Friday, January 2, 2015

A Twitchable Eurasian Kestrel

On Dec. 26, Mark Field of Ontario was browsing through the Nova Scotia Bird Society Facebook page when he found interesting kestrel photos from Hartlen Point, HRM, posted by Kyle Shay earlier that day. We both thought it looked like an American Kestrel from the neck down. The head was rather puzzling though. It didn't take long for Mark to message me back suggesting that it was a Eurasian Kestrel. After consulting Birds of Europe and All the Birds of Nova Scotia, we were confident in the identification and Mark proceeded to share the good news on the Facebook page.
Eurasian Kestrel - Hartlen Point, HRM - Dec. 29, 2014
This very rare bird was seen again on Dec. 27 and 28. This was enough to convince me to make the 6 hour return drive to Halifax on Dec. 29 to get myself a lifer, and a darn good one too. The bird was seen again while I was on my way to Halifax. I arrived at around 9:30 am but it took until 12:06 pm until I saw it.
It was seen once at MacCormack's Beach on Dec. 28 by Chris Peters and Fulton Lavender. All other sightings have been between the corner of Shore Rd & Caldwell and the Hartlen Point Golf Course. It was also seen a few times flying over the hill from Shore Rd towards Murray Rd. The map below shows the bird's usual path (red line) and one occurrence at MacCormack's Beach (red 'x'). Most have observed it either in the field at the corner of Shore and Caldwell or at the golf course.
Google Map showing where the Eurasian Kestrel has been seen
This was my first real twitch to see a very rare bird. Vagrants like a Eurasian Kestrel tend to attract birders from great distances. Dozens of birders were in the area as well as Global TV. It very exciting and fantastic to meet many other birders for the first time.
This was truly an extremely rare bird, and a mega bird for Nova Scotia and even North America. Nova Scotia's only other record of this species was present from January 23 until February 18, 1988. This bird is reported in detail in NS Birds Vol 30, number 1 Winter 1988. In fact, this is only Canada's third Eurasian Kestrel. The other was collected at Alkali Lake, BC in 1946. This bird is so much larger than our American Kestrel that the 1946 specimen was originally misidentified as a Prairie Falcon (First Record of the Eurasian Kestrel for Canada).
Once the news broke that this European vagrant was present, David Currie found out that it was photographed on Nov. 21 by Wayne Hyland. This long staying bird has precedence. The first NS record was originally identified at Beausejour, NB on Jan. 18. On Jan. 23, Eric Mills spotted it at Minudie, Cumberland Co., NS. This bird was last seen at Beausejour on Feb. 26. It is thought that the 1987-1988 bird was present at least a month before it was identified, based on observations of a large falcon on the Amherst Christmas Bird Count. The 1987-1988 bird could have spent as much as 2 months around the NB-NS border.
Our American Kestrel is superficially similar to its Eurasian counterpart, but striking differences emerge with some study. The Eurasian Kestrel shows one moustache while the American has two. A Eurasian Kestrel is also missing the dark hind margins to the wing tips found on the American. See a comparison of a photo that I took on Dec. 29 of the Hartlen Point kestrel vs. an American Kestrel (photo by Ronnie d'Entremont).
Eurasian Kestrel (L) vs. American Kestrel (R)
Detailed descriptions and many photos of Eurasian Kestrels can be found at Indentification Atlas of Birds of Aragon.
This bird was born in 2014 due to the retention of its buff edged juvenal primary coverts and bold pale tips to the secondaries. First year birds go through a partial post-juvenal moult that includes body feathers, scapulars and sometimes, some secondary coverts (not the flight feathers and primary coverts). This moult is completed by January. The photo below shows the pale (buff) edging to the primary coverts.
Juvenal primary coverts on the NS Eurasian Kestrel - photo by Kyle Shay
The relatively thick underside streaking, evenly coarse barring from scapulars to mantle, and lack of substantial gray uppertail coverts make me believe it is a first year female. Some photos may show slight gray on the uppertail of this bird (which can be found on first winter females). The following photo shows the consistent upperside barring from the mantle to the coverts.
Eurasian Kestrel - Hartlen Point, HRM - Dec. 29, 2014
Graham Williams was able to get excellent video using his smart phone paired with a spotting scope. It is available here.
McLaren, I.A. 2012. All the Birds of Nova Scotia: status & critical identification. Gaspereau Press Ltd, Kentville, N.S., Canada
Sibley, D.A. 2014. The Sibley Guide to Birds 2nd Ed. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, N.Y.

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