Friday, April 9, 2010

Unusual Merlin flight

It's been an interesting week at the Sandy Hook hawk watch. That Swallow-tailed Kite was only the beginning of a number of unusual sightings, followed by a Short-eared Owl, a Tricolored Heron, an early Brown Pelican and a Cattle Egret within the last few days.

But most striking to me this week was an early push of Merlins: 42 over a three-day period! That would be normal for late April, but seems unusual this early in the season. Early April, you'd expect American Kestrel to dominate the flight. And to be sure, they did: 133 within those same three days. But yesterday, the last of the three days, Merlin was actually more numerous as a migrant than kestrel - and that's unusual for early April.

Did other hawk watches record a similar Merlin flight? Well, one of the ones I check especially, Fort Smallwood Park in Pasadena, Maryland did not see this flight. They had a modest kestrel flight on the 5th (25) , I had a better kestrel flight on the 6th (85), and Bradbury Mountain, a coastal site in Maine, had a phenomenal kestrel flight on the 7th (252)! So this wave of kestrels apparently picked up force as it spread northward. But Fort Smallwood until yesterday had only three Merlins for the month of April, while Bradbury Mountain had 9 Merlins on the 7th - the day of their big kestrel flight. So I'm very curious if they are going to see a wave of Merlins tomorrow. Like many eastern sites, they didn't count today, presumably because of poor weather conditions.

A nearby inland site, Montclair NJ, had a similar kestrel flight the same day I had mine: they had 80, I had 85 on the 6th. Given that Merlin is more of a coastal migrant than kestrel, it is interesting to note that they did get a couple of Merlins yesterday.

And just for the record: the picture at the top is of a male Merlin which I photographed last fall in Veracruz, Mexico, not Sandy Hook.

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