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March 3, 2011
We have been lucky enough to have a pair of American Kestrels hanging around our property. Also called sparrow hawks, these beautiful little birds of prey are favored by falconers.
Their favorite perch is the electrical wires that run the length of our property, and the ornamental pear trees that form an alle’e along our 900 foot driveway.
They will fly away as soon as the car approaches, almost racing it down the driveway to the house.
In mid January, I was very surprised to see one of the pair sitting on our deck bird feeder. They have never come this close! In fact, the whole time the kestrel was puffed up in the falling snow, a tiny junco was underneath, on the floor, literally not moving– and doing his best to remain invisible! The kestrel diet consists of mice, voles, other small rodents, larger insects, and the occasional small bird. I could almost see the junco heave a giant sigh of relief when the kestrel left!!! The junco can be seen in the photo below, in the lower pot hanging on the railing.
The kestrel sat, surveyed the scene, and called to its mate. I was very glad to have been able to see it up close and relatively still.
About a month later, as we were leaving the house, my daughter went out first, then came back in telling me there was something outside that, in one way, I was not going to be happy about, but in another way, I would!
I followed her outside, and there outside the garage door, between 2 vehicles, was one of the kestrels, dead.
She was right, I was very sad about this, but happy that I would be able to inspect one at close range.
Being a bird of prey, it is against the law to keep him, but since he was right in front of the garage door, he had to be removed. I did take this opportunity to photograph, measure, and weigh him (for a future watercolor) .
I should have been a naturalist, I am fascinated by all things in nature, dead or alive. Death allows closer inspection.
This (and future posts) will include these discoveries- so if you don’t like dead things – heed my warnings, and go no further!!!
This poor kestrel, appears to be a male – males have a spotted breast, females, streaked- another thing you can’t really see as they go zooming by!! His dead weight was 3.8 oz, and breast bone was not pronounced, so he did not seem to have been starving. His weight fell on the lighter side of their usual weight range of 80g-156g, but still within the parameters.
After watching a documentary on falconers, it was interesting to learn that the handlers weigh their birds before each hunt, because if their weight is a tad too high, it will affect their hunting abilities. So, as in the wild, the falcons have to be careful not to overeat.
Upon closer inspection, I discovered the beak was split in half. At first glance, I thought maybe he had crashed into the truck or garage while diving for food, but the break appears to have been there quite a while. Despite this deformity, he seemed to have managed quite well, up until that day!
Not a large bird, the kestrel measured 10″ from head to tail, wingspread from shoulder to shoulder was 6″ , wing tip to tip about 14″. Shoulder to wing tip was about 7 1/2″. He had about 8 or 9 tail feathers, his lower leg from elbow to toe was about 2″.
Except for the split on the top, his beak seemed fully functioning and in good shape.
A beautiful little bird, I would have loved to preserve him – but it is against the law to have one, dead or alive, without proper license.
Since his death, I have not seen his mate. Hopefully, if she survives, and finds another life partner, she will return with him to our property.
All is well, and never dull, here at Mountain Meadows this bright, sunny March morning……………………..
October 22, 2010
After many attempts to pull this thing off, my son finally rounded up about 15 of his friends, loaded up the SUVs and cars, and made the trek, 3 hours south of DC, to our 47 acre farm!
Purpose? A camp out, of course!!!
The first 2 girls arrived, all decked out in typical city girl finery-leggings, fancy scarves, and finely coiffed hair, topped with sunglasses. They needed to pick up some additional supplies, so asked me to direct them to the “general store”! I was happy to do so!! There was definitely a boost to the local economy that day- with all the items everyone forgot to bring from home!!
A tent city quickly formed in the middle of our back 20 acres. A variety of tents, the food and blankets, and all the camping equipment they forgot, (which, fortunately, Mr. Green Jeans had stored in the garage!!!) were piled up in the field.
Since everyone showed up about 2 hours later than planned- setting up the tents was an immediate priority- before darkness fell. The tractor came in very handy – the bucket was filled with all their essentials and driven over to the campsite.
One couple brought their adorable little dog. Pixel is a little white ball of fluff, sporting a dyed dark mohawk! Definitely a city dog!!!
Mr. Green Jeans had an old metal barrel that had been cut in half- perfect for their campfire. Since we had just recently come thru a drought – fire extinguishers were sent along – just in case!
We had a collapsible camp picnic table for them to use, and the heavy wooden one from under my tree was also thrown into the tractor bucket and taken to the campsite.
Everyone pitched in, and the tents were up and the fire roaring in no time.
The temperature at night was supposed to get a tad bit colder than expected, so I had to drag out my pile of vintage, thrift shop and auction quilts to help keep the crowd warm. The air mattresses were blown up (they are roughing it, after all!) and stuffed in the tents. Two of the girls had no tent, and were cramming a double air mattress into the back of their SUV! I pulled them aside and told them, if they needed to sneak into the house at night to sleep, that would be fine! The bathrooms in the house were available to all.
Since my son is in a band, and the band members were at the camp out- they had band practice out back!! I love listening to them play- they could only get as far away from the house as the length of all our extension cords! The guys probably would have played later into the night – but at about 9:30pm could no longer feel their fingers in the cold night air!!
The next morning, Mr. Green Jeans and I made breakfast for 15!! Gourmet flavored coffees (do it yourself), a couple dozen local eggs, bacon, rolls, raisin toast, and waffles, were eagerly wolfed down.
My son took Allie, the one of our dogs who plays well with others, to the river (her favorite pastime), and little Pixel (remember him – little city dog with the mohawk?) gamely followed along – doing everything Allie did!!!! His beautiful white curly hair, was a knotted dirty mess, by the time he was done!! He was, officially now, a country dog (altho’ still on a leash!)
Now the day’s entertainment began!! Horse riding for the adventurous few. The horses were so unnerved by the activities of the night before, and the tent city – we decided all riding would be within the boundaries of the paddock. My son, for the first time since his last horseback riding lesson at age 6 or 7- got on a horse, at the behest of his girl friend. That will be made into a poster for my wall – since I doubt that I will see that ever happen again any time soon!!!
One girl had the time of her life on Cisco, our new quarter horse! She hadn’t ridden in about 10 years, but like riding a bicycle – she got right back into it! My horse, “the big guy” , was perfect for all those who had never ridden and were slightly timid about it. He’s kind, and careful, and rarely goes faster than a walk!!!
Everyone got to shoot guns and rifles- I did walk the property later, to make sure no stray bullets had taken out any of the neighbors on the old country road! One guy was quite proud of the fact that he was going to have a bruise from the recoil of the rifle- something to brag about at work on Monday!!!!
All got to try the crossbow- that girl who rode the quarter horse, injured her thumb on the crossbow – but with a cup of ice, she was ready to go again!! Just because she was a city girl – does not mean she wasn’t tough!!! I would have been crying!!!
The last event of the day, was the urbanite guys taking a turn at driving the tractor!! One guy had never even driven a stick shift, and Mr. Green Jeans bravely took him on!! All the guys did well- a good time was had by all, I think!!!
These were the nicest bunch of kids – not kids, really- all in their mid to late 20’s- I can’t wait til they come back again!!! I think we’ll have to invite them back during haying season!!!
All is well at Mountain Meadows, back to “normal”, and a bit quiet………….