Friday, 27 September 2013

Lightning Shrike - Friday 20th September 2013

Brown Shrike, Hook-with-Warsash, Hampshire - Friday, 20th September 2013

Two-barred Crossbills have become a proper bogey bird for me, but I'm happy to say I'm not bothered. The reason is simple: Brown Shrike!

I've spent a fair few hours at Broomhead reservoir near Sheffield over three or four visits trying for these. I decided the ones at Lynford Arboretum were more reliable (and nearer the Wilson Phalarope I needed at Cley), so headed down to Norfolk on 20th September. I spent a very pleasant six hours watching Common Crossbills, happy to wait off their two-barred cousins to show. Which they didn't. But then the pager said "Possible Brown Shrike, somewhere in Hants, way down south". Brown Shrike, eh? Now that's a bird...

I wasn't going to go for a "possible", especially with all the Red-backed Shrikes around, so I waited anxiously for an hour until Twitter provided the confirmation. It was a first-winter Brown Shrike, a bird at the top of my dip list.

So, it was 2pm and I was already down south in Thetford (I'm a northerner, so even Norfolk is down south) and Hampshire couldn't be too far away, could it?

I arrived at Hook-with-Warsash (where the hell was this place?), and tried to find some on-site directions... LGRE's 2013 year-list challenger John Jennings rocked up next to me, equally clueless. A nice old lady with a dog sorted us out and we were soon
marching towards the coast. The light was fading (it was around 18:30 by I got there), and people were leaving the site (in fact, there were far fewer birders than I'd expected - maybe all the locals had seen the 2010 Surrey bird - see below).

We were directed down to the coastal path, and there five or so birders helped pick out the young Shrike on the fence by the brambles. Phew - the demeanour of the first birders I'd met on site had caused me to worry the trip had been in vain.

You could see why someone would think it was a Red-backed Shrike at first, but those Brown Shrike features we're told to look for were all there. The tail was long and red, the bill deep, the crown a nice rich brown. The deep eye-stripe/mask was a very dark brown. The feathers all had brown edging on the breast - there was no grey on this bird at all. It looked "cuter" than a RBS - a very nice bird indeed.

 Brown Shrike, Hook-with-Warsash, Hampshire - Friday, 20th September 2013

The light was good when I first arrived, and the bird was easy to see, but it soon became dark and difficult to photograph.

 Brown Shrike, Hook-with-Warsash, Hampshire - Friday, 20th September 2013

There is a deep satisfaction when finally seeing a rare bird which you'd wasted many cold and boring hours looking for unsuccessfully in the past. This was very much the case here. I'd dipped the long-staying Brown Shrike at Staines, near Heathrow, in January 2010. I'd not gone for it the previous autumn, but decided to try for it on 2nd January after it had been refound on the 1st. I was travelling down to London to visit friends and took a "quick" detour to add it to my life list. Of course, when I got there it had gone to ground, and six hours of looking didn't turn up anything more than many Stonechats. It was never seen again (and it was some time before I saw my London friends again too, after letting them down). So getting this one - just - was very sweet.

This Hampshire Brown Shrike wasn't seen the following day, despite many people looking. There were a few false alarms and another bird appeared on Shetland; but this one had gone. I sympathise with the birders you dipped the following morning, particularly the long-distance travellers. I've done it myself with this and other species, and I'm sure I'll do it again. It's a crap feeling, but all the better when you finally get the bird.

The irony is I now have Two-barred Crossbill on my "birds-I've-wasted-hours-looking-for" list. Should be sweet when I finally nail that one though... ;-)

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