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