adventures in nature


no, not the wizard.

well, i suppose it could be a wizard, really – who am i to say.

but it certainly is, at least to my presumably human eyes, visibly appearing as the falcon called a merlin (previously also know by its colloquial name, “the pigeon hawk”) – or Falco columbarius to the learned, let’s-really-put-things-in-a-box-and-take-the-magical-mystery-out-of-life types.   <wink wink smile>

i’ve been having a thrill spending twilights with this small falcon (about the size of a crow) that seems to have taken up its wintering residence in the hills above town where I live. every night just after sunset, the bird alights on top of the same perch to sit – not far from where i spend as many sunsets as possible, myself sitting on a rock on that same ridge, to watch the sun disappear for the day over the coastal range to the west. merlins are a somewhat rare species, so seeing one is a treat. to get to spend so many evenings with one has been very special.

during late december i was sharing twilight with the nearly full moon, the planet jupiter (which has been bright in the eastern sky after dusk), and the merlin. all was in alignment.

waxing moon, jupiter and a perched merlin / Sonoma Co, CA

it seems to be soaking in the last bit of light in a “relaxed manner” on its perch. which appears – to onlookers less concerned about becoming a meal (aka me) – to actually be very guarded, alert, and a bit anxious behavior. Not very relaxed, to an onlooking human. That is unless you know how the bird acts when it isn’t relaxed – which is INTENSE. a bird this size, though a predator, has many other predators to avoid, especially as day transitions to night and there is an overlap of “shifts.” Both daytime and crepuscular hunters are about at twilight, meaning plenty of hawks, falcons, and hungry owls just waking up with empty bellies, so it certainly needs to be aware. Though I wouldn’t say it FEARS anything. this is a notoriously tough bird species and a very aware one as well. big attitude in a small feathery package.

i feel extremely fortunate for it to allow me to sit so close to it on its perch (well, me on the ground … usually) while it preens and scrapes its beak before flying into the same bay laurel tree to roost each night.

merlin / Sonoma Co, CA

merlin / Sonoma County, CA

notice the very long toes – this is a bird that takes other birds right out of the sky in flight. it is a trait shared with other primarily-bird-eating raptors such as other falcons and the accipiter family. those toes immobilize flying prey until the bird can dispatch it with a spinal-cord-severing bite to the neck. it’s been hard to get a snap of him in daylight (I am guessing “him” based on his smaller size and streaked belly), all these shots are after the sun has set (contributing to the grainy quality of the photos). he probably is hunting all through the valley above the russian river and only returns to his perch and roost at night, since i rarely see him during the day when i get the chance to walk up on the ridge. he keeps his work and personal life separate, evidently. this area has a nice mix of chapparal, oak woodland, and riparian zones with lots of birds to feast on – a great place for a merlin to spend the winter.

merlin at twilight / Sonoma Co, CA

Thank you merlin.

One response

  1. KateD

    Love that mushroom shot – great scale.

    February 2, 2012 at 2:51 am

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