The Story Behind the Image 2 – Merlin At the Beach

One fall morning I was at one of my favorite locations for bird photography, following my usual route when I am at that place.  The path I choose to take there is always the same: first walking slowly along the shorelines of the beaches, scanning and hoping for shorebirds – autumn is prime-time shorebird migration and photography around here – before heading out to the forests/marsh side trails.  When done walking the first part of the beach I get to a “point”, which leads to a second beach around it.

That morning seemed rather quiet, not a single bird seen or heard during that first “leg” of the beach.  No worries, there is still a second beach to scout, one that I cannot see its shoreline from where I standing.  I slowly make my way around the bend, and from the corner of my eye I see a larger-than-usual shape standing on a pile of washed-ashore vegetation mere feet from the waterline.  I turn ever so slowly squarely to that shape…my heart just about stopped when I realized I had come face-to-face with Merlin not 30 feet away!  The best part, it did not fly away.

Right away the birder cap came off (well, not totally off) and the bird photographer cap came on (yes, totally on!).  First move: Exposure test by taking an image, checking the histogram and blinkies, fine tune.  Second move: Determine the best angle to give me the best background possible as even seemingly clean spots can be messy, plus there is a rock wall coming out from behind where the Merlin is that is surely a distraction in the frame if I stay put.  It is sunny out, but luckily the sun is behind me so that is good from the get-go.  I determine that I need to move about 10 feet to my left for the best spot.  Third move:  Getting low.  I love eye-to-eye perspectives, and to achieve that with a bird on the ground is to lie down on the ground.  So down I go.  Now for the slow sideways “crab crawl” to get to that spot on my left.  Fingers figuratively crossed I make my way successfully…and the Merlin did not even flinch, let alone glance my way.  To note:  had I tried to manoeuvre standing up, the subject more than likely would have flown away.  Pointing my lens to the falcon I then notice it had just had breakfast – likely another bird – as it has a bit of blood still present on the bill.

Just as I get into place the unthinkable happens:  the Merlin proceeds to WALK INTO the shallow waters!  At first one foot, as if to test the water temperature, and then both feet squarely in.  It then walks yet another 6 feet well into the water, now waist-deep into it.  The camera is clicking feverishly, but only when the head is at a good angle towards me.  Luckily the bird’s body is in a good position relative to me, at first angling towards me and then parallel to me…I would have cried had it faced away!

The next 30 minutes (yes, 30 minutes!) were absolute nature photography bliss.  My heart pounding hard, my camera’s shutter pounding fast, and the Merlin’s wings and face pounding the water furiously.  What joy I had, and so did the Merlin it seems.  After the bath it flew up to the aforementioned “distracting” rock wall to dry and preen (albeit its back towards me so it was just awesome simply observing it).  A moment I will never forget, and one that I can gladly share in photos.

Here is my favorite from the event, and my featured image for this edition of “The Story Behind the Image”.  Click on the image for a larger, more detailed version:

MerlinMerlin, male, Canon 7D + 100-400L @400mm, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/1250s., f/7.1, ISO 400.

As an added bonus, here is the Merlin enjoying the waters of the Ottawa River, taken 22 minutes after the image above:

tn_Merlin_0062-1Merlin, male, Canon 7D + 100-400L @400mm, manual exposure, evaluative metering, 1/1250s., f/7.1, ISO 400.


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  1. Richard March 22, 2016 at 8:26 pm #

    Great moment. Its funny how excited we get when we get these kind of opportunities. Great story and shots

    • Daniel Cadieux March 22, 2016 at 8:58 pm #

      So true! Sometimes in moments like these my heart pounds hard enough that I can see the image “bounce” in the viewfinder. I’m glad you liked the images and story 🙂

  2. Ross Taylor March 22, 2016 at 9:47 pm #

    Daniel: I am quite enjoying each of your blog posts. I love your writing style, and the topics thus-far. Great job!

  3. John Rowell March 23, 2016 at 8:54 am #

    So many times, the story can be as important as the photo. Your writing really compliments the images, and vice versa. I really enjoy your passion for photography. This is a classic story of how you can’t get the picture if you’re not out in the field. Beautiful job.

    • Daniel Cadieux March 23, 2016 at 12:20 pm #

      Hi John, thank you very much for the comment. I am glad you liked the post.

  4. Diane Miller March 25, 2016 at 12:56 pm #

    Daniel, I just saw the link to your blog — thank you for sharing, instructing and inspiring!! Your photography is awesome!

    • Daniel Cadieux March 25, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

      Diane, thank you very much! I am glad you stopped by and enjoyed the post 🙂

  5. Cathy March 30, 2016 at 6:11 pm #

    Hi Daniel, wonderful story and pics! Beautiful description of the excitement of the moment!

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