The Merlin and the Sandpiper

October 03, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

The story starts with a Stilt Sandpiper at McElroy Slough on Inverlake Rd just east of Calgary, Alberta. The poor bird had an injured leg and, although it seemed to be feeding OK, had to keep flapping its wings to maintain balance. Stilt Sandpiper, injuredStilt Sandpiper, injuredMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

It was moving around with the yellowlegs - there were about 50 of those, Greater and Lesser, plus close to a hundred dowitchers, and a few other shorebirds like Pectoral Sandpipers and Killdeer. It is on the left in the photo. I deliberately chose a slightly blurry one because it is sad to see the injured leg. 

Not long after I arrived, a Merlin showed up. MerlinMerlinMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

It strafed the shorebirds several times, isolating and chasing one small bird each time, and heading for a tree to rest between attempts. I tried to photograph several of these chases, but it is hard to focus on a fast moving, small bird against a variable background.  MerlinMerlinMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

I finally got lucky with one chase. All I was doing was trying to keep the Merlin in focus; the chase happened very quickly and the sequence below happened in a second or less (nine frames of a 14 frames/sec camera). It was when I was processing the photos that I realized the Merlin had gone after the Stilt Sandpiper - not surprising since predators tend to go after the weak and injured.

In this photo, the Stilt Sandpiper is lower left, and the Merlin above and to the right. There are also some Bonaparte's and Ring-billed Gulls.

Merlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMerlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

The Bonaparte's Gulls and Ring-billed Gulls are minding their own business at this point.

Merlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMerlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

Now the Bonaparte's Gulls realize they are in the path of this chase. In this photo you can see the Stilt Sandpiper's injured leg:

Merlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMerlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

The Ring-billed Gulls are now watching the action, and the Bonaparte's are realizing they are in the way: Merlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMerlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

It's chaos as the sandpiper makes an abrupt turn, the Merlin tries to follow, and the Bonaparte's are trying to get out of the way:

Merlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMerlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

Meanwhile, over by the Ring-billed Gulls, a yellowlegs that must have thought the Merlin was chasing it, plunges into the water.

Merlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMerlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

The Stilt Sandpiper does a face plant into the water:

Merlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMerlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta The Merlin can't slow down fast enough - I don't believe they can pick birds out of the water anyway:

Merlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMerlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta Smart move by the sandpiper, if it can recover. The yellowlegs over on the right seems to be OK after pulling the same move:

Merlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMerlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

A zoomed in view of the previous photo:

Merlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMerlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta This is the last shot of this sequence. The Merlin missed, and the Stilt Sandpiper recovered.

Merlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMerlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

Less than a minute later the Merlin is after another shorebird; it's hard to tell what it is - maybe the same sandpiper - the camera unfortunately decided to focus on the geese:

Merlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMerlin chasing Stilt SandpiperMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

Here's the Merlin cruising over the slough, looking for its next target:

MerlinMerlinMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

Here it has just given up chasing a dowitcher:

Merlin and dowitcherMerlin and dowitcherMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

Cruising again:

MerlinMerlinMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

Too bad this photo didn't turn out well, but this is a Ring-billed Gull chasing the Merlin:

Merlin and Ring-billed GullMerlin and Ring-billed GullMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

It's a little more clear in this photo:

Merlin and Ring-billed GullMerlin and Ring-billed GullMcElroy Slough, Inverlake Rd, Alberta

At this point the Merlin disappeared for a while, and I had to leave.


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