Matera. Just look at it. Isn’t it magnificent? What a city! The ancient heart of the stone city of Matera is where we’re heading. It’s taken hours of driving, or in my case, hours of passengering, to get here.
We have two nights in a room with a terrace and a view of the Lesser Kestrels. They are migratory, spending their winters in Africa and their summers breeding in Europe. We’ve timed our migration specially to coincide with theirs.
Thousands of them nest here on the rooftops of abandoned buildings or in specially constructed nest boxes. They spend their days hunting for crickets, centipedes, lizards, geckos, mice and voles in the unspoilt surrounding land. They are small, neat, acrobatic fliers:
There’s a male overhead. He has a grey head, chestnut back and a grey tail with black and white bands. In fact he looks very much like a Common Kestrel of the sort you might find in the UK. Genetic tests have shown that they are not closely related and there must be some special evolutionary pressure which has resulted in them becoming so similar.
Suddenly he closes his wings and stoops in a fierce dive, plummeting to the rooftops in front of us:
He has a mate waiting near their nest box:
She’s been calling for him in a note which would signify impatience were it human.
There are also many feral cats in the city. Their hunting instincts mean they are alert to the chance of a Lesser Kestrel dinner.
It’s not just the cats which think the Lesser Kestrels are great to watch, especially so close. We can sit and have a beer on the terrace and watch them fly by. I particularly like this flying shot. It’s the crispness of the focus on the head and the catchlight in its eye which does it for me. Maybe it’s also the little comedy quiff of a few misplaced feathers:
This cat is not impressed: