I stopped in this Pickaway Plains prairie last Friday after work, stopping along the way to pick up a fellow raptor enthusiast, Deb Bradley, who doesn't live too far from the site. Our primary mission: Short-eared Owls. It seems to be shaping up to be a decent flight of these floppy-flying grassland hooters, so I wanted to check this locale for them. We weren't disappointed; at least four short-ears emerged from the tall Indian Grass at dusk, and began hunting. There were also about five Northern Harriers working the grasslands.
This is a spectacular site. Located along the Scioto River (seen on the far left of the photo), this land is smack in the middle of the former Pickaway Plains prairie, a long linear swath of prairie that roughly followed Rte. 23 from present-day Circleville and extended perhaps seven miles to the south. About six years ago, one of the landowners put over 1,000 acres into the Conservation Reserve Program, and the land is now an ocean of prairie grasses. Birds have responded accordingly, and now the "Charlie's Pond" prairie is a fabulous birding locale.
I admire the Merlin's sheer insolence. They think very little of our species, and it shows. Had I not been as near as I was, with a long 500 mm lens bristling out the open car window, the bird probably would have paid me no mind. In general, we are not worthy in the world of the Merlin. One time, a bunch of us were at Green Lawn Cemetery, admiring a big female Merlin perched high atop a dead Sycamore snag. A woman, who had never before seen one of these falcons, finally burst out in semi-exasperation, "why won't it even look at us!". I had to break the news that, to the bird, she was a lesser species, not suitable for food or any other purpose, and therefore was not worthy of the bird's attention.
An even better Merlin hunting story was published in an ornithological journal and described Merlins that flew in tandem with a speeding locomotive, up near the front of the train. When the train kicked up birds as it sped along, the Merlins were there to grab them.