Skip to main content

Merlin

My lucky day. I stepped out of the beautiful chapel at Green Lawn Cemetery about 10 am this morning, after a meeting of our Board of Trustees. In a manner common to birders worldwide - convergent evolution, I suppose - I immediately did a quick once-over of the landscape. And there, not too distant, was a Merlin teed up prominently at the summit of the dead skeleton of a Norway Spruce. No shrinking violets, these boys (actually girl in this case).

After alerting those of my fellow board members who were handy and showing them the fierce little falcon, I ran around in a manner that was probably suggestive of that John Belushi scene in Animal House, except I darted from monument to monument rather than car to car, trying to sneak up on the bird. She could care less. Fifty feet up and with still warm breakfast, the Merlin had better things to do than worry about the antics of some bipedal clown hiding behind tombstones. Still, I kept a respectful distance.

Green Lawn Cemetery in winter. Three hundred and sixty acres, filled with massive trees and jumbo conifers. The place produces good birding year-round, and this is the third winter now that Merlins have returned here. Cemeteries like this somewhat replicate savannas or open taiga - habitats with large overstory trees but sparse vegetation at ground level. This sort of plant structure is what Merlins favor throughout much of their range. There are now Merlins wintering in several of Ohio's large cemeteries, and I will not be surprised if the species is nesting in the state before too long, probably in a large urban cemetery.


Here she is, with some hapless songbird clamped tightly in those vice-like talons. If you are looking for this Merlin, tune into the other birds. They may let you know it's around. There's something about seeing one of your compadres snatched out of the blue by a speeding feathered bullet and taken to a prominent perch for all to see, where it is gutted and ripped asunder, that upsets the songbird set. They will scold and utter distressed notes. While not a songbird if we must be accurate here, I noticed the Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were rather beside themselves. Mewing and squalling, one of them was visibly distraught, over this killer's performance I suppose.

A chunk of flesh is separated and wolfed down. I've always had a thing for predatory birds, and what you see above is partly why. Like other raptors, the Merlin is a bird of action. It kills things, and to do so has evolved some very formidable flying skills. Think of the learning curve a young Merlin goes through. This is not like, say, a baby goldfinch. "I say, Sylvester, over here - this is the thistle feeder/sunflower/goldenrod. Now just repeat after daddy whilst I extract these nice little seeds. Good job, little chap, you'll be turning yellow in no time!"

The Merlin youth watch parents who resemble feathered Lamborghinis blowing into songbirds hard enough to blast feathers off in a puff of destructive violence. If life persists, the spine is cracked with the powerful bill. Chunks of bleeding meat are sheared from the prey, and the Merlin's bill runs red with gore from Senor Crossbill or whatever was unlucky enough to get caught in the crosshairs. No, this is no goldfinch. Then, the young Merlin must eventually take to the skies and hone the aerial skills that will make it an effective killer of birds. The skill set that must be acquired is a formidable one, and the fact that birds like Merlins can do what they do, and so well, is an endless source of fascination to me.

If you are in the Columbus area, I hope that you can get to Green Lawn and perhaps cross paths with our Merlin in residence.

Comments

Congrats on the merlin, Jim! Alwasy a treat to see a blue darter.
Jim McCormac said…
"Blue Dart"! Excellent name, BT3! This one was a Brown Dart, but a minor difference...

Jim

Popular posts from this blog

The Pinching Beetle, a rather brutish looking bug

The world is awash in beetles, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Few of them can match the intimidation factor of a Pinching Beetle, Lucanus capreolus, though. Those formidable looking mandibles look like they could slice off a finger.

Today was one of those coolly diverse days. I started off down in Fayette County, visiting the farm of a friend. He has restored about 25 acres of wetlands, and the response by the animal community has been nothing short of phenomenal. Blizzards of dragonflies of many species, amphibians galore, and nesting Blue-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebe, and Sora. Among MANY other things. And all in a short two years. Add water and they will come.

Then, working my way home, I ducked into a Madison County cemetery that has a thriving population of Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrels, and shot images of our native prairie dog. Then, I stopped at a spot along Little Darby Creek, waded on in, and procured some pretty nice shots of various stream bluets and dancers. …

Calliope Hummingbird in central Ohio!

A hatch-year male Calliope Hummingbird strikes a pose. Small but tough, the hummingbird was feeding actively yesterday in 39 F temperatures. It frequents feeders and gardens at a home in Delaware County, Ohio, about a half-hour north of Columbus.

Fortunately, the wayward hummer appeared at the home of Tania and Corey Perry. Tania is a birder, and knew right away that the hummingbird was something special. For a while, the identification was up in the air, which isn't surprising. The Calliope Hummingbird used to be placed in its own genus, Stellula, but has recently been submerged into the genus Selasphorus, which includes Allen's, Broad-tailed, and Rufous hummingbirds. The latter two, especially, are quite similar to the Calliope in subadult plumage. Rufous is the default "vagrant" hummingbird here, with dozens of records and birds turning up annually. There is but one Ohio record of Allen's Hummingbird, from late fall/early winter 2009. Ditto the Calliope Hummi…

Ballooning spiders

Fear not, ye arachnophobes. The subject of this entry is indeed about spiders, but the star of the show is about as cute as a spider can get. And you'll want to know what we're about to learn...

On my recent West Virginia foray, we were strolling down a seldom-used lane, when a bright yellow object caught our eye. It was a goldenrod crab spider, Misumena vatia, on top of a post! Not only that, she - it is a girl - was acting extraordinarily goofy. The spider would stilt up as high as she could go on her legs, weave back and forth, jig side to side, and otherwise engage in what appeared to be spider break-dancing.

Click the pic for expansion, and you can see two columns of silk issuing from her spinnerets. This is an important point, as we set about determining what this non-web-making spider is doing.


So fixated was our spider on her task that she even rejected what would seem to me to be a perfectly scrumptious meal. This little caterpillar climbed rapidly up the post and dire…