a field of view equivalent to 960mm (600 x 1.6 with 1.6 being the crop factor of the sensor in my camera). I set exposure to +1 1/3 and fired away.
He posed beautifully. He began to preen his tail feathers. Then he did a little preening of his breast. The more time I spent watching him, the more interested I became to learn his behaviour from the clues he gave. He kept looking toward the North West and suddenly started to appear somewhat excited as he began to bob his head up and down. Not much, but enough to note. He kept staring in the same direction and the bobbing became a little more excited and the speed at which he bobbed also increased. Then very suddenly he took off from the perch and flew in that direction landing on what I thought was the road. I was quite concerned as it is a road that has a little bit of traffic with cars using it more during peak hour. What scared me that it looked like he was on the road and he may get struck. Of course if I start running towards him I may totally scare him away or a driver may not even notice me if I wave my arms and get them to stop or slow down. As if most people cared. Now he was on the shoulder, in the gravel, which was a relief. Then he flew back in my direction, landing on a fence post about 30m away. I knew he had prey so I walked swiftly towards him. He did not move at all and allowed me to get to about 12m or so (crouching low) then he flew straight back to his perch that I erected. But of course you already know that. He held the mole cricket a while and then proceeded to what I think was eating it. But I believe he bit it in half then flew off in the direction of the nest about 100m to the north. I could hear the excited trilling of the young kestrels and even when he flew away they kept trilling. He was back on the perch within one minute! Then the interesting behaviors began. He started to what it looked like a yawn, but I could tell he was about to eject a pellet. A pellet is a small bunch of indigestible body parts of his meal items, whether insect body casings, wings perhaps and even small bones from mammalian prey. He proceeded to regurgitate three pellets in about 10 minutes. I also used this time to gain his confidence even more and did what I tend to do. Take wide shots, get closer and see how close I can get. Luckily, I managed full head and shoulders portrait with my 300mm lens and stacked 1.4x and 2x converters. It’s funny how some people are so anal about using a 2x that they complain endlessly about lack of sharpness with a 2x. Well, I am glad I ain’t one of those people as I just go and shoot away and let the pixel peepers complain and not get any better at their own photography as they are too busy worrying about a few pixels! LOL.
I also wanted to take photos of the plumage on the back of his head/neck as I really appreciated the patterns. I stood with him for about five minutes and was convinced that this trust or acceptance of me was truly there and I think this is about as privileged as any wild bird has ever made me feel. He decided that the spot was no good and flew south towards another hunting site and by the time I walked back to the car some 30 meters away, he was flying back with a small skink to give to the young. I swiftly made my way back to the perch so I can try and get a shot of him coming in to land, but my adventure was over by now as he flew west from the nest. Overall I had a tremendous session and it made me fall in love with birds of prey even more. As if my affinity for them is not over the top already.
ADDENDUM: This post has been sitting in draft form for over two months, it’s about time I revealed it! 🙂 Note, that eventually I christened the kestrel Henry. He was an amazing fellow, busily feeding his offspring. I am afraid I have not seen the female kestrel after about two weeks of discovering the nest hollow. I believe that she had perished. I visited Henry about six times over a two-week period and the tolerance he showed towards me has been phenomenal. I was humbled at this opportunity to get to know the smallest falcon in Australia, well at least Henry, a little more intimately.