Falcons: Merlin

Photo of Merlin
Biddeford, ME | 5 Mar 2017

When I think of a Merlin, I think of speed and stealth. Though the larger Peregrine Falcon has a higher top speed (especially when in a stoop), a Merlin flies with unparalleled intensity. Jenny and I once witnessed one cruise in from a coastal island in pursuit of an unidentified bird and were amazed with the arrow-like flight-path of the constantly flapping bird.

Merlins frequently hunt low to the ground and use their speed to surprise and/or chase down small songbirds and shorebirds. Their diet also includes dragonflies and small mammals. As rare nesters in New England, most Merlins are seen during fall and spring migration, and in small numbers during the white season.

To learn more about these aerial experts, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

17.10 | Nature Notes (Mar 5-11)

Photo of Greater Scaup (male)
Greater Scaup (male) | Biddeford, ME | 10 Mar 2017

Highlights of the Week

A group of 4 Snow Geese spent a few days on the golf course in Biddeford Pool. Nearby, I observed about a dozen Canada Geese submerge themselves (albeit briefly) in the newly open water of Etherington Pond. I've seen geese bathe at the surface before, but these birds went completely under!

I observed Greater Scaup and Lesser Scaup (FOY) separately and mixed together this week, which afforded me excellent opportunities to study the structural differences between these similar species.

Other sightings of note included 5 Dunlin (FOY) in Biddeford Pool, 2 Northern Shovelers and a Great Blue Heron in Wells, 1 vocal Red-shouldered Hawk (FOY) in Kennebunkport, and several Eastern Chipmunks throughout my travels.

Wild Edible of the Week

This week, I incorporated dehydrated Black Trumpet mushrooms (from a couple of summers ago) into several of my meals.

I was also able to collect more than a half-gallon of Red Maple sap on one warm day (to make up for last week's nearly complete lack of sap). I've been enjoying it raw and using it as a soup base.

Moon Challenge Report

I recorded the calls of 7 more bird species: Brown Creeper, American Goldfinch, and American Tree Sparrow (link to audio); Pileated Woodpecker and White-breasted Nuthatch (link to audio); Blue Jay (link to audio); and American Robin (link to audio).

I'd also like to share with you a new podcast by nature recordist Lang Elliot called The Music of Nature (check out the first installment). The soundscapes he's sharing may be from outside of New England, but they're nonetheless inspiring.

Nature Challenge of the Week (for you, the reader)

Observe a drumming woodpecker.


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My work as a naturalist is supported by readers like you. To pledge a monthly contribution of $1 or more, please visit Patreon. Thank you!

White Season Birds: Iceland Gull

Photo of Iceland Gull (immature)

Iceland Gulls are uncommon but regular white season visitors to parts of New England. Along with Glaucous Gulls, they're referred to as "white-winged" gulls, as all ages have light-colored wings with little to no dark markings.

Iceland Gulls take 4 years to acquire adult plumage, and for their 1st year are a generally evenly patterned off-white to tan color with pink legs and a dark bill (see photo above and gallery below). Adults have a mostly white body, a gray mantle, gray upper wings (with/without limited black at primary tips), and a yellow bill with a red spot.

Photo of Iceland Gull (adult)
Three photos stitched together of one adult Iceland Gull

Size-wise, Iceland Gulls average smaller than Herring Gulls, and larger than Ring-billed Gulls. Paying close attention to wing-tip color, try to spot the immature Iceland Gull in this coastal congregation. Can you identify all 5 gull species pictured? (See the answer below).

Photo of Mixed Gulls

To learn more about Iceland Gulls, visit All About Birds. To view the following images in full-size, click here.

Answer: The photo contains (from smallest to largest): a Bonaparte's Gull, Ring-billed Gulls, an Iceland Gull, Herring Gulls, and Great Black-backed Gulls.

17.09 | Nature Notes (Feb 26 – Mar 4)

Photo of Gulls
Gulls | Augusta, ME | 2 Mar 2017

Highlights of the Week

On Church Hill Road in Augusta, a gull-filled field contained 1 immature Glaucous Gull (FOY), 40 Great Black-backed Gulls, and a staggering 1600+ Herring Gulls.

During a midday high tide at the Scarborough Marsh, I observed 1 Snow Goose among hundreds of Canada Geese, 1 Northern Shoveler (FOY), 5+ Gadwall, and 1 Peregrine Falcon.

I observed American Woodcocks (FOY) displaying in both morning and evening twilight. Other FOYs for me included Killdeer, Brown-headed Cowbird, and Turkey Vulture. And, amazingly, near the foundation of a house, Jenny noticed the first tiny flowers of Hairy Bitter-cress.

Wild Edible of the Week

I tapped a Red Maple tree this week, with hopes of gathering and drinking several cups of slightly sweet sap. Unfortunately, most days were simply too cold for sap flow, so I was able to obtain only about a pint of precious liquid. (I hope to obtain more sap in the coming weeks, as conditions allow.)

Moon Challenge Report

My latest challenge, to record the calls of 15 species of birds or amphibians with my new sound recording equipment, is off to a slow start. So far, I've recorded an American Woodcock (link to audio) and a Black-capped Chickadee (link to audio).

Nature Challenge of the Week (for you, the reader)

On a clear night, locate the Big Dipper and the North Star.


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My work as a naturalist is supported by readers like you. To pledge a monthly contribution of $1 or more, please visit Patreon. Thank you!