This lonesome old tree by the waterline has a special visitor perched at its top: a merlin visiting from Northern Canada. Merlins (Falco columbarius) are small falcons that breed in the boreal forest. They are uncommon winter visitors to our region. We found the bird at the end of our class visit to Crow Creek Wildlife Refuge near Stevenson, AL.

Merlin, condensed to about 2 pixels. Great views through the scope, though.

Merlins are spectacular little birds. They sit and wait for an unsuspecting songbird to fly past, then they explode into rapid flight and chase down the prey, catching it in midair. They are the fighter jets of the bird world: fast, maneuverable, and uncompromisingly fierce. “…no falsifying dream/Between my hooked head and hooked feet”.


The warm weather turned up some other unusual phenomena: great-blue herons standing over their big stick nests, maples in bloom, and chorus frogs singing. This is a very peculiar January — prolonged warm weather has unlocked all kinds of activity that in normal years would not happen for another month.

Red maple flowers...on Jan 31st

In summer, the water in the Crow Creek Refuge is carpeted with the large round leaves of American Lotus (Nelumbo lutea; also called Water Chinquapin). Now, the plants are invisible (their stems are underwater in the mud) except for the strange seed receptacles that litter the shoreline like organic showerheads.

Seeds fit inside the holes on the top surface.

We also found a rare specimen of Florus plasticus washed up on shore.

The pollinator of this flower is unknown, but it probably requires a battery.

7 thoughts on “Merlin!

    1. David George Haskell Post author

      The arctic/boreal population of Merlins travel a long way in winter — some all the way deep into S America. I did not know that they went out to the Atlantic islands also. Send my regards to Milton and Bert. I’m looking forward to seeing Bert in a couple of weeks and catching up on his work.

  1. Dale

    Last year we watched that merlin (at that spot) harass 3 different gulls, a pair of pintails, a mocking bird, a flicker, a redtail hawk and most amazingly an adult bald eagle, over about an hour of observation. Moxi per pound winner of all my bird watching. The tornado certainly did lots of damage and I fear the “cleanup” will complete the ruination of one of our favorite sites.


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