Monday, 12 October 2009

Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus) - Staines Moor, Surrey. 12/10/09

1st Winter Brown Shrike

I decided to go to Staines Moor today and try and digiscope the reported Red-backed Shrike that was found on Sunday, I had seen Red-backed Shrike here back in September 2005 and hoped that this bird would show equally as well and perhaps give me a good opportunity to get some better photos than I did back in 2005.

Arriving at Staines Moor I parked up at the bottom of Moor Lane and proceeded on foot through the metal gate and along the bridleway crossing through the fields with cattle in and out on to Staines Moor. As I walked through the hedge and out on to the moor I disturbed a feeding Green Woodpecker which soon took flight and headed off to a nearby bush

I headed Northwards and In the distance could make out a small group of birders scanning the bushes and thickets at the north end of the moor, with haste I made my way towards them and what I thought would be the Red-backed Shrike. A small flock of Meadow Pipit passed over and a male and female Stonechat were sat in the tops of the thickets.

I approached the group of birders I had seen in the distance and asked if the Shrike was still about, they told me it was still about but had disappeared and couldn't be re-located, pointing out where it had been. I noticed Chris Heard busy on his phone and when I was informed the amazing news that it had been re-identified as a Brown Shrike (Lanius cristatus) and not a Red-backed Shrike as first thought and I soon realised they weren't mucking about. Wow, what a shock that was I can tell you but it wasn't going to be any good if I didn't get to see it!

The Brown Shrike had disappeared from view and after 20 minutes of scanning the thickets from the same spot we separated to see if we could re-locate it, apart from a very inquisitive pony/horse there wasn't much to be seen except for passing Meadow Pipits overhead. We checked from a few different locations without closing in on the last sighting area so not to flush the bird without any luck, the birders I had met on arrival said their goodbyes and headed off leaving myself, Chris Heard and two other birders to search for the Shrike. We started to wander back to where it had been watched from earlier and noticed a birder pointing across the moor, we hastily made our way towards him with the leaving birders now following us and hot on our heals.

The Shrike was perched in the top of one of the many thickets on the moor and beautifully highlighted by the sun giving good views of the warm rufous tones to it's head, nape, mantle and down it's tail, the obvious dark mask stood out extremely well and it seemed to have a longer and heavier bill. It sat quietly for sometime giving good views before it started feeding around the ditches and bushes often returning to the same bush and more than often in full view, it carried on feeding around the ditches returning to perch in the thickets but would be lost to sight every so often. Whilst watching the Shrike It was extremely insightful listening to Chris describe the characteristics of this extremely MEGA rare inland bird mainly basing his re-identification on a number of key points -The much shorter primary projection than that of Red-backed Shrike with 5 primary tips visible rather than the usual 6 or 7 for Isabelline and the usual 8 for Red-backed, these features as well as the graduated round tail shape enabled him to re-identify it as a 1st Winter Brown Shrike.

It disappeared in to the middle of a thicket and whilst waiting for the Shrike to reappear we spotted an extremely high flying Snipe that passed over and a Sparrowhawk which drifted over our heads in a lazy pursuit of a flock of Meadow Pipits.

As the afternoon drew on more and more birders arrived excited at the chance of seeing the Brown Shrike, the bird had become a little more elusive at this point and was often hiding in the middle of the thickets and later moved to the perimeter hedgerow where it sat in full view but at distance. At this point I decided to make my way back to the car and headed off across the moor with Chris Heard knowing that I had the rush hour traffic to contend with, but let's face it who cares when you've seen such an amazing bird!

The Brown Shrike is an extremely rare visitor to our shores with only 7 accepted records for the UK to date, the Staines Moor bird will be the 8th and the only inland bird recorded, all of the others being on coastal areas or Islands-Shetland, Scilly, East Yorkshire, Outer Hebrides and County Kerry in Ireland. It breeds in East Asia and Winters in India where it favours forest edges, jungle scrub and grassy hillsides with scattered bushes and trees. It is also believed that the Brown Shrike is perhaps more crepuscular than other Shrikes.

To read a full detailed article on the Staines Moor Brown shrike visit Lee Evans UK400RareBirdAlert -

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