Today was my first birding excursion in over six weeks. It was just a quick drive to Cohoes and Peebles Island, but it felt so good to be out of my yard! I chose the destination because I wanted to see something really impressive to start the year off, and figured a Bald Eagle would fill the bill.
Well, the weather has been so mild so far that the Mohawk isn’t frozen yet, so the eagles don’t need to gather at the open water by the falls. We did see one adult soaring, but most of the show was thousands of gulls swirling against the dark clouds like a cyclone of white confetti. A few ducks and geese in roadside ponds and a soaring Red-tail padded my list, but I was wishing for a WOW bird. We pulled into the parking lot at Peebles Island less than an hour before sunset. We strolled along the river’s edge reminiscing about last year’s floods as a few pigeons zipped by. As we leaned on the bridge railing before turning back to the car, a slender-winged shape glided past — a Kestrel, perhaps, but it seemed browner and a bit large. She lit on a dead snag and relaxed, scratching an ear, stretching a wing, extending her tail. I could see then the less-defined falcon eye makeup and sideburns, and the more uniform brown back and darker body, even in the glow of the low sun. I’ve seen Merlins before, but never one at almost eye level, 100 feet away, and perching unfazed by passing cars, dogs, and nuthatches. We watched her until the sun was setting.
Merlin, female or immature.
Oh, for a better camera!
At home: Dark-eyed Junco, Black-capped Chickadee, Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, American Crow, Blue Jay, American Goldfinch, European Starling, Tufted Titmouse, Red-bellied Woodpecker.
At Peebles Island/Cohoes: Common Merganser, Red-tailed Hawk, Bald Eagle, Ring-billed Gull, Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, Rock Pigeon, House Sparrow, Canada Goose, Mallard, Merlin.
21 species, 11 new for the year.
*In The Sword In the Stone, part of young Wart’s training to become King Arthur is magical transformation into all sorts of living things. He spends a night in the castle mews in the shape of a merlin, listening to the barracks-talk of the birds.