As the gray sky darkens, waves of black, silhouetted fieldfares and starlings transfer by means of the air, some dropping to decide on the grass on the brooks. A lapwing loops in a determine of eight and lands amongst others huddling collectively beside one of many swimming pools. The calls of Canada geese and whistles of teals and wigeons carry over the quietening marsh. I scan the fields with my telescope, watching the birds start to cool down for the night time.
I choose up an upright form sitting on a pile of mud. Refocusing, I see that it’s a feminine merlin. The small, brown hen of prey sits with its again to me, the chilly wind selecting at its feathers. It turns its head back and forth, watching the flocks of birds coming in to roost. It bends down and pulls at one thing at its ft. I’d seen a feminine merlin earlier within the afternoon – a darkish arrowhead form chasing the starlings throughout the brooks – and that is in all probability the identical hen, feeding on a kill. It finishes its meal, stretches out its wings, shakes its head and begins to scrub its talons with its beak.
Our smallest birds of prey, merlins breed on northern uplands, however some come south for the winter. They are often arduous to see on Sussex grasslands, the Downs or coastal marshes – after which solely fleetingly as they briefly alight on a publish, or dart low in pursuit of small birds – so I’m decided to look at this one so long as I can. The merlin preens, fastidiously working its beak by means of its wing feathers, pushing them again into place. It turns its head virtually all the best way spherical and stares immediately at me. I stay fully nonetheless. It watches me for some time after which turns again.
Because the day turns into darker, the definition of the hen fades, its brown plumage merging with the muddy background. I’m about to maneuver on when the merlin leans ahead and stretches its wings once more. It flaps as soon as, twice. This time it pushes off, and I watch it fly away, throughout the marsh and in direction of the bushes, the place I lose sight of it within the gloom.