On a hot sticky day, nothing is better than remembering a quintessential winter bird.* Gyrfalcons, like Snowy Owls, make occasional irruptions down from their arctic territory and this winter they were spotted in some unexpected locations.
One of those surprise spots was in Wallkill, NY, a mere 90 miles away. It was showing up reliably for over a week at a horse farm, so the Thursday birding group packed up and headed down to find — that’s right — the one day when it was a no-show. Due to car problems we had to leave early in the afternoon and naturally we got a call halfway back that the Gyr had returned to its usual post and was putting on a show. Grrr!! Dipped on the sight of a lifetime!
A few days later it was a brilliant sunny calm day, and my dear husband persuaded me to give it another try. (Well, it may have sounded more like “Either go, or stop talking about it!”) So back down to the horse farm where I joined the crowd of birders scanning the trees in vain. Suddenly everyone’s phones went off and we all piled into cars to drive some 10 miles praying all the way, to find this.
I’ve been through these photos a dozen times and I just can’t cut the number back any further. Here, enjoy this Glorious Gyrfalcon gallery.
There was speculation this might be a female, based on it being just plain massive. I can’t say for sure, but to me she’s my beautiful girl. This is how far away she was at 50x zoom:
But let’s crop things a bit! She was eating prey the whole time. I think it was either a Mallard or a Common Merganser, by the bright orange feet that popped up against the snow.
After an hour she seemed to be full, and stopped eating to preen. A bit of duck between the toes:
…when suddenly a Sharp-shinned Hawk buzzed her, trying to drive her off and steal the remains.
No way. She stuck to it, and even crammed down a bit more food.
I was awed by her sheer size. If a Peregrine is a flying greyhound, a Gyrfalcon is a bull terrier on hyperdrive. Look at that powerful deep chest and strong legs.
Even her back is stunning.
After nearly two hours during which she paid no attention whatsoever to the throng of admirers and cameras firing off like artillery, she finally roused – that’s shook her feathers into position – and took off, circling over us and away. I didn’t even attempt to photograph her then. I didn’t want anything to come between my eyes and such an experience.
The Shawangunks at sunset, as I lingered waiting for the Short-eared Owls to come out.
After a few unplanned alternate routes (OK, I got lost), I returned home exhausted but exhilarated.
*The one good thing about not posting for months is I’ve got a backlog of great birds to fill in during the August doldrums.