Sunday, 29 January 2017

Merlin Supper

It’s been good for hen harriers of late, and they’ve been seen far and wide on the peninsula this winter; perhaps the severe weather has driven more of them further west.  There’s a roost on the south side of the Burry Inlet, but numbers vary.  It needs lots of evening visits to get a good idea of the number of individuals involved, but even then it’s not easy to be sure how many are there.

Arriving in late afternoon well before the light fades is best.  The salt marsh at this time of day is quiet and not much moves.  With the tide out, I can see for miles and find only two males and a ringtail.  An hour passes before they finally drop out of sight into the rank vegetation.  I’ve heard that a male marsh harrier was seen here recently. Most migrate south in the autumn, but some stay, especially in the east of England, and we’ve had them on Gower in previous winters.  No luck this evening and my hope of a short-eared owl also brings no joy; they too are unpredictable, but in some winters can be guaranteed here at dusk.

The light fades and I drive slowly along the deserted marsh road.  A silhouetted kestrel hovers away to my right; it’s far too dim to say male or female, but a merlin makes up for everything.  Sitting obligingly on a fence post only a few yards away, he tears away at a meadow pipit, or is it a linnet?  The light disappears as invisible tawny owls appear in the woods.  These are much easier to count, especially at this time of year, when vocal males ready themselves for the breeding season just round the corner.

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