News & Notes

Field Trip Report: Gyrfalcon Chase!

Tuesday, January 13th, 2015
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Our 2015 field trips are off to a great start! Last Saturday we held our second annual January is for FOYS (First of the Year’s Birds) Trip that tallied 51 species. And this morning we met to bird Back Cove in Portland.

Unfortunately, the early morning temps were around 14 degrees F and expected to drop. Plus the wind howling across the cove made the ‘feels like’ temperature less than desirable for birding. BUT, as I waited for birders to show up, a GYRFALCON was reported from Kennebunk. Everyone agreed there was only one thing to do: pile in a car and go to Kennebunk!

Gyrfalcon 1 (Shiloh Shulte)

Photo by Shiloh Shulte

Gyrfalcons are the largest falcons in the world and live in the circumpolar arctic. You can explore their range map here and notice that some winters they do wander southward, but seldom into the lower 48 states. They were apparently more regular as Maine visitors in the 1970s and 80s, but are now so uncommon that the Maine Birds Records Committee decided to relist them as a review species and keep track of recent records.

Gyrfalcon 2 (Shiloh Shulte)

Photo by Shiloh Shulte

When we pulled up to Park Street in Kennebunk (where the Gyrfalcon had been feeding on a Herring Gull), all we saw was a pile of feathers. A few birders had gathered and said the one thing every birder hates: “You should have been here 5 minutes ago.” By a stroke of luck, the Gyrfalcon was relocated in a spruce tree across the road and gave us great views, especially through our scope, for around 30 minutes.

Gyrfalcon 1 (Shiloh Shulte)

Photo by Doug Hitchcox

We eventually lost track of the bird while trying to get a better angle on it. It was a life bird for everyone in the group, meaning a new species of bird we had not seen before. We all laughed at the facts: 1) We thought we’d be birding Back Cove; 2) We certainly didn’t think we’d see a Gyrfalcon today; 3) We never thought our first Gyrfalcon would be perched in a spruce; and 4) certainly not in a residential area.

If the bird is relocated, updates are likely to be posted on the:

Upcoming Field Trips


Doug Hitchcox Head Shot - please credit  M. Kathleen Kelly (1)Meet Doug Hitchcox, Maine Audubon Staff Naturalist

A Maine native, Doug grew up in Hollis and graduated from the University of Maine in 2011. Throughout college Doug worked at Scarborough Marsh Audubon Center and was hired as Maine Audubon’s staff naturalist in the summer of 2013, a long time “dream job.” In his free time, Doug volunteers as one of Maine’s eBird reviewers, is the owner and moderator of the ‘Maine-birds’ listserv and serves as York County Audubon board member and Secretary of the Maine Bird Records Committee.


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