November 13th   Leave a comment

I was scanning out to sea this morning at Fife Ness through my telescope, zoomed in at the horizon, when I picked up a female merlin chasing a skylark. They were high above the sea, the merlin tail chasing the skylark, catching it up and then missing it as the lark suddenly plummeted down. The merlin would dive after it, getting underneath and then the skylark would fly up again. I watched the series of stoops for about a minute, the merlin getting closer and closer to the skylark each ascent. Then they joined, the skylark just a dot, suddenly gone with only the merlin remaining visible. They had been moving out to sea during the chase and the merlin was barely identifiable now it was so far out. The merlin started a steady flight back in the direction of Balcomie. I watched it expecting it to pass close by when it regained land, but I hadn’t realised how far out it was. Five minutes later it was still nowhere near the shore – I had picked it up several kilometres out and it gone even further out during the chase. The energy expended during a merlin pursuit chase – especially when they chase skylarks – is legendary. Both species are endurance flyers. I have timed some chases as lasting more than 11 minutes and this chase must have covered at least five kilometres as the crow flies, never mind the tortuous flight paths during those 5 kilometers of chase and stoop. Then during the long flight back the merlin also had to twice accelerate and climb during its flight when it was chased first by a herring gull and then a common gull trying to unsuccessfully steal its prey. I can’t imagine that once it got back to shore and plucked the skylark that ended up in calorie surplus.

A female merlin at Fife Ness – this is carrying a meadow pipit I watched it catch last October, also well out to sea

Posted November 13, 2018 by wildcrail in Sightings

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