Kestrels are returning. I’ve noticed two birds over the past fortnight, and after eighteen months of scarcity, their appearance has been a pleasant reminder that the species exists.
We had a phenomenal bonanza of kestrels on the hill in 2014, and I once counted fourteen birds along a single two mile stretch of hill road towards Dunscore. For a few months, these birds were joined by hen harriers, short eared owls, long eared owls and barn owls as the grass literally came alive with voles, but their collapse was every bit as dramatic as their arrival. I haven’t checked my notes, but it’s possible that I didn’t see a single kestrel on the hill at all last year.
Vole cycles are strange and mysterious things, but while it is easy to overlook the little rodents, their changing populations have such an extraordinary impact on their predators that it’s possible to gauge their status by proxy. In the same way, I haven’t seen more than one or two hen harriers on the hill all winter, but in the winter of 2014/15, I could be sure of seeing six, seven or more every day. All predators prosper when the voles are doing well, and if these tentative signs of a return are anything to go by, I look forward to seeing an increasing number of these beautiful little hunters.