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December 2010

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Dennis and Barbara Martin <[log in to unmask]>
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Dennis and Barbara Martin <[log in to unmask]>
Date:
Fri, 17 Dec 2010 20:51:03 -0700
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Hard to believe as we consider this sighting to be very unusual.  We saw a raptor coming toward us some distance away and as we were driving in snow very slowly we were able to stop and get out to observe this bird as it flew by some 50 yards away at its closest point, not much higher than treetop level.

As it got close, one of us had already said falcon and we were assuming it would be a Peregrine, although somewhat late for this species to be migrating.  As it passed by we noted the constant flapping with only an occasional very short glide.  We felt that the bird seemed to have a destination and it was steadily flying that direction with little interruption in that flight.

The bird seemed to be an adult or near adult as we didn't see heavy streaking or a lot of browns.  The bird had a very pale breast and belly area.  Not pure white but with very few streaks.  The underwings were also pale but were darker than the breast and belly area.  The top of the wings were not dark by any means and seemed to give the feeling of pale gray although color was not discernable.  The side of the head was very pale with a undefined (almost non existent) malar mark.  We believe that on a Peregrine the dark marking on the face is called the malar mark and this bird clearly lacked anything like that.  Merlins can also show faint malar marks but this bird was way to large to be a Merlin.

Just after the bird passed by our position a Rough-legged Hawk flew through our binoculars as were looking at the falcon.  One of us switched back and forth between the 2 birds for a quick few seconds.  The falcon was just slightly shorter in wing span and body length although the rough-legged had a much heavier body.  The birds didn't appear to pay much attention to each other.  A Merlin would be considerably smaller than the buteo so we quickly eliminated that from what this bird could be.

Based on what we saw we think that this had to be a Gyr, no matter how unusual that seems.  We suppose that it could be what they call an arctic Peregrine but that seems to be more unlikely and the lack of a dark malar seems to eliminate most of the arctic Peregrines from consideration.

Generally we would be very hesitant to id a bird that we are not that familiar with (although we have seen several over the years in Duluth and on the north shore) based on a flyby but we feel that we got a good enough look to be very confident of what we had seen.

We were on 330th Street a half mile east of State 119.  This is on the edge of the Lac Qui Parle WMA just up from the frozen Lac Qui Parle Lake.  More or less the bird was following the shoreline south.

Just south of here, at the Hantho Beach area on the end of Cty Rd 68, there is a very large area of cedars.  Within these trees we saw a Townsend's Solitaire and 2, maybe 3, Bohemian Waxwings.  Two waxwings were seen flying and then one bird was seen sitting near the top of a tree, and it may or may not have been one of the two.  These birds have been present for several days and had been seen by others in the past week or 2.  To confuse the issue and make you spend a lot of time staring through a scope there are at least 100 Cedar Waxwings and probably a dozen or 2 American Robins.

Dennis and Barbara Martin
Shorewood, MN
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