Yesterday the wife and I witnessed the most AMAZING falconry flight I have ever seen. I consider myself to have seen some superb flights while I have been out working my own birds of prey, not to mention what I have witnessed with wild birds, but this was something beyond spectacular – and it all happened less than 150 yards from us.
Abigail and I had headed out to feed one of our flight ponds close to our home. The dogs came too and we flushed many snipe on our route to the small pond. I love seeing those tasty little chaps, but we don’t have permission to shoot the snipe on this part of the estate and we were just pleased to see them. I was particularly happy to watch seven teal rise off the water as we approached, indicating it is already a good flight pond, before we’ve even started! The wife was watching the dogs playing in the margins, while I risked life, limb and a good soaking feeding the barley in the boggy edges of the pond.
The chase begins
Just as I got back to where Abigail was waiting for me, there was a woosh of wings and a snipe leapt from the boggy ground just by my feet. Then, out of nowhere, a stunning merlin plunged out of the sky and kicked off the most unbelievable flight pursuit I have ever witnessed. It went on for well over 10 minutes – exhausting the two birds involved and demonstrating their acrobatic abilities to their limits. The merlin always caught up on the straight, and then the snipe would inch away from its pursuer with its tight twists and turns. At times the birds danced on above our heads, and then the merlin pushed the snipe back to us twice, passing us so closely I swear I could have caught the little wader in my hands. The snipe, after time, learnt that in the failing light, the merlin could not see so clearly, so if it dived groundward, an advantage could be gained. As the light fell, the tenacious merlin made one bold final attempt to pluck the snipe from the air just 30 foot above us, but missing, the snipe dived towards the pond and splashed down in the reeds for shelter.
A fair flight
As much as I encouraged my Labrador Boris to flush the little bird back up so that the merlin wouldn’t go hungry, my usually obedient dog failed to oblige – perhaps he respected the snipe’s victory.
The action was breathtaking – I am a keen falconer and know I will probably never recreate such a flight. I love this island, and I get a new ‘first’ every day. The raw wildlife we encounter the minute we step outside the door, is unlike anything else I’ve known. If you’d like to come and see merlins dance with snipe, golden eagles chasing grouse and hare, and glimpse magnificent sea eagles snatch trout from lochs then Soval House on the Isle of Lewis is the place for you. Click here for details.