Saturday, 1 March 2014


There has been a distinct lack of motivation to get out and cover my local patch recently. Lack of cold weather has resulted in few birds being present. I am depressed about the way local farmers use their land, prioritising just about everything above the local wildlife. Farmland bird numbers are at a record low and nothing seems about to change. It is also a long time since I have found anything of note out in these parts. In short, I was in serious need of a lift.

But this morning I felt the urge to get out and find something. Was it the weather, sub-zero and beautifully sunny? Or the fact that it is now March and my local patch was feeling more neglected than Vladimir Putin's feminine side? Or perhaps some deeper birding instinct? Either way, I was out at dawn, finding the first Corn Bunting for the year to the north of the village. To the east, the large flocks of Fieldfares that have been present all winter were still feasting on the saturated ground. A couple of Brown Hares moved through the thrush flocks in the early morning mist:

There were more thrushes than usual this morning. The first two fields yielded 600 Fieldfares alone, most feeding, with some large loose flocks moving through:

But having such huge amounts of protein hopping about in the fields will attract predators. Suddenly, it was as if someone had turned on a huge suction machine. All the thrushes lifted up and the huge flock began streaming into the nearest hedge. Birds were pouring past me, ignoring my presence. Clearly a raptor was approaching from the south.

I scanned the sky, expecting a Sparrowhawk, hoping for a Peregrine, and bang, there it was. A small falcon stooping at the Skylarks out in the middle of the field:

But it was a Merlin! A long dreamt of first for Cuddesdon! And just the lift I needed. It stooped, swept up high, reeled around and stooped again, before continuing north empty handed:

According to the data on my camera the whole encounter lasted 15 seconds, an eternity in bird identification terms. The wings and tail of this bird are clearly the barred brown of a juvenile bird. However, it has begun its post-juvenile moult and has acquired a nice blue-grey mantle, scapulars, upper tail coverts and upper wing coverts. The underparts are still juvenile, being heavily streaked brown. A lovely 1st winter male Merlin. It is probably on Otmoor already. 

60 species for the year. 104 bird species (+2 escaped species) for the area since 2008. 


  1. Stunning shots, Tom. Glad the bird arrived on schedule from Devon as instructed. Just a small something for services rendered on my back! Cheers, Tim

  2. I am convinced I saw a Merlin yesterday afternoon the other side of Wheatley from Cuddesdon. Didn't get such good pics though!