The Kestrel and I, Alone in a Crowd

This afternoon I drove a few miles down the road to look for birds in a field behind a shopping center. This big field is speckled with gas and plumbing line pipes and other indications that it will eventually be paved over with yet another slab of concrete to “tame” Mother Nature. But in the meantime, it has become a popular spot for local birders to see Horned Larks, Killdeer, a variety of sparrows, and many other species.

I spent a half hour watching five Horned Larks rummaging around on the littered ground for food. They’re such great birds, with their little black “horns” and their sweet tittering songs. They kept hunkering down in little depressions to get some shelter from the strong wind (and I stayed in the car for the same reason), but I still managed to get some decent photos.

I like this series that shows a minor squabble between two of them:

Beat it, buddy -- I found it first!
Beat it, buddy — I found it first!

Ok, let's do this....
Ok, let’s do this….

Bam! Zowie! Whoof! (Batman references anyone?)

Bam! Zowie! Kapow! (Batman references anyone?)

That took all of about 1.5 seconds, and then peaceful feeding resumed.

All's well again.
All’s well again.

Just as I started back toward home, I saw something perched in a tree beside the road and had a hunch it was one of my favorite birds. I pulled off on the edge of the road and grabbed my binoculars. Yep, a kestrel! An American Kestrel, to be more specific.
American Kestrel in tree - close crop but good

American Kestrel in flight (1)American Kestrel in flight (3)These small falcons are beautiful and fun to watch. They hover in mid-air over a field — like little helicopters — so they can spot their prey and drop down on it quickly. This guy didn’t appear to catch anything in the 15 minutes I watched him, despite making several forays into the field. Too bad for him, but it was thrilling for me to be able to watch him hunt for so long. And the best part of the whole episode? This all happened right beside a very busy road, with traffic whizzing past between the kestrel and my car. People might have briefly wondered what I was doing with my binoculars and long camera lens, but I doubt if anyone in those cars had any inkling of what a special part of nature I was witnessing as they sped past us.

I have that feeling so often when I’m watching birds in an area like this — someplace where “normal” people don’t even notice that there’s wildlife around them. This beautiful bird is living out his own life right in the midst of the chaos and noise of human life, while we have our smartphones in our hands and our iPods in our ears. I know the bird is aware of us, but how many of us are aware of him? And even among those few who notice him, how many care about how difficult his life is? Far too few if you ask me.

So long trees, so long grass....
So long trees, so long grass…. Make room for Jesus.

He’s out there in the cold, the wind, the rain, and the heat, constantly searching for his next meal. And how do we honor his struggle? By continuing to pave over his hunting grounds, one at a time, forcing him to constantly search out new places to find sustenance and shelter. Exhibit A: This photo of another bigger piece of land a few hundred yards down the road that is apparently going to be the location of a very large church soon (there was a sign up there last year with the church name on it, but I can’t recall it now). In the past couple of years I’ve often watched a Red-tailed Hawk using a tree in that field as a favorite perch for hunting. I’m sure it was his “home” patch. And now the trees are gone, the grass is plowed up, and there’s probably not a field mouse to be found anywhere.

It’s amazing how differently I see the human world now that I’m so tuned in to the natural world. Every new construction project brings sadness. I understand that landowners need to make money from their land somehow. I guess I just wish there was a way for them to generate an income without displacing all the animals who live there. Ideas, anyone?