Seattle Part II: That time I almost saw a Gyrfalcon
The weekend after the Seattle trip with Jen, my boyfriend, Tomas, suggested going to Seattle to visit friends and try out his new fancy camera.
I heard, “Blah, blah, blah…..another chance at redpolls?” Yes. Yes, I would like to go to Seattle. We drove up late Friday night and stayed a hotel way less creepy than the last one in Kennewick.
We got up early, stuffed ourselves with bananas foster french toast, then headed over to Green Lake.
It was just like before, lots of people, lots of dogs. And unfortunately, this time, it was overcast and cloudy. But we could overlook the weather for the moment, because we found the Common Redpolls! Right where they were supposed to be, in the birch trees by the lake. So reliable I could set my watch to them.
It was going to be that easy, huh? We took pictures and watched them pick at the catkins for hours. They were very fast, moving from branch to branch picking seeds. The catkin petals fell from the trees like snow. Here’s a video of one bird.
Feeling rich in redpolls, I decided to use my new eBird superpowers that Jen taught me to look for other rarities in the area. There’s this thing under “Explore Data” called “Alerts.”
This is where you can sign up for alerts and read accounts of rare birds by state or county. It’s funny, I’ve entered rare birds into the eBird app that were included in the list (that Northern Mockingbird at Hollebeke), but I never knew there was a central place to read the descriptions and see uploaded user photos. That data is super helpful. Especially if you want to chase a Gyrfalcon reported an hour away from Seattle at Mahler Park in Enumclaw. And we did. So we went.
We arrived at the park, and quickly made friends with the handful of birders on site, who were also looking for the falcon. A nearby resident came out and told us he had seen the bird that morning perched on the “known snag.” He showed us a superb picture on his phone and mentioned they named the bird Henry, after a neighborhood kid. Alrighty, then.
Henry, the Gyrfalcon, was not home that afternoon. We figured he was probably out hunting, so we drove around the area with our eyes glued to the sky. I noticed a couple of silhouettes at once.
Diamond-shaped tail, large bird, with “feather fingers” =
Common Raven Juvenile Bald Eagle.
I also saw a large bird soaring with dark wings and light flight feathers, a “headless” bird I recognized as a Turkey Vulture!
Year bird! I made the eBird entry and turns out it’s an uncommon bird for this area at this time of year and it showed up on the alert list. It does seem early, I think it wasn’t until summer that I first saw one last year. We continued on, and about a block away from the park I saw a falcon silhouette. Streamlined shape, and moving fast.
Flying fast and farther away from us. I was confident it was a falcon, and it looked light below, but with the overcast skies it was difficult to tell for sure. I thought, what are the odds there’s another falcon so close? It had to be Henry. Celebrations commenced. Champagne corks were basically popped. Until I got home and was able to study the pictures more closely.
Turns out the odds are pretty high that there’s a Peregrine Falcon near where a Gyrfalcon was spotted. The dark “mustache” is a clear giveaway.
Who knew? I wish we could have spent more time chasing the bird. We were so close! Nevertheless, those few hours we thought we saw a Gyrfalcon were some of the most fun yet. And it’s going to make the next sighting that much sweeter.
We made it back in time to watch the sunset, have dinner with friends, and to check on the Redpolls. They were not there. So unreliable!
What a fun trip!
Tweets and chirps,
I have never seen Redpolls! A flock was around Oaks Bottom on those same type of catkins years ago…but I missed em every time. I don’t think they were quite as reliable as these Green Lake wonders.
I’m thinking the wings on that Raven are way too long/wide for one and that it might be a juvenile Bald Eagle. You’re right about the tail shape and the feather fingers, but it’s got its wings cocked deeply and still has really long wings. I’m going to post a Raven flight silhouette on your FB page for comparison.
Thank you, Laura! That is super helpful. I reviewed my photos, and that is a big bird. With it’s wings tucked in making me think it’s ravenesque. Good looking out!
Redpolls! We were the only two there nerding out on them. No other birders that day. People walked by oblivious, and I wanted to tell them – “Look at the redpolls! This is a rare bird for Seattle!” 🙂
Nice to see you and Mark tonight! I’ve signed up for the Malheur trip with Audubon. :-O
“those few hours we thought we saw a Gyrfalcon were some of the most fun yet” hahaha! I have totally been there, though not with a gyr. Last year I turned some quail into partridges and was really excited till I realized my mistake.
There’s something to be said for hallucinations! 🙂