[Tweeters] 2013 recap - the 12 months of Merlin

Pterodroma at aol.com Pterodroma at aol.com
Sun Jan 5 03:34:29 PST 2014

In honor of the 12th Day of Christmas, I thought I'd tell you a little
story. Maintaining an annual yard list now going into it's 21st year at this
address in Bellevue's "Eastgate" area located on a winter's dark cold north
facing slope, 2013 was a pretty good year resulting in setting a new year
record (68 species) and bringing the cumulative total now to 91 including
two new plus several others only recorded once or twice before. Not bad I
guess considering there's nothing really special about this place and the
fact that this location is always a real disappointment when it comes to
migration, Spring and Fall, and anything of that sort is worthy of some kind of

What was most special about 2013 was the Merlin. I maintained a
cumulative yard list by month this year for the first time (wish I'd started that
years ago!), and the Merlin made every single month! That in itself an
amazing feat! A pair of Merlins arrived here a couple years ago, set up shop in
one of the tall Douglas Firs and successfully fledged two broods of young.
Quite entertaining when all that was going on, especially during
fledging time and the young continued to linger in the area for a couple months
after. Why they have chosen this area over any one of a million others is a
mystery. Like I say, there's nothing really special here except maybe it's
the location and the elevation. Elevation here is 574 feet which is in
fact very often right at the fog line. There's been a lot of lowland fog
around this fall/winter (Nov-Jan), but about half the time when the fog
settles in over the 'Pass' (I-90 exit 11, "Eastgate Pass", as I call it) and
lowlands below, I can gaze out the front north facing window and see nothing
but a wall of gray gloom, then go to the back porch on the south side to find
crystal blue sky and warm sun. Kind of weird actually but nice. But
maybe this is good for the Merlin too, dunno. Anyway, it can bat around and
sit in the tippy top of the Douglas Firs and still have a commanding view
over the landscape below, fog or no fog.

So, 2013 the Merlin(s) are around off and on through each month. First
detections more often than not are by call, female especially as she bats
around screaming until alighting on a favored perch. Strange really since
right here in my yard is the ONLY place and time I have actually ever heard a
Merlin calling, and yet it is so routine here, just the call is the best
clue one is around at all. I may see it or may not and don't pay that much
attention anymore really since I know what's going on anyway and just
hearing him or her is enough, and it's usually brief.

The Merlin presence in January and February was sporadic, then started
ramping up in March as courtship and pre-nesting commenced. Come April, I
even located the nest, high atop a medium Douglas Fir in my next door
neighbor's yard to the south above the deep ravine greenbelt. Then came May ...and
disaster! About mid day in early May, there arose such a clatter I didn't
know what was the matter. The Merlins were going nuts, kikikikiki-ering
and diving into the tree top. Then, I discovered the problem, ...nazis,
yes!, that's right!, NAZIS! That would be in polite PC circles, crows! A
couple American Crows had found the nest and were in the process of doing
what those evil doers often do best, pilfering and pillaging bird nests. And
apparently being fairly if not entirely successful. I have no idea how
many nestlings there were to start with but I don't think any of them survived
and in an instant of death and destruction, became instant crow protein
[!!....me thinking a very long stream of unmentionable expletives here
deleted...!!] I never saw any sign of any post fledging activity like I've seen
the past couple years during the months of June into July when there could
up to 4-5 flying about staying close to the home turf before drifting and
venturing away to the great beyond.

That really sealed the deal for the 2013 nesting season and once the nest
and it's contents had been destroyed, the Merlins soon became less of a
presence. Still around but only occasionally detected 1-3 times per month,
June, July, August, September, into early October. Then, mid-October, the
yard Merlin presence ramped up again, almost daily, especially early in the
morning (female usually) and often one of the first sounds I'd hear shortly
after daylight then I wouldn't see or hear her again for the rest of the
day, so I think at least the female is just 'roosting' here for the night but
also seems to find my feeders a good source for snagging a quick breakfast,
usually a junco or two. This routine was fairly predictable right on
through all of November to mid-December. Since mid-December, her presence has
returned to being sporadic and several days will pass between vocal and/or
visual detections. Still, this general tendency to site fidelity for two
years now going now on three, and all year in 2013 despite the year's
nesting failure may bode well for another shot at courtship and nesting again to
start up again in a few short months from now. Now, what to do about
those dreadful evil crows. Nothing I guess, it's just nature being nature for
better or worse which is really nothing more than our wee human's

Richard Rowlett
Bellevue (Eastgate), WA

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