Merlin, eastern USA (photo by William H. Majoros via Wikimedia Commons)
This year in Maine I was lucky to see two merlins (Falco columbarius), each one a fleeting glance as the bird zoomed by on a mission.
The first one zipped past the Cadillac Mountain Hawk Watch, pumping his wings the entire time. We watchers had to think quickly. His shape said “Falcon,” his size and dark color said “Not kestrel,” his powerful flapping said “Merlin!” He was gone before we could say his name.
Merlins rarely pause and almost never soar. Their flight style is a constant powerful flapping and they’re always very fast. Compared to merlins, peregrines seem laid back and almost lazy. Peregrines conserve energy for the split second when they need it. Merlins burn energy all the time except for the moments they perch.
My second merlin offered a good comparison to a peregrine. At low tide I visited the South Lubec sand flats to watch shorebirds. A peregrine and merlin showed up to eat them.
The peregrine hazed the sand bar until all the flocks were airborne in tight evasive circles. Then he flew through the flocks until he separated a bird alone and grabbed his dinner on the wing. He stopped to eat it on an island in the bay.
The merlin came out of nowhere. Using the grass and goldenrods as a blind he pumped fast, low, and straight along the water’s edge. The shorebirds were so surprised that most had no time to fly. The merlin caught a slow bird and just kept going. In powered flight, he didn’t stop to eat.
(photo by William H. Majoros, Creative Commons license via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
This week Libby Strizzi sent me a link to this beautiful video of Richard Sidey’s expedition photography.
From Antarctica to Greenland, the Falklands to Svalbard, Namibia to Tonga, the next six minutes are filled with restful music, stunning scenery and beautiful birds.
Watch the video in full screen –> here.
It will add new places to your travel Wish List.
(video by Richard Sidey on Vimeo)
American white pelican in breeding plumage (photo by Pat Gaines)
Normally when I visit Magee Marsh in May the Best Bird is a warbler, but not this year.
I struck out on two Life Bird warblers — the Kirtland’s at Oak Openings and the Connecticut warbler at the Estuary Trail — and that took the wind out of my sails. However, on my last day in northwestern Ohio I visited East Harbor State Park and found three white pelicans in Middle Harbor.
American white pelicans spend the winter in California, the Gulf states, Mexico and Central America. Those who breed in the prairie potholes and lake regions of central and western North America rarely stop at Lake Erie on migration, but these three apparently spent the night at Middle Harbor. They were preening before continuing their journey.
In early breeding plumage they have bright orange bills with a laterally flattened “horn” on top. This looks odd to us but sexy to other white pelicans.
American white pelicans migrate during the day because they need thermals for lift. By 10:00am the air had heated up and the three pelicans circled up and headed northwest.
They were my Best Bird this week — other than peregrine falcons, of course.
(photo by Pat Gaines)
A Caspian tern dives gracefully into the Cuyahoga River at Scranton Flats (photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)
(photo by Chad+Chris Saladin)
Just back from migration, this eastern meadowlark looks like he’s annoyed at the world.
Shawn Collins captured his expressive moment at Pymatuning State Park on April 8.
(photo by Shawn Collins)
Bird photography can be disappointing. It’s difficult to get depth without good lighting, but every once in a while two dimensions are stunning and an eye for cropping is all you need.
This photo of brown-headed and/or bronzed cowbirds in Silao, Mexico looks like musical notes. Can you play this tune?
Click here to see the original uncropped photo, and here to see this exceptional one in larger format on Wikimedia Commons.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the links to see the originals)
How many snow geese are in this picture? Imagine if it was your job to count them!
Snow goose migration got off to a slow start this spring because the lakes remained frozen in Pennsylvania. In warm winters they start to arrive at Middle Creek Wildlife Management Area on the Lebanon-Lancaster County border in late February. But that was out of the question this year. The narrow north end of Chesapeake Bay was frozen in mid-February and there were 10-12 inches of ice on Middle Creek lake. The geese stayed south.
The situation changed rapidly, though. A week ago there were 100 snow geese at Middle Creek. On Thursday March 12 there were suddenly 20,000. On Friday there were 75,000 with more arriving throughout the day. The count this morning is anyone’s guess.
Actually, the number of snow geese at Middle Creek is Jim Binder’s very educated estimate. Jim has been the manager of Middle Creek WMA since 1997 and has decades of experience counting these birds.
The trick to counting is that snow geese always rest on the lake’s open water at night. Jim comes out before dawn and counts them at first light before they leave for the day. He knows the lake well and the numbers it can hold. He’s so good at counting that he can tell the number by their sound. The record is 180,000!
But Jim has to work fast. The flock wakes up and stretches its wings. Small groups leave in a leisurely fashion to feed in nearby fields but if something scares them — an airplane, a helicopter, or a bald eagle — the entire flock goes airborne at once with a roar.
When I want to see this spectacle I read Jim Binder’s snow goose count and arrive at Willow Point before dawn. Kim Steininger took this photo on a day when there were 80,000 to 100,000 snow geese at Middle Creek.
How many snow geese do I hope for? This many!
Note: Because the ice melted so late this year, snow goose migration is likely to be intense and over quickly. The geese are running out of time to get home.
(photo by Kim Steininger)
No, just thirsty.
Swallows drink by dipping their beaks in the water as they skim above it.
With perfect timing and a lot of patience, the photographer (sanchezn) captured this bird approaching head on. His photo won Third Place as Picture of the Year on Wikimedia Commons.
Click on the image to see the original. It is awesome in larger format!
(photo of a barn swallow, Hirundo rustica, by sanchezn from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Great cormorants at Zürichorn, Seefeld (Zürich), Switzerland.
Though this resembles a watercolor it is actually a photo by “Roland zh” on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original.
The first bird on my St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands agenda is the bananaquit. For me, it’s a Life Bird so I’m excited to see one. I fear it will soon become “ho hum,” though, because it’s so common on the island.
The bananaquit (Coereba flaveola) is a small, non-migratory bird — only the size of a black and white warbler — but it moves much faster than the warbler. Can you say “hyper-active?”
Its beak is curved because it eats nectar for a living just like other tropical nectar-eaters: hummingbirds, sunbirds and honeycreepers.
Ornithologists have tentatively placed the bananaquit in the Tanager family but its family relations are often disputed. Scientists argue about where to place this bird; these two argue about where to place themselves.
They were photographed at Campo Limpo Paulista, Brazil by Leon Bojarczuk.
(photo by Leon Bojarczuk via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license. Click on the image to see the original)