Merlin and the Dragons – Terry Thormin
I went to Little River Pond again today. It was another warm fall day with no wind and I was hoping to see some late Sand Wasps, but there were none present. It has been over three weeks now since I last saw them so I am assuming that they really are finished for this year. There were still a number of dragonflies flying and I saw three species, at least a couple of Blue-eyed Darners, probably 6 to 8 Canada Darners and at least as many if not more Saffron-winged Meadowhawks. It took me a while to get a positive identification of the Meadowhawks as they were landing on the bare sand rather than up on the grasses the way I had seen them before. This is typical behavior for the Striped Meadowhawk, but a close look told me that they were Saffron-wings. For the next hour I tried to get one to perch up on a grass stem or seed head, but with no luck. I did get some shots of them on the sand and have included one here.
After an hour of frustration I finally decided to give up and head back to the car. Just as I was leaving a Merlin flew in to the dead branches at the top of a large birch tree near the edge of the pond. It had a dragonfly, a large darner, that it had obviously just caught and it proceeded to tear the dragonfly apart and devour it. Out came my camera and I got off several shots before it finished.
It then sat there looking around intently at the pond until it suddenly launched itself off the branch and flew out again. This time it returned empty handed, or should I say empty clawed.
Six times it made a pass at the pond sometimes launching out in a slight decline, other times going immediately into a power dive. I am sure that this was a function of how far away the dragonfly it had spotted was. Three of those six times it came back with a dragonfly which it promptly ate.
It was still hunting the pond when I finally left. I expect that if I go back to Little River Pond again in the next few days there will be far fewer darners. This particular Merlin was a Pacific race bird, the subspecies that nests on Vancouver Island. It is very dark with a heavily streaked breast, the streaking being so heavy in the middle of the breast that they run together becoming an almost solid dark breast.
I have talked about the Merlin’s propensity for hunting dragonflies, especially the large Common Green Darner, in previous posts, but this was the first time I was able to photograph it in action. Of course the really great shot would be of the bird in the process of catching a dragonfly or even in full flight with a dragonfly in its talons. But perhaps that is another blog.