This afternoon, shortly after 3pm, I was driving past the parking lot on Haven Road. Ahead of me, much closer to the bridge I observed a huge falcon fly from left to right, crossing the road and heading out over the ice. I sped up and pulled over half way up Haven Road. I looked in the air for the bird, but didn’t see it. As I scanned the many birds on the ice, I realized the falcon was sitting on the ice not too far from a couple of crows, three hundred feet out from the road. When I saw that the falcon was larger than the crows I immediately thought Gyrfalcon (the crows never showed any reaction to the falcon). The bird was large and gray with pale undersides. I immediately turned to the jeep for my scope and camera. When I turned back around, the falcon had taken off and was flying west of the other birds. The falcon again landed on the ice, walking all around. He checked out a muskrat mound, walked all along some open water on top of the ice and appeared to take a drink. He lifted off several times over the next twenty minutes, landing on snow mounds or the ice, unfortunately farther away each time. He was walking around investigating unseen things along the waters edge for some time. At one point I was able to get a photo of a Common Merganser, several hundred feet closer than the falcon to attempt to show its size. I called several people, but no one was able to come. The bird finally took off, circling and gaining altitude. Fortunately, it turned, heading my way. I was able to see it well through my bins though it was now high up. A Red-tailed Hawk circled even higher than the falcon, but it enhanced the large size of the falcon. From underneath, the bird was very pale with dark flecking. It had completely pale underwings with dark tips. Its tail was very long and when it spread it as it banked, pale bands could be seen in the tail. I tried to get a photo in the air, but the camera wouldn’t focus on what it perceived as clear sky. I watched the bird gain altitude, until it disappeared from my view. I tried to relocate it in the sky, but could not find it. I don’t even know what direction it went. My photos are all very poor. The bird was between me and the sun and the heat rays off the water and ice were impeding my efforts to get the camera to focus. I see Peregrine Falcons at the Bashakill regularly, and this bird was too large to be a peregrine. Also, its distinct appearance as it soared ruled out Peregrine. I have recently spent quite a bit of time observing the Gyrfalcon in Ulster County in the last month and am sure this bird was a Gyrfalcon. I’ve attached my very poor shots of this bird at somewhere between 300 and 400 yards from Haven Road. That distance gives the impression the bird is small, that was not the case. Some of you may recognize the large muskrat mound that can be seen way out in the channel from Haven Road. While I have personally ruled out Peregrine Falcon, I have decided I can conclusively call this a Gyrfalcon. If only I had arrived a few minutes earlier, I could have had photos that prove it.
ADDENDUM: The record was submitted to EBIRD, but they felt there was insufficient evidence to declare the bird a Gyrfalcon. This bird becomes a non-record. I still feel this was indeed a Gyrfalcon.