Likely First Indiana Breeding Merlins

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Likely First Indiana Breeding Merlins

Postby FredZ » Thu Aug 22, 2013 8:47 pm

Pokagon State Park Merlins

Monday August 12, 2013 was to be a family outing day at the park with my daughter and grandchildren. A cookout and day at the beach. As lunch was being grilled in the picnic area above the beach I heard the cry of what I at first thought was an American Kestrel. I glanced up and caught sight of the bird as it flashed by. Size and speed confirmed falcon in my mind.

After lunch we proceeded to the beach where the kids had a great time playing in the sand and water. Grandpa sat in the shade watching the fun. There were several Bald Eagles soaring in the distance over Lake James that most of the beach goers were oblivious of. One juvenile even floated over the beach only 40 feet over head. As I sat on the beach bench my mind kept returning to the “Kestrel” heard earlier. Something just didn’t seem right.

Returning to the beach parking lot I scanned the tops of the large spruce and pines that frame the area. Atop a Norway Spruce there sat what may well have been the bird heard earlier. Having my camera with me for just such an opportunity I clicked away. Through the view finder I saw what wasn’t a Kestrel at all but a Merlin. A Merlin in Indiana in August; not likely. These are birds of the north.

Upon returning home I examined the photos on the computer to find that the bird was indeed a Merlin. Knowing this was an unusual find I notified and sent photos to my friend Fred Wooley at the Parks Nature Center. He too IDed the bird as a Merlin. Fred in turn notified a number of people in the Indiana birding community. This sighting at this time of year made several people wonder about the possibility of it being a breeding bird.

Fred and I emailed back and forth about this and I decided to return to the site. On 8/15 I returned to poke around for anything that might confirm, however unlikely, that there could be a breeding pair in the area. Hearing the cries of the bird it was clearly still in the area. This time I thought I saw two different birds but not two at the same time. Sent more photos to Fred.

Returning again on the 16th camera in hand. The birds were very vocal calling from different locations in the conifers. Now I was sure there was more than one bird. While taking shots of what a thought to be an adult female there were softer but insistent calls from deep in the trees. Investigating these calls a juvenile was found about 15 feet up in a pine. This youngster still had down on the top of his head and lesser amounts on his body. Not wanting to stress the fledgling more I soon after left the area with a number of clear close-ups of what may be a historic bird.

Since, several notable Indiana birders and interested park goers have been able to view a most magnificent bird and see firsthand the possible territorial expansion of the Merlin.

This was a great find! I was privileged to be part of it. If you go to the park to see these birds please do not put any undue stress on them or play any electronic calling devices.

Fred Zilch
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Re: Likely First Indiana Breeding Merlins

Postby Russ Emmons » Fri Aug 23, 2013 12:22 am

Great Find!--- I'm sure we haven't heard the last of this ! ! Keep us posted!--- Just where is Pokagon ?

Russ Emmons
'mi ojo es en la cielo' por aves!
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Re: Likely First Indiana Breeding Merlins

Postby FredZ » Fri Aug 23, 2013 6:31 am

Pokagon is a beautiful Indiana State Park just over the Mich border off of I-69.

I have filed the needed paperwork with the IN. DNR to have the sighting confirmed so we'll see how it turns out. After the all of the documentation done by myself and other birders over the past week or so it should be confirmed that at least two merlin were successfully hatched at this site this summer. But it is science and needs proof positive.

There was an article in the local paper with the above photo and a story, not the above story.I was told that the AP ran the story in other parts of the country but not my photos. Copyright stuff I'm sure.

Merlin, as many know, have been moving their breeding range southward over the years and Indiana has been expecting a sighting but not this soon I've been told. It sure has created a stir.
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Re: Likely First Indiana Breeding Merlins

Postby Danaduck » Fri Aug 23, 2013 10:46 am

Your post makes me wonder if the fledging and maturation of Merlins is predicated on the migration cycles and arrivals of the shorebirds they prey on?

I had always assumed that the Merlin's bred farther north and they actually migrated south every year following the shorebirds. To expand that thought I thought that most of the raptors did this just going to the northland to hunt the taiga and boreal forests to breed in the spring burst, hunt the young and then come south to new prey country as the season progressed towards winter.

So this merlin nesting has me slightly perplexed. It is so far south that the vast majority of shorebirds are far to the north. Secondly the hatchlings must then hunt more mature hardened prey. Also I have to ask if the birds only migrated to the southern end of Lake Michigan then why are they hatched and maturing only now. I have seen young kestrels learning to hunt with mom in mid May here in Alpena county.

I swear you guys on Lake Michigan get so much better birding than us over here on the sunrise side. Pout goes here.......................................end of pout.

Bringing the wife back from her mom's in Connecticut stopped in Ottawa and Shiawassee NWR's. Ottawa still a bit slow but interesting in SNWR. Facebook blog cites dickcissels at Bishop road platform so I stopped there. So two dozen birds fly up out of the weeds (mostly goldenrod, Queen Annes Lace and knotweed asters) and I think man, what a lot of them have flocked together. They flew up three times and never really got a good look at them other than they were greenish yellower than I expected and the flashes of black were not always on as a bib. So I get home and am tired and log it all including some pectoral sandpipers, common moorhens, great egrets, dunlins and others. Did not get either pharlarope nor a Baird's at Shiawassee as I had hoped. Dozed off and then went into the books noting on shorebirds when I started to think on birds you see only a few of at time and then flock up in fall and you can see a lot such as Brewers and rusty bb, some ducks, snow birds and horned larks. Then got on the net and looked and found out that Bobolinks also do it. Had to change my birds lists and lost the dickcissels making them into bobolink's.

Congrats on the find. Very interesting. I think that birding is being advanced a lot by the work citizen scientist like you and Russ do. To me it is much more interesting than some grad student measuring pin feathers at a banding station to see if the fall molt of killdeer begins the second or third week of September. I think that common folks will only do that which is significant while the specialist get off in the weeds of insignificance too easily.
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Re: Likely First Indiana Breeding Merlins

Postby siouxzq_24 » Fri Aug 23, 2013 11:09 am

WAY cool!
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Re: Likely First Indiana Breeding Merlins

Postby FredZ » Fri Aug 23, 2013 11:51 am

Pokagon is almost equidistant from lakes Erie and Mich. 130mi><. Right where MI,OH and Indiana meet.
There were a number of small birds that merlin prey on under the trees. Swallow and titmouse parts for sure. The park is loaded with racoons so everything is pretty well cleaned up from under the trees at night.
They had to have been there for a couple of months by the size of the oldest juvie. They start incubating the eggs as soon as they are laid so there is an age difference in the young to help insure survival if there is a food shortage. The use abandoned nest of other birds and do not build their own. In this case probably crow or Cooper's hawk.
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Re: Likely First Indiana Breeding Merlins

Postby SandyLee » Mon Aug 26, 2013 12:04 pm

WOW!!! Thanks so much Fred! :W
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