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This is another one of my “better to be lucky than good” posts. However, in this case I was doubly lucky, first, in that I encountered the bird in these images at all, and second, because I was able to get a couple of in-flight shots.
A Merlin is a small falcon. In length and wingspan it is only slightly larger than an American Kestrel, the little falcon whose image I featured about a week ago. Like the kestrel the Merlin is a bird of open country. It is far less common than the kestrel. I’d estimate that I see perhaps one Merlin for every 100 kestrels that I see. Indeed, I see this species no more than a couple or three times a season during my drives around southern Arizona.
The opportunities to photograph a Merlin are, therefore, very few and far between and they are to be seized when they present themselves. A couple of months ago I absolutely blew a splendid opportunity to photograph a perching Merlin and I’ve been kicking myself ever since.
Recently, I was driving through rural Arizona with Sally Hansen when I spotted a bird perching on the upper branches of a pecan tree. I was convinced that it was a kestrel. I decided to photograph it, so I stuck my camera out my car’s window. I’d barely gotten the bird into the viewfinder when it flew and instinctively I pressed the shutter and fired a burst. “Damn,” I said. “Missed it!” I then checked the images on the camera’s view screen and was astonished to see that I’d caught two images of the bird launching into the air. That was a delightful surprise. But, what was dumbfounding was that it was no kestrel, it was a Merlin. My good luck was a payoff for blowing the previous chance at photographing this little falcon.
The apparent similarities between Merlins and Kestrels end when one views their plumage. A kestrel is a far more colorful bird, with its blue and russet plumage. Merlins tend to be brown on white (there are subspecies that are either much darker or much lighter than the norm).
These images aren’t the sharpest bird in flight photos I’ve ever made but I’ll keep them. I’ll probably not get another opportunity like this for a long, long time.
Photos made with a Canon 5Diii, 400DO+1.4X Extender, ISO 500, M setting f6.3 @ 1/1250.