A Wizard in King B’s Tin

Greetings everyone from the warm state of Arizona…wait, why am I wearing winter clothes and looking out at a cold, overcast, dreary day – CRAP, I’m still in the broke state of Illinois. Unfortunately, there is an explanation for this change of plans. We are supposed to be in Mesa, Arizona this week giving our bones a preview of what’s coming in January and more importantly – pushing my Average Year (link here) over the absolutely shocking 300 threshold. Linda and I decided to get some of our Christmas shopping out of the way on Black Friday – picked up a few presents, a few bottles of wine and apparently a case of Covid. A complete non-event for me, a night of joint/bone aches and a sharp headache passed off originally as just another night after a long run doubled with time in the gym. Linda took it harder with more of an extended flu-like experience. She’s coming out of it now, thankfully, but we had to make a decision to cancel our trip before we lost the flex option. Going to take some magic for me to get to 300 birds for the year – maybe with the help of a Wizard!

Merlin found on 8 Mile Road, Galveston Island, Texas in January 2022

There are probably at least 3 or 4 winter birds that should be relatively easy to get as the temps continue to drop – Snowy Owls being one of them, which had its first sighting yesterday a few hours away. That should put me in the 290s, waaaaay above my projection at the begining of the year. The dark horse is the fact we will have a week of birding opportunities in Texas before the new year hits – fingers crossed. In light of the “magic” that needs to occur, thought this would be a perfect time to bring out another addition to my life list.

Hit the jump to read more about The Wizard!

Merlin found on 8 Mile Road, Galveston Island, Texas in January 2022

This rather diminutive Falcon has been eluding me for several years. Time and time again I’d see it reported in eBird only to come up completely empty or more disappointing, have a tin full of shots that turned out to be some other Falcon or Hawk. Began to believe this bird was named Merlin due to its wizardry in stealth. Curious, did some checking and found out that Merlin comes from their French name esmerillon (not versed in French, and Google translate unable to confirm, but Wordow defines it as “swivel”). Disappointed it wasn’t a direct reference to the wizard in King Arthur’s court.

Merlin found on 8 Mile Road, Galveston Island, Texas in January 2022

Mrs. Swivel here was found during our January trip to Galveston Island, TX. We were making a repeat visit to 8 mile road (Sportsman’s Rd). This was a new site that we first explored while Ron was still with us a few weeks earlier. Decided to check it out again on our return leg to catch those birds we scared…ehhh…avoided..umm..hid..uhhh, missed, yes missed, while Ron was with us. The convenient thing about this location is you can basically bird by car – I looked, there is no cool word like “pelagic” (birding by boat), so I’m going to coin the term “carbing” (a clever play on “shooting” a carbine and the irony of not having to actually “carb up” because your butt’s in a seat). Almost went with a dog reference as it basically consists of Linda driving up and down the road with my head hanging out the window, my cheeks pulled back and tongue hanging out looking for anything with wings.

Merlin found on 8 Mile Road, Galveston Island, Texas in January 2022

If I had a true tail it would have been wagging like a maxed out metronome when this Falcon was spotted sitting in a tree just off the road. Half a mile earlier we had a Peregrine Falcon in the viewfinder, now we have its smaller cousin (maybe we shouldn’t tell Ron ha). Per one of my golden rules, took a few quick snaps to make sure there was something in the tin to validate the new check on the list. From there worked to improve the shot. “Linda, Little further, no, too much, back up, stop, too far, move up, more up, okay, more up than that, just a bit more, no, too far, back up, back, back, back, just about there, no too much, go for..” then a hand comes off the steering wheel, split seconds later an intense “WHACK” sound coupled with a bright light followed by intense ringing in the ears. Note to self, carbing can be dangerous when you annoy the driver!

Merlin found on 8 Mile Road, Galveston Island, Texas in January 2022

The Merlin found this extremely entertaining, which is probably the reason it was so accommodating. With all the back and forth of the vehicle, the loud noise from the smack to the back of my head and the barrel of The Beast pointed right at it, didn’t even phase her. Probably went back to the nest and wrote a blog post about the hilarious birder encounter that day.

Should probably get to some interesting facts about this talented hunter. They are found primarily in the southern to southwest region of the US and then down into Central/South America during the nonbreeding season. Migration takes them north to their Canadian/Alaskan breeding grounds. Looks like there is a group of them (referred to as dark-form – those versed in the dark art wizardry) that stay year round along the far northwest coast of North America. Cornell characterizes Merlins as a “fierce” and “powerful” falcon capable of bringing down smaller songbirds/shorebirds. They will even team up, one flushing the flock from below while the other leverages the resulting chaos.

Merlin found on 8 Mile Road, Galveston Island, Texas in January 2022

Cornell points out their association with nobility. I have heard the term before, but before today, had no idea they were also referred to as Lady Hawks by Medieval Falconers in reference to use by noblewomen to hunt Skylarks. They are still used by modern-day Falconers to hunt Sparrows and Doves. I could use one to keep our local House Sparrow population in check – bird seed is too expensive today to be wasting it on those rats with wings – damn you Shakespeare!!

Hope you enjoyed reading about my latest addition to the bird list. Need to conjure up a bit of bird-magic in the next few weeks before my first ever Average Year comes to a close. Take care everyone.

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