Oh boy! I've been so behind. Not that I lost interest. I just got ahead of myself because I had so many projects and life changes all at once, got really stressed out, and didn't feel like doing this at the time. I'm just happy I kept right along birding to deal with the stress.
So on May 14th I returned to my alma mater to actually walk in my graduation. I missed it last spring due to having to leave early for my internship. I was sorely disappointed. So finally getting to go absolutely made me happy, I had a blast, and it was just nice being in that town. It's a pretty town, but it gets really deserted now until fall, and I get kind of freaked being in tiny towns like that where the only civilization is an hour away.
While I was there I took the time to actually go birding in Wilbur Park. I never did that while I attended college, and I regretted not doing so. So on that Friday, the 15th, I went out there at 4:40 PM dressed in my 30% DEET-sprayed outdoor gear and had myself an adventure. Literally. Wilbur Park is a bit of a maze of little trails, and I got confused at one point and a little lost.
But anyway...upon entering the main entrance of the park (I'm not sure why even locals get confused about what constitutes the entrance - it's where there's a playground, a pavilion, and a large pine stand to the left of the trail) I heard a cacophony of Blue Jays. Two were calling right in the lot, and there was also a noisy Mourning Dove. I got excited because I love Blue Jays, and as soon as I walked right into the pine stand, it was obvious that about 8 more were mobbing something. I looked up and immediately saw a bird larger than a robin perched on a horizontal pine branch. Up the bins go, and it was immediately obvious that the bird was some sort of falcon and he was ripping all the downy feathers off a dead baby bird. The down was actually floating right past my face. Having never seen any falcon up close like that, I nearly jumped for joy! The hilarious part was I was standing dead center of the trail and joggers kept passing, and not a single one was at all interested in what I was looking at.
My notes show that the poor afternoon lighting can really, really mess with coloration. When perched, he had a long, sort of squared-off tail (it wasn't yet fanned out). I wrote that he had a very dark grey head cap, black moustachial stripes down sides of cheeks, underside of the tail had an extremely thick black end, the bird had thick blackish streaks on the underside and these three dark brown stripes on the sides in a definite horizontal pattern, buffy/orange-ish undersides, pinkish legs. The falcon had to move at some point while I was watching him because the Blue Jays were really after him, and I kept noticing another falcon flying above him. When the falcon settled down again on a nearby perch, I had at first lost sight of him and walked around a bit. Upon looking back up I found him sitting right above me, staring right down at me. I got goosebumps. There's something so odd about having them stare at you like he was, and he tried defecating on me! I got a better look now that he was in the sunlight, and noted rufous thick streaking, black-grey eyestripe, brownish-orange on the face, and nicely patterned orange on the underwings. I was still stumped. I do not know my raptors all that well, but he was so small that he easily ruled out the larger falcons and it was definitely not a hawk. The drawing I made in my notes of the underside of the tail was so distinct that leafing through Sibley's, the tail alone showed exactly who this little guy was:
a Merlin. That's right. And I waited for almost 20 minutes for these two falcons to make noise, and they certainly did as they seemed quite annoyed with the Blue Jays and with having dropped the baby bird. The noise of a merlin is so distinct. I wrote it as an eery ascending and then descending staccato whinny (at the time it reminded me of kingfishers and the pileated woodpecker) - Sibley wrote it as a rising and falling call that resembles the Killdeer call, and I absolutely agree with him. These merlins also made a high-pitched 'tic', short, sharp, and staccato.
The next day I saw one of my favorite professors, Dr. Nigel Mann, who also happens to be a bird guy. I mentioned said Merlins to him, and he confirmed that there was a nesting pair in Wilbur Park this year. I was glad to pass on such exciting info to him, and was absolutely happy to get a confirmation of such beautiful raptors nesting in such a strange spot for them. I'll not soon forget this sighting.
The Merlins eventually got too buggered to stick around, so I took off down the trail, enjoying the dandelions, forget-me-nots, and garlic mustard. The rest of my notes are just a list of the birds and other wildlife I saw, and this is what was in Wilbur Park (yes, all of it, I swear I walked around the entire thing about 2 or 3 times while confused):
3 grey squirrels, big ones
4 Black-capped Chickadees
3 more Blue Jays - one of them did not have ANY blue, was instead all light grey with the usual face markings! He was making these weak little squeaking noises at me. Made me think it was a juv but I don't know for sure.
1 bullfrog calling!
1 House Wren calling by the school (those lucky kids)
1 red squirrel who blended in well with the leaf litter
4 American Robins
1 Chipping Sparrow
1 Slate-colored, Dark-eyed Junco which made me so happy since I haven't seen them in SO long
4 European Starlings by the tennis courts
There's a break in my notes here. I had to turn around at the tennis courts and backtrack. There's this nice little bridge near the road that leads to the school and I made my way back there by 6:10 PM. Here I heard 1 Common Yellowthroat calling it's distinct song of "witchity-witchity-witchity-wit" and a Tufted Titmouse.
I did no more birding until I got back to the main parking lot since I backtracked the whole way there, but noted an American Goldfinch in the tree above my car.
And by 6:22 PM, I was finally finished.
NOTE: Upon looking at Google Maps, the "main entrance" where the pine stand is, is located off Center St - the road is just called 'Wilbur Park.' It looks like the walking route I took from the end of that road is directly north through the woods, all the way up along the school's field, along the trail till you reach the little wooden bridge over the stream. The bridge overlooks the winding road that enters the school (it's apparently not named on the map). You then go through the little field there to the Southwest, and there's another little trail that goes south through the woods, sort of following the stream. You eventually come across a pool with a big parking lot (still in the woods) and I walked behind it, following the stream south. This will lead to the tennis courts on Albert Morris Dr. I then walked east on Joseph Lunn Dr to get to the other side of the stream and headed north for a bit. The geography of the area makes it nearly impossible to keep going north, so I had to backtrack back to those tennis courts, to the pool, back out to the school road and back around south to where I initially parked.