Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Masked Shrike, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Monday 29th September 2014

Britain's 3rd Masked Shrike was found at Kilnsea, East Yorkshire on Saturday 20th September. A lovely first-winter bird, showing well in the Triangle, in the rarity-rich Spurn area, with parking quickly arranged for desperate twitchers like me. Perfect! Wonderful news! For the finders, at least, and anyone else able to go and see it.

 Masked Shrike, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Monday 29th September

I, meanwhile, was on Shetland, and not in a position to leave. I'm not complaining - I was having a great time. The Shrike was unlikely to stay until I got back (on the 27th September) and beyond my son's 6th birthday (28th September), so I was left with a resigned feeling and just applied myself to finding more Yellow-browed Warblers.

The week rolled on and I paid no attention to the news from Yorkshire, but more and more birders on the islands started to think (and talk about) the unthinkable: it might still be there when we get back! It was still there the day I flew home, and the throughout my son's birthday, with all its musical chairs, cakey fingers, and LEGO building.

And so on Monday 29th I set out to get to Kilnsea for dawn, on a pre-work twitch. It was foggy when I got arrived, but not foggy enough for me to see I was the only birder longing for the Shrike. I'd really expected at least a few people to be around. It was only the 3rd for Britain after all!

The bird had last been seen in the hedges off Beacon Lane, and I gave the area a good going over, but found nothing. I spotted another birder further up Beacon Lane. He'd been looking in the same are he'd seen it last night, but had drawn a blank too. Umm, not good.

He went off to look around Rose Cottage, where the bird had been earlier the previous week, taking my phone number with him, in case. I stuck around Beacon Lane, methodically scanning all the hedges.

Then, a pale shape dropped down from a distant hawthorn half-lost in the fog. Lots of white in the wing. Too small and grey to be a Magpie... Eventually it flew up to a low branch - it was still here!

 Masked Shrike, Kilnsea, East Yorkshire - Monday 29th September

It was small and compact, and looked very grey even at distance. The white scapular and wing patches were quite striking, especially in flight. I could pick up much more detail through the scope: the lovely orangey-buff flanks, the long tail, the small shrike-bill, the vermiculated grey of the head and mantle, and the large black eye. A beauty.

Eventually it moved to the other side of the edge and started to come closer, but before I could get some decent shots the bird was flushed by a recycling wagon coming to the caravan site. I couldn't stick around, but I did manage to get five other birders on to it before I left and rang it through to the news services as soon as I had a signal.

I don't normally arrive into work after being away for nearly two weeks in the happiest mood, but I was happy that morning.

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