Posted by: atowhee | November 21, 2007

Raptors a-plenty

merlin.jpg Merlin picture by Len Blumin.hooded-mergansers.jpg Two male Hooded Mergansers photographed in Mill Valley, California, by Len Blumin.

I’m starting to lose count, not of my Oregon life list.  It’s gone up another  two notches today, now standing at 168.  No, but I am having a hard time tracking all the raptors.  So Sunday it was both eagles, American Kestrel, a Cooper’s Hawk, Red-tailed and three White-tailed Kites.  Yesterday it was the Goshawk.  Today a walk with Bridget along Bear Creek Greenway turned up the same Cooper’s I’d seen there a few days back.  Then as we prepared to leave a Merlin streaked through the air and sent a few dozen Brewer’s Blackbirds into a frenzied tight knot like shorebirds afeared of a Peregrine.  This was near the Ashland sewer plant along the Greenway.  Local records indicate the Merlin is unusual here until January so this bird may have been heading south, or just out for an early spin to warm up.  Last night it dropped below 30-degrees here in the valley, our coldest night of the autumn so far.

The Merlin is my favorite American raptor.  If I could believe in incarnation, I’d put in a formal request….  Meanwhile, I recall the time I saw a rare captive Merlin.  The autumn hawk-banders at Cape May, New Jersey, get a lot of accipiters and a few Kestrel or Red-shouldered or even a Borad-winged or two.  This day they netted a Merlin.  They keep hawks in a tennis ball can until they release them.  They banded this Merlin and the moment they got him out of the can and freed, the bird exploded into flight and went almost straight up, disappearing in an instant. A bird that seems to be almost pure energy.  In England where falconry’s still prominent among some of the gentry, there are many birds used. Peregrine, Lannier’s Falcon, some buteos.  But the prize, the ultimate falconry bird, is considered to be the Merlin.  Smart, blazing fast, a specialist in the sprint and kill. But only the most wealthy and dedicated falconers need try. One woman falconer told me she counted the days until she retired from her day job and she could trade in her beloved Peregrine and own the sporty little Merlin model. A Peregrine can be taken out to hunt two or three times a week.  It’ll catch a pheasant, Wood Pigeon or other large bird and be fine for two or three days.  The Merlin must eat daily, every day.  Forty-mile-per-hour wind and driving rain?  Heavy snow upon the moors?  So, let’e take Magician the Merlin out for a spin.  Every day, every year.  Normally requires a falconry staff. This is a not a hobbyist’s bird, this is an obsession.  I find it much finer to see one streak through the dank, cold Oregon sky and scare the loose excess out of the blackbirds eating seeds from dung in the llama pen all day.  I really can’t stand to think of this falcon of falcons tethered to a post in somebody’s fancy barn.

Think of this high-speed hunter.  Less than half a pound he weighs.  Two-foot wing-span and a few ounces of feathers, muscle, sinew and a compact digestive system to power the whole thing.  Don;t overlook the visual acuity to direct the speed and reflexes that produce the strike.  This is the iPod of falcons.  Near design perfection.  No flutter, no hover, no pause, no re-consideration.  Direct, swift and deadly.  All in a compact, totally recyclable package.

The raptor capper: as we drove around Ashland today running errands, there was a Sharp-shinned Hawk sitting on a power pole at the intersection of Mountain and Siskiyou Boulevard.  Right on the corner of the Southern Oregon campus.  Perhaps he was hoping to pick up a careless freshman?

So if I can finally locate an Oregon Harrier and listen carefully for a Red-shouldered at North Mountain Park, I should just about have all the expected raptors.  I cannot recall ever previsouly having all three American accipiters in a  48-hour period.  Anyway it’s 3 accipiters, 2 falcons, plus four other raptors = nine raptors in three days.

Besides the Merlin, I picked up a second Oregon lifer on that morning walk.  It was a pair of Hooded Mergansers, male and female swimming in Bear Creek. Also, surprised to see Western Bluebirds along the Greenway for the first time.  The snow is down to about 4,000 feet so they may have been driven down from some higher grassland.

There was a Hairy Woodpecker at one of our seed feeders in the garden, first I’ve noticed this fall.  Came on the coldest morning.  They’re around and I saw a pair just across the street on a dead limb yesterday.  They nest here annually but a large rotten oak fell last summer and that was a favored feeding spot so they’ve been scarce in our garden.  Also, TWO White-breasted Nuthatches at our suet feeder today.  Three weeks ago I surmised the Red-breasted had driven them off.  Today both species were present but keeping their distance from one another.

The Acorn Woodpecker should be the town bird of Aahland.  I saw them in at least three widely separated locations in town today…well, widely in that each was more than a few blocks from the other.  I think Ashland is only about three miles long at the most.

Still waiting for the chickadee trifecta, only the Black-capped and Mountain have been in our garden though I’ve seen Chestnut-backed within a few blocks.


  1. Merlins are, indeed, supposed to be unusual this time of year in the Rogue Valley. Yet one (must be the same one) regularly hunts off South Mountain. I once and a birder neighbor twice have seen a Merlin take a dove, after an incredible dash down Wildwood Way, a small, wooded lane off South mountain. This was late October and early this month. Two sightings are probable, it all happened too fast even though it was at eye level–neighbor’s yard is a few feet above the road, mine a few below–but what else could it be?

  2. […] withtheir acorn holding holes.  It is always great to see these gusy, even when they are abundant as they are here in the Bear Valley.  Total species for the day: fifty […]

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