Every now and again as a birdwatcher, you happen upon a bird you haven’t seen before, referred to as a lifer among birdwatchers. This can be an exciting find and if you are lucky enough, a photo or two is the result. If you are exceptionally lucky, you can observe the bird for a time, which is rare indeed. Recently, my husband and I were fortunate enough to experience such an exception and we marvelled at the happenstance which brought us to the experience.
It was a average day on the boardwalk. The approaching low tide brought us down to the beach to search for shorebirds, however, none were around that morning. We headed along the boardwalk for some exercise when I spotted what I thought from a distance was a crow in a snag. As I approached the area, I realized this wasn’t a crow.
The bird moved to another branch and settled in there for a time, facing the boardwalk rather than the beach. This gave us the opportunity to take some photos from various angles. Later, I identified it as a Merlin, probably a female from the look of the chest and abdominal feathers.
The bird with its hooked beak, the markings on the feathers and the orange feet was fascinating to observe.
It scanned the area below but was turned away from the beach where its prey would have been. Like us, it knew there weren’t any small shorebirds on the beach that day.
Merlins are small falcons, once known as pigeon hawks since they resemble pigeons in flight. In the Middle Ages, they were used in falconry to catch Skylarks in flight as the ladies of the court watched.
A close-up of the head shows the external nares, nostrils, on the upper part of the beak and those all-seeing eyes.
A look at the tail shows the small band of white which rims its feathers.
Two days later, we were back on the beach again, this time, small shorebirds were there too.
I watched for sometime and heard the calls of raptors in the area. Scanning the trees, I spotted another Merlin, in an old snag bordering the beach.
It was focussed on the shoreline this time. It saw those tiny birds too. It flew to an nearby stand of trees as I watched.
A look at the tail feathers of this one makes me think this is a different bird from the last one we saw, maybe a male, with darker feathers. It looked smaller than the female as well.
I didn’t stay around to watch the Merlin pick the Plovers and Sandpipers out of the air when they flew off. It’s one thing to know about the possibility, another to actually witness it. It’s not realistic but I like to think they all survived.