Two years ago today, I saw a small falcon spring from atop a power pole to pursue unseen prey. It was nearly dusk, and I saw the bird for but a few seconds, but its flight was far too powerful to have belonged to a Kestrel (Falco sparverius), the common little falcon of this area. Illuminated by the setting sun, it appeared quite ruddy, and I suspected it may have been an escaped Hobby (F. subbuteo) or other exotic falcon. The next dawn found me back in the neighborhood, where I soon saw the bird again, which I was able to identify as a Merlin (F. columbarius). I devoted the next couple of days to watching her, on the off chance that she might establish breeding quarters there. I managed to snap a few poor photos of her (below), but after the third day I never saw her again. I put up a post about her and she began to fade from memory.Last night I rode up the same street just before dusk and saw a small, athletic raptor fly overhead for a few yards, then wing-over and stoop, chasing another bird out of sight. It was another Merlin (or, more likely, the same one).
This morning I talked to a friend who has been telemetering wintering Merlins in southern Idaho. He tells me that they normally leave for their breeding grounds the last week of March, and that they are exceptionally regular in their routine from year to year. I had assumed they left their Utah wintering digs a month earlier than that, but his observations seem to agree with what I've seen with this bird, which appears to spend a few days in this residential neighborhood in Salt Lake City before heading north each year.
upper: WORKING THE FLOCK--MERLIN & STARLINGS (1989) acrylic 30" x 20"
lower: Merlin photo taken March 22, 2007 by CPBvK