Though it was first found last weekend the Gyrfalcon at Gilgo Beach was not known by the vast majority of New York birders until it showed up on the New York City Rare Bird Alert email late Friday night. This was due to an abundance of caution: apparently the birders who found and saw the bird last weekend were afraid that a falconer might come and try to catch the bird. Gyrfalcons are apparently that coveted by falconers. (That the Massachusetts Gyrfalcon, which has been around for over two months now, had been captured by a falconer and then released surely weighed upon the minds of the birders who found it.)

The bird was apparently only put on the Rare Bird Alert because it was believed that it had moved on and was therefore out of danger from greedy falconers. So, of course, the bird was refound on Saturday and viewed sitting on an Osprey platform from Gilgo Beach. I heard about the resighting second-hand and raced out to Gilgo Beach only to find out upon my arrival that what was apparently the bird was sitting all the way across the bay on a small tree. The fog and rain and distance made seeing much at all difficult, though it was obvious that the bird was a large falcon and it looked pretty bulky. In the hour-and-twenty minutes I watched the bird through my scope it didn’t do much. The only action was when it looked like it pooped and then it flapped its wings twice. Those wings looked huge and broad at the base.

Because my trip to Gilgo was unplanned and spontaneous I hadn’t worn clothes that were appropriate for the rain and was completely soaked through, cold, and aware that Daisy wasn’t happy that I had left her home doing laundry and watching Desi, our three-year-old. So I packed it in, feeling 98% sure that the bird I saw was the Gyrfalcon, but not happy with the looks that I got. On my way home I got text messages from the birders still there that they had managed to confirm the identification.

Yay, I guess? I needed better looks!

Overnight, as word leaked out on to various listservs and Facebook pages, it became clear that a pretty big chunk of the New York birding scene was going to be at Gilgo Beach today. I got out there at about 11 AM with Desi in tow. There were lots of birders there and, more importantly, viewing conditions were much more favorable.

Gyrfalcon Falco rusticolus

We enjoyed our time watching the falcon, particularly when it took a long flight across the bay to the Osprey platform on which it had been viewed perching on Saturday. Finally, the looks I wanted at this extremely impressive Gyrfalcon, my first.

Word is now pretty much out on this bird so if you want to go, get yourself to Gilgo Beach, which is on the north side of Ocean Parkway between Tobay and Oak Beach. Park in the lot and scan the marsh, the Osprey platforms, and everything else you can see. Odds are there will be other birders looking for the bird as well.

Of course, if you want a real feel for what a Gyrfalcon is like you should check out one of Clare’s posts from way up north

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.