Eye of Merlin

It’s been a long couple of months, so yesterday the wife and I decided to go out in the freezing cold and … bird (we’re crazy that way). Well, yesterday at Forsythe NWR* it was raptor central. We saw red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, a Cooper’s hawk fending off one of the many northern harriers and this beautiful merlin.

We were actually trying to move toward a harrier that was perched on a sign (something I’ve never seen at Forsythe) when I suddenly shouted ‘Stop!’ at Shari, my safari guide and driver and pointed at this merlin who was sitting no more than 5m in front of us. It was very compliant and gave us a LOT of great looks.

Sadly, the wind and my own mistakes left me with no stellar shots (check out Shari’s for a really nice shot), but it was still a thrill to see this beautiful falcon so close.


Teal a la mud This was one of the most exciting scenes yesterday, even better than the peregrine almost picking off the teal right in front of us. We had just gotten done seeing the Merlin at close range when I noticed something eating in the mud. We went up and I assumed that it was a peregrine finishing off a teal or other small duck – I was close: it was a Cooper’s Hawk eating a teal.

But then things got exciting as a pair of Northern Harriers wanted to do take out – the both dived at the Coop, who fended them off. The one flew away after only one attempt, but the other came back several times until the Coop actually tried to fly away with its prize.

Cooper's Hawk vs. Northern Harrier At one point, the Cooper’s hawk dropped the teal and the harrier made its move – but the hawk was quicker and literally leapt on top of the duck and I swear it tried to take a bite out of the harrier, too! Eventually, the harrier landed on a grassy clump a few meters away and sat sullenly as the Cooper’s enjoyed its meal.

Oddly, this duck is very dead at this point. If you look at this picture, you can see how torn up it was. For some reason, when Cooper’s dropped it, it was propped up in this position, looking very much alive. But it never moved and flopped over when the hawk landed on it in a defensive move.


I'm Watchin' You, Buddy. We actually started at Barnegat Inlet, which has been a great place to see winter seabirds that we won’t see any other time of year (or pretty much any other place in this area). And it was COLD – like 30 degrees and 30mph winds coming off of the ocean cold. Probably not the best conditions for bird photography, particularly sea birds. They seemed to think it wasn’t fit to be out, and there wasn’t the usual number of suspects hanging out in the inlet that we’ve come to expect. There were a nominal number of Harlequin Ducks, one-offs of long-tailed ducks, black-bellied plover, great cormorant and sanderling, and long-distance looks at some scoters and common eiders.

*aka “Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge”
« See the whole set on Flickr »

Amidst the Maelstrom


2 Responses to “Raptorpalooza

  • It was very cold out yesterday! Glad you two were able to get out and take some pictures! BTW: Really love your merlin shot! They are such great birds!

  • Wow man, you really got some beautiful shots. It must have been amazing to see them fighting over the teal. Also the shot of the snow goose wings hanging from that wire in your photostream is absolutely chilling.

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