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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

#45: American Kestrel - Fiesta Island, CA

Sometimes, it’s the little differences. Sure California has tons of birds never seen anywhere near North Carolina, but even the birds we share seemed somehow atypical. A great example of this sentiment is the raptors, the birds of prey. Around here we’ve got Vultures, Red-shouldereds, Red-taileds, Cooper’s, Kestrels, and Peregrines (in more-or-less descending abundance), but out west I found a different situation entirely. Red-shoulders abounded as the most common raptor, followed closely by Cooper’s Hawks. I found Turkey Vultures and Red-tailed Hawks to be almost nonexistent (saw just one example of each), and Peregrines were surprisingly common compared to what I see out here. But it’s the American Kestrels that stole the show – I found more kestrels around San Diego in two weeks than I can find in North Carolina all year!

This sighting brings us back to that dreaded beachfront they call Fiesta Island. After driving the whole loop, James and I decided to make our way into the interior of the island, which proved to be a much more pleasant birding experience – gone were the raucous beachgoers, their incessant jet-skis, and their poorly trained leashless dogs. Instead, we found a quiet habitat of sand and scrub, a complete departure from the beach we just left. That morning, the ‘June gloom’ that now invaded August had been especially strong, with a thick fog just starting to lift as we explored this odd environment. James spotted a small bird on top of a shrub, and looking into my binoculars I found it to be none other than the American Kestrel you see below.

If only this were a nice-looking bird in good light... but ya can't always get what you want!

Apparently the thick fog soaked the bird’s already ragged feathers, and as James crept closer, the kestrel seemed to be in no hurry to leave. We just sat and stared at this all-together bedraggled-looking bird, and he just sat and stared right back at us. Finally, as James stood within six feet of him, the kestrel decided he’d had enough, and took off – not far though, just another small shrub not ten feet away. It looked like he was having a tough time of flying, so we slowly walked around him and let him rest in peace. To this day, it’s the best look I’ve ever had of an American Kestrel, and it’s likely to remain that way for a long time.

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