Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Holy Grail Raptor In New Hampshire
January 04, 2014
By Steve Grinley

      One of the more elusive of the rare birds that have been sited in the area over the past few weeks has been a gyrfalcon in the Hampton, New Hampshire marshes. Paul Roberts of Medford, our local hawk expert, shares his quest to see this rare arctic visitor, the largest of our falcons:

     “After spending much of yesterday searching again for the Hampton NH Gyr, I’m caving. No mas. I searched for the better part of three days, seeing the bird flying reasonably well by scope but at a distance of 1.7 miles on Dec 19. Nice, but not a religious experience. 

     “We searched most of Dec 21 without any success, but had 2-3 Bald Eagles, a Merlin, a Peregrine, two Snowy Owls, a couple of Redtails and a few harriers. We were informed later that several people saw the bird about half an hour after we had left, though none of those people “reported” the bird. 

     “Yesterday, with all the Christmas shopping done and vacation days to spend or lose, everybody and their grandmother was out on the highway looking for Snowy Owls. We saw only one other car in the usual haunts around the 101 causeway and marsh obviously looking for the Gyr, but saw at least five Snowy Owls along the New Hampshire coast and precious few other predators (in New Hampshire) except for those carrying shotguns.

     “I really wanted to see this bird as I have had only one white morph Gyr, but apparently it is not to be. That is not to say that this Gyr is gone, but it has been my painful experience that someone seeing a Gyr in a particular locale only slightly increases the miniscule chances that you, too, might see it. Some wags would say a sighting of a Gyr actually decreases the odds of seeing a Gyr in that location again a day or two later, because what are the odds of any Gyr being in that location for two days? Not good.

     “I have seen four Gyrs in the past five years or so, but all the sightings were ephemeral, counted in seconds, not minutes or hours. Two were close, but only for nanoseconds, and despite intensive searches after the initial sighting, we never found them again. The Hampton bird on the 19th was the longest view (in every sense of the word) I’ve had since observing a nesting pair of gray morph birds in Alaska six years ago.

     “Most wintering Gyrs are notoriously wide-ranging. I yearn for the likes of the “brown” morph Gyr that wintered in New Haven, CT roughly thirty years ago. It was seen regularly over months. Shortly thereafter were two Gyrs that wintered together on a cliff in a quarry in Pennsylvania. They were a “lock”, though one friend drove down to see them only to have one of the birds keel over and fall off the cliff dead. Talk about bad timing…. The granary-based birds on the Great Lakes are somewhat more “reliable,” and I think the same could be said about the temporary winter resident falconids of the Dakotas, though when I look at photographers work from the area, they typically don’t encompass many days of observation.

     “The Hampton Gyr may well still be in the area, which could range from Biddeford Pool to Logan airport, or farther, but I will need recent reports of sightings to get me staring into space again…”

     Let’s hope Paul catches up with his holy grail of a raptor in this new year.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
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