Merlin Magic

December 27, 2017

A merlin sits a perch at sunrise along the Missouri River at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area.

Although I would much rather stumble into interesting wildlife on my own, I’m occasionally compelled to seek out a critter, usually a bird, that one of my friends, in this case Doug Hommert, found before me. This week, Hommert, who totes an 800 mm lens and knows how to use it, spied a merlin at Columbia Bottom Conservation Area. The image he captured in the gorgeous light of the snowy morning was so striking I decided to take a chance on finding the merlin myself. I knew the odds would be stacked against me but Doug and I agreed it might be worth a shot.

When I arrived at Columbia Bottom C.A. at sunrise I was losing my optimism fast because there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I prefer to shoot on partly cloudy to cloudy days when light is more of a friend to wildlife photography than an enemy. I resolved to consider the hour-and-a-half drive as a “scouting trip” and began looking for the merlin in the vicinity of Doug’s last sighting. As I made it to the copse of silver maples where Doug had photographed the merlin the day before, I saw a promising outline several rows back into the riparian corridor of the Mississippi River. As I edged closer, I saw it was the merlin. I was shocked at my good fortune.

Previous to this morning, I had only seen one merlin, at least that I know of, and it was at Busch Conservation Area where I spent my career as a biologist with MDC. I just happened to be at the front desk when a falconer came through the door with a small raptor outfitted with a tiny hood over its head. I thought it might be kestrel or a sharp-shinned hawk, but the falconer, who was updating his falconry permit, explained that it was a merlin and that ounce for ounce, the sharp-shinned hawk, or even the Cooper’s hawk, wasn’t even in the ballpark of the merlin’s flight skills and downright ferocity! I never knew if he was just laying down some falconry trash talk, but I sure was impressed with the sleek little falcon perched before me.

Back to this morning, as I watched the Columbia Bottom merlin, I was pleased that the intrepid little raptor seemed apathetic to my presence but I was a little disappointed in its position in the thick grove of trees. I probably would have been thrilled had I not seen Doug’s magnificent images from the previous day but I wasn’t complaining at the gift I had been granted by Mother Nature.

I made several images of the merlin with its back to me before an old friend from MDC pulled up to talk for a while. The little falcon never did turn around for a better shot before it was suddenly gone like a disappearing magician. Okay, I had to say that about the “Merlin.” Indulgence please.

Later, as I toured the rest of the area, I saw several eagles, close enough for a few flight images, and thousands of red-winged blackbirds in dazzling murmurations. Yep, it was a great morning at Columbia Bottom, as are most mornings at this urban wildland.

Thanks for looking,


Email me at:  Natureframes@Rocketmail.Com

Gallery of Images:

America is beautiful. I “vote” to keep it that way.






2 comments on “Merlin Magic”

  1. Back or front…that’s a beautiful image….and…I loved “totes an 800 mm lens and knows how to use it”. Having recently come across several people who produce outstandingly bad images with outstandingly good equipment….that made me another knight of the Round Table…Sir Laughalot! Thank you. -Deepa.

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