Perched high up in the leafless trees there was a band of American Crows. They seemed wary and worried, looking around like in all directions, carefully watching every movement around them. It did not take long to figure out what had them on the edge. A Merlin was perched in a nearby tree. Suddenly the Merlin took off on what looked like a patrol – sort of just checking things out. But the crows did not take any chances. The whole flock took off simultaneously and started flying back and forth over the tree grove making a lot of noise. Once the Merlin landed in a tree again, the crows settled down and landed as well. One would think that the cows would find safety in their numbers or that they would figure out that they far too large for a Merlin to catch, after all they are about equal in size. But, nope. These fellas were real chickens.
Last time I saw a Merlin was in Camrose during the AB Big Day even on May 4, so when I spotted one perched high up on a dead branch above the Heritage Wetland Park ponds it was a nice treat. It did not stay put for long. After a few minutes it took off, circled the tree tops, scared the bejesus out of a flock of crows and landed high up in another tree. A Pileated Woodpecker caught the Merlin’s attention. It took off again, this time aiming directly for the woodpecker. An adult Pileated Woodpecker is far too big for a Merlin to take down, but I guess it found the woodpecker irritating and scared it into flight. For a few seconds the two were circling each other in the air before each one landed on a new tree. I guess they realized that none of them was really going to scare the other one away so they just accepted each other’s differences. This is the closest I have ever seen a Merlin, but I still had to zoom in all the way to over 1600 mm to get close enough for a positive identification. The picture quality is certainly not stellar but it serves its purpose as far as identification goes. It was not until I came home and was able to cross-reference my picture against field guides that I was 100% sure that it was a Merlin. The Nikon P1000 is a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand, at 1600 mm zoom very few camera setups would be able to get this close, and those that would would be far more unwieldy and expensive. On the other hand, while the 1600 mm is about half of P1000 optical zoom capabilities, the image quality will suffer at this focal length, specially if the camera is hand held.