Sunday, November 22, 2009

Avast! Merlin on the Mast!

On the last blog post, I discussed our recent Lake Erie pelagic boat trip, and the port of entry problems that we encountered. The fair city of Cleveland allowed one of its massive railroad drawbridges to rust shut in the down position, effectively preventing our triumphant return up the Cuyahoga River.

But, in a classic case of making lemonade from a basketful of lemons, we were delighted to stumble into a wonderful bird upon boating into Plan B destination - the Edgewater Yacht Club.

A lovely female Merlin. Wonderful compensation for any inconveniences caused by the uncooperative bridge. This particular bird is outfitted with all of the latest electronic gear from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as part of their ongoing studies of this charming little falcon. Our individual is equipped with live-time DNA sensors; high-precision radio telemetry hardware; infra-red nightime detection optics; several bands on each leg; and a weathervane. Collectively, all of this gear weighs over 9.3 lbs.. Strong little buggers, these falcons.

Just fooling - the Merlin is perched high atop the mast of a dry-docked sailboat, and the mechanicals go with the boat.

Merlins are becoming increasingly common, and are on their way to becoming fixtures in urban haunts such as this. With the overall increase in population breeders are turning up in new places, or areas where they haven't nested in decades. Just this year, John Pogacnik - one of our guides on the pelagic - confirmed nesting Merlins in northeast Ohio. They probably hadn't bred in our state for 70-80 years.


video
Our plucky little falcon had no fear of us birders. We spotted her from the boat, some ways off, and looking like a pack of fools no doubt, proceeded to "sneak" up on her en masse. The Merlin had probably seen us when were still two miles out at sea, and just watched the throng creep ever closer. She merely gazed about, occasionally glancing down at us commoners. We all eventually assembled in a large semicircle in the parking lot under her boat, and unbelievable looks were had by all. The above video documents the new-found celebrity of this fearsome killer of dragonflies and small birds, and the experience was one of the trip's many highlights.

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