By Nimesh Ved
Nimesh Ved works in conservation education across different segments of society in south Mizoram. While doing so, he finds himself lucky to expand his awareness and appreciation of wildlife in north-eastern India.
Saiha, at the southern tip of Mizoram, has offered me many sightings of avian migrants during my three years of working here as the head of the Samrakshan Trust’s conservation education efforts. A sighting of the Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus was one of my first contributions to the MigrantWatch database last year; and this year too they came back to Saiha to fill my winter months with some memorable sights.
My first sighting of kestrels in the current season was when we saw two of them take small dives in mid-air, turning (almost!) on their sides and catching insects; this spectacle went on for 15 min. It was fun to see small insects disappear amidst this ‘dance’ of the kestrels; as I write I recall Kipling’s eloquent narrative of the ‘Dance of Elephants’ in his ‘Toomai of the Elephants’. We just sat there at our base-camp and soaked in this sight.
On later occasions, we have heard their high-pitched calls at about 6 in the morning, as if chastising us for not making an early start to the day.
One evening at about 4 pm we saw about 20 to 25 Kestrels flying in circles about 30 feet above the ground. There was a fire in the valley and they were presumably enjoying feeding on the insects that fled the fire. It was mesmerising to see the kestrels moving around in joy like children coming out of school. This also led me to look up literature on the Lesser Kestrel Falco naumanni that I thought was a part of that day’s excitement.
Confusions on raptors has often led me to Rishad Naoroji’s book Birds of Prey of the Indian Sub-continent and here I found some of the day’s observations to be in consonance with his notes on the Lesser Kestrel - “Essentially insectivorous, highly social and flocking species”; “Taking prey (mostly insects) more often on the wing than the Common Kestrel, otherwise hunts similarly but mostly in small groups or large loose flocks, 10 m to 15 m above the ground”; “In Africa catches insects disturbed by grass fires in the air”. Next I checked up the web to confirm calls of the Common Kestrel and Lesser Kestrel. While most of the calls I had noticed belong to the Common Kestrel, the call I had heard today (15 Nov 2010, 1:45pm) was that of the Lesser Kestrel, which has a lower-pitched and harsher voice.
How exciting to confirm that the rare Lesser Kestrel visits Saiha! It would be wonderful to know where they come from and how long they spend here.
Some notes on Kestrels from the literature
About Indian Birds by Salim Ali and Laeeq Futehally ~ ‘There is only one bird which can really remain quite stationary, in the air, even when its wings do not move, and that is the kestrel.’
A Pocket Guide to the Birds of Mizoram by Anwaruddin Choudhury ~ Common Kestrel is a common winter visitor to Mizoram.
Nimesh Ved blogs here. He can be contacted at nimesh.ved [at] gmail.com.