A Wizard in King B’s Tin

Greetings everyone from the warm state of Arizona…wait, why am I wearing winter clothes and looking out at a cold, overcast, dreary day – CRAP, I’m still in the broke state of Illinois. Unfortunately, there is an explanation for this change of plans. We are supposed to be in Mesa, Arizona this week giving our bones a preview of what’s coming in January and more importantly – pushing my Average Year (link here) over the absolutely shocking 300 threshold. Linda and I decided to get some of our Christmas shopping out of the way on Black Friday – picked up a few presents, a few bottles of wine and apparently a case of Covid. A complete non-event for me, a night of joint/bone aches and a sharp headache passed off originally as just another night after a long run doubled with time in the gym. Linda took it harder with more of an extended flu-like experience. She’s coming out of it now, thankfully, but we had to make a decision to cancel our trip before we lost the flex option. Going to take some magic for me to get to 300 birds for the year – maybe with the help of a Wizard!

Merlin found on 8 Mile Road, Galveston Island, Texas in January 2022

There are probably at least 3 or 4 winter birds that should be relatively easy to get as the temps continue to drop – Snowy Owls being one of them, which had its first sighting yesterday a few hours away. That should put me in the 290s, waaaaay above my projection at the begining of the year. The dark horse is the fact we will have a week of birding opportunities in Texas before the new year hits – fingers crossed. In light of the “magic” that needs to occur, thought this would be a perfect time to bring out another addition to my life list.

Hit the jump to read more about The Wizard!

Merlin found on 8 Mile Road, Galveston Island, Texas in January 2022

This rather diminutive Falcon has been eluding me for several years. Time and time again I’d see it reported in eBird only to come up completely empty or more disappointing, have a tin full of shots that turned out to be some other Falcon or Hawk. Began to believe this bird was named Merlin due to its wizardry in stealth. Curious, did some checking and found out that Merlin comes from their French name esmerillon (not versed in French, and Google translate unable to confirm, but Wordow defines it as “swivel”). Disappointed it wasn’t a direct reference to the wizard in King Arthur’s court.

Merlin found on 8 Mile Road, Galveston Island, Texas in January 2022

Mrs. Swivel here was found during our January trip to Galveston Island, TX. We were making a repeat visit to 8 mile road (Sportsman’s Rd). This was a new site that we first explored while Ron was still with us a few weeks earlier. Decided to check it out again on our return leg to catch those birds we scared…ehhh…avoided..umm..hid..uhhh, missed, yes missed, while Ron was with us. The convenient thing about this location is you can basically bird by car – I looked, there is no cool word like “pelagic” (birding by boat), so I’m going to coin the term “carbing” (a clever play on “shooting” a carbine and the irony of not having to actually “carb up” because your butt’s in a seat). Almost went with a dog reference as it basically consists of Linda driving up and down the road with my head hanging out the window, my cheeks pulled back and tongue hanging out looking for anything with wings.

Merlin found on 8 Mile Road, Galveston Island, Texas in January 2022

If I had a true tail it would have been wagging like a maxed out metronome when this Falcon was spotted sitting in a tree just off the road. Half a mile earlier we had a Peregrine Falcon in the viewfinder, now we have its smaller cousin (maybe we shouldn’t tell Ron ha). Per one of my golden rules, took a few quick snaps to make sure there was something in the tin to validate the new check on the list. From there worked to improve the shot. “Linda, Little further, no, too much, back up, stop, too far, move up, more up, okay, more up than that, just a bit more, no, too far, back up, back, back, back, just about there, no too much, go for..” then a hand comes off the steering wheel, split seconds later an intense “WHACK” sound coupled with a bright light followed by intense ringing in the ears. Note to self, carbing can be dangerous when you annoy the driver!

Merlin found on 8 Mile Road, Galveston Island, Texas in January 2022

The Merlin found this extremely entertaining, which is probably the reason it was so accommodating. With all the back and forth of the vehicle, the loud noise from the smack to the back of my head and the barrel of The Beast pointed right at it, didn’t even phase her. Probably went back to the nest and wrote a blog post about the hilarious birder encounter that day.

Should probably get to some interesting facts about this talented hunter. They are found primarily in the southern to southwest region of the US and then down into Central/South America during the nonbreeding season. Migration takes them north to their Canadian/Alaskan breeding grounds. Looks like there is a group of them (referred to as dark-form – those versed in the dark art wizardry) that stay year round along the far northwest coast of North America. Cornell characterizes Merlins as a “fierce” and “powerful” falcon capable of bringing down smaller songbirds/shorebirds. They will even team up, one flushing the flock from below while the other leverages the resulting chaos.

Merlin found on 8 Mile Road, Galveston Island, Texas in January 2022

Cornell points out their association with nobility. I have heard the term before, but before today, had no idea they were also referred to as Lady Hawks by Medieval Falconers in reference to use by noblewomen to hunt Skylarks. They are still used by modern-day Falconers to hunt Sparrows and Doves. I could use one to keep our local House Sparrow population in check – bird seed is too expensive today to be wasting it on those rats with wings – damn you Shakespeare!!

Hope you enjoyed reading about my latest addition to the bird list. Need to conjure up a bit of bird-magic in the next few weeks before my first ever Average Year comes to a close. Take care everyone.

36 thoughts on “A Wizard in King B’s Tin”

  1. Maybe you should have got a case of wine, but a case of COVID cooties gave you something to whine about. Too bad you didn’t get out to the great SW and bat 300. Mrs. Swivel Esmerillo le Merlin is a fine-looking falcon or hawk.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, I like the way you think Timothy! Pretty bummed about missing Arizona, haven’t been there since I was a kid with my parents – we decided to change our flex package to go to Vegas early next year so we could wait on Arizona until we can drive out there and spend more time — won’t get credit for the bird tins that way, but will probably be more productive. Swivel’s is definitely a Falcon, but I can say based on my research it gets improperly categorized all the time.. the noblewomen didn’t help by getting it wrong from the start. Appreciate you dropping in and have a great rest of your week.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. That would be awesome – we will definitely check out the House of Blues at Mandalay to see if they are playing when we are there – seen them twice there and talk about and entertaining evening. An attractive, uber-inebriated sans clothing young woman took a fall off the stage the last time we were there – Ralph… I mean Michael stopped the show until they took care of here – was visibly shaken. Eventually got her up and out of the venue and the show went on as they say. I really want to see their new bassist in action.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Looks like Tim the Enchanter was on your side this time (with or without Ron). Seems like you need to get one of the SUV’s with the rear seat sunroof so you can stand up out of the window. Much easier to swivel to catch birds that way.
    And I have an idea to salvage your Average Year goal of 300. You could take the Intrigued Jet to Hawaii! You would get 30-40 different species in a weeks time. Plus you could see the volcano dribbling lava towards one of the main roads.
    Glad you both made it through the COVID thing relatively unscathed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Something tells me if I went the route of sunroof birding Linda would continually find and drive under trees with low branches. It would give me access to a greater field of view – Linda gets cranky when I make her duck down in the seat so I can shoot over her. Hmmm, I like the jet idea, Linda was planning on a quick flight to San Fran for some Ghirardelli chocolates stocking stuffers – maybe I can tag along and add a Hawaii stop on the way back. “Honey, pack your sandals, sunscreen and hula skirt, I need to make a quick detour.”

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely falls in the Femme Fatale category – pretty to look at, all dolled up in her beautiful yellow feet, but she’s as deadly as they come in the sky! Thank you for coming by Luisella, appreciate it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point, but as they say, if you got ’em, might as well flaunt ’em when it comes to adding extra attention to their deadly weaponsl Or some devious adaptation so they can hide along the shores and the other birds will think they are innocent Snowy Egrets. More investigation is needed!!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Swivel, interesting your research came up with that (I always thought it was named after Arthur’s wizard). We have them here in the winter and having watched them hunt Pipits swivel is a very appropriate name!
    Send a few of your Sparrows back here if you don’t like them, our population has crashed over the years, I love to see them. Rats with wings in the UK are feral pigeons that crap all over town centres.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I to thought it was based on the Celtic Shaman and was completely surprised when I saw the other explanation. I feel sorry for your Pipits, they are up against a master. I am shocked there is a Sparrow decline over there – definitely no issues here, especially with the House Sparrows that have adopted to urban life quite well – Ron blames McDonalds fries as you are guaranteed to see that Sparrows at any of those fast food locations (when Ron and I need to pad our day’s bird finds we always catch the golden arches to check off the House). Maybe your Swivels are getting to good at the hunt. We do have the feral Pigeons (aka Rock Pigeons, now Doves). The are a messy bunch for sure, but not nearly at the levels of the passing flocks of Geese. Thanks for dropping in B!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Ahhh, the winter ‘crud’, Covid, flu, or just a nasty cold is rampant this year. Sorry to hear it found you and yours. Just getting over a weeks worth of some type of plague ourselves. I hope the Merlin story helped. It’s a bird I see often, and always get the ID wrong. For no logical reason either. Nice shots 👍👍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Ted, this particular specimen was more accommodating than most of the winged killers I come across. There’s some nasty respiratory sickness going around at the same time in the area (well, in the city, not so much out here in the country). No telling what crud you are coming home after holiday shopping these days – another benefit of online shopping I guess. My symptoms were pretty weak and only lasted a day or two, but Linda got hit a little harder – we are both well down the recovery path now… assuming nothing else hits us ugh. Hope you made it through okay on your plague and appreciate you dropping in.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Extremely entertaining!
    Good to hear that you guys recovered quickly from COVID illness. I will conduct some magic charms for you so that you guys can 1. Reach that birding goal. 2. Brings us more birding adventures from that passenger side seat. 3. That the weather cooperates so that you don’t freeze off third point of contact while birding.🧙‍♀️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you CJ – recovery times seems to be extremely variable these days, we definitely got the easy end of the scale. Appreciate the magic charms – will definitely need it!! Up to 293 on the average bird count, but time is running out FAST. We just returned from Mayo and took a quick detour to see if we could get some additional fodder for the blog (jury still out whether that was accomplished or not). What I can tell you is I DID freeze some appendages. Cold weather and heavy snow throughout our stay (4-5 inches) was a total pain, especially trying to get home in the blizzard. Nothing fell off – quite effective charms ha! Appreciate you taking the time to drop in.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Glad you made it safe and sound back to you home territory. It was one heck of a storm. 3 feet fell in Northern MN! Believe me, my magic isn’t THAT strong!😂 293?! That is amazing. You most likely missed all the white birds due to blizzard conditions otherwise you be over 300 by now.😂😂🤣🤣🤣 Best of luck.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. It took us a little less than 8 hours to make the trek back (usually 6). Semis in the ditch, a lady sitting in her wrecked Jeep Wrangler bleeding from the head (she had someone attending to her) and white outs at time – luckily they topped out at 5.5 inches of snow 3′ would have meant another night away from the boys. I am now at 294 thanks to standing alongside a large lake in the freezing blowing snow. I was looking for a Tundra Swan as well, but you are probably right, it was probably floating a few feet from where I was standing and couldn’t see it. Our big snow comes Thursday and then base 0F degrees with 55mph gusts to take us down to -35 on Saturday. 300 is going to be pretty tough now, only hope is a few good finds as we head down to Texas before the new year. Thanks for dropping in CJ – so behind on reading posts .. bad Bri.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. No worries on my posts. Was hacked and had to go private until I get things cleaned up and that might be after the New Year. Have little energy for such BS anymore. Be careful in those temperatures and snow. Maybe you luck out in Texas. Safe travels.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Hehehe – imagine what one sip would do to me, I’ve been caffeine free for probably close to 20 years now – before that I was mainlining Mountain Dew while in the trenches of the corporate IT world that sent my blood pressure through the roof. Doctor made me go cold turkey and never went back – was not fun and that was a legal drug! Helped that Linda purely out of solidarity did the same.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the well wishes SoyBend – that ended up being one gift I wish we could have returned ha. She is a beauty.. and equally deadly on the hunt. Stay well and safe during the holiday season.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Super-attractive bird, and wonderful photos, many thanks to Linda’s expert driving and infinite patience! Loved your comment on the Merlin using her fancy yellow feet to masquerade as a Snowy Egret. What an image!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t tell her, but she is a big component of my birding efforts. She claims she isn’t a birder, but she knows a LOT more than she lets on. Really enjoying being back in the land of warm weather and birds with bright yellow galoshes. Unfortunately, I have a long way to get caught up on my blog reading.

      Liked by 1 person

          1. Unread…Ish – I am a ways from that at the moment, but I will say when I was in the grind if my inbox ever hit 2000 I deleted everything and started over assuming anything important would come back around..most things turned out to be NOT that important. My to-do list was also a stack of index cards with one item on each card thanks to most days being too chaotic to plan…if someone complained or manager wanted something rushed, I simply pulled it out of the stack and put it on top. Saved a whole lot of erasing and reordering on paper and had a nice visual stack of accomplishments on good days ha.

            Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s