Thursday, September 24, 2009

Thursday Evening Birding

I decided to do a little birding this evening after work to take advantage of the daylight hours that will slowly start going away day by day, and one of my stops was St Philips Cemetery in Grafton to check on the status of a couple of birds I had seen there a couple of nights ago. As you can see by the picture above the Pileated Woodpeckers are back in the swing of things and spending more time within the wetlands just as they did this past March. I have heard both of them but have not seen them both out at the same time. One actually flew to its familiar snag (the one other birders and myself thought they may nest at) and I am thinking that perhaps it is the female based on the picture above as I don't see the telltale sign of the male in the picture above which would be the red stripe near its bill. I don't see any yellow though either so am not sure.
Picture of bird taken on Tuesday evening

I was also at St Philips on Tuesday evening to see who would decide to roost there for the night as it appears its as popular for raptors for overnight stays as people with the Holiday Inn, and I could see a bird on a snag that reminded me of an accipiter due to its overall shape. I put my binoculars on the bird and couldn't make out any of the colors of the bird or other recognizable field marks due to the fact that the sun was already setting and all I was getting were silhouette views of it.
Another picture taken Tuesday evening. Another field mark was the beautiful tail

I decided to take some pictures despite lack of light and adjust them in Picassa so I could make out some of the colors and this is what I saw. Hmmmmmmmm, I think.........This is no Coops or Sharpie, this is a Merlin! I was still very unsure as I am pretty good at picking out falcons by shape and this bird NEVER struck me as a falcon so I still had my doubts. I poured through all of my field guides, did some google searches and even referred to my previous pictures of Merlin's and other peoples blogs to see if I could solve this mystery on my own.

I had dinner plans last night so couldn't get out there again until tonight when low and behold the same bird (or at least I am assuming the same bird) decided to fly in just about the same time as it did on Tuesday evening. This time the sun was more in my favor so I was able to manage a couple of somewhat decent shots (enough to confirm my suspicion) that the bird I saw a couple of nights ago was indeed a Merlin.
The shot above is very poor but it still was very valuable in helping me look closely at the birds field marks. If you look closely at the edge of the wings and all the way to its tail, you will notice they appear a little darker than the top of the bird and form almost a blue stripe if you will. If you own the Sibley Field Guide to Birds you will see this on page 114. While the Cooper's Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk do not (as far as I can see)
Also note the mustache as Sibley refers to as "weak" in his guide. When I was there on Tuesday I could never make out the mustache due to the sun and that has always been the tell tale field mark of this bird for me to identify it as a Merlin. When I went home to lighten the pics, I could see the faint resemblance of a mustache in some shots, but then others looked more like a cap similar to a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Lesson learned: Don't always rely on the more reliable field marks of the bird as they may not always be available for you, look at other distinctions as that may be all you have. (Of course, I may still be wrong and the bird I saw Tuesday was a Sharpie and this evening a Merlin but I am sticking with my answer and don't mind being corrected by any of you if wrong.)
This is one of the things I have picked up attempting to hawkwatch the past couple of weekends and has gotten me thinking totally out of the box on birding and is something I am hoping to improve over the next several months. In the past, it's trying to get the sharpest, clearest shot of the bird but never really looking at it, besides it's gorgeous color. I now plan on trying to look beyond that and really observe everything about the bird which will be a challenge for me but that's what makes it interesting as I tend to bore easily. ;-) I also have some pictures of the more familiar birds including the goofy Tufted Titmouse above. As you can see they are still as comical as this past late winter when they were visiting my feeder, it looks as if it's trying to eat a cherry or something.
And then there's the adorable little Chickadee, the king of all feeder birds as far as I'm concerned.
Take care all!


madcobug said...

Great shots! Helen

Chris Petrak said...

Yep, I think Merlin. But the raptors are different in the different contexts in which we see them. I was talking with a hawk watching colleague today - both of us agreed that we can see a bird in flight and know what it is, but worry about identifying the same bird when it's perched. And we don't see them often enough to get the extra sense needed to do it readily. So cameras are a great aid (and software). Now, what can we take from your pics of Merlin that will help us "know" the next time? - and tell it from a sharpie or coops?

eileeninmd said...

I would love to see a Mrlin up close. Nice sighting and great birds.


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