Sunday, January 20, 2013

A Four-Falcon Day

I had to drive to Hadley, Massachusetts today. As always, I “bird” while driving, and in the first part of my trip, I was rewarded with countless Red-tailed Hawks, and, near Holyoke, a Merlin, right where I had seen one during December.

When I reached my destination, I found myself with about a half hour on my hands, so I immediately went to see what birds I could find in this bird-rich area.

My route took me right to Moody Bridge Road in Hadley. From the portion of the road that lies east of South Maple Street, I watched a Peregrine Falcon hunting leisurely over the fields to the south (see photo, which I snapped a few minutes later). My all-time favorite bird. Who could ask for more?

Looking south from Moody Bridge Road

Well! After a few minutes, a gorgeous dark-phase Rough-legged Hawk flew into my field of view, and I watched both birds for another few minutes, delightedly. This was the first time I’d seen a dark-phase Rough-leg, and the contrast of black body and white wing linings was just beautiful. I couldn’t believe my luck! Who could ask for more?!

I lowered my binocs to take another look around, in case I was missing anything, and was stunned and even more delighted to see a Gyrfalcon (presumably the same one that I saw on January 2, and which has been reported numerous times in the past month) flying parallel to and south of Moody Bridge Road, heading west. I watched it for a good two minutes, against the backdrop of the dark hills. I had gotten a good look at it in the Honeypot on January 2, and I believe this was the same bird.  Here are some pictures of that bird (not my photos):

This was a very large falcon, bigger than the Red-tailed Hawk that was also in the field, making for a good comparison. Pearly grey, broad wings with pointed tips. It was much bigger than the Peregrine that was also present! Unmistakably a Gyrfalcon.

I passed through the Honeypot on the way home. On the way there, I saw another (?) Peregrine, a Northern Harrier, and an American Kestrel. In the Honeypot itself, I watched another spiffy male Kestrel hunting, and I spotted another darkish Rough-legged Hawk atop a utility pole in front of the transfer station.

This was my first-ever (and probably my only-ever) four-falcon day! Kestrels, Merlin, Peregrine(s), Gyrfalcon.  A rare event for any birder, and a standout event for this patch birder who generally does not venture far afield.

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