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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Trust Your Gut

Birding is not always an exact science.

Is that a black-capped or Carolina chickadee? 

Did that sparrow have a rusty cap? 

Sometimes you just have to trust your gut. 

It was late afternoon or early evening when we were driving home and I thought I saw an owl in a tree. We turned around to look again, and my 12 year old saw the same bird. 

"Hawk," he told me. "Red-tailed. A big one." 

I thanked him and as we turned into a parking lot to turn around again, I saw this bird perched at the top of a tree. It was too small to be a buteo, and it didn't quite look like a Cooper's hawk. Maybe a peregrine, I thought. Or a kestrel? 

I got out of the car and crunched carefully through the snow. We were at a cemetery so I could walk directly toward it. I got closer and closer and tried to note as many details as I could through my binoculars. I snapped these photos with my iPhone, knowing they'd be backlit, and that the bird could fly off any moment. 

It just didn't look like a sharp-shinned hawk. And I knew sharpies preferred woodlands. We were close to a highway and in a suburban area. It was possible that it was a sharpie, but not likely. I noted the white eye-brow, the white stripes on the tail. 

I got as close as I could and the bird flew off. The stripes on the underside were amazing, so intricate and precise. 

I made my guess: a Merlin. 

I entered my sighting in eBird. I can't know for sure, but I had to trust my gut. 

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