Friday, February 26, 2010

On Wings of Pearl - Part One

The Avimor Birding Blog presents "On Wings of Pearl", a three-part (and more to come) guest blog post by Michael Wiegand.

I have worked with Michael on native landscaping and riparian restoration projects here at Avimor over the last three years.  Our mutual enjoyment of birds quickly joined us as friends.  His company is called Habiscapes. A couple times a year, Michael e-mails us - a small group of folks he knows will appreciate it - a narrative of his birding encounters. He has a veritable birding oasis at his home near the site of the old mining ghost town of Pearl, Idaho which is on land adjacent to Avimor.

With nesting Kestrels and several species of Owls calling his yard home, things can get pretty interesting! Not to mention the Idaho rarities that seem to show up at his place every year. He also has a cabin in Garden Valley, Idaho where he feeds and monitors even more great birds among the beautiful mountain pines. His reports are always fascinating and I really enjoy his particular style of prose. His photography is pretty darn good too as it effectively captures the moments he writes about. It is all just too good not to keep to myself and Michael was willing to let me share it with my readers. Enjoy!

The Lonely Kestrel Saga
(written in 2007)

Imagine, if you will, that you were born in a closet with only a small porthole near the top to allow your parents to bring you food periodically. How would it feel? Further imagine that early on in your life you would have to scale the inside of that closet and peer out into a whole new world. What would that feel like? And finally, further imagine that you would have to jump from that porthole to start life on your own....could you do it !?!

Well luckily for me five fledgling (all male!) kestrels did just that this past Tuesday morning while I watched over a several hour period from the side of my garage. How did they end up in a flicker box set within a dense stand of pines near my garage? Only the "Lonely Kestrel" knows...

For the benefit of those who weren't with us last year, the "Lonely Kestrel" saga began late in the winter of 2002...kestrels have nested in the immediate area for the past several years but never specifically in a kestrel nesting box I erected on a snag four years ago on an open, natural habitat piece of my property. That is until last year. One evening in March a female kestrel showed up and perched on the snag house. She called several times for her mate but no answer. A few days later she repeated the behavior as if she was advertising to her mate that a new home had been found. Again no response. She became more determined than ever and very animated often pumping her tail repeatedly as she cried out...flying back and forth between the snag house and the telephone pole they used to use as observation and territorial post together. This went on for several weeks. Her calls became more frantic and melancholy...hence the "Lonely Kestrel" moniker!

...and then it happened!...the male kestrel (her former mate ???) showed up and courtship antics soon ensued. He seemed more interested in the old barn across the road with flicker holes in it and she the snag house...guess who had the ultimate say? my utter joy and excitement they chose the snag house and she began to nest. Early in July she left the nest and, along with her partner, began flying multiple sorties to the young fledglings in the box. By the middle of that month those fledglings were getting real rambunctious and bouncing around inside the box...periodically peering out into their brand new world. One Saturday morning, not long thereafter, a present appeared in our backyard...a young male kestrel had fledged from the box and was 'visiting' our sprinkler! I was worried about the dogs getting to him so I picked him up and placed him back outside the fence so he would be safer in the canyon...he returned and brought his brother and sister with him! was an anxious next few days as we kept an eye out for them and placed them back outside the fence...within a few days they began to fly and stay off the ground and out of the yard...we could relax again. As the summer wore on they began to disperse and ultimately only the paired adults spent the winter...

...Things really got interesting late this past winter...the "Lonely Kestrel" pair began to determine this year's nesting site in late April...round and round they went...bouncing back and forth between the old barn and pump house across the dusty old road and the snag house they used last year on my side of the road...then another female showed up...was it last year's fledgling ? ... we don't know but it really stirred things up. She hung around for a couple of weeks and then moved on. For all of May this house hunting went on frantically and then suddenly she chose one of the Flicker boxes up in the pines along side the garage. Very unusual choice as kestrels are birds of the open country...but I worried about this selection as it was right above my little nursery and an area that I had to access frequently...I didn't feel very good about a successful nesting from this site but did my best not to disturb her too much...even keeping both cars parked off the driveway to minimize distraction. Try as I might I seemed to have disturbed her more than she cared for and she often broke from the box in a tizzy.

So early in June my curiosity got the better of me and I extended my ladder and climbed up expecting to see a sterile set of eggs...instead I found several fuzzballs cuddling in the center of the box!

A week later I clambered up again and saw how much they had grown and I could see that there were four fledglings.
From this point on I left them alone so as not to cause abandonment. The nest box was eerily silent for the next couple of weeks and I feared the worst..but then suddenly this past weekend I could hear some shuffling around going on inside...and then a face appeared in the porthole!!! I was so ecstatic...then another slimmer face appeared...a female of the fledglings was so big he filled the hole completely...I nicknamed him 'Hulk Hogan'
On Tuesday morning, July 1st I came out in the morning to see what was going on in the box and walked right under one of the fledglings who had climbed out on a tree limb...when I looked up he let out a good sized kestrel yell and I almost fell over...I got out the camera and watched them pop out one at a time over the next few hours. Mom wasn't real thrilled about my immediate presence with her kids and scolded me from above. The first three fledglings all sat together about fifteen feet up in the pines. I could hear the other inside trying to bounce/climb up to the porthole. Seemed like it was struggling. I thought perhaps there was only one left and maybe it was the runt so I broke out the extension ladder again and opened up the inside of the box...bam! there were two kestrels left and one just blew right by me and crash landed in the shrubs below...he quickly regained his composure and climbed up into the pines...his little brother cowered in the corner of the box so I lifted him out and checked to see if he was OK. Bam! he burst out of my hand landed on a tree limb nearby barely keeping his balance. I couldn't believe there were five when it appeared there were only three at one week old and four at two weeks old...where was this little guy hiding!?! At any rate he was healthy and now Mom had five males to keep an eye on.

As the day wore on they climbed higher and higher into the tops of the pines and were nearly invisible. Mom and Dad kept a good eye on them. Yesterday was fairly quiet. This morning I went out and was able to spot most of them on the west or windward side of the trees. Then suddenly two of them launched themselves out as Mom passed overhead and followed her across the even paused to 'hover' like he had been doing it his whole life! A few minutes later a another one launched himself and followed his Dad around. They then took turns flying back and forth and landing back in the pines again. So the unusual nesting site was a bonus in keeping them safe from land predators and an excellent launching pad for their first flights...of course the "Lonely Kestrel" knew this all along...!

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