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This article was published 6/4/2020 (561 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A local nature videographer has just the thing for nature lovers who are observing self-isolation in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
For over 15 years, retired cabinet maker Rick Onskie has been filming wildlife and sharing his work by way of Nu-Sun Cinema, a non-profit production company.
"I love doing this," Onskie said. "We’re looking to educate people. So many animals have bad reps, which is terrible because it’s not true."
Each spring for the past 10 years, Onskie has observed American kestrel falcons nesting nearby. Shortly thereafter, Nu-Sun partnered with American Kestrel Partnership and Boise State University in Idaho on a project to capture images and data on the birds. Researchers and citizen scientists are involved in this project across North America due to long term declines in kestrel populations in numerous regions since 1966. Mating habits, egg laying, climate information and more is all tracked and shared online.
"We’ve been supplying them with data since we started this," Onskie said. "We’ve even done feather samples for DNA testing in 2017."
This year, the pair of kestrels returned north a little earlier than usual, around March 13.
"It was really weird this year," Onskie said. "Typically, the male is here first, or they’re here together. This year the female was here first. But, the male has showed up on the same day three years in a row, to the day - March 23. He even knew to give himself an extra day this year, it being leap year. That’s pretty incredible."
The pair of rare birds have been nicknamed Lady Winnipeg and Mr. Manitoba by Laurie D., a loyal American visitor to Nu-Sun’s Kestrel Korner website.
"The possibility of these being the original pair is highly doubtful, but they may be offspring," Onskie admitted. "But they know the boxes are here."
To date, activity around the two custom-built nesting boxes has involved the pair getting acquainted, or reacquainted, whichever the case might be.
"There have been some mating rituals and so forth," Onskie said. "It’s all about the courtship right now. There were two females in a nest box the other day, and they were fighting over the boxes."
The smallest falcon in North America, American kestrels are a fascinating study for birders.
"They’re incredible birds," Onskie said. "Their eyesight is so keen, they can even pick up urine trails of the mice and voles. They can detect slight movements."
As cavity nesters, the American kestrel will use a hollowed out part of a tree or something similar in the wild. As such, Onskie’s boxes are prime real estate for the birds.
"We put in aspen shavings, dustless and sterilized," he said. Each box is rigged up with two high-definition cameras for a top and side view."This year, we redesigned our boxes to make them less invasive," Onskie explained. "Now, we can clean the cameras and have access to the cameras, and they’ll never see us."
Admittedly a labour of love, Onskie is excited to share another season at Kestrel Korner with animal enthusiasts."It’s a lot of work to do this," he said. "I try to update the site everyday, if I can, so people are in the know of what’s going on."For more information, or to view previous video and photos or an HD livestream of the birds, visit www.nu-sun.com and follow the link to Kestrel Korner.
Sheldon Birnie is the reporter/photographer for The Herald. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at email@example.com Call him at 204-697-7112