Words On Birds by Steve Grinley

Rare Gyrfalcon Hunts Salisbury Marshes
March 21, 2015
By Steve Grinley

     This past Wednesday was a sunny, cold day with very strong northwest winds making it feel even colder. After a midday appointment, Margo and I decided to head for the boat ramp at the Salisbury Beach State Reservation to eat our lunch. There were recent reports of killdeer there, and we hadn’t seen one yet this year. On our way out to the boat ramp, we stopped to at black ducks, bufflehead and goldeneye in the Black Rock Creek, when Margo brought my attention to a bird streaking in from the left. The dark raptor banked and landed on snow on the near marsh, with ducks scattering. 

     It looked good for a gyrfalcon so I told Margo that she better get a photo of this bird. Gyrfalcons are our largest falcon, larger and heftier than a peregrine. It nests in the arctic and is seldom seen in New England. I have seen but four or five in Massachusetts. This one is a dark juvenile, most certainly the same bird that had been seen off and on along the coast in southern New Hampshire. No one had reported seeing this bird here in Massachusetts 

     Margo got out her camera and began photographing the bird as it sat on the snow and ice. She was taking photos when the bird took off, and the camera kept firing. 

     The bird headed toward the boat ramp, so we did too. We found the gyrfalcon sitting on the marsh across from the boat ramp. It was preening and sat for quite a while just looking around. 

     It then got up and flew off to the right again, putting up ducks and gulls in the small cove near the road. It turned and headed toward us, flying right over the car – too close for the camera at one point. The wind was blowing too hard for us to get out of the car.

     Once again the gyrfalcon landed across the creek in the marsh, atop some snow, and spent a long time preening hunkering down there to stay out of the cold March wind. The wind was too strong to scope outside the car, but we did watch through the scope from inside the car. All of Margo’s photos were from inside the car as well and a few of them can be seen at:


     The falcon took flight again, this time heading across the marsh, putting up some geese in the process. It then turned and headed toward us, going over the car once more, flying over the parking lot and dunes and continued down river toward the jetties. We hoped it would circle back to marsh, as it seemed to prefer that area. After twenty minutes or so, John Carroll and Sean Riley arrived and studied the area as well, with no luck. The gyrfalcon had climbed in altitude the last time we saw it, so I thought that it could have taken a left turn and headed back toward NH or turned right for Plum Island. We went out to the jetty packing lot, but there was no sign of the bird. We went back to the boat ramp where John Carroll was keeping vigil without success. MaryMargaret Halsey arrived and we decided to head north on 1A, with MaryMargaret behind us, to check the marsh to Rt 286 and the New Hampshire border. There was no sign of the bird anywhere.

     Later we stopped at the store and Timothy Bertram of New Hampshire came in at 4:45 pm and said that he had just seen the gyrfalcon across from the boat ramp. The next day, I also learned that Dave Adrien had seen the gyrfalcon at the boat ramp a few hours before we arrived there. He, too, got photos which he sent to others to be confirmed. Hopefully, the bird will, return to the Salisbury marsh or, perhaps, Plum Island for other birders to see.

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