Prairie or Gyr?

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Paul Foth

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Nov 18, 2020, 10:51:36 AM11/18/20
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Hi,

I encountered a large, light falcon on Kootenay River Road in Creston. I studies it at quite a distance through the scope, snapped a couple poor shots, but when I attempted to get closer it flew away to the north.

Prairie Falcon was my initial sense. It was light with dark streaking on a very light breast. A dark eye-line dominated the facial markings. There was a noticeable light patch extending back to the nape, but what appeared to be a medium-dark vertical line through the nape. It had thin a light supercillium and a bit of a brownish cap. The moustachial line, however, was not very strong, as I would expect from a Prairie.

I still assumed Prairie when I watched it fly by, but I did not see the dark axillaries and under-wing coverts I expected... they may have been a little darker medium brown, but did not really stand out from the rest of the underwing. The bird was flying low, so it was not a perfect view of the underwing pattern, but no hint of the dark contrasting parts.

Given the unusual face pattern and plain underwing, I'm considering Gyrfalcon. I have a bit of experience with Gyrfalcons from the coast, and I know the plumage is variable. The facial pattern on most Gyrfalcons I've seen is more uniform than this, but I've found some photos and field guides that show more of an eyeline. It seemed large in flight, so it is plausible. On my view of the perched bird I thought it was more of a Prairie/Peregrine size, but in the fuzzy photos I could see that the head might look proportionally small. But if not for the underwing I would be leaning Prairie.

For those of you with more experience with Prairie Falcons, do they ever lack an obvious moustachial stripe? Is the dark on the underwing pattern ever more subtle?


Apologies for the photo quality.


DSC00472.JPGDSC00473.JPG
DSC00476.JPG

bcbird...@gmail.com

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Nov 18, 2020, 8:37:39 PM11/18/20
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Hi Paul,


I cannot see this being a Prairie Falcon. The colour is wrong and you would have noted the diagnostic auxiliaries.

This is a big hefty bird that is grey so most likely a GYRF. Hope you are getting a good camera for Xmas to help document all these good birds you find.

Cheers, Melissa

Paul Foth

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Nov 19, 2020, 10:05:56 AM11/19/20
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Thanks Melissa. I received other feedback that it looks structurally like a Gyrfalcon, and I can see that with the smaller head. The colour was lighter in person than it appears in these photos, which is why I thought of Prairie initially. I imagine the Gyrfalcon was hunting pigeons that hang around a couple of the farms. There were no ducks nearby.

Unfortunately, this is taken with a new camera... but at the limits of its zooming capacities. If I was still using a phone there would have been no picture at all at that distance. 

bcbird...@gmail.com

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Nov 19, 2020, 4:18:50 PM11/19/20
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Sweet Paul which camera did you end up getting?. Nice job on the GYRF our local bird just returned too.

Paul Foth

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Nov 20, 2020, 9:38:50 AM11/20/20
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It's a Sony DSCHX350 that was on sale. A bridge camera with 50X zoom.

bcbird...@gmail.com

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Nov 20, 2020, 2:15:10 PM11/20/20
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Nice enjoy it Paul!!

Cheers
Mel

Gary Davidson

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Nov 20, 2020, 10:07:39 PM11/20/20
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Hi Paul,

I took the liberty of sending your images to Brian Wheeler, the foremost authority on raptors in North America. He agrees that this bird appears to be a Gyrfalcon. He added that the very pale primaries visible on the underside of the wing are "indicative of this species". 

Good find, Paul.

Gary

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Paul Foth

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Nov 21, 2020, 4:44:17 PM11/21/20
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Thanks Mel and Gary,

I found it today on Reclamation road. At 2 PM it was still there with a group of birders near the Pickle Patch.

I have no doubts about the species now. gyrf 1121 1.JPG

bcbird...@gmail.com

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Nov 21, 2020, 9:38:04 PM11/21/20
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Now that's the picture I was hoping for! Nice photo Paul looks like the camera setup is working fabulously.

Congrats again
Mel

James Turner

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Nov 21, 2020, 11:18:40 PM11/21/20
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Hi Everyone,

Thanks to Paul Foth for the tip on the Gyrfalcon. Nice work finding it again Paul!
We were lucky enough to get a close look and snap some photos so I thought I'd share them as well.
Happy birding,

Blaire and James


bcbird...@gmail.com

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Nov 21, 2020, 11:29:32 PM11/21/20
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Wow nice shots of the juv GYRF Blaire and James ! Thanks for sharing them, Mel.

Paul Foth

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Nov 23, 2020, 6:25:23 PM11/23/20
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It's been confirmed that there are two Gyrfalcons. Sachi sent me photos of both together.

bcbird...@gmail.com

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Nov 23, 2020, 8:49:22 PM11/23/20
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2 are always better than 1. In Vancouver we frequently get a juv and an adult. what are the ages of your 2?
Mel

bcbird...@gmail.com

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Nov 23, 2020, 8:49:53 PM11/23/20
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I mean we know one is a juv what is the other to clarify...
Mel

bcbird...@gmail.com

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Nov 24, 2020, 2:27:58 PM11/24/20
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Just saw Sachi’s pics 2 juvs! What a delight :) 


Cheers, Mel

Gaelen Schnare

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Nov 28, 2020, 11:18:54 PM11/28/20
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Has anyone seen the Gyrfalcon in the past couple of days? I am heading over tomorrow and I’m wondering if anybody has a location.

Thanks,

Gaelen

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Paul Foth

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Nov 30, 2020, 4:49:28 PM11/30/20
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I did a search of Reclamation Road yesterday with no sign.

Paul Foth

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Dec 19, 2020, 4:44:35 PM12/19/20
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One Gyrfalcon today on Channel Road just south of Duck Lake. Another juvenile, so could be one of the same birds.

bcbird...@gmail.com

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Dec 24, 2020, 7:07:09 PM12/24/20
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Awesome I hope Gaelen gets to see it!

Merry Christmas!

Mel

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