Anything that brightens a February day has to be a good thing so, when a text from Mike MacDonald told us that he was watching Eastern Bluebirds at Overton, we were quite enthusiastic as more by luck than judgement, we were watching Horned Larks not too far away at Sunday Point. We skipped over, pausing only to admire a Northern Mockingbird on the way and parked up at the spot. Very shortly after arrival a bluebird flew into a backlit tree, then another. We settled in and waited and watched as five birds milled around, drinking from puddles and feeding in the scrub. Eventually we got them right side for the light and here are a couple of them.
The Horned Larks were right by the road at Sunday Point, always nice to see, especially as they were a year bird for Sandra.
Not long after having seen the bluebirds, Alix called – the eBird reviewers didn’t like the Gyr Falcon we’d reported from CSI, based on the day two photos. I have no problem at all with eBird reviewers rejecting records, even when it means I lose a tick. My personal view is that they are not strict enough at times but that is another discussion. The crux of the matter is that the bird seen on February-20th by four of us was now considered to be a heavily marked Peregrine. That, for me, reconciles the head pattern to some extent although not a couple of other plumage and structural features noted and, because it is the most likely scenario, I’m treating the bird seen by just Ronnie and me on Feb-19th as the same individual as the 20th.
Just to wind back to the 19th. After flying in, that falcon fed on the ground and the face showed no white pattern visible through a good scope, albeit at 1800m. True the light was difficult, but I could see the cheek patch on Canada Geese at a greater range with the same scope. It also showed short wings when viewed with snow behind it, they came to roughly half-way down the tail. The flight shots, poor though they are, showed a two-tone underwing pattern with the flight feathers contrasting with the underwing coverts, a feature of Gyr. Having said that, I still presume it to be the same bird as the 20th.
Now to the events of February-20th. Had the falcon Ronnie spotted on the shingle bank, again at range, just got up and flown away down the bank and gone forever then we wouldn’t be having this conversation as I am pretty sure, given the size and structure, that all present would be happy it was a/the Gyr. The fact that we got rough flight photos was what screwed it all up but good I say, better to be right in the end.
I know nothing of what a brown and grey Gyr pairing would produce. Grey Gyrs tend to have some moustachial stripe, similar to some Peregrines. On brown forms any stripe is generally lost on the overall hooded effect of the head colouring. But I do know, because the field guides tell me so, that Gyr wings fall short of the tail tip on the closed wing. Here is a photo of the Feb-20th perched bird from behind, you tell me where those wing tips are.
The other thing I know is that the Gyr underwing is so very different from Peregrine, especially on a brown form, different as to be diagnostic. Alix has a shot of the bird from Feb-20th and the underwing looks very Gyr-like indeed. I think we can accept that the falcon was not a Gyr, even though there appear to be some inconsistencies. I haven’t even mentioned the structure although female Peregrines can be huge and male Gyrs can be Peregrine sized although none of that accounts for the way the bird of Feb-19th (in particular) flew.
I’ll end by saying that the four observers who saw the bird on Feb-20th are no dummies. Three have seen Gyr before, all are familiar with Peregrine. In many areas (think gulls) birding is not an exact science and birds like the putative Gyr are learning tools that hone your skills. It may be that there is more to this bird than we think and I’d certainly like better views and photos. Perhaps there is some Gyr involvement somewhere, the large falcons are easy to crossbreed, or perhaps some Peregrines have not read the field guides and are just behaving badly, plumage-wise. I don’t doubt that there will be a Gyr around southern Nova Scotia at some point in the foreseeable future and that some of us will get to fill that list-gap, I just hope it sits on a pole like the one currently calling to me from Joggins, that will do nicely.