The Lesser Kestrels of Matera #1

It was late at night, at a depressing motorway service station somewhere off the M25, and in an anonymous branch of WH Smiths, that it happened to me: I had a sudden compulsion to buy a copy of BBC Wildlife Magazine. I’d only ever bought it once before and scoffed at the stunning photography of wolves or some other such creatures in inaccessible locations by people who had taken two years of their lives to get a single photograph. Late at night the next day in a soul-less Premier Inn I picked up the magazine and sat riveted by page after page about the Lesser Kestrels of Matera, an ancient city in Italy: There were thousands of falcons in the historic city; people could get close to them; they hunted crickets in the fields around the city; they roosted and nested together. I found it so exciting I wanted to go there. Then I realised we’d be quite close to Matera on my next trip to Italy. Could we possibly go? Would we be able to see them?

“No”, she said. “I’ll be working and it’s too far.”

Yet on a Sunday, there we were, in the car and on our way.

On the outskirts of Matera lies a nature reserve with a stunning view of a city which is built with streets over caves with the whole perched over a gorge. It’s one of the oldest inhabited cities on Earth.

Matera - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

It’s been inhabited since the Neolithic, with an ancient stone heart of caves.

The setting of the nature reserve couldn’t be better. It’s cloudy though, so the light is poor and photography will be very difficult.

Matera - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Then we see our first Lesser Kestrel flying low and fast. I just manage to photograph it as it passes a mobile phone mast.

Lesser Kestrel in Matera - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

Then we realise we are surrounded by them. There are at least 15 over our heads, swooping onto the long grass.

I can see that one is eating a centipede – in mid-air!

They spend so little time on the ground that they seem to eat whilst flying. A female has caught a centipede and is eating its tail while hovering. She’s distracted and I manage to move underneath her while she hovers.

Lesser Kestrel in Matera - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

The light is now so poor we have to track back to the car and then face an hour on the road. The only gloom, however, is outside the car. Today had all the magic of a dream come true. Have you ever had that happen to you?

I want to come back when it’s better weather and I stand a chance of some decent photographs – and we did! Part #2 to come soon.

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