Kestrel Delight at Stow Maries Aerodrome

I have been longing to get down to Stow Maries Aerodrome for a while. All through lockdown, Denis Stretton and I have been experimenting with the Birdsy cam on site an I have been giving him ideas for set-up, remotely from my home. He has achieved some fantastic footage over the last year, so when it came close to the kestrels' breeding season, we were keen to see if we could get one of the cameras up onto the nest box, which is mounted on an old telegraph pole.

The main issue was the lack of power and Internet , but Denis had been experimenting with lots of options and his latest innovative set-up has solar panels keeping a battery charged to power both the camera and a router. This set-up has worked brilliantly and we have had fabulous views of the 3 chicks, which are looking healthy.

It was great to see the set-up for real, after watching it all online and even more fabulous to see the kestrels within this wonderful habitat. For those of you who don't know, this nest box is at Stow Maries Great War Aerodrome, which provides the perfect, unspoiled habitat for all manner of wildlife, due to the fact that it lay dormant for 100 years after WW1, allowing the wildlife to flourish.

The vast majority of the site is open grassland with woodland and although it has no statutory designation, it is home to many species of fauna and flora including all five species of British owls, a rarity in one location, as well as the 22 red listed birds.The site works in partnership with Natural England to improve and manage our ecology. As participants in their Entry and Higher level Stewardship schemes, they are working hard to carefully manage the site to get the very best habitats for wildlife.

Part of the reason for my visit was also for Denis and I to get some plans drawn up for next year's cameras. We are keen to get a variety of cameras on the site to monitor the barn owls, kestrels, the pond, badger sett and a feeding platform for birds. It is all very exciting and we hope to be working alongside Essex Wildlife Trust with this project. We hope to live stream these cameras.

The weather was not quite what Denis and I had hoped for. It was cold, windy and wet.... not ideal weather for photographing the kestrels and the barn owls which as both regularly seen on site. I have recently purchased a new camera, so I was keen to see what I could achieve with it.

We started with a tour of the site. A highlight was the discovery of this slow worm!

Luckily, we had some breaks in the weather and the male kestrel was a true star. I had lots of opportunities to photograph him around the site. I started with him in the nest box.

He was often perching in different locations around the site...

He alighted on the roof just above us when we were out setting trail cameras....

I could see the potential of a bit of a different perspective on a shot, so I slowly moved until I was almost underneath him...

Over the following few days, I took hundreds of images and it was difficult to choose the ones to share here....

One evening was particularly wet weather, but we headed to the hide. Poor weather can create some interesting and atmospheric shots. The light was quite poor, but boosting the ISO, I got some shots that I rather liked.

Trying to get 'in flight' shots proved a little more challenging. Kestrels fly quite fast and my lack of skill with the new camera meant I missed lots of shots. I got lots of just legs, a wing tip... or nothing at all! I did get a few though....well nearly!

It was not all about kestrels though. There are barn owls on site, but the horrible weather meant that they were unlikely to be out hunting. Wet and windy weather is not good for barn owls. One evening looked a little better, so we headed to the hide and kept our fingers crossed!

My heart leapt when this beauty appeared in a window...

Over the following hour, it hunted around he fields, giving me a chance to try to capture an in-focus shot! It was just magical! Sitting in such a beautiful location watching this owl hunt in the dimming light, is a truly wonderful experience. As the light gradually faded, we just watched it before heading back.

There were a lot of binned images, but I managed a few I liked. These are quite heavily cropped.