Raptor Wednesday at the Movies

The first sight of a church yard in Copenhagen triggered a memory that bloomed in Sweden. I’d seen such graveyards before: the gravel plots fenced in by foot-high hedges rigorously trimmed, the raked patterns in the somber gray sand. Very orderly, compact, clean.

It was all in the 1999 Swedish film Falkens öga/Kestrel’s Eye, about a pair of Common Kestrels nesting in a church building. The Swedish name for Kestrels is Tornfalk, which means tower falcon. How apt. In the film, we see the humans below come and go, tidying up their family plots; there’s a wedding and, inevitably, a funeral; hedge-trimmings are vacuumed up by a machine too big for the task. It’s all from the Kestrel’s POV (albeit without their greater span of the light spectrum!). The falcons dine on voles and, in one case, a lizard. Every descent to prey portrayed in the film is a successful kill, which is not particulately accurate; raptors miss a lot. The birds have six eggs. Five fledge: the fate of the sixth is not explicated; indeed, there’s no narration and the only human voices present are overheard from below.

Anyway, I found the film on Kanopy, which NYPL library card holders can use for free, and watched it again to refresh my memory. It turned out to take place at the very church in Skanör where we hunted for hedgehogs one night. The indented circle is where the falcons perched. Their nest was just below that to the left; you can barely see the top of the hole in the side of the wall. If I’d only realized this was the location as we ate breakfast next to it every day (the best breakfasts we’ve ever had out, by the way, even if there were no lizards or voles among the varied fare), I would have taken a more appropriate picture. The Flommen marshes, where we saw quite a few Kestrels hunting (perhaps the descendants of this pair?) are visible in a few scenes in the film. Skanörs borg, a ruin of a 13th century fort that’s mostly just a little hillock in the otherwise very flat terrain, is next to the church (parts of which date back about that far, too). This photo is from the top of the borg. The moat in the foreground was a lot less crowded with common reed in the late 1990s.
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I also finally saw Birders: The Central Park Effect, 2012, on the same Kanopy platform. It was better than I expected. Though Central is justly renown as a birding location, I’m a Brooklyn boy and only get there a few times a year, if that. But I certainly recognized some names and faces from the bird-watching community there. Loved seeing the late Starr Saphir, a wonderfully flinty and wise birder. She talks about the second-best bird sighting she ever had from her apartment, a juvenile Goshawk — quite a good fire escape bird that — but this made me wonder what her best ever bird sighting was from her apartment.

So it turned out to be a bird film festival, because then I watched The Messenger: An Ode to the Imperiled Songbird, originally released in 2015. I know people are always looking for the silver lining, celebrating small victories in conservation, but the overriding story remains one of gloom, so damned well documented in this movie. Climate change, habitat destruction, hunting, city light pollution and glass buildings, cats, poisoning via pesticides, etc. are all resulting in fewer and fewer birds (and other animals, of course). “The messenger” is the old canary in a coal mine, as well as the ornithologists on the front lines. Meanwhile, a Frenchman who gobbles up Ortolans in contravention of the law insists he’ll stop when science proves to him that the birds are disappearing, echoing all those fisherman who said the same thing, denying the facts until there were no more fish to fish.

A rune stone in the Danish National Museum, at least a thousand years old. I like the way it echoes the first picture above.Bonus! Film studies comrades of yore: do you know which Swedish film opens with a short view of a Tornfalk hovering, here skillfully caught off the screen by your correspondent?

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