Thursday, August 18, 2016

Merlin And Mipits

The slightly murky start to the morning produced some obvious autumn migration by way of an influx of Swallows, some visibly heading south, a number of landfall Meadow Pipits, and my first Merlin of the autumn. 

I stopped at Braides Farm to look along the fence line and across to the sea wall. The local Grey Heron and Buzzard were in situ along the fence line and seemingly nothing else. When I looked closer there was a single Wheatear sat motionless on a fence post, probably easy to overlook except for its rather bright appearance on such a dim morning. 


I spent very little time at Conder Green where a large wagon with blacked out windscreen greeted me at the layby. The driver had spent the night there but very soon he started up the diesel engine to warm the cab, so goodbye the few birds that were about; 14 Little Grebe, 1 Greenshank, 2 Common Sandpiper, 2 Stock Dove, 2 Wigeon, 1 Grey Heron and 3 Little Egret. Loud “cronk-cronks” told me Ravens were about and when I looked up it proved to be a single one heading south. 

A quick look at Glasson showed about 300 Swallows around the marina with 7 Tufted Duck and 18+ Coots on the water. The sky was beginning to clear with the first signs of some promised sunshine. 

I settled down to go through the wagtails on Bank End Marsh when someone stopped to tell me that the whole road was closing for maintenance in 30 minutes time and that it would remain so until midnight. I don’t mind spending an hour two at Bank End but not a whole day thanks. Luckily by then I’d seen 45+ Pied Wagtail, 2 Yellow Wagtail, 15 Linnet and 2 Little Egrets. 

Yellow Wagtail

Grounded and flighty Meadow Pipits numbered 15 +. I also met an old friend here, a one legged Curlew I first saw a couple of years ago and in exactly the same spot. This bird is a real survivor even though adult Curlews have few predators except man and the wily old fox. 


I made it back to the main road and headed to Cockersands where a steady but not enormous stream of Swallows flew in off the river, over the silage field and then headed quickly south. There’s a nicely developing set-aside plot here where I counted 3 Reed Bunting, 3 Whitethroat, 8 Goldfinch, 2 Greenfinch and 10 Linnet. Very noticeable was a group of 15+ active and excitable Meadow Pipits along the roadside and where the pipits joined the other birds in taking advantage of the set-aside. 

Meadow Pipit

I was turning the car round when I spotted a Merlin fly low over the marsh and land on the roadside fence. Within seconds the Merlin was gone, over the fields and out of sight. 

Our UK Merlin is often linked to the Meadow Pipit. Meadow Pipits breed in good numbers in upland Britain where they share the landscape with the Merlin and other species. The dashing Merlin preys extensively on Meadow Pipits and the small birds’ ability to produce two or even three broods of young, a ready supply of food for a growing family of young Merlins. It’s an inter-specific relationship of the two species, so well connected that it is thought the Merlin as a species times its autumnal dispersal south to coincide with that of the Meadow Pipit while the pipit resumes the role of a meal ticket. I am positive this theory is true as many times in the autumn and winter I have seen a Merlin target Meadow Pipits, often ignoring other possible meals. 

Merlin - USFWS - CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

There was time for a quick look at Lane Ends, Pilling; 18+ Little Egrets scattered across the marsh and 80+ Swallows feeding low over the marsh.

Linking today to Anni's Birding Blog and Eileen's Saturday.


Linda said...

Beautiful and fascinating series, Phil! And in case I haven't mentioned this before, I absolutely love your header! It is stunning.

Prunella Pepperpot said...

Amazing Merlin in flight!
You saw so many birds on your trip even if it was cut short. The ones you have shared with us are photographed beautifully. The Wheatear is gorgeous.
Have a wonderful weekend :)

Bob Bushell said...

Beautiful images you have made, but, yellow wagtail is Grey Wagtail, sorry. Excellent photos.

Lowcarb team member said...

It doesn't seem possible that we are talking Autumn here! The year is going by so fast ...
I do like the Meadow Pipit photo and appreciate the details you've given too, thanks

All the best Jan

PS I also agree with Linda your header photo is stunning

David M. Gascoigne, said...

A Merlin is a very efficient predator indeed and I have been fortunate to witness several spectacular aerial chases. I always find myself torn because I am rooting for the intended victim to make an escape, but at the same time I want to see the Merlin make its kill. This was brought out in great detail when a couple of years ago I was watching a family of endangered Piping Plovers on a beach on Lake Huron. The Merlin swooped in but the young plovers hunkered down on the ground in textbook fashion, following the agitated calls of their parents, no doubt, and the Merlin was unsuccessful. I suspect, however, that it would return, and perhaps the Piping Plovers would not be so fortunate a second time around. The plovers have bred again by the way in the same location this year.

Jenn Jilks said...

I love your birding tales!

Margaret Birding For Pleasure said...

that flight shot of the Merlin is fabulous Phil

Phil Slade said...

Hi Bob. It is a Yellow Wagtail. Please consult a good field guide. In day or so will publish a post on the ID of Yellow Wagtails and Grey Wagtails.

Phil Slade said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
eileeninmd said...

Hello PHil, great birds. The Curlew is one of my favorites along with the cool Merlin! Happy Friday, enjoy your weekend!

David M. Gascoigne, said...

Let me echo Phil's comment above. I have consulted "Pipits and Wagtails" by Per Alstrom and Krister Mild, which has an abundance of illustrations of all the subspecies and seasonal plumages, gender differences, juvenile progression, and Volume 9 of "The Handbook of the Birds of the World" and without a scintilla of doubt it is a Yellow Wagtail.

eileeninmd said...

Hello, Phil! Gorgeous collection of birds and photos. Look like you had a nice outing and great sightings. Thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Happy Saturday, enjoy your weekend!

Anni said...

Once again, an exceptional read of your day birding. And such a wonderful array of species. There are two terms I must look up once I get finished leaving a comment for you----situ and layby. British terms perhaps? Or maybe Latin...that situ looks Latin.

I didn't realize your Merlin's diet preferences. I learned something. And I am sure I'm gonna learn more once I google your terminology. :-) [by the way, I don't mind at all, learning]

Thanks for sharing this bird outing with us today at I'd Rather B Birdin' ... always a pleasure.

Lea said...

Love your bird photos!
The Pipit is so cute!

~Lavender Dreamer~ said...

The bird names sound so neat to me...most I've never heard of. Love your photos! Enjoy your weekend.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

Great report, Phil.

Good to see your old friend Curlew is hanging in there.

Breathtaking said...

Hello Phil!:) It's amazing how many bird sighting you have just in one morning in northern England, and as always it's interesting to learn the habits of certain birds. The Merlin is a bird I have never seen, but it's a beauty. Lovely images of the Wheatear, Yellow Wagtail, the one legged Curlew.:)

Claire MW said...

Wow, such a wonderful assortment of birds and in such large numbers. You have some great birding locations there!

Powell River Books said...

I like the merlin in flight. - Margy

Monika B said...

Very lovely photos.

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