This week sees some of the highest tides of the year along the North Wales coast and with that in mind I thought I’d visit my favourite beach. Talacre is a village in Flintshire on the North Wales and is near Point of Ayr on the west side of the River Dee estuary. The beach is sandy with dunes. The name Talacre is a combination of the Welsh words tal, meaning end, and acrau, meaning acres. In the north-east Welsh dialect, acrau is pronounced as acre. The village is probably most popular for the lighthouse on the nearby beach. For those of you who live in the UK you may remember the recent paint advert showing the dog running along the beach with the lighthouse in the background.
To the east of the lighthouse lies the Dee Estuary – Point of Ayr RSPB nature reserve. At high tide, thousands of feeding birds are forced by the rising waters onto the salt marshes close to the shore and that makes them far easier to photograph. I’m not a great bird photographer, most of my work is landscapes and aircraft, but photographing birds is good practice for fast-moving objects like aircraft. So occasionally I dust off my Sigma 150-500mm lens and spend a day in a bird hide somewhere. Most of the birds I see I can’t identify. The bird I’m going to show you now I required some help with. It’s a Merlin and is my first bird of prey that I’ve photographed in the wild.
The Merlin (Falco columbarius) is a small species of falcon from the Northern Hemisphere. A bird of prey once known colloquially as a pigeon hawk in North America. The male Merlin has a blue-grey back, ranging from almost black to silver-grey in different subspecies. Its underparts are buff to orange tinted and more or less heavily streaked with black to reddish-brown. The female and immature are brownish-grey to dark brown above, and whitish buff spotted with brown below.
Merlin’s rely on speed and agility to hunt their prey. They often hunt by flying fast and low, typically less than 1 metre above the ground, using trees and large shrubs to take prey by surprise. But they actually capture most prey in the air, and will “tail-chase” startled birds.