18 Jun 2008
The day started well. While we were making breakfast, Trish noticed movement in the huge elder bush opposite the kitchen window. It's a bit early for the birds to be stealing the berries, so we looked closer.
Peeking between the leaves was the somewhat bemused face of our kestrel chick. Its identity was confirmed by the small, fluffy feather drifting slowly towards the lawn just in front of the bush. The chick had just made its first, tentative flight from the hole in the wall.
We don't know why the hole is there. It's up in the gable end. The opening is about 20cm square and it occupies maybe half the thickness of the wall - so about 20-30cm deep. It's common to see square holes on the outside of old, granite buildings in this area. They were used for wooden scaffolding during construction. But such holes are normally smaller and there are rows of them. We have just the one.
The kestrels don't mind there's only one. It's high and safe. They treat it as a cave and have used the hole as a nest every year for at least the past eight years. We know when the chicks have hatched because, from our bathroom, we can hear them screeching. Nor do chicks or mother mind us using the lawn directly below the nest. We often while away pleasant hours sitting in deck chairs watching the mother arrive with a vole or mouse and seeing the chicks tear it apart.
The real treat, though, is seeing a chick fledge. The elder and cherry trees opposite the hole offer a safe landing point for the short maiden flight.
This morning's chick is the kestrels' second brood this year. We think it's an only child - often there are two or three chicks crammed in that tiny cave.
As a pilot, I had great sympathy with its apparent state of astonishment as it recovered from the sortie. I remember my first solo very well - the sense of achievement and pride mixed with just a hint of having got away with something unlikely.
After wobbling about on the branch for a while, the chick tested its wings and finally took off, beating its way into the air somewhat inexpertly. It shed more of its fluffy baby feathers. Its feet dangled below as though it had forgotten to retract its undercarriage. (It might, of course, have been more professional than we thought. Test pilots, on the first few flights of an aircraft prototype, usually leave the gear down so as not to tempt fate by testing too many things at once.)
From our experience of past years, we expect to see quite a lot of this young kestrel. The recently fledged birds usually hang around the house, using the capped chimney of the lower barn as a resting place and hunting perch.