Magic moorland merlin moment


September can throw up the odd lovely day, when summer still seems like it hasn’t completely given up, and it was on just such a day that I embarked on a run up the “hill road to Roberton” and onwards to Alemoor Reservoir.

The hills were still clad in purple heather and the atmosphere was crystal clear, giving wonderful views as far as the English border from the higher ground.

At the reservoir, I left the car near the dam and went for a stroll through the coniferous woodland bordering the loch. Despite prominent signs asking anglers and picnickers to remove their litter and not to light fires, the woods and shore bore several signs of fires, and bags of rubbish and beer cans were strewn around. I consider the right to visit such scenic spots as a privilege and fail to understand why people see fit to abuse that right.

Anyway, litter aside, the grassy banks along the shoreline were resplendent with patches of the purple, pom-pom headed Devil’s Bit Scabious and the warm sunshine encouraged several peacock butterflies to visit the flowers, providing my first photo opportunity.

Some of the woodland fungi also had me reaching for the camera. There were colourful displays of Fly Agaric, Boletus and several large brown slimy toadstools which I was unable to identify. Overhead, perched on the edge of a larch bough, I noticed a spotted flycatcher, which was using this high vantage point as a launching pad to dart out and grab some passing flies. Soon it would be leaving us for southern climes and who could blame it?

After a refreshing coffee from the flask, I headed across the moorland road towards Ettrick and near Clearburn Loch, I spotted a brown bird flitting from post to post on the roadside fence, swooping low as it went. It was definitely a bird of prey and from its small size and movements, I knew it was Europe’s smallest raptor – the merlin. I slowed the car right down as it flew ahead of me and eventually it settled on a post. I stopped briefly, got out my binoculars and could clearly see its yellow legs and brown plumage, denoting it as female. I became quite excited as I realised that I had a realistic chance of a decent photograph, if I edged the car slowly forward towards it. A glance in the mirror blew that chance right out of the water, when I saw the first car I’d seen for ages, rapidly approaching on the single track road. I had no option but to pull over, let it pass and watch in dismay as the car zoomed past the bird, immediately putting it to flight, never to be seen again.

The occupants were completely unaware of its existence. Such are the joys of bird watching!