Open Mic: American Kestrel Experiences
by Nate Swick
At the Mic: Michele Keane-Moore
Michele Keane-Moore is a card-carrying biologist who calls Western Massachusetts home. A relative newcomer to ABA and the world of serious birding, she enjoys birding with her local bird club, the Allen Bird Club (out of Springfield, MA), and setting out by herself with her camera to see what is around. She considers herself on the steep part of the learning curve where it comes to birding and is thankful for the kindness that has been shown to her by her fellow birders.
I read my morning’s ‘Allen Bird Club Bird News of Western Mass.’ email with great interest. American Kestrels had been reported at Barnes Airport in Westfield, MA. Even at my early stage of birding, kestrels had become somewhat of a ‘nemesis’ bird for me. I had never seen a kestrel and was dazzled by their description and image in my Sibley’s. Westfield is not a bad drive from where I live. With more hope than certainty, I drove out towards Barnes by myself.
The directions I had were both specific and vague. The kestrels had been seen at the South end of the airport. Near a fence. Past a gate. At the end of the road. This may be the norm when chasing a bird but it seemed very mysterious to me. How would I know I was in the right place? Presumably, if I were lucky enough to see my quarry. I sped down the highway, found the road, passed the gate, and drove to the end of road near the airstrip—so far, so good. Now, where were the kestrels?
Amazingly, as I approached the tall fence surrounding the runway, I could see a kestrel immediately hovering over the ground and searching for prey. I watched mesmerized as it wheeled down to capture something and then as it flew back to a small post. It was unbelievable—the email had materialized into a real bird. I got out my camera but there was the fence and it wasn’t going to be easy to shoot through. I did my best but was not happy with the images. Then the kestrels flew up high and disappeared. I saw one go over my head and towards the tree line near me. I set off towards the tree line with, again, more hope than certainty.
Scanning the tree line, I immediately saw a crow and felt my spirits sink. The crow was placidly sitting in the tree—not upset, not cawing, not acting like there might be a bird of prey anywhere nearby. I kept scanning the tree line anyway. Then I saw her. She was sitting up on a branch by herself and looking quite lovely. I was still a distance off but not knowing when she’d fly, I kept advancing and taking shots every ten feet or so. I was in for the surprise of my life. She did not stay alone as the following pictures capture. According to our Massachusetts’s Audubon, American Kestrels have been experiencing a sharp decline in our state over the past few decades. In consideration of their declining status, this photo sequence should at least marginally cheer-up those of us who are hoping that they will make a come-back.