Skip to main content

The Merlins of Union Cemetery

The open, savanna-like habitat of Union Cemetery, with its wide open spaces punctuated by scattered large trees. This cemetery, in Columbus, Ohio, straddles Olentangy River Road just south of Riverside Hospital, and is only a ten minute drive from my house.

Union Cemetery is also excellent habitat for wintering Merlins, and one or two have taken up residence here for several years. I had seen numerous reports and photos of the tough little falcons, and finally had a run at them a few days ago.

Upon entering the cemetery (the section on the east side of Olentangy River Road), it took all of a minute or so to spot one of the burly little falcons. Merlins have little of fear of anything, from what I have seen, and are prone to perching on conspicuous limbs as this animal is doing.

For a moment, she deigned to glance my way. This was about all the attention I received. If you are not food, or a threat, you are utterly inconsequential to the Merlin. To be fair, a person could and would flush the bird if too close of an approach is made, but Merlins are quite tolerant of observers, even at fairly close range.

One of my goals on this day was testing the new Canon 5D IV, and thus far I am very pleased with the results. While the improvements over its predecessor, the 5D III, are evolutionary rather than revolutionary, they are substantial. Canon bumped up the burst rate about two shots a second, and seemed to make big improvements in focus acquisition. It also has a much larger 30 megapixel sensor. I look forward to more work with this camera. This Merlin was the first bird that I've shot with the 5D IV, but there will be many more I hope.

After a rest period, she took to the air. Merlins in flight are amazing, especially when they are hot on the trail of a songbird, their main prey. Speedy and bulletlike, the muscular falcons are astonishingly agile, and capable of fantastic burst of acceleration.

I was a bit worried about this Red-breasted Nuthatch, and his mate. The two were working large spruce trees in the immediate vicinity of the resting Merlin, and (in my opinion) foolishly kept flying between trees. Each time they did, the Merlin locked its laser-like eyes on them and followed every move. The slow little nuthatches would seemingly be easy prey for the falcon as they crossed open airspace, but it never made a move on them.

Maybe the Merlin ignored the nuthatches because it was preparing to wage war against the local Blue Jays. The jays did not like the Merlins (another was present) and scolded them, often flying near to make their protestations better heard. A jay would be wise to take these raptors seriously. In this shot, the Merlin has just barreled around the top of a spruce, and nearly whacked the jay, which can be seen at the bottom right of the image fleeing for all its worth. The jays were the recipients of many a chase while I was there, but all came out with feather intact. That's not always the case, though.

Merlins are great photographic subjects, because of their approachability, and penchant for stretching and various gymnastics. If one is patient, a resting Merlin is eventually sure to strike an interesting posture like this.

Populations of this falcon are on the upswing, and we are seeing more of them each year wintering in Ohio. They are fixtures in many of our large urban cemeteries, and there have even been two modern nesting records. I suspect more nesters are to follow, and some of them will likely utilize cemeteries such as this one.

Comments

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…