Saw my first ever Merlin (year tick 173; lifer 197) today. A Raptor long overdue.
Rewind and I went along with Martin McGill's walk to the Slimbridge estuary late morning / early afternoon. The man knows his birds!... and what a perfect habitat. I can now see why it's kept out of bounds. You can get so close to the birds, and although most visitors would be mindful a number would not. Plus, you'd have to alter the habitat to let visitors down there - restrict their movements and so on - and that would be no good.
Seen at the high tide were large numbers (100 each?) of Ringed Plover and Dunlin, one Little Ringed Plover juvenile which was seen on the estuary and later from the Zeiss hide, probably ten Sanderling (almost entirely juveniles - but the best views I've ever had of this species), one Snipe (apparently the first they've seen for an age down by the river), a flock of Curlew flew past, one Greenshank flew over and one juvenile Turnstone (year tick 174).
A juvenile Sanderling, and below that a Ringed Plover:
Two Ravens flew overhead, wheeling and cronking. At least six Little Egrets could be seen nearer Middle Point.
Also beside the estuary were one Wheatear and one Whinchat. Both were sat on the fence. Indeed, at one point they were sat only c.30cm from each other. Would've made a good photo. The star non-wader however, was the Merlin. It was a juvenile, and made a couple of passes at the small waders. Martin said it had been trying the same trick yesterday, too. This definitely counted as a bonus bird, as I'd pretty much resigned myself to not seeing a Merlin - ever! In two years of serious birding I'd never even had a sniff of one. Rubbish photos, but necessary since this was a lifer:
Martin then moved us ('us' being 38 people!) on to the Zeiss hide overlooking the Top New Piece. The tide had pushed the waders up nicely. The stars, of course, were 10+ juvenile Curlew Sandpipers (one also seen by the estuary but I didn't catch it). Heat haze made viewing them difficult, but the supporting cast was typically strong. Ruff, Lapwing, Snipe, Redshank, Greenshank, Green Sandpipers and Black-tailed Godwit.
A good few hours. Fewer numbers of people would've been better, but beggars can't be choosers!
Three visits to Slimbridge in three bank holiday weekend days. Tiring. Five year ticks (Little Stint, Sanderling, Curlew Sandpiper, Merlin and Turnstone) and two lifers (Curlew Sandpiper and Merlin) though... so I'm not complaining!