Continuing the theme of last week's blog, I'm pleased to say that there are lots of windhovers and riphooks around the reserve at the moment. Of course, this might not be such good news for the small mammals and dragonflies that they're eating, but for me it's an absolute joy. Windhovers, you see, are among my favourite birds.
It all goes back to my childhood, when I first became a member of what was then known as the YOC (Young Ornithologists' Club), the RSPB's junior membership in the days before it became RSPB Wildlife Explorers. Back then, the YOC logo was a hovering kestrel, and I'll always remember wearing my badge with pride. This laid the foundations for a lifelong love of birdwatching, and the kestrel will always hold a close place in my heart.
As anyone who regularly reads these columns will know, I often say that starling is my favourite UK bird, but kestrel runs it a close second. (Don't worry Clare, magpie is well up there too!) Any sighting of a kestrel will always bring a smile to my face, and I've spent many a long drive counting how many kestrels I can spot hovering above the roadside or perched patiently on a telegraph pole of convenient tree.
Not a great photo, but a typical view of a kestrel when on long journey
Nowadays, whenever I see a kestrel, you're likely to hear me call "kezzie", and this always brings to mind Ken Loach's iconic film Kes, which is, in turn, based on Barry Hines' novel A kestrel for a knave. Time for a confession though. I have never actually read the book or watched the film, which is perhaps something I should rectify one day.
It seems only right that I turn the attention on the kestrel in this way for this week's blog as it's harder not to see them than it is to see them at the moment. The counts of birds hunting over the South Levels and reedbed between the Sluice and Island Mere have often been in double figures over the last few days, peaking at an impressive 15. At least two are often hunting over the North Marsh and North Bushes area, even perching close to the visitor trail for long periods, while other have been seen hovering over Whin Hill. Some of the best sightings have been from Bittern Hide, or hovering overhead as you walk along the beach.
Kestrel hovering by Dene Carter
With so many kestrels around, it looks like they've had a successful breeding season locally. Numbers may also be boosted by migrants from Scandinavia, as one or two have been watched flying in over the sea this week too. I love watching kestrels hovering and admiring the way their head barely moves as they hang in the air, intently watching and waiting for an unsuspecting small mammal to pass by. They're not exclusively eating mammals though, and our kestrels also seem to be capitalising on the glut of common and ruddy darter and migrant hawker dragonflies that are around, as I've watched several of them catching dragonflies on the wing. They're pretty good at this, but haven't mastered the technique anywhere near as successfully as the closely related riphook (AKA hobby), which is true master of aerial pursuit of insects. Several hobbies are hunting over the reedbed and Scrape at the moment, too, including a number of young birds.
Hobby by Oscar Dewhurst
Hobbies and kestrels aren't the only birds of prey that you can see this week, either. Marsh harriers, buzzards, sparrowhawks, and even peregrines are likely to be seen every day, and an osprey was seen again on Saturday. If you stay till dusk you may spot a barn owl or two hunting, especially from Bittern Hide, while I heard a tawny owl calling in South Belt at lunchtime today.
For many visitors this week, the highlights have been the sightings of whinchats from the North Wall or around the Konik Field. Numbers vary each day, and they can be elusive at times, but there have been several in each location over the last few days. They're often feeding alongside a few stonechats, the odd wheatear, and flocks of linnets and goldfinches. The linnets and stonechats in the dunes are also sometimes accompanied by an elusive Dartford warbler or two.
Whinchat by Jon Evans
Otters have proved popular with those visitors who've been lucky enough to see them with several sightings of three today (presumably mum and two cubs), as well as the lone dog otter. All have been at Island Mere today, but they are also seen at Bittern Hide. The latter has been a good place to see water rails and kingfishers too. Other sightings in the reedbed include grey heron, bittern, little egret, little grebe, cormorant and mute swan.
Out on the Scrape, waders numbers are generally lower than in recent weeks, but the variety is till pretty good with regular sightings of little stint, dunlin, ruff, green and common sandpipers and ringed plovers, as well as the occasional knots, sandrlings and curlew sandpipers this week. One or two bar-tailed godwits have been seen among the 60+ black-tailed godwits, and four avocets remain. The most numerous birds on the Scrape are teal, wigeon, gadwall, mallard, shoveler and lapwing. Among the ducks there are also a couple of pintails, and four pochards were seen yesterday.
There's a good variety of insects still around too. Great green bush-crickets are always popular, while butterflies include small copper, comma, red admiral, common blue, speckled wood, and various whites, while there have also been a few sightings of clouded yellows this weekend. Wasp spiders remain the dunes too.
Clouded yellow by Davene Everett
I do love a Kestrel, great capture Dene!