Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Merlin Magic

Female Merlin
Its fair to say that encounters like the one I had on the afternoon of Sunday 22nd October, don't come around to often. Having sat indoors all morning, impatiently waiting for the fog to clear so we could pop out for a mooch. Destination the upload moorland of the Long Mynd, Midday passed and still no break in the fog, by this time my impatience had grown to rather frustrating levels, I hate sitting indoors at the best of times, especially when I've got time to be doing something I love.

As 1pm approached my frequent trip to look out of the window wielded some result, patches of blue sky appeared through the mirk, and the whole outlook looked generally brighter. The gear was packed and loaded into the car, and as we made the trip from Craven Arms up to Church Stretton by 2pm most the upper slopes appeared bathed in autumnal sunshine.

I said to Nat on the way, I'd be happy with one of 3 species today, Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel and most unlikely Merlin. Having seen Grouse up there earlier in the year, I favoured the odds on that result. And after half and hour of scanning the heather in various different spots, ears wide open for the call of a wild Red Grouse, we still remained Grouseless. As we crept down the road a little further, Nat spotted a falcon like blur cross the road in front of us. After a swift pull off the road, I picked it up again way out on the moorland perched in a low scrubby leaf less bush. After locking the big lens on it and a bit of checking on the phones Bird App I was pretty convinced it was a female Merlin. My first ever. And although a long way away I had a picture to prove it. (see below) After around 5 mins of having its back turned to us, she took flight, swooping low over top of the heather dropping down on some prey and disappearing off over the dip. So the most unexpected in the bag!

The first Sighting
So with Merlin in the bag I was feeling pretty good, a new tick for the year and a lifer in the process. We headed back in the other direction still on the look out for some Grouse. As the road descends off of the Mynd the moorland gives way to more agricultural ground, this usually signals the time to turn around and head back across the moor home.

Typically as the road is single track with passing places its a quite frequent occurrence to have to pull over for another vehicle. At this particular stop I happen to look to my right just before the coming car passed, and spotted a bird sat atop a bale of heather, slightly randomly atop of the Long Mynd several patches of heather have been cut and rolled into round bales. Praying the passing car didn't disturb the perched bird a mere 40 feet away, I readied the binoculars and the camera. Another Merlin, also another female, we had only travelled about a mile down the road so probably the same bird. Magic!

So down came the window and out popped the lens, I happily snapped away, all the while shaking like a sh**ting dog, I wasn't sure if it was the excitement of a fairly close encounter or just the fact I couldn't hold my camera steady with the car vibrating.

Spotted from the Car Window

Chancing my luck I told Nat to drive on very slowly up the road so I could get level with her, still she sat perched seemingly totally oblivious to the car. More shots taken and a lot more shaking, pushed me to make a decision, we parked in the next pull in a good 50 yards up the road, and I got out set my tripod up and slowly walked back down the road to see if I could get a little closer and a whole lot steadier.

It turns out I did get a hell of a lot closer, walking down the road till I was level with the bale 25-30 feet away. The falcon didn't appear at all bothered by my presence or the stiff movements I was making trying to get some different angles without spooking her. After about 15 magical minutes of watching and photographing she just launched off and was gone. A truly awesome encounter one I am sure will never happen again.

As I walked back down the road

The scene from the road

My favourite Merlin shot

http://www.facebook.com/MartinClayPhotography Up to date pictures and sightings, prior to me getting around to writing these blog posts, Look out for a free give away soon as well.
I would be more than grateful for any 'Likes' or Comments on my FB Photography Page too so feel free to comment or criticise about anything.

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