28 February 2024

The miracle of falcons

Monday, September 27th, 2010
Rusty blackbird, Monhegan Island, Maine, 27 September 2010.

Rusty blackbird.

Overcast and a bit misty this early morning on Monhegan. Right away, my friend Kristen and I spotted a rusty blackbird in an apple tree in town. One species you can count on finding here in fall is rusty blackbird—I bird I personally don’t see anywhere else. But the most inspiring thing you can count on seeing here at this time of year, at least in my opinion, is the miracle of falcons.

Merlin, Monhegan Island, Maine, 27 September 2010.


After breakfast, Kristen, Monhegan pal (and birder extraordinaire) Bill, and I headed down to Lobster Cove, on the southwest side of the island. Word had it that, in the thickets along the trail down, we might see a yellow-breasted chat and/or a marsh wren and/or some other crazy songbirds I’d love to see. Instead, we saw beaucoup yellow-rumps, swamp sparrows, white-throated sparrows, song sparrows, a catbird, and northern gannets fishing offshore. And falcons.

Merlins, mostly. These small, speedy, feisty birds-of-prey seem both fearless, pugnacious, and eager to do battle. They’d wiggle their wings in anticipation as they’d dive for flickers, goldfinchs, and herring gulls alike. We even saw a merlin dive at a peregrine falcon—a much larger and (arguably) more fearsome bird—seemingly without a care in the world. And more than once we’d be looking off into a thicket in hopes of spying some tiny warbler or sparrow or wren, when a dark blur would sweep through an overgrown opening in the trail near us: a merlin on the prowl. What sleek, expert flier and killing machine. And fun to watch.

Palm warbler, Monhegan Island, Maine, 27 September 2010.

Palm warbler.

We also saw some pint-sized kestrels. And peregrines are a marvel to behold. But there’s just something to love about a merlin. We must’ve seen three or four dozen of them (although of course some could’ve been the same bird). Several peregrines. A couple kestrels. Which leads me to ask: where else can you go at any time of year and be sure to see so many falcons? Maybe somewhere, but nowhere I know. It’s just a miracle. A circus. An incredible show.

Other highlights of this day included my first-ever yellow-throated warbler, my first ever sora, dickcissels, clay-colored sparrows, and a lark sparrow in the rain.

Monhegan List
(Not in order of sighting.)

1. Mallard
2. Commen eider
3. Ring-necked pheasant
4. Northern gannet
5. Double-crested cormorant
6. Osprey
7. Bald eagle
8. Northern harrier
9. Sharp-shinned hawk
10. American kestrel
11. Merlin
12. Peregrine falcon
13. Sora
14. Herring gull
15. Great black-backed gull
16. Mourning dove
17. Belted kingfisher
18. Yellow-bellied sapsucker
19. Northern flicker
20. Eastern phoebe
21. Red-eyed vireo
22. Blue jay
23. American crow
24. Common raven
25. Black-capped chickadee
26. Red-breasted nuthatch
27. Carolina wren (voice)
28. Golden-crowned kinglet
29. American robin
30. Gray catbird
31. Cedar waxwing
32. Yellow-rumped warbler
33. Yellow-throated warbler
34. Palm warbler
35. Blackpoll warbler
36. Common yellowthroat
37. Chipping sparrow
38. Clay-colored sparrow
39. Lark sparrow
40. Savannah sparrow
41. Song sparrow
42. Lincoln’s sparrow
43. Swamp sparrow
44. White-throated sparrow
45. Dark-eyed junco
46. Dickcissel
47. Bobolink (voice)
48. Rusty blackbird
49. Common grackle
50. Baltimore oriole
51. Purple finch
52. Pine siskin
53. American goldfinch

Lark sparrow, Monhegan Island, Maine, 27 September 2010.

Lark sparrow.

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Bird Report is a (sometimes intermittent) record of the birds I encounter while hiking, see while driving, or spy outside my window. —Brian Willson

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