Fenland falcon

A few Saturdays ago in January I made a trip to Burwell Fen, which is separated from Wicken Fen by the Burwell Lode. The whole area is a great place to see birds of prey in winter, and it’s not unusual to see buzzard, marsh harrier, short eared owl, barn owl, sparrowhawk, peregrine falcon, occasionally hen harrier and in the summer hobby. And it’s also not unusual to see 4 or 5 species in one visit. On this trip I saw marsh harrier, buzzard, short eared owl and sparrowhawk. And there were kestrels hovering over the fenland the whole time I was there.

A male kestrel (Falco tinnuculus, Dansk: tårnfalk)

Kestrels are renowned for their ability to seemingly hover. In fact they’re flying into the wind at the same speed as the wind is moving, so I guess it’s not technically a hover, but either way it’s impressive to watch. Incidentally, there were strong winds in my part of the world last weekend and I saw a buzzard which looked to be doing a reasonable impersonation of a kestrel… which gives you a good idea of how strong the wind was!

I’ve seen kestrels described as the ‘motorway falcon‘ because many sightings are of them hovering above roadside verges. This has created the impression that kestrels are very common and that the countryside between the roads must be full of them. But alas, as with most things, that’s not so. It’s not the presence of other raptors which has forced them to the roadside but the large swathes of agricultural devastation which has depleted habitat and rendered the farmland barren as a source of food for them. Consequently, they’re nowhere near as common as they may seem.

This male kestrel was perched on top of a telegraph pole and I’d been keeping an eye on him for several minutes to see what he might do. It was a beautiful sunny morning with good light for some photograsphs if I could get myself, the sun and the subject all in the right place relative to each other.

And after a few minutes the kestrel took off from his post, looped around and did a low altitude, high speed fly past. At his closest he was no more than  ten metres or so away and less than a metre above the ground, like he was posing for his picture! He executed his fly past and then swooped up higher and zoomed off over the fen on a hunting trip.

It was a remarkable twenty seconds and I don’t know why he looped past so close to where I was. It almost looked as though he was checking me out, and in the last picture he was definitely looking in my direction. It made my morning too, kestrels are spectacular and beautiful highly specialised predators, and it’s rare to see one in the air so close.

9 responses to “Fenland falcon

  1. Lovely clear shots of a gorgeous bird. They’re not a common sight here in North Wales either, but can be seen quite regularly over my ‘patch’ on Bryn Euryn and the Little Orme.The territory may well take in both locations.

  2. What beautiful birds they are. We have had a lot of birds of prey hovering around our property of late. It’s been a very hard Summer this year and the rat population has built up significantly and they are all making a bee-line for my fully enclosed veggie garden. We also had 2 clutches of chicks hatch out and baby chicks are easy pickings, especially when they are bright yellow and fluffy. We have had that white gosshawk (that caused the entire chicken population to run for the hills for almost a whole day), another hawk on the back block, kookaburras, butcher birds and Currawongs.

    • Was it the rats or the birds of prey that got the chicks? I’m going to have to find out what butcher birds (we have shrikes in the UK which we call ‘butcher birds’ due to their barbarous habits) and currawongs are. Can’t believe you have goshawk in your garden – they’re awesome and very very rare in the UK.

      • The white goshawk comes back every year to eat chickens ;). It was the birds of prey (predominately kookaburras) that got the chicks as they also get the rats! I saw one down in the lower acre with a rat in his beak. HOORAY!

  3. What a wonderful experience – seeing a bird of prey so close to you.
    Altogether sad that their habitat has been depleted by crops though.

    • Hello Vicki, I’ve got no problem with the crops, I just wish the bits between the crops could remain untouched and chemical free to give all the other creatures a chance!

  4. Great pictures. How about this beauty on top of our roof today. Next doors pond now empty :-).



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