I arrived not long after the park gates were opened and began checking the reported hot spots. Maybe it was the temperature (I know 28F is nothing compared to what many of you tolerate every winter, but down here that's almost unheard of!), or maybe the recent lack of rain, or maybe just the luck of the draw, but there was not a single rusty or finch to be found.
Not that the morning was completely birdless. There were handfuls of crows and pine warblers, a couple of Caroline Chickadees, a little Downy Woodpecker and several Red-bellieds. I even watched as several dozen robins flew over, some lighting briefly in the treetops far above and filling the otherwise quiet morning with bursts of sound. But none of the stars, the celebrities that I had ventured out into the frozen morning in hopes of seeing.
As it neared my predetermined cut-off time — when I absolutely had to leave in order to make it home and shower before the kids' basketball games — I decided to make one last pass around the inner loop of the park. Coming upon a couple of birders with a scope, my hopes began inching up. Had they found the Rusty Blackbirds I had been seeking all morning? But no, their scope was trained on a tree full of starlings and grackles; it appeared my slow morning was being shared by all. But then ... "Oh, did you see the Merlin perched on the snag at Brandt Road?"
"Waitaminit. So you guys are standing here in the cold looking at starlings when there's a freaking Merlin a half mile away?!?" This of course was kept to myself as I sprinted back to my truck and headed across the park. And there she was, just as they had said. Life list #200, and what a beauty!
Merlin (Falco columbarius)
What can I say? Some days life gives you lemons, other days it send you Merlins!