For all the years that I have known that merlins were around and about the Chayne, I have never succeeded in taking a decent photograph of one. They are usually so quick and well camouflaged that the best I have ever been able to manage was a distant, obscure speck in the middle distance which only I could identify. A total stroke of luck allowed me to take this photograph out of the car window this afternoon on the way back down from the hill. As usual, all my best photographs are taken out of the driver’s seat of the car, and I only have sheer good fortune to thank for this one.
Initially, the merlin was sitting awkwardly on the top of a triangular “cattle grid” sign, and I would have driven past without even looking twice if my girlfriend hadn’t spotted it. After I passed, it flew down the road, round the corner and settled on the dyke where I had a few seconds to wildly snap away with the long lens before it vanished again; a little falcon through the willows and out over the heather. I really wish I could get to know this species better, but I only see them every few weeks and then it is usually as a fleeting glimpse.
On the other hand, sparrowhawks have really made themselves conspicuous in the past few weeks, and I had quite a hair-raising thrill to watch a cock bird coursing a chaffinch over the inbye yesterday in the bright sunshine. The little chaffinch got away, but not before some spectacular manoeuvres and stunningly well-timed jinking. As soon as the sparrowhawk realised that he had been beaten, he seemed to switch down several gears in enthusiasm almost in an instant, gliding away to lurk in the brambles. And this in contrast to the hen goshawk I watched fighting into the wind this morning, turning pipits and larks into a jelly of terror simply by passing through. It vanished into the young conifers after quite a struggle over the rippling molinia, and I hoped that he was off to find a juicy pheasant; or indeed anything rather than a black grouse.