During May and June Glen Tanar's resident Merlin and Osprey pairs were stars of the estate as guests were welcomed to photograph these beautiful birds. The wildlife team set up hides and some guests had a long wait to catch the perfect shot.
By Colin McClean, Wildlife Manager
"Happiness is a merlin on a stick. Most of us probably have a stab at defining happiness as we muddle through life, but I’m guessing I’m in a minority when I define it in those terms. However, when you have spent a proportion of three Springs trying to persuade a wee bird to sit in the right place so its picture can be taken, there is great joy and a certain amazement when it actually does. A photographer called Bill Patterson was our first willing victim for the instrument of torture known as the merlin hide. Our merlins nest in an exposed location on a steep side slope with long rank heather. The hide therefore has to be small and in reality isn’t much bigger than a GPO pillar box. A six hour stint, which is what’s required, can be a bit of an ordeal. Silence is essential, the rules of a Trappist monastery apply, crisps are banned and no one is allowed to straighten their legs at any time. Because at any moment the wee bird can flutter on to the perch and pose. But at any moment it may not….. and it may never.
This year’s set up, with hide, nest and perch, was by far the best we have done. In past years the tales of woe of our merlin photographers are legion. The classic was the poor chap who went in at 11am and asked to be collected at 5 o’clock. I duly arrived on the very chimes of Simon Mayo and looked up the hill at the exact moment when the merlin alighted on the perch for the first time that day. Our brave client had sat there for 6 hours without seeing a feather. He gazed in stunned amazement as the falcon finally alighted. With joy in his heart he reached for the shutter to capture the photo of his dreams. And the tripod dislodged and fell down the hill. The merlin departed stage left.
Fully aware of this sad history I therefore approached the hide to retrieve Bill with trepidation. Paying a fee for six hours staring at an empty stick doesn’t always bring out the best in people. If only it did then what a business model we would have. “Hallo” I said to the back of a canvass box. Grim faced Bill emerged. My heart sank. “Utterly sensational” were his first words and my spirits soared like a merlin chasing a pipit. And so his results were. Both male and female separately on the perch. Relaxed. Preening. Loafing around. There were flight shots of both sexes. Merlins stretching and merlins scratching. Almost 100 close up, intimate shots of Britain’s smallest bird of prey living their lives in their natural habitat. Absolutely beautiful and a great moment.
But the key to this form of wildlife tourism is consistency. Will the birds turn up for every or for most clients? Its unrealistic to expect a bird as wary, flighty and unpredictable as a merlin to turn up on every occasion, but for the first two weeks our clients had a 60% success rate which was pretty good and more than acceptable. I had hoped that when the chicks grew big and were no longer being brooded then Mother Merlin might sit on the perch even more. Unpredictable to the end this was not to be. Perhaps she had sussed us by then and had grown suspicious of this lump of canvas next to her house. Or perhaps she just fancied a different view. Whichever way it was she stopped coming and in the end we gave clients who had still to come their money back. This morning we saw the two chicks fledge and begin life on the wing. They have been great to us and I wish them and their parents well."