Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Gyrfalcon Still Hunting the Area
January 31, 2015
By Steve Grinley

     Last week, I shared with you Paul Robert’s story of his unsuccessful search for the Gyrfalcon just north of the Massachusetts border in Hampton, New Hampshire. Several people lamented over his miss, so I thought I would relay to you the “rest of the story”, which took place Friday, Jan 23, after I wrote last week’s column:

     “This afternoon at about 12:40 p.m. Mark Resendes and I saw the dark morph Gyrfalcon along Route 1A in downtown Hampton Beach, NH, over the beach just east of the Casino and the McDonalds.

     “About 15-20 minutes earlier we had spotted an immature Red-tailed Hawk soaring over the ocean. We had been excited by the sight of a large hawk soaring over the water, not far from the beach, but were surprised to see the Redtail-sized raptor was indeed a Redtail, soaring out over water. We kept looping around Hampton Beach, Route 101, and various side streets into the marsh. 

     “About 12:40 we were driving south down 1A just north of the McDonalds when Mark spotted something soaring high over the water. We had had lots of gulls, but this was clearly a hawk. Mark, who was driving, at first thought it was the Redtail again. He said this high bird was drifting towards a contrail in front of us. I got on the bird and yelled “Falcon.” We both jumped out of the car and set up our scopes. The bird was soaring lazily and high, almost overhead, but to our south, so we were looking into the sun. Nonetheless, good views. Red-tailed sized. Heavy torso. Long, thick, “rounded” tip falcon wings. Fairly long, thick tail. Uniformly dark. Brownish hue when it was at certain angles to the sun. Two-toned underwings. BINGO. Very different views from what I had seen in Wells, Maine, where the bird had been at eye level and perched. BINGO, BINGO, BINGO. 

     “The bird was soaring leisurely and then began to drop down to the west, disappearing behind a 5-6 story building. We had maybe 15 seconds in binocular views and 15 seconds in excellent scope view. Not close enough, but still definitive views. 

     “After the fact we met an acquaintance from NH who had been looking for the Gyr. She had been driving north up 1A and said she had seen everything – all the gulls and pigeons – explode into the air. Then she saw us folding up our scopes and climbing back into the car. Recognizing me, she thought, “Oh no! Did I just miss the bird?” I had to tell her yes. “

     So Paul did finally catch up with this magnificent falcon. The gyrfalcon stayed around at least several more days so that several teams of birders from last Sunday’s Superbowl of Birding also got to see it. Some great photos have surfaced, including some very close photos taken by Tom Graham of Seabrook which Paul Roberts posted on his Flickr site for others to see. They may be viewed here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/30136859@N06 . Keep an eye out, as this bird might still visit Salisbury or Plum Island.

     If you enjoy raptors, don’t forget that next Saturday is the Merrimack River Eagle Festival. Shows will be going on with live eagles, hawks and owls at the Newburyport City Hall, the Mass Audubon Joppa Flats Education Center, and at the Parker River NWR Headquarters Building. I am co-leading three of dozen bus tours to see bald eagles along the Merrimack. There will also be spotters with binoculars and scopes stationed at various venues along the river where you can go on your own to view eagles up close. Information and maps for the Festival are available at the Joppa Flats Education Center and at the Parker River NWR Headquarters.

     One more note. Please keep the seed and suet filled in your bird feeders during this cold and snowy weather. Birds need food to keep up their body fat in order to survive the cold. If natural sources are snow covered or frozen, birds will be more dependent on the food that you provide.

Steve Grinley
Bird Watcher’s Supply & Gift
Route 1 Traffic Circle
194 Route 1
Newburyport, MA 01950
Celebrating 2
4 years of service to the birding community! 
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