Karl Overman: Birds and More


I decided to celebrate New Years of 1982 doing what I like to do every New Years Day--birding.  This time I decided to celebrate New Years with a birding excursion to Duluth, Minnesota. It took two long days to drive there from Detroit.  While in Duluth  I stopped by the house of Kim Eckert who had a fine view of Lake Superior out his front window.  I saw the Townsend’s Solitaire that was visiting his yard but more germane to the current topic, I learned from Kim that  a Gyrfalcon had been hanging out in the harbor area off of 27th Street by the sewage treatment plant.  I had to make four trips to that locale before I finally saw the Gyrfalcon.  I initally saw it as a fly-by and I followed it in my bins as it flew off towards Wisconsin where I distantly saw it perch on a large sign next to an expressway. It dawned on me that there was something unique about the shape of the sign the Gyrfalcon chose as a  perch.  The sign was  the mirror image of the shape of the state of Minnesota--the Gyr had perched on the Welcome to Minnesota sign! Overcome by the prospect of a unique photo, I clamored back in my car and sped over the bridge toward Wisconsin.  Along the way I stopped across from the sign to verify that indeed the Gyrfalcon had landed on the “Welcome to Minnesota sign”.  Yup, there it was, sitting atop the Northwest Angle.  I was on the wrong side of the expressway for a good photo so I sped into Wisconsin, exited, and then re-entered the expressway, heading back into Minnesota.  The bird was still there on the shoulder of the expressway.  I took a series of photos with various lenses as the nonbirding public zoomed by this great bird. Eventually I spooked the bird and it flew right at me before flying up to a higher sign over the expressway where it was seemingly looking for a small import to prey upon.

My adventure did not end with the Gyrfalcon. There was the detail of driving back to Detroit in the dead of winter.  In a blizzard. As I drove across the U.P. of Michigan,  as far as I could tell no one else was dumb enough to be on the road--except for the snow plow that was behind me part of the way. That was comforting because I figure when--not if--I got stuck, there would be someone to pull me out.  Sure enough I did get stuck in Mackinac County and the snow plow operator helped get me out.  The electrical system in my car was on overdrive with the fan on high, rear window defroster on constantly, not to mention the lights. By the time I reached the Mackinac Bridge, my car’s electrical system had totally died.  I had to drive through the night from the bridge to Detroit with no lights.  “Had to” is probably the wrong verb but I did it anyway since I had to be back to work the next day. Fortunately the snow fall decreased and eventually stopped.  It was not too bad driving with no lights though I am not recommending it.   Traffic for much of the way was nil given the storm and it was an expressway so there was no oncoming traffic.  Even at night you could see the white of the snow on the shoulders of the expressway so you could generally tell where the road was.  If I saw a vehicle in my rear view mirror I would try to find an exit to get off on and then back on.  I made it  for around 200 miles to Flint without lights but I did not want to press my luck by driving on to Detroit with its far heavier traffic .  I stayed with my parents in Flint and drove to Detroit the following morning in the daylight for another day at the office.

The 2019 bird has a story of course.  Gyrfalcon is right in there with Ivory Gull as a mythical northern stray in the southern Great Lakes area.  On November 9th Curt Powell had one at Grace Lake in Western Wayne County, a well known gull watching location due to a nearby landfill.  On November 13th presumably the same bird was found in eastern Washtenaw County in a very wintry setting. Jeff Stacey took the day of work in the hopes of getting this life bird.  I joined him and Robert Bochenek in this dubious effort.  No sign of the bird in Washtenaw County so I successfully lobbied to bird along Lake Erie.  Jeff was due to turn into a pumpkin unless we got him back at 4:30 p.m. so we were hustling back for that deadline when Jeff noticed on  Facebook that the Gyrfalcon was back at Grace Lake and perched.  So much for deadlines.  We got there post haste and the Gyr was still there.

Gyrfalcon  (Falco rusticolus)

Modified November 17, 2019