Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Merlin becomes TV star!

Ben Gelber, NBC4 meteorologist (L) and Buzz the camera man bask in the presence of a very extroverted female Merlin in Columbus, Ohio's Green Lawn Cemetery. The bird is perched in the gnarled boughs of a Kentucky coffee tree, only 30 feet above Buzz's camera.

NBC4 and Ben are great about airing short natural history segments, and I've worked with Ben on several of these episodes. After our last shoot, I suggested going after this Merlin and seeing if we could manage any footage of her. Ounce for ounce, this particular Merlin must be one of the world's most fearless birds. She's been in residence at Green Lawn all winter, and has been seen by hundreds of people. You can walk right under her perch, and she'll not even bother to give you a glance.

We managed to work some other sights into the shoot, including this massive bur oak, Quercus macrocarpa. About 90% of all of Ohio's native trees can be found in Green Lawn, which is also considered an arboretum. This oak is my favorite of all of the giant trees in the cemetery, of which there are many. It's got a gargantuan pillar of a trunk, and anastomoses into an elegant snarl of branches that form a canopy the size of a large building. Green Lawn was founded in 1848; this tree is considerably older.

Gelber provides a size scale to the monstrous bur oak.

But back to our primary quarry, the Merlin, seen here giving your blogger a haughty stare. When Ben, Buzz and I arrived at the scene, no Merlins were in evidence (as many as three - one female and two males - frequent the cemetery). They have a favored section of the cemetery, and more often than not can be found loafing on conspicuous treetop snags. Of course, when you really want 'em, they're nowhere to be found. So we launched into another story, but I was quite disappointed that we couldn't produce one of the exciting little falcons.

I was in mid-sentence, bloviating about something, when I saw the Merlin torpedoing through the trees. Yes! She shot to the top of her lofty sycamore snag, and Buzz whipped the camera around and locked her in. Beautiful, now we had our story and the subject was cooperating, albeit at a distance.

To our astonishment, Mrs. Merlin suddenly dropped from her perch and came sailing right at us. As if in slow motion, she flutter-glided a mere 20 feet over our heads, and swooped up onto a branch only 30 feet away. She was clearly checking us out; I could see her cocking her head sideways to better scope us out as she soared overhead. Once on the branch, she cast a few more disdainful looks our way, then set about grooming herself. This was just too cool - FAR better than I could have hoped for! Buzz got some great footage of her in flight, and once she was perched on the nearby branch he was frame-filling her.

Our fearless little Prima Donna poses for the camera. She was still there when we left. It may be that she is an attention-hound, saw the camera and the newsman, and knew a limelight opportunity when she saw one. More likely, she is starting to feel territorial. Merlins have overwintered in Green Lawn Cemetery for about five years now, and for the last two or three winters there has also been an adult male present. I think it's just a matter of time before they nest in the cemetery, and this girl may have been a bit feistier than normal because she is plotting out a household somewhere nearby.

John Pogacnik documented the first modern nesting of Merlin in Ohio in 2009, in Lake County. The following year, Danielle McCament found a nest in the middle of the city of Mt. Vernon, in Knox County. I think Green Lawn will soon be added to the registry of Merlin nesting sites.

If you'd like to read a bit more about these interesting little falcons, HERE is a brief general interest article I wrote about them a few years back. For today's NBC4 video of today's Merlin adventure, CLICK HERE.

Thanks to Ben Gelber and NBC4 for their efforts to bring natural history to a wide audience. And major props to this Diva of a falconiform. I hope her TV appearance nets some new nature enthusiasts.


1 comment:

Jared said...

I like the insertion of how Greenlawn doubles as an arboretum. Sounds like a great spot to study native trees!