Site manager Karen Sutton writes:
Kestrels have returned to breed once again at Crossness!
A pair bred in 2010 in the upper compartment of a Barn Owl nest box. Barn owls were breeding in the main compartment, whilst Kestrels took up residence upstairs and raised 3 young.
This time however, not content with the smaller attic compartment, they have gone upmarket and moved in to the larger downstairs compartment of a different nest box.
It has been fascinating watching them toing and froing from the box, hunting in the immediate vicinity, perching on nearby fence posts, seeing off anything that might be perceived as a threat. Last week I watched as the male persistently dive-bombed a Grey Heron as it sat atop the bat hibernaculum. The heron had to duck its head repeatedly to avoid apparent collision but it stood its ground, much to the annoyance of the Kestrel.
Richard Spink, a regular visitor to Crossness, and a keen photographer, showed grit and determination in getting these wonderful shots of the Kestrels in action this week. Armed with a camouflage scrim net, lots of patience and the willingness to hole up in an uncomfortable dip for several hours first thing in the morning, Richard managed to capture some odd behaviour.
Here he describes the first attempts as being somewhat frustrating, but his persistence clearly paid off:
‘I learned a lot from that first shoot. I saw movement inside the box and thought one of them would fly out soon. It did – like a torpedo and was gone; I never got a chance to catch it on camera. This time, as soon as I could see movement, I had the camera set up on target and my finger on the shutter release. Good job too. First, the male came out backwards, quickly followed by the female who flew straight off, quickly followed by the male. It was all over in about 5 seconds.’
The strange thing though, is that the female was carrying prey OUT of the box!
It is fantastic to have Kestrels breeding again at Crossness. They are an amber species of conservation concern, and they rely on these wide open spaces for hunting of their preferred small mammal prey (sometimes larger insects and reptiles). Open habitat, where large swathes of vegetation are available to them, is very important. It is the loss of this habitat to development that has resulted in their marked decline since the 1970s.
Their presence here demonstrates what a great site Crossness is and why areas like this are so important for our wildlife and must be protected.
Next month, or in early July, we should hopefully be rewarded with Kestrel chicks and many more wonderful photo opportunities.