Thursday, February 24, 2011

17 Years?

May 10, 1994.  A Tuesday.

My buddy Don and I had just finished birding Point Pelee.   A new bird for me that day included a Louisiana Waterthrush.   For most birders, after working the park, a drive through the Onion Fields before pressing on to Hillman Marsh is always in order. Shorebirds can be quite a draw there in May. Realistically, we were looking for anything. 

As we were winding our way north, a peculiar looking bird was on the side of the road. Honestly, I don't recall exactly where, but I believe it was sitting on a wire (as opposed to a shrub or tree). Something lay at its feet.  Sure enough, Don and I (okay, mostly Don) were able to secure the ID of both birds.  A Merlin was basically plucking a Horned Lark.  

Odd as it sounds, if the Horned Lark had lived but a few seconds longer, I could have made a statement that would ring true and funny forever - My life-bird Merlin was plucking my life-bird Horned Lark. 

Alas, the Merlin, with no patience for the two gawkers, took off down the road like a bullet, carrying the lark with ease.  Before too long, we had secured looks a numerous Horned Larks.  They (the living ones!) were  my life birds.  My notes from the time are very sketchy so I can't tell you what number they were, but rest assured, they were, indeed new.  Somewhere around #200 or so would be my best guess.

Any how, what brought about this little walk down memory lane?

Tuesday, I was out birding with a good friend.  We found ourselves in eastern Washtenaw County on Vreeland and Gotfredson Roads. Previous reports had shown Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs in the area.  Of course, in the winter months, where you have buntings and "Lappies", one may have Horned Larks, too.  

We certainly did.

If you are wondering about the name, they do indeed have "horns".  But, only the males.  This very cooperative bird appears to be a female. Thus, no horns. Check this photo to see the male's fancy head ornaments. 

After sweeping the road a few times, the one and only Snow Bunting was not putting on a show.  After sitting for a just a moment longer while we developed a game plan, guess who puts in an appearance?

Yeah. A Merlin.

Motoring across the field, it stopped in the tree line just a few yards from the road. While it was not carrying a Horned Lark, perhaps in a few seconds it would be.  With  a straight-as-a-laser flight style, getting from Point A to Point B never seems to take long.  Flight speeds in the order of Mach 3.9 (give or take) combined with their smaller size (26" wingspan) give them the appearance of moving even faster.  Small but nimble fliers, like a lark, had better be on their toes, or they're Merlin-meat.

After perhaps 30 seconds of gawking, off it went.  It did not seem to be in hunting mode.  I'm pretty sure I heard the larks breath a sigh of relief.

So, May 10, 2011 will be the 17th anniversary of 'ole Merlin-with-the-Lark story. Holy crap.  17 years.  In that time, I have been to quite a few places and seen quite a few things. 

I wonder what the next 17 years will be like?  Where will I go? What will I see?  If it turns out to be like the last 17 years, it will be blast, for sure........


Mark said...

May 10, 1994? I hope your sketchy notes mentioned the annular solar eclipse that day. Annular means the moon passed directly in front of the sun but was too far away in its orbit to totally cover it. It should have been visible from Pelee.

Paul said...

I do remember the eclipse. Unfortunately, I had already posted the entry when I realized I forgot to mention it. I was thinking about it but just skipped it on accident. What a cool event. Looking forward to the next one in Michigan - April 8, 2024.

Mark said...

I'm also have been looking forward to the event in April 2024. I told my wife we'll go out to Wyoming for the August 21,2017 eclipse that will last just over 2 minutes in the Jackson Hole-Teton Village area.