Sunday, October 3, 2010

A Weekend of Surprises

What a great weekend of birding surprises this has been! We started off our weekend with giving a fall migration birding tour at Daggerwing Nature Center. Nick and I were up and ready to give a tour at 8am. This was our first tour and it was very early, so we weren't sure if anyone would show up. Well, no one came specifically for the bird tour, but Nick was able to wrangle a couple who was in town for the weekend who were going to take a stroll on Daggerwing's boardwalk anyway. They were not birders, but they were interested in nature and birds. 
Norther Flicker calling out
We had a nice look at some old favorites (such as the Great Blue Heron, Little Blue Heron, and White Ibis), as well as some lovely migrants (Yellow-throated Warbler, Northern Parula, a male and female American Redstart, and a couple of Ovenbirds). We also saw almost all of the woodpecker species for the area: Red-bellied, Downy, Pileated, and (a very nice surprise) Northern Flicker. The couple seemed to learn a lot and enjoyed the tour. We hope that maybe we were able to push them over to the birding world =)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
After a busy day of housework and chores, Nick checked out the bird board and saw that someone posted about seeing a White-cheeked Pintail nearby in Deerfield Beach!  This is a pretty rare sighting. This bird is from the West Indies, and has been known to rarely stop by South Florida, but it is by no means something common during migration. And Deerfield Beach is literally minutes away from us, but she didn't say where she saw it. We waited a little bit to see if she would post directions to where she spotted the pintail, but it was already early evening and the light was going to fade in a matter of hours, and we just couldn't wait. So we set off on our own to look for this rare beauty.
We know of a small "lake" next to a restaurant/business plaza in Deerfield where we have spotted various species of migrating ducks before, including Ring-necked ducks and Lesser Scaups. So we immediately went there first, but there were no ducks to be founds other than a handful of Muscovy. So then we headed to a park I had passed by a couple of times but that we'd never gone to. It was called Quiet Waters Park, and indeed, the waters were quiet. We went to the lake, and there were no ducks to be found, and definitely no White-cheeked pintail. We had to pay to get in the park, so we just stuck around to see if there was anything else around. It was approaching dusk time, so we thought we may see some activity. 
Other than a couple of Blue-gray gnatcatchers and some rambunctious squirrels, there wasn't much activity. So, a bit disappointed, we started heading back to our car. As we walked along a path, Nick noticed a large bird on a light post about 5 feet in ahead of us. Oh, it's a hawk! Oh wait, no… it's a falcon! We quickly realized that what we were looking at was a Merlin! A new life bird for us and something that we have been wanting to see for quite some time! 

Merlin checkin us out

After looking at our Sibley guide, our best guess is that it was a female of the Taiga population. Her back was facing us at first, but we could clearly see the distinct Merlin "mustache" and the alternating light and dark bands on the tail. We watched her for a good 20 minutes as she flew to and from the light post, a dead branch, and another farther wooden post. She was amazing to watch. Her long, sharp wings showed her real falcon-ness. But it wasn't just her we were watching. A couple of blue jays were not happy about her presence, and they were not afraid to tell her. When she was on the tree branch, a blue jay would puff up his crest and cry right at her. And then he would swoop and dive bomb her. That blue jay was probably saying "you're in my territory, and I want you out NOW!" It was an incredible display! Just look at the pictures! The merlin didn't seem to be bothered too much, but she ended up leaving the tree. She went to another wooden post, but she was soon chased off from the area by a fish crow to check out other territory. Nick and I were in awe and felt such a high from having the great pleasure of not only accidentally stumbling upon a life bird, which was a bird of prey, but also getting to watch an amazing display of bird behavior within 20 feet of us! So, no pintail THIS day, but another amazing lifer!

Notice the barring on the chest
Stunning aggressive display by a Blue Jay towards the Merlin

A face off between the Blue Jay and the Merlin
The Merlin is finally chased off by a Fish Crow


  1. Wow-Wow-WOW! Some action photos here! I thought the merlin would be bigger. Really cool photos!

  2. If a Merlin's attitude was accurately represented by their size they would roughly be the dimensions of a Wild Turkey.

    Great photos!

  3. Thank you for the compliments! We really lucked out with getting to witness this beautiful bird in such an exciting scuffle!