A particular mention this week goes to the Kestrel. Kestrels are regularly seen around Dove Stone. This summer has given great views of a family of five Kestrels frequently over Alderman’s Brow as well as some good views of Kestrels from Ashway Gap.
One of the Kestrels we’ve viewed during this time has been distinctive due to having noticeable feathers missing. Kestrels’ moult lasts all year and takes place in sequence; between May and September they’ll gradually lose their main flight feathers with the most noticeable gaps appearing in August and September, hence the appearance of this bird.
The Kestrel is another species that has declined in numbers, linked to the loss of wide field margins and the subsequent reduction in the populations of small mammals as well as the more intensive management of grassland with fewer areas supporting voles.
On the upside, schemes that aim to restore hay meadows and field margins as well as the creation of beetle banks are helping the Kestrel.
Beetle banks are essentially tussocky grass strips or mounds that run around the edges or through the middle of a field. They’re seeded with a grass mixture of cocksfoot, creeping red fescue and timothy. It’s this tussocky structure that’s important to spiders and beetles as they can overwinter in the tussocks, coming out in spring to prey on crop pests like aphids: basically a natural form of pest control that contributes towards decreasing the need for insecticides.
Beetle banks also provide habitat for species that prefer to nest in open farmland away from field boundaries such as corn buntings, reed buntings and skylarks.. Grey partridges may also select these in preference to hedge banks to avoid predators.
Last word on the Kestrel goes to Ted Hughes:
Effortlessly at height hangs his still eyeHis wings hold all creation in weightless quietSteady as hallucination in the streaming airWhile banging wind kills those stubborn hedges
Ted Hughes, The Hawk in the Rain