, Newburyport, MA


April 1, 2013

A flip of the falcon

In Stoneham not long ago I spotted what looked like an owl perched on a branch 35 feet above me as I unloaded a van.

Realized it wasn’t when it looked down. Two store clerks stepped out and guessed “some kind of hawk.”

Next day, some 35 miles northeast along Plum Island’s causeway, five cars were parked as seven birders shot pictures. I stopped to ask.

“Peregrine falcon,” she answered, showing an image on her zoom camera. Looked like the very same bird.

Next day I added mention of the falcon to a yet-to-be published account of birding on Plum Island —which led me to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s website.

All I wanted was the spelling of “peregrine,” meaning “wanderer,” sometimes “pilgrim,” but the alternative name caught my eye:

“Duck hawk,” meaning that it preys on duck—and sometimes pets and other small creatures I’d rather not name.

Capable of “stooping” (diving) between 175 and 210 mph, it could have sued Ford in 1960 for naming a car that barely sputtered to the speed limit even after Nixon notched it down.

Defamation of Car Raptor.

So those who guessed “hawk” know their birds, and on day four I knew that a lone, basketball-sized bird standing in I-95’s median strip about 17.5 miles southwest of here was a peregrine falcon.

No doubt about it. With the rearview clear, I slowed for a good look. Immediately, the talons of realization sunk in:

Not only is it the same bird, he’s stalking me.

“He” because this falcon is Johann Sebastian Bach reincarnated — even looks like him, helmeted with thick sideburns, a compact, rotund build, and a decidedly Lutheran aspect.

Out to avenge my 35 years of basting his Brandenburgers and stuffing them with the musical equivalent of blue cheese.

Flipping me the falcon because I once drove one of Ford’s cheapos and — to mock a mocking car — renamed it “The Pigeon.”

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