Thursday, June 28, 2018

Close Encounters of the Harrier Kind

These past few days I have been enjoying some morning birding in the local cemetery. The cemetery in Clay Center is one of the few eBird recognized hotspots in town and for good reason.

Although Clay Center has been a part of the Tree City USA program for 42 years, the cemetery is one of the few places with a good proportion of trees, open space and water where I can find a nice diversity of birds.

On Tuesday I had observed 14 species, with my second reported sighting of a Western Kingbird (Tyrannus verticalis) in Clay County.

On Wednesday, I was able to take the youth pastor from the First Presbyterian Church out with me. We were able to identify 13 species, but had an amazing experience with a Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius).

As we were standing near the mossed over remnants of the pond, observing the Baltimore Orioles (Icterus galbula) as they danced around the mulberry tree, I noticed a little disturbance off to our left. We both turned to see what it was.

The first thing to come to our minds was that it was a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura). We then quickly realized that it was being chased by a robin sized bird and that it was much too big to be a Mourning Dove.

The mystery bird zipped by us, and felt close enough that we could reach out and touch it.

From these observations we were able to determine that it was a grey colored raptor of some sort. Our first assumptions made us think that it was a falcon of some sort, mostly due to size. The only problem with this, is that the only falcon species that is typically around our area this time of year is the American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) which is smaller and more colorful than the bird that we observed.

After discussing for a little bit on what we had just seen, I came to the conclusion that maybe it was a Northern Harrier. So, I pulled up my Merlin app, looked up Northern Harrier, and conferred with my partner. We determined that, in the end, it was most likely a Northern Harrier than any of the falcon species that we were thinking it to be.

Having someone with me to share this close encounter made the experience more enjoyable for me because we now have something in common. He has also decided to download the eBird and Merlin apps to continue his birding adventures.

Checklist for Tuesday June 26

Checklist for Wednesday June 27

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