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So yesterday, on the Smithville "pelagic", there was a bird that was flying near some trees on the 
shore that was seen by several people on our boat (the “lead” one).  This was near the beginning 
of the pelagic, after sorting through the huge raft of Franklin’s Gulls.  I’m pretty sure I was the 
first to spot this bird, and I watched it for several seconds before alerting others (I know, a big no-
no).  I wasn’t sure about its identity, but I was sure it was a small falcon and I suspected it was a 
Merlin.  I then spoke up, and several other birders turned to see it, but there were only a few 
seconds before it flew behind some trees.  I’m pretty sure the general consensus was that it was a 
small falcon, but that the ID was inconclusive.
 The whole ride home, I was thinking to myself “Dang, Phil, I’m 99% sure that was a Merlin.”  I 
saw that the wingbeats were very powerful, too much so for a kestrel, and I got a good look at the 
back and there was no rufous whatsoever.  So when I got home I opened up my big Sibley’s, and 
then I became certain.  When I looked at the drawings of Merlins in flight, it looked exactly like 
what I saw, and based on the looks I got, I feel that I can comfortably eliminate any other likely 
birds.
 This is kind of a lengthy explanation, but I didn’t just want to post “Saw a Merlin at Smithville 
Lake yesterday” for fear that people would think I saw a good bird and held out, or that I was 
second-guessing the abilities of other, more experienced birders.  To my knowledge, I was the 
only one who saw the bird for more than a quick glance.  I thought about just not posting this, but 
since I have seen Merlins show up on the RBA a few times, even if it isn’t a real “zootie” I figured it 
was worth it to post the sighting along with my explanation.

Also, thanks to Kristi for setting up the trip.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and even if we didn’t see any 
super-rare birds, I certainly enjoyed a chance to work on my gull ID skills and get to learn from 
lots of experienced birders I hadn’t met before.

Phil Wire
Kirksville, Adair County
[log in to unmask]

P.S.  Sorry to those who I told I was going to the Big Sit at Swan Lake today- I felt a little sick on 
my way back last night, and felt that sleeping in 35 degree weather again and getting really sick 
wasn’t a good idea the week before midterms.  Hopefully next year.

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