Yesterday I spent quite a while down on the beach, relaxing and looking at birds and writing and sketching. I’d heard other people describe seeing Merlins and Peregrine Falcons hunting shorebirds on the beach, but I’d never seen it myself – until yesterday afternoon.
I’d been looking out at the water, and I turned back toward the dunes just in time to see a large gray falcon winging past, cruising along the beach right at eye level. It passed close enough for me to see the black markings on its face and then disappeared around the island’s south tip. When I crept after it, the magnificent bird had alighted on a piece of driftwood, and I cursed myself for not having my binoculars with me. After a moment it took off again and soon was nothing but a fast-moving speck back over the dunes.
The gulls had all vanished from the beach.
It wasn’t a lifer, but the only time I’d seen a Peregrine Falcon before was as a black speck far overhead that someone else had pointed out and identified. I’d never had a close encounter with one like this before. It reminded me of the time I ran into a Short-eared Owl on the Saskatchewan prairie two summers ago – dawn was just breaking and I was out in the middle of nowhere on the prairie, getting ready to start my latest round of point count bird surveys. As I turned around I suddenly became aware of a large bird coming straight toward me, right at my eye level. It swooped within a foot or two of my head, then turned around for another pass and did so again, before finally shooting off over the rolling hills in a different direction. Even that close I didn’t hear a sound as it beat its wings; just silence and its yellow eyes glaring into mine, and then it was gone. I still don’t know if I was near its nest and it was trying to scare me off, or if it was just curious about this big, unfamiliar animal in its habitat. Regardless, it took my breath away.
I don’t know what it is about raptors. Even more than other birds, they just seem so alien, so aloof and apart from humanity and all its trappings.
After the falcon disappeared I took a photo of the chunk of driftwood it had perched on. You’ll just have to imagine the bird into it.