It’s the first full day of spring and it is snowing again! After a cool, but sunny weekend the snow has returned, and so have the birds. I cannot go outside or open a window now without hearing bird song. The birds that have been silent all winter have once again found their voices. It is not unusual to wake up now to the soft cooing of Mourning Doves. The cardinals are calling from the thickets and the robins have invaded the neighborhood. I counted over 10 on my walk to the bog yesterday. Big changes are happening at the bog also.
Since being gone for a week I have tried to make up for lost time by visiting the bog every day for the last 3 days. All the snow is gone and all of the ice has melted. Ducks and geese are returning to the bog and I have observed a pair of Hooded Mergansers hanging out there for two days. Today when I visited, however, they are nowhere to be seen. It is simply cloudy when I arrive at the bog but soon a gentle rain starts falling which quickly turns to snow. Out in the bog a few Canada Geese are lazily swimming and feeding among the dead snags. I hear a few Red-winged Blackbirds calling and in the distance I hear the loud drumming of a woodpecker. I think it may be a Pileated Woodpecker, but I have never seen one here yet! I scan the trees at the end of the bog where the sound is coming from, but see nothing.
With the falling snow the bird activity has died down but as I turn away from the bog to walk home I notice a bird sitting at the top of a very tall, but dead tree trunk. Perched right on the tip of the spire-shaped wood it appears dark and gray against the sky. But there is something about that shape that is different. Is it a Mockingbird? No. A Mourning Dove? Something isn’t quite right about it.
The bird’s back is to me and with the bird silhouetted against the sky it is difficult to pick out color. I can see that the tail is square instead of pointed like a Mourning Dove’s. I cannot see any breast or head detail other than the head seems more rounded and the neck shorter than a Mourning Dove’s. I walk down the street hoping to get into a better position to see the front of the bird and hoping it will not fly away. The bird seems unperturbed with me and I finally get to a position where I can see part of its breast and its feet. Then it turns its head towards me I know for sure it is some kind of small raptor, but what? It does not have the facial pattern or coloring of a kestrel. It is small like a dove. I see a very small beak. It is dark with spotting on the sides and, is that vertical streaking on the front of the breast? I did not bring my camera with me, so I am having to look through my bins and take mental notes. Its feet are yellow but its toes are not long. I do not think it is a Sharp-shinned Hawk. I think it is a Merlin, but the spotting on the sides is throwing me off.
The snow is falling harder now and I am getting wet. My bins are getting wet. I decide to go home. Once there I pull out my bird guides, including the new Crossley ID Guide I just received in the mail last week. I open to the pages of raptors and scan the photos, first kestrel, then sharp-shinned, then Merlin. It is on the Merlin’s page that I see a photo that matches the bird I observed perfectly! It is a juvenile Merlin! Small beak, side spots, vertical streaking on front of breast! This is my first Merlin for Massachusetts, Andover, and the bog!
I am back home now in the hearthroom with a warm fire blazing. This fireplace has been one of my greatest pleasures since moving here. Its warmth has helped me through many a cold and snowy day here. This may be my last fire of the season but I am enjoying it well. Tomorrow the sun will shine again and more birds will return. Today a warm fire is all I need to see me through.
Stayed tuned for more Birding New York stories…there is lots more to see and tell!