Saturday, December 5, 2009

Winter on the water, fall on the land

There were many common eiders on Nantucket Sound, and all three scoters, and long-tailed ducks, and common loons. When I was in Scotland several years ago, the local birders were abuzz with the chance of seeing a “great northern diver,” and so was I until I realized that it was our common loon. I wasn’t disappointed, exactly, but I was deflated some, for “great northern diver” has a mythical ring to it. Wouldn’t a northern gannet, an albatross-like bird of our waters which makes spectacular plunge-dives into the ocean from on high, also be a good candidate for that name?

On island, I also had a good view of a merlin, racing through the air as falcons do, which seemed to be fishing. Could this be right? She made several passes over a pond, getting her talons wet each time. I read that boreal merlins like to hunt their avian prey over water, to diminish the chance of the prey finding cover, but the raptor I was watching didn’t seem to be chasing anything, nor did it bring up any fish. Also it was boreal in way shape or temperature; it was nearly 60 degrees -- could there have been dragonflies this late in the year over the water? Dragonflies are a major prey of both merlins and kestrels. I did see a cicada walking slowly up a lichen-covered wall near Tommy-Pull-My-Finger's estate on the Cliff that day, and certainly crickets were heard here and there.

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