Friday, 19 September 2014

Shrikey Mate

Shrikes.... for me they have always been this mythological bird that once called the UK part of their breeding range, but by the time I was birding in the mid to late 90's the had all but vanished as a breeding bird from these shores. How I longed to see one of these birds, species really didn't matter, just one of these so called 'Butcher Birds'. They fascinated me, a songbird by all appearances, that was as predatory as any raptor.

I have recently posted about my ringing exploits and in that piece I alluded to my best ever year list. Residing, I am ecstatic to say, on that list for this year is not one.... but TWO species of Shrike!

The first of the Skrike species I encountered was the Great Grey, Lanius excubitor, on Thursley Common. Due to Shrikes frequenting a certain hillock on Thursley each winter, the area has now become known as Shrike Hill. Working as I did on the A3 corridor I would often stop at Thursley to have my lunch and a quick walk, having signed up to Rare Bird Alert recently and the Shrike featuring almost daily I decided it was high time to see it. I parked up the South end of Thursley and confidently walked onto the common. First mistake! Little did I know Shrike Hill is infact on the other side of the reserve. I scanned feverishly with my bins for around 45 mins and with my lunch break fading I admitted defeat.

Next day I decided to try again. Going to the same(wrong) carpark again and with the renewed enthusiasm and confidence a new day brings I headed onto the common. Strike(not Shrike) two, swing and a miss. Feeling pretty deflated from my first real foray into 'Twitching', I went about my days work but resolved to scour the internet for Shrike Hill, as it had dawned on me that I could be in the wrong place. I found some forums and to my delight detailed instructions on how to get to the right carpark, and further more directions with detailed descriptions on how to locate Shrike hill.

On my way home the next day armed with my new information, scope and bins I headed out again. After finding the hill and finding two more 'twitchers' we started scanning, a friendly lady joined me while the other chap decided his luck lay in the other direction. After nearly an hour of waiting and scanning we were about to give up, was this bird indeed a myth? Then out of no where my eye saw something twitch on a dead tree.... bins up sharp as a flash I had it. I barked 'GOT IT' to the lady with me and in a few seconds I had put her on the bird.

Great Grey Shrike, picture taken from an image library.
It darted right to left in front of us starting at our 3 o clock and settling 4 meters to our 12 o clock on a gorse bush. I put the scope on it even though you could see it with the naked eye and was rewarded with crippling views of this exquisite bird.

Over the moon I floated back to the car, and on home. I had finally found a Shrike in the UK!!!

With my love affair with Shrikes re-kindled I guess it was inevitable that when a Juvinile Red-backed Shrike was reported 8 miles from my house I was going to go for it. The day I did a Daurian Shrike and an Isabelline Shrike had been reported on Shetland(lucky bastards!) I finished work and headed down to try my luck. The reports all said it was showing well in the SE corner of Sandy Point NR Hayling Island. I wandered around the reserve on the beach(the reserve is authorised access only) and made my way to the SE corner. The wind was 25km/h Easterly and not much was showing, I stood and scanned for a while watching the tops of the vegetation for any medium sized brown bird. I watched a couple of Dartford Warblers, Yellow Wagtails, Whinchat, Stonechat and Wheatear and then put my on an odd patch of gorse... There it was, not on top of the gorse but hunkered down out of the wind. Being a juvenile it was no where near as showy as the Adult male birds but a stunning little bird all the same.

Juvenile Red Backed Shrike from image library

Adult Male Red Backed Shrike from image library

Happy as larry I headed off home once more wondering if the Great Grey will return this winter to Thursley and whether next year I will be able to find one of the showy Adult Male Red Backs or maybe even a Woodchat Shrike. Regardless of what or when I find it appears my love affair with Shrikes looks set to continue, and I wouldn't change a thing!!!

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