Merlin magic, Flicker flights, Yellow Rumps, Monarch of the Road, and more

Great morning at Gooseberry, kicked off by a lucky grab of a flicker caught in the morning Sun and highlighted  by some out-of-focus shots of a speeding Merlin who I interrupted at breakfast – his, or maybe hers. I’ve seen Merlin’s on Gooseberry before during fall migration, but this is the first one I’ve caught on film and been able to positively – well sort of positively –  identify.

But first, this Northern Flicker which came barrelling down the causeway as I headed out. The morning Sun caught him beautifully.  I say “him” because of the black mustache – the females doesn’t have this, of course.  (Click any image for a larger version.)

Northern Flicker - They come in two flavors - yellow shafted and red shafted - guess which one this is!

In typical woodpecker fashion, he flaps, then glides, making his flight easy to spot by it’s series of dips. When gliding he looks downright bullet-like.

Northern Flicker - or speeding artillery shell!

OK – my surprise of the morning was when this Merlin (I think) popped out of the brush as I walked down the central road near the towers. I had only a rough sense of something big and falcon-like and I was lucky to grab this first shot.  If you’re like me, you don’t want to know this, but yes, Merlin’s have to eat too and the reason he only flew a realtively short distance down the road was he was carrying his breakfast with him. So you can zip past this next photo if it bothers you – the remaining ones may be helpful if you’re interested in trying your hand at  Merlin identification.


Why do I think it’s a Merlin?  Because he gave me two more chances to take pictures – the second chance was a complete disaster. The auto-focus was fooled by the brush as he skimmed and weaved just above it.  It was still fooled in the third series, but while the focus is soft, the identifying features are clear.

Merlin - look carefully and you'll see the heavy speckling on the breast - especially if you click on the image and view the larger version. There's also a hint of buffiness near the tail.

Merlin - note the scallop pattern on the underside of the right wing and the terminal white stripe on the tail.

This view stuck in my mind as I continued walking, for the pointed wings screamed "falcon." When comparing the Merlin and Kestrel, Dunne says the Merlin's wing is "shaped more like an isosceles triangle." That sure seems to fit the wings we see here.

OK, here's what gets me, though. Sibley shows a black tail with thin white stripes. This seems like a buff-colored tail with black stripes - more like the Peregrine. So you need to look closely at the two preceding photos. Look alittle different? I guess it depends on how the light ctaches it because this is the same bird, I'm sure.

Two things have me puzzled. First is the tail pattern that shows in the pictures.  The second is a sense at the time of this being larger than what I expect a Merlin to be – more Peregrine size. I have seen both the Merlin and Peregrine on Gooseberry, but this does seem to fit the description in Pete Dunne’s book – “large head, stocky body, and shortish tail.”  Dunne also says that the Merlin “often allows closer approach before retreating.”  That fit this bird’s behavior. I was surprised it didn’t just leave – especially the second time it flew.

Bottom line – my vote remains in favor of the Merlin, but if anyone can shed some light on this for me, please feel free to use the comments form at the end of this post!

I don’t want to tempt the Merlin, but this was a good day for small birds as well and I’m quite sure there were some good ones I couldn’t identify, but my favorite is an old friend, the Yellow-rumped Warbler. Now that I can identify!

Yellow-rumped Warbler.

Yeah, it's yellow, but you don't have to get too personal about it!

Another familiar friend caught in an unfamiliar pose – flying – was this Eastern Phoebe. The Phoebe is easy to spot sitting on a low branch, then suddenly darting out to catch flying insects – but I’ve had a hard time up until now in getting an inflight photo because the flights are quick and irregular.

Phying Phoebe - sorry, couldn't resist 😉 Quite good form, though, and I love that pale, yellow underbelly.

The White-throated Sparrow is an old friend I’m used to seeing in winter.  This is one of the tan variety – that is some stripes that are normally white are tan.

White-throated Sparrow.

White-throated Sparrow.- shows it's flying form - and maybe something about the lack of depth of field at this lens setting! Hmmm . . . it was F8 and the shutter speed was 1/640th of a second - so are his wings moving that fast?

Meanwhile, there were several more flickers in the area near the parking lot, so I got some more pictures of their flap-flap-flap — coast-down-hill flying style. After one of those dives they do seem to have a bit of trouble suddenly jamming on the brakes. Need some reverse thusters!

Flicker - note the white rump.

Flicker, banking and turning with an eye towards a landing twig.

Flicker - you suppose the name somehow comes from this flying form - sort of like flicking something? I'd give this a 10 for style!

But he really didn't stick the landing - he closed up for a moment right after this picture was taken, then almost immediately repeated this.

Looks quite proud of himself, though, once he found his twig.

And who is here to be “King of the Road” today? Why the Monarch, of course. Saw five or six in the course of an hour’s walk, I hope we’ll get a whole lot more over the next four or five days.

Yeah, that's the road at the north end of the causeway and that's the Monarch - not really a great place to be warming his engines, but it was a chilly morning.

Actually, I saw the most Monarchs out on the path to the east of the towers – that is, take the central road and don’t take the fork to the right that  goes to the towers – keep going straight – out that way I’ve seen the bulk of the Monarchs.  Here’s a shot of one out there this morning.

Monarch showing the form that will take him to Mexico by November - we hope!

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