Battlefield Merlin

I have observed a Merlin -- I think it is the same bird every season, but I cannot be sure; we humans are very poor at discerning the subtle differences among individual animals -- at Manassas National Battlefield Park for several years in a row. To date (February, 2017), it is still the only Merlin I have seen and photographed anywhere. It is not a particularly rare bird in our area, but it is also not very common. This one (if indeed it is one and same bird all this time) is also very friendly to me, allowing me to approach it to a close distance (but not too close; it usually perches high in trees and that's probably the reason why it knows it is safe) and take good, sometimes excellent, pictures of it. For this reason, I have been affectionately calling it the "Battlefield Merlin".

Therefore I am using this page as a rolling update with my observations and pictures of this wonderful bird. Please note: my visits to this part have been sporadic, so my observations are not meant to be viewed as a consistent record of this bird's staying in this area. For that, you probably should consult with eBird or other sources for more accurate data. As to my observations, I have always seen the bird in the Chinn Ridge area, near the visitor parking area, and I have always seen it just before sunset. I have tried other times too, such as in the morning, but I have not seen it at those times.


I first saw the bird on February 23, 2014. This was also the very first time I ever saw a Merlin, so it was a new bird to me at that time. It happened like this: I had read reports about this bird at Manassas NBP a few days earlier, then I made the visit on this day. I walked around for maybe 20 or 30 minutes without finding it. Then, just when I was about to leave -- in fact, after I put my camera equipment into my car, I turned around for one last look, and there it was, the Battlefield Merlin, it flew to the top of a dead tree and perched there! If you are a birder, you will understand the excitement that I felt, seeing a new bird, a bird of prey at that, for the first time!


Merlin (February 23, 2014)


Merlin (February 23, 2014)


But on my previous trip (February 23, 2014), light was not very good. A few days later (February 28, 2014), I made another trip, this time, the bird promptly returned to the same perch, this time in beautiful late afternoon sunlight, and posed for me.


Merlin (February 28, 2014)


Merlin (February 28, 2014)


Merlin (February 28, 2014)


Merlin (February 28, 2014)


My next encounter was almost a year later, on February 14, 2015. This time the bird changed perch, but it was magnificent all the same.


Merlin (February 14, 2015)


On December 16, 2015, I saw this bird again, this time returning to its old perch. I've always photographed it near dusk, I think this is when it likes to hunt, and this time it seemed to have a full crop.


Merlin (December 16, 2015)


Merlin (December 16, 2015)


Merlin (December 16, 2015)




Speaking of full crop, the next time I saw this bird, on February 14, 2016 (funny that this was the second Valentine's Day in a row I saw it ...), it definitely had a full, almost bursting, crop. There seems to be plenty of prey (rodents most likely) in the grasslands at Manassas NBP, no wonder it keeps returning.


Merlin (February 14, 2016)


Merlin (February 14, 2016)


Merlin (February 14, 2016)




On October 12, 2016, I again saw the Merlin, but on that day I did not get good pictures of it. A couple of weeks later, on October 26, 2016, I saw it again, this time in the brilliant light of the setting sun.


Merlin (October 26, 2016)


Merlin (October 26, 2016)


Merlin (October 26, 2016)


Merlin (October 26, 2016)


Merlin (October 26, 2016)


On February 5, 2017, I photographed this bird again. Thus, in 4 consecutive calendar years, I have seen and photographed it. Curiously, this time it changed its perch to the trees on the other side of the parking lot; its original perch, a dead tree in the middle of a few evergreen trees (cedar?), is now not much higher than those trees, thus no longer prominent. This time again, it seemed to have a full crop.


Merlin (February 5, 2017)


Merlin (February 5, 2017)




A couple of weeks later, I made another trip and saw and photographed it in the same area. The crop seemed to be full this time too; it must be well fed here.


Merlin (February 18, 2017)


Merlin (February 18, 2017)




It's back (October 26, 2017)!

Another birder notified me that the Merlin was back. I had thought about looking for it, but things got in the way. Finally, on October 26, 2017, I went out to the Chinn Ridge area at Manassas NBP again. As if on cue, the Merlin faithfully perched on a banch in a bare tree, it took me precisely 7 seconds (ok, give or take) to find it. The late afternoon sunlight was wonderful, and I snapped a few succulent pictures.


Merlin (October 26, 2017)


Merlin (October 26, 2017)


Merlin (October 26, 2017)


Merlin (October 26, 2017)



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