[Tweeters] Mer & Gyr Afternoon in Samish Flats - 2/9/16

Barbara Deihl barbdeihl at comcast.net
Thu Feb 11 15:59:20 PST 2016

First off, I missed the exit I planned to take to scour the areas where the young Gyrfalcon (and Peregrines) had been seen. Ended up taking the BowHill Rd. exit and drifted down into Edison, perhaps to get a coffee or lunch or just go on out into the flats as pronto as we could. While driving through town and meandering around the alleyways behind the Inn, I suddenly spotted a fast-flying recognizable shape zipping from some familiar conifers and heading across the road off to the southwest. I tried to screech to a halt, but, when you're only going 20 mph, you don't make much of a screech. Wow! Could it be THE Edison Merlin, back again after seemingly taken a couple-year hiatus ? I parked and then Anne & I quickly spotted the Merlin coming back to perch up in one of the firs. With binocs we could see that it was a dark bird with egg-yolk yellow feet - not the light Merlin of yesteryear, but a fresh, handsome male Black Merlin. Va-va-voom ! We spent the next hour or so milling about, watching Henry (yes, I had to give him a name, which, by the way, may easily change with suggestions from anyone !). This Merlin made a few more forays out for prey, and once seemed to be chased back to the perch trees by an adult Bald Eagle, who took the Merlin's spot for awhile. A juvenile Baldy (don't know which year) took a spot on another nearby tree and the Merlin stayed away for awhile, then came back to resume command of one of his usual spots (marked by whitewash). At one point, while Henry was still perched, another Merlin whooshed through the area. Really. I knew that another Merlin had been seen closer to and at West 90, so it does seem possible that there could be a pair in the area - afterall, it is the start of courtship and nest selection time for the Merls. Will have to keep watching to see what develops.

After the thrill of that find, we finally found a place that was open, from which we could get take-out coffee (the little cafe out near the school) and it was then time to head west to check on our main quarry (the Gyr) and any other exciting raptors we could spot. West 90 was a disappointment when we dropped in - no sign of Short-eared Owls, Northern Harriers (though we did see some in fields in the area), or (gasp !), Red-tailed Hawks. Saw one Light Rough-legged Hawk on a pole along Bayview-Edison Rd. So we quickly ditched W-90 to go see what was happening down on the south leg of BV-Edison Rd.

Turning the corner, we saw a couple of cars pulled over and two women we'd talked with earlier out with their bins. They were near the turn-off to Sullivan Rd. We tried to make sure we parked with our tires off the road, as I knew that this was/is an issue with the locals. We got out and the women and a photographer who had also stopped, advised us on the very distant location of the Gyrfalcon. We were able to locate it both with bins and my scope.

In an effort to get even a tiny bit closer to the Gyr, Anne and I and the photographer, drove farther south on BV-E to where there was a small group of people, both with and without cameras, obviously watching the Gyr, which was straight down at the end of a private gravel road with a fence on one side. It was a tremendous relief to me, that nary a soul made a move to sneak on down that road. And, since quite a few of us were there for about 2-3 hours ('til sunset), waiting us out wasn't a viable option !

The people that were there and others who stopped by later, were very amiable, and knowledgable, gladly sharing stories and information, thoughts, scope views and alerts as to what was happening way out there in the vicinity of the big bird. We watched a few Peregrines swoop on and divebomb the Gyr, not managing to dislodge it. Bald Eagles and a Northern Harrier or 2 came in to check it out, too. Wigeons that were pretty close to the Gyr paid him no heed, nor he them. A couple of times in the hours we were there, the Gyr gave signs that it might take flight, and it did move to a new post once or twice. But despite it's frequent releases of whitewash (signs that it had eaten recently?), it stayed put on one post for a long time, preening, mostly with its back toward us. When the falcon actually turned around a little bit, facing a bit more our way, excitement mounted that we might get to see its chest, but soon after fidgeting around, the Gyr actually took flight and disappeared off to the north. We had had plenty of time, though, to speculate on its Gyrness, it's age and various other minutia to take up the time. Near the end of our stay, we were very taken with the brilliant aspects of sky, land and puddles as the sun slowly disappeared for the day.

Every now and then, some of us would look across to the east side of Bayview-Edison and marvel at the large group of Snow Geese that were kept in motion much of the time, by some of the dozen or so Bald Eagles, including a cluster of juveniles discussing attack strategy on the ground, back toward us from the mass of the goose flock. We also kept checking on the changes of color of Mt. Baker. Someone said we had missed the peak of pinkness by 6 minutes. No mattuh - partial pink was perfectly adequate !

The day was fabulous, much better than I might have expected, had we followed my original plan to a T (T'Loop ? :-)). Just goes to show that business about "best laid plans of mice and men..." (now how does that end ? :-)) And there were so many pleasant, quiet, calm, humorous, helpful, knowledgeable, respectful, people with whom we mingled. Oh, did I mention the weather ? Warm, windfree, with the only water groundside. I am compelled to mention the only jarring negative of the afternoon, that being the loud, horn-blaring people who sped by us, occasionally ejecting yells or uncivilities in our direction. There could easily have been one of us hit by one of the speeders. We tried to keep behind the sidelines and look both ways before traipsing across or down the road. Here is a memorable humorous quote from one passing driver: "Hey, it's only a _ _ _ _ing BIRD !"

To end on an educational note - in answer to a question I posed as to what was the anatomical part of a bird called the "alula", I found out that this "bastard wing" is a freely-moving stiff projection of 3-5 feathers growing on the first digit or thumb on the leading edge of the wing of a bird. In looking it up, I found this great explanation and gorgeous photos: http://www.featheredphotography.com/blog/2013/03/23/the-alula-bastard-wing-of-a-kestrel-in-flight/

For photos from the afternoon fun, here is a link to my Flickr album, which includes photos by me, Anne, Aaron, Jerry, and an April Fool pic of an owl that was NOT seen in the Samish Flats, but somewhere else in WA on that same day - I am unable to find the report again - it may have been withdrawn. However, Aaron's pic of a Short-eared owl on a fencepost out near where the Gyrfalcon was, is real and something that most of us missed, after the Gyr had taken flight for the evening.

https://flic.kr/s/aHsktkULL2 Enjoy!!!

Barb Deihl
Matthews Beach Neighborhood - NE Seattle
barbdeihl at comcast.net

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