Tom Gray’s Nature Notes: In hot pursuit of Merlin

Tom Gray
Tom Gray

Mrs Gray and I woke up on a crisp and frosty Saturday morning in time to watch a glorious sun rise over the Moray coast from the comfort of my son’s home just outside Turriff and accepted his offer to dog walk along the sands of Inverboyndie Beach just east of Banff.

I pursued a shorter course than the others and after taking a few photos of the spectacular veins of white quartz running down through the doleritic cliffs, I returned to the comfort of the car, looking out on the long breakers which were being noisily piped ashore by a large flock of Oystercatchers settled on an inshore skerry, while a drilling rig glinted in the sun against the distant horizon.

With the tide coming in to cover the outcrop on which they stood, as if at a single command the birds rose into the air to fly over the ridge of the coastal slope behind me to the safety of the fields beyond, with two smaller, crescentic-winged waders, presumably Redshanks, trailing behind the main party.

On our return car tip to his home, our host and driver, Alasdair, chose to divert onto the minor road, which for part of our route would follow Deveron Vale. We stopped briefly in the settlement of King Edward (a meaningless name corrupted from the Gaelic Kineadar?) where we looked at the mediaeval church ruin.

Resuming our journey we were bemoaning the absence of bird life in the woodland and surrounding fields when to our total surprise a small falcon dropped down from the roadside hedge ino the hollow of the sunken road and flew ahead of us for almost a mile, its pointed wings almost sweeping the ground. Ever expecting it to rise and hedge hop over into the fields, we had time, even at an estimated 45mph, to identify the intruder as a female Merlin, before, as we slowed on a bend, it was suddenly no longer there.

Now that show by our Merlin was a most excellent wildlife sighting,ideally made to celebrate Mrs. Gray’s birthday (our reason for travelling north), and more than compensated for the absence of gaggles of Greylag Geese and swarms Whooper Swans we had anticipated in fields around the croft where we were staying.

* Tom Gray writes for the Glenrothes Gazette