Sunday, 31 May 2009

NZ Falcon hunting starlings

Late last week I had been watching vast numbers of european starlings flocking in the skies above the Whakatane River. They circle in great black clouds before landing in their winter roosts in the park. They have chosen a grove of Karo (a type of pittosporum) that grows in a dense covering on a small curving hill. The miniature railway runs around the back and through a tunnel in the middle of the hill and the stepped seating of the amphitheater creates the curved face. These large roosting colonies occur only in winter in the non-breeding season and is a phenomenon seen on a huge scale in parts of europe. (U-tube has plenty of amazing videos of flocking starlings.)

On Thursday I was walking toward the roosting hill as the sun was sinking, clouds of starlings were squabbling over perches when there was a ripple of alarm among them as a falcon came swooping low over the treetops down toward me before turning to disapear around the back of the hill! Awesome! Its been about two years since I had last seen a falcon in this park and unfortunately that bird had come to a sad end. So I was rapt to see another. The light was fast running out but I was definitely going to be back the next night.






I arrived at the park at about 4.30pm on Friday evening and sat at the top step of the amphitheatre facing toward the setting sun. I'd been there less than a minute when there was the roar of a thousand or so beating wings and a falcon appeared from the tops of the trees to my left and shot just a few feet above my head head to skim above the trees to my right and disapear at a great speed. WOW! A few seconds later and the bird returned and zoomed off back to where he'd come from. Again his flight was marked by a roar of wingbeats from the frightened starlings. What a buzz!






It was a lovely evening and I was content to watch swarms of starlings wash in to land around me in a deafening mix of chirping and wingbeats. One of the flocks I noticed appeared to be flying in a much tighter group forming a dense black cloud over the river. As they got closer I realised they were being chased by a larger bird. I assumed it was a harrier as they were so high up but as they got closer the larger bird disapeared amongst the starlings then all of a sudden it dived straight down at incredible speed then levelled off to zoom toward me. It was of course the falcon and suddenly I had hundreds of starlings flying toward me, I'm desperately trying to get my camera to focus on the bird of prey while my viewfinder registers something like the view from the bridge when the starship enterprise hits warp speed! Whew! And a few moments later the birds have all found their perches for the night (although still squawking loudly about it) the falcon has gone and the sky is lit up a most amazing shade of red and orange. The best show in town and all for free! Haven't been back over the three day weekend but at 4.30pm tomorrow night you know where I'll be.....






3 comments:

Lisa Sarsfield said...

Wow you really were treated to a great show! I love these moments of true bliss and they make me feel very humble.

respecka said...

wow, is that the young falcon from Moutohora, do you know? I saw one up Koohi pt a couple of weeks ago. Great shots, thanks for shring them!

Mandy said...

Thanks for your comments. Have only just ironed out an error that prevented me replying. Sorry it took so long!