Monday, May 6, 2013

May 6

A Tale of Two Boxes

    To illustrate just how unpredictable and resilient the American kestrel can be, I thought I would share with you the story of two of the boxes in my project to date.  
     The first box is brand new this year (put up last November before the ground froze). It was put up with a second box in a very promising section of habitat which consisted of mostly evergreen nursery stock mixed with some patches of barren, weedy ground-perfect.  Early in March there were kestrels present off and on at the farm, but it was obvious that they were just moving through. I saw my first kestrel in the vicinity of the box, a male, on 4/12. Up to that point, I had removed only 1 starling so I thought things were looking up. Unfortunately, soon after 4/12 the starlings really began showing an interest in the box. From that point on, I began eliminating starlings about every other day with no sightings of kestrels near the box. When I arrived on the morning of 4/27, I was shocked to see 3 large farm tractors, one tractor trailer, 2 large irrigation rigs and about 12 farmhands all working within 15 feet of the box. This went on for days. Amazingly enough, there was a starling peeking his head out of the box when I showed up later that day so I dealt with him (he was the 7th starling that had been removed from that box), but at this point I had totally written off the box, after 45 days of persistence, as a failure for the season. Six days later, on 5/3, I showed up after the farmhands had left. All the equipment was still there. There were no signs of starlings or any other avian activity. Just out of habit, I figured I should go into the box just to see what was going on. When I opened the box I was looking at two kestrel eggs. I almost fell off the ladder. At some point in the previous 5 days the kestrels had adopted the box, despite all the craziness around it and laid 2 eggs. Unbelievable. 
    The second box was in a very similar area of habitat in the town of Ellington. Unlike box #1, this box had almost no starling issues all season long and was being regularly visited by the a pair of kestrels since 4/8. One day I ran into the farmer who informed me that a "little wood cutting" was being done on that parcel and he hoped that it wouldn't bother the kestrels at the box. A couple of days later I stopped over to check out the situation. Within 25 feet of the box there were 2 enormous wood skidders dragging whole trees and brush to a 300 HP chipper that could take trees up to 23 inches in diameter. They were being fed into the chipper by a huge excavator. There were three tractor trailers waiting to be loaded with chips that were lined up wheel to wheel within 10 feet of the box. The "little wood cutting" turned out to be 30 acre clearcut. This went on for four full days. It is hard to put into words what I felt after seeing that 47 days into my kestrel season. After all the equipment was finally moved out, I looked in the box and saw that the kestrels had obviously abandoned it. Two days later a starling was peeking out so I took care of him. Two days ago I visited the box and saw no activity at all. Determined not to repeat my rookie mistakes from the past, I took NOTHING for granted and went into the box. After I lowered it, I looked inside and saw a female kestrel crouched in the corner looking back at me. It remains to be seen if she will stay and lay eggs there, but it was a very, very emotional moment for me. What amazing birds. 
      Total miles driven this season to date= 3,011   Total number of box visits to date= 704.