I almost missed what is indubitably the highlight of my birding year so far.
I'd taken the day off work. I'm off tomorrow to Iqaluit with my daughter who needs some dental work done. With the short week there was little point in going in for one day, so I found myself at home. And in the afternoon, with both kids at school, and Leah at work that turned into being at home alone. So I hoped on the snowmobile and took off to the St George's Society Cliffs, to see what was happening with the Gyrfalcon.
When I arrived, there was no bird obviously around the aerie, same as my last trip out. I stopped the machine and as the silence settled in, I wondered if it was worth hanging around for awhile, to see if one would turn up. The wind was cool, and I thought I'd only tough it out for a short while, when high above I heard the Gyrfalcon's cry. It was a long way up. It sailed along near the top of the cliffs, some five or six hundred feet above, and back the way I came. It disappeared behind a cleft, but still called out, and then flew even farther way and settled down on a rock a long way away.
I watched as it sat there, knowing full well that I'd have never seen it there, had it not cried out and flown. I waited for it to budge, for almost a half hour, snapping a few half hearted photos. See it in the photo below? This was taken with a 400 mm lens.
A few times I got ready to leave, and then figured I still had time, and being out there beat the heck out of what ever else I could think of doing at that particular moment.
And then, from the other direction, a pair of Ravens, also high up near the top of the cliffs soared into view. They made their way along the face, wheeled and settled down on a ledge out of sight. The Gyrfalcon sprang to life, calling and flying again.
I assumed it was agitated by the Ravens, but it wheeled past the aerie, out over the ice, and then landed on a whitewashed rock above the aerie. And there it sat, all the while continuing to call. The answer surprised me.
The answer came from inside the aerie, a little cave in the rock face. Lower, and slower it echoed in the little cave, until soon the second Gyrfalcon came into view. Now I assumed that this was the female, not really basing it on anything other than it was at the nest. What happened next dispelled those assumptions.
And as it flew up, then past the female again landing on a perch farther down, I started my snowmobile and headed back to town. Any other birding I was likely to do that afternoon was bound to be rather anticlimatic.