A rare visitor from the north

A rare visitor from the north

Yesterday we went with a friend to try and see the Gyrfalcon that had been frequenting the open fields in Wallkill, NY, a distance of about 70 miles from us.   We drove through snow blanketed fields on country roads, an area full of horse farms.  We had the approximate location where the bird had been seen most often, a spot that became obvious when we came upon about 20 cars with eager birders scanning the sky with binoculars and scopes.   We soon saw the reason for this spot’s popularity with the Gyrfalcon as a flock of Mallard ducks waddled across the farm road in front of us.   “Lunch is served,” I thought.   Soon one of the birders received a phone call reporting that the bird had been sighted a couple of miles away.  [How cell phone have revolutionized birding!]  All but three of the birders tore off in that direction but we hung on at the first site for a few more minutes, thinking that the sure thing for a lunch of  lovely plump Mallard would lure it back.   We eventually gave in and drove over to the other site and there it was, tearing apart some hapless bird, right in front of us on a pristine snow covered field.  After about 20 minutes, it lifted off, circling overhead and heading east, giving us breathtaking view of it powerful wings.

Gyrfalcons nest on cliff ledges above the treeline as far north as Ellsmere Island.  They are the largest of the Falcon family, nearly 2 feet long with a wingspan of 47 inches and weighing about 3 pounds.  My only view before now had been a fleeting glimpse of a tail disappearing behind Airy Kamen Island in the Bering Sea.  I never “owned” the bird enough to list it as one I had seen for my life list.  This experience changed all that with wonderful close looks over a 20 minute period.  What a day!


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