I saw one of the most amazing things today, and there's not a single witness who can prove it.
I was early for my 3:00 hike at Savage Neck Dunes, a trail leading through an evergreen dune forest to the shore of the Chesapeake Bay. Like an hour early. And I am not a patient person when there are birds to be watched. So instead of waiting around for the rest of the group, I headed out on my own. No single decision I've made on this trip has worked out more in my favor than that one.
The trail leading down to the beach is sandy and close to a mile long, and at about the 3/4 point I had made up my mind that I wasn't heading back to meet the group at 3:00. I'd come his far, I don't need their help ID'ing the birds, so I just went. Well, part of that backfired, as a small group of shorebirds I watched had 2 species I knew and 1 that I didn't. So I missed out on that, but . .
As I watched this group of Sanderlings, Semipalmated Plovers, and the mystery birds foraging on a small section of beach, I got annoyed with my inability to ID the third species. Determined, I kept staring at them, until all at once all ten or twelve birds flew away. Hoping I could use in-flight field marks to help ID the mystery bird, I kept my binoculars trained on one of them as it flew horizontal to the shoreline.
Then, out of nowhere, I saw the reason for their abrupt departure. From my left, a juvenile Merlin came racing into view, doing his best to chase down this mystery bird. The chase went on for nearly a minute, which doesn't sound like much, but to a falcon is a very long time. They went back and forth along the shore line, maneuvering back and forth in a way any jet fighter pilot would be envious of. Repeatedly, the Merlin would make his attack, the small bird would swerve at the last second to avoid him, and it would start again. I am amazed by the speed of these animals, as well as their agility. This was nothing short of a scene from Top Gun. Finally, the Merlin gave up, and the shore bird flew down the shoreline to rejoin his flock. The first thought that went through my mind (after "Holy crap did that really just happen?") after putting the binoculars down was "Sometimes it pays to be impatient!"
Overall, on the day, I added 3 new birds to my Big Year list . . Semipalmated Plover, Great Horned Owl (that's right baby, owl #2!), and Black-throated Blue Warbler. I've got another trip tonight to search for more owls, and my final trip of the weekend is tomorrow morning. I'll be packing up before the trip in the morning, so you most likely won't see a wrap-up post until Monday. I truly enjoy camping, but I also long for my bed. There's just no substitute for a good night's sleep.
Wish me shorebirds tomorrow morning, and a safe drive home. I hope your weekend's been as fruitful as mine!