23 September 2009
Kern County, California
Early this morning, I observed my first Merlin of the autumn.
As is often the case with fresh autumn arrivals, this rather
dark Merlin was energetic and rowdy, venting its surplus
energies on anything that flew within a 50-yard radius.
I first saw the bird racing after a Common Raven, before it broke off its
pursuit to chase a Double-crested Cormorant, flying low over the lake. With impressive acceleration, it easily
overtook the lumbering cormorant, unleashing several quick stoops, then darted after a California Gull—a bird
more worthy of its spectacular aerial skills. The Merlin followed every twist and turn of the nimble gull, which
finally halted the game by splashing down onto the still morning waters. With its
beak agape and wings outstretched, the gull defiantly faced three more dives
from the Merlin.
The harried gull got a reprieve when the Merlin spotted a Great Blue
Heron flying nearby. Sensing a new and exciting sport, the falcon
sprinted after the heron with the
kind of “speed in reserve” that only
Merlins possess, closing the gap
in seconds then pressing the
heron from low and behind.
But the stately heron refused to play
this game, and lightly touched
down on the beach with a
Instead of harassing the heron further, the Merlin descended in a
long, shallow glide and landed on the beach, where it alternated
between gazing thirstily at the water and peering nervously about.
It never plucked up the courage to drink, but instead took wing
again and charged after another raven. After much chasing and
dodging, the Merlin suddenly turned away, setting a direct
course toward a distant shallow pond bristling with
herons and egrets, its flight fast and full of
mischievous intent. Try as I might to follow the
tiny falcon’s continuing adventures, I eventually
lost sight of it in the distance.