Country diary: Watching a merlin for as long as I can

Pulborough Brooks, West Sussex: I’d spotted this one earlier in the day chasing starlings. Now it has something to feed on

As the grey sky darkens, waves of black, silhouetted fieldfares and starlings move through the air, some dropping to settle on the grass on the brooks. A lapwing loops in a figure of eight and lands among others huddling together beside one of the 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 begin to settle down for the night.

I pick up an upright shape sitting on a pile of mud. Refocusing, I see that it’s a female merlin. The small, brown bird of prey sits with its back to me, the cold wind picking at its feathers. It turns its head from side to side, watching the flocks of birds coming in to roost. It bends down and pulls at something at its feet. I’d seen a female merlin earlier in the afternoon – a dark arrowhead shape chasing the starlings across the brooks – and this is probably the same bird, feeding on a kill. It finishes its meal, stretches out its wings, shakes its head and begins to clean its talons with its beak.

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