Monday, January 21, 2013

Gyrfalcon...Rare Winter Visitor

As Mlodinow and O'Brien state in America's 100 Most Wanted Birds:"The falcon of kings and of birders' dreams is the Gyr". The Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus) prefers open country with lots of waterfowl or pheasant as prey. Finding one even in Montana is a chore. About 15/year were seen in Idaho/western Montana during the period 1982-1993, summarized by Mlodinow et al using American Birds published records. That doesn't seem to be the case in recent times, that said recognizing pitfalls of generalizations and the cyclical nature of things.

So it was to my amazement that I found a gyr in the Mission Valley near Charlo, Montana. This is a "traditional" spot for gyrfalcon searching. The landscape is dominated by grass and agricultural stubble; power poles replace trees for perch platforms. Waterfowl and ring-necked pheasant have lands here managed for their benefit, somewhat made to order for a gyrfalcon visit. After 59 miles of "grid searching" (methodically driving on east/west roads working southward over Valley) entailing 3.5 hours I encountered this species atop a power pole.

It was great feeling finding and identifying this bird. Birding provides something I need. Can't explain it all, but I use my intellect, intuition, communication and social skills all the while experiencing thrill of the unknown and adventure. Jonathan Rosen wrote in his book The Life of the Skies-Birding at the End of Nature:  "Well, we all strive to make ourselves as whole as possible as we get older, and birdwatching helped me discover aspects of myself that had somehow been suppressed. It didn't make me a hunter, but it brought me closer to impulses clearly bound up with hunting...drawing me closer to the animal world, it did set me on a path of biological awareness". A second aspect identified by Rosen: "Birdwatching, to my mind, has an honesty that comes form the built-in acknowledgement that we must settle for fleeting natural elements that dance in on and out of view, and that the human and technological are woven through our encounter with nature." Good thoughts.
Gyrfalcon (Falco rusticolus)