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William Deetz


Five Merlins Were Approaching

Bunny rabbits darting every which way. Playing dead in the middle of the yard at the sound of an opened door. Burrowing inside a clump of two raspberry boxes standing seven feet high with more weeds than should be allowed.

Crows line the old wooden rails of the decking looking in windows wondering when someone will be coming out for a visit  as has been the ritual with coffee in hand for many summers gone by. Discourse is raging over suitable nesting materials to the abundance of children on the block but all are squawking about merlins in distant lands...trouble. The thickened branches of the pine next to the house offer conversational space for this large community of black winged birds to air grievances. 

Two squirrels dart about the giant old red pine located in the backyard. Its four claws locked-in, waiting in suspended animation for his buddy to come around to give chase. It wasn't long ago we'd set traps capturing them and carrying them off to Barker's Island ten miles away. Squirrels have a nasty habit of returning to to a spot under that distance. And every once in a while they'll chatter loudly at one another about how great it is to play in these wonderful trees on Robinson Street. Chatter continues back and forth recalling the fine days that lasted for five years before the steel siding was applied; when they'd burrowed into the house by chewing through the galvanized steel meshed wire then drilling holes into the fascia. Making way into the comforts of a three story home built in 1911 was something to behold. "Oh what a luxury that was. The people inside the house were going insane listening to us scurrying up and down their walls and chewing on their wiring day and night. Oh how I loved the night. Times like those are hard to find my friend. Sadly, they had to end."

The cooing on the other hand went on for hours, calling out to a lover that wouldn't be had, to be taken
up by another charge thought to be worthier lover. A gathering of pigeons perched under the eaves on
the home across the street provided shelter from the rain on one day and the hot sun on another. Up
on the roof's peek they'd walk to gain a favorable view of the neighbors when the cool breeze offered
temperate weather.

Coo, gather under eaves.
Coo, poop on roof, coo.
Fly some, coo, pro-create because there are always a multitude of pigeons.
Coo, sit on roof top peeks, poop. Poop some more.
That seems to be the life of a pigeons unless you're trained to fly from one location to another.
Deliver a note.
Receive a note. Get a treat, then back to the cage for you. Lucky. Quite the life.

First noticed an interesting, new-high pitched squeal some three weeks ago coming from our pine
adjacent to the house early one morning. Since that first initial onslaught they've been our constant
companions going on four weeks in the neighborhood. These merlins have nested across the street in a
tall pine but we've still been unable to detect the nest due to the thickness of the branches. For days I'd
prowled my deck and yard trying to discover the total members in their community. The most that had
ever crossed my path were three. Determined that more were lurking near, I laid wait across the street
anchored to the bluestone pillars for thirty minutes scouring the branches above for some movement.
Every once in a while a call could be heard but never could the sound be localized. With sore neck
muscles the pursuit was over and retreated back across the street none the wiser. Later that day I was
informed by my neighbor he had the actual count. I couldn't believe he had somehow... We now know
there are five of these majestic falcon-family creatures. Three of which are juveniles are being
trained to hunt. Being such an active predator requires constant surveillance of their environment all
around them. Needing to maintain their body weight on a daily basis, they search for their prey, kill and
eat as often as they can find tasty morsels to devour.

The continuous predator-prey cycle of the animal world is living itself out on our small neighborhood
parcels of land. Prior to their arrival we had a plethora of pigeons that adorned the rooftops of a
number of homes on the opposite side of the street, thankfully never taking up residence on the lower
side due to a lack of eaves. No longer are the bobble headed roof-poopers present. Having
escaped the poopers for twenty years we now have two whites stripes on the top of our peak next to
where a lone merlin rests preening itself this beautiful evening. If that is the price we have to pay for
these magnificent birds before they migrate, so be it.

Those large black crows that we've grown so accustomed to over the years would gather in my pine tree by the hundreds outside my deck are no longer calling out in multitudes. Gone too are the rabbits that would burrow under my fence and nibble in my garden. Even my dog has given up the search. Her nose can detect no fur beings cowering in the irises. She comes away from the experience of dabbing her nose in where it belongs and looks at me with with this expression of one the Bugs would so easily state, "What's up Doc?" She just doesn't get it at all. Even the squirrel population has decreased in numbers, though I still occasionally hear one chatter on the branches in the back pine.

Our neighbor reports finding an abundance of feathers and assorted body parts for the past month at the base of his trees. Over the past week a number of black feathers have been found in isolated spots throughout my yard. All appear to be of the same variety but unsure of the type. Almost sure they are all tail feathers. A songbird was seen in the grips of one of the merlins beaks being carried up to a nest pleading for its release. None came.

Their most active times are surely the early morning and late evening. Something we had never witnessed occurred the other night as we gathered on the walk talking about the birds as we tried to find them within our scopes of two pairs of binoculars.  Two merlins were chasing one another coming within ten feet of us on a few occasions, darting and angling away so gracefully we never even moved. Don't know if they are just getting use to us or realize we are not a threat.

 We've seen them perched up on the highest point of the pines swaying in the breezes surveying Lake Superior in the distance. What a view they must have of the rolling white caps and the saltie that just set sail en route to the St. Lawrence Seaway. Being a Wednesday night the sailboats must be out in full force. The winds have picked up and gaging from that their brightly colored spinnakers must be billowing full of wind. During this time of discovery our merlin search continued. Three are on the flat roof pecking away at the saplings that have dropped off the oak tree. A neighbor reports too that they have thrown out a full bag of bird see onto the roof. Manna from Heaven. A pirates treasure if there ever was one. If they continue to consume they'll never get off the ground. They tend to disappear during the afternoon. We wonder if they're in training with their young flying in the thermals up over Hawk Ridge before they make their long flight south for the winter. Smaller than a kestrel, they are fierce predators known to carry off pigeon and seagulls.

What's one less seagull or flock for that matter? No matter where there is water somehow they seem to find their way. So it seems a fair question.  I'd attach a GPS device to all five of them sending them on their merry way to Canal Park with many a blessing for a happy hunt. Equipping them with fitted yellow hard hats with lithium battery powered night lights that would automatically be set to shine on the gulls at the dark of night. The merlins would mount their attack from over the water taking no hostages ending the long reign of the white puffed birds that frequent the canal to pester. I'm not talking about a total take down of the population, just enough so giant flocks no longer gather when ill-advised people throw popcorn in the air. Because one of these times there is going to be some 'crazy trigger' that trips the seagulls, or some 'seagull group think mentality' when they all go psychotic on a kid with a Yankees cap, and he's devoured on the spot right on the lawn between the shipping museum and the beginning of the boardwalk, where the majority of the feeding frenzy takes place.

Observing them dart from tree to tree across the street and back again it is no wonder any small rodent stands a chance against such a stalwart creature. In time after their departure I am sure the faithful will return. First sending out scouts; the lowest on the pecking order will get that job once that it is determined by the general council that all is well on Robinson Street the return will begin. Until that day I will continue to relish the merlins beauty and grace, their yackety calls at six o'clock in the morning and even their artistic designs on our roof. Then maybe if we are lucky enough, their migratory path may lead them right back to Robinson Street to the fine feeding grounds that were found here.

As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. It seems now that our friends have taken flight. Outside this morning I heard a lone crow caw at the end of the block. None reciprocated his call. It is anyones guess what he may choose to do. Loneliness may set in since they are such such social birds tending to congregate in large flocks. It's been three days since they've been heard or seen. I want to believe they are up there in the thermals soaring with their young moving to warmer climates, that they still remain the predator because fate can so easily twist on the head of a pin. Where they'd find themselves being carried off by an eagle toward his nest or a great owl hunting at night could pluck the yearlings away as part of the cycle of life. But I will mark my calendar and will remain steadfast that our new friends will return stronger and ready for greater adventures on these plots down on Robinson Street sometime in early to mid-July of the following year. Now having a genetic imprint on the hunting grounds and from the decimated remains it appears their success rate was quite high.

The general council of the crows has sent out its second scouting party, for they now are occupying both ends of the block calling out to one another. The merlins have long since gone. Even a few more squirrels have been seen running happily throughout the pines this early morning not fearing an air attack by a merlin falcon. Good luck my friends. After visiting the canal I'm sorry to see that the seagull population remains intact. That is something I will have to live with for the years I have left in this lovely city by the largest teardrop a giant ever cried. Maybe in time I will come to embrace the seagulls. No. Never. That will never happen. I despise the flying white rats.