Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Birder's Luck

When Jim and I found the Merlin (Falco columbarius) during our survey of our part of the Presqu'ile Christmas Bird Count he started to talk about birder's luck. How amazing that we intersected with that good bird during those very few moments in all our lives. We were there, the bird was there, we were looking....what fantastic luck. (Turns out that was the only Merlin seen that day--not surprising, this is not a winter bird here.)

I've often thought this kind of thing myself when I've had the chance to see something rarely seen, either because it's a bird or other animal that's very secretive, or occasionally, because it's rare. I think, when it happens in the fields where I walk, "Wow, if I'd left the house a moment earlier or a moment later, this creature and I would not have crossed paths this way."

A couple of times over the last couple of weeks I've disturbed a large bird in the pines in the first field, the beginning of the walk. On windy days I often go through or along side the pine plantation, down to the cedar bush, to get myself used to the weather before crossing the open spaces. The pines are young, thickly branched and quite close together, so while there's often something in there to hear, it's rare to actually see it. Big bird, flushed, but as far as I could tell, really just moved through the branches to another roost. Not noisy, definitely not a Ruffed Grouse. Bigger than a Blue Jay. Could it be an owl? Owls are not rare around here, we have Great-horned, Barred, Screech, and more. But owls are rarely seen by me.

So the other day I went out late in the afternoon--as the days get longer, and dusk gets a little longer I've been able to do that again. It was cold (by our new standards) and windy, and I've had the mystery bird on my mind, so I walked along the edge of the pines. Nothing flushed but some mammal, probably a rabbit, though it bolted with more of a galumph than usual (very fast), probably a large rabbit.

I continued, very quiet day. Cold, and feeling chillier for the lack of snow (a situation that was remedied yesterday). Not much to see but the land itself. Coming back through the scrape, the openest of the open areas, I paused to take in the sweep of the landscape. It was getting dark now, but already dark doesn't fall like a club as it did back in December. And then I saw, flying straight along the pines down to the cedar bush, a large owl--probably a Great-horned Owl (Bubo virginianus), though the look wasn't good enough to know for sure. An owl for sure. Birder's luck.


Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

Lucky you! Owls are so secial and I enjoyed reading your description- it felt as if I were there!

Michael said...

Sounds like a great day! We live only an hour away, where Merlin are common summer residents, but scarce in the winter.

tai haku said...

Wow - I had a lucky spot of a last minute Merlin on my CBC too...of course down here in the islands is where they should be of a cold winter's day.

not lucky enough to get your owls though so I'm a little jealous.

Pamela Martin said...

Merlins seem northern to me for some reason, I was surprised to learn that they spend the winter so far south. The weather for this CBC season was so warm that a lot of unusual birds were seen. There has been a "correction" now so maybe the merlin I saw has since gone down to join the others in your neighbourhood, Tai.

The owl sighting was a great pleasure, and that bird does spend the winter here--and if it was a great-horned is nesting, or will be pretty soon. Tough bird!