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Thursday, January 2, 2014

A New Year’s Day Surprise: Prairie Falcon!

Vermont's 1st Prairie Falcon, photo by Tyler Pockette
View full size image here
On January 1, even the most prolific bird watcher’s year list resets to zero and thousands of birders rush outdoors, anxiously awaiting their first birds of the year.  With this huge influx of birders comes the discovery of unusual birds.  Last year, it was the discovery of a Pochard near the Champlain Bridge that caught everyone’s attention… 2014 will be remembered as the year that started with the Northeast’s first ever PrairieFalcon.

A group of three birders, including Tyler Pockette, Ted Murin, and Kaylee Pollander, were on Gage Road in Addison, a local hotspot for raptors.  While the group was observing a pair of Peregrine Falcons, Tyler spotted a bird he recognized from out west.  “I noticed this 3rd falcon flying over the Peregrine Falcons and immediately noticed the black axillaries. Familiar with Prairie Falcons from the southwest, I immediately knew what the bird was and did my best to document it.”

Tyler’s pictures successfully captured the distinguishing features of this rare visitor: the first ever confirmed sighting in the Northeast.  Especially noticeable in his photo are the dark axillaries (under the wings).  The range of the Prairie Falcon barely extends east of the Great Plains, where they nest on cliffs in open habitat such as grassland, shrub-steppe, and desert.  

Whether or not this bird will be re-located is a mystery, but with the incredible rarity of this discovery, there is no doubt that many will be spending the first few days of their new year searching for New England’s first ever Prairie Falcon.

One of the two Peregrine Falcons on Gage Road on January 1.
Larry took this photo a few hours before the Prairie Falcon was discovered

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