Breckland Birder

Breckland Birder
Water Rail at Thompson Water, Norfolk Photo by Paul Newport

Monday, 3 November 2014

Great Grey Shrike at Grimes Graves, Norfolk

Breckland contains many sites which could potentially hold a wintering Great Grey Shrike, however, sites like Grimes Graves are traditionally good for this enigmatic species.  Wide open expanses of heathland with lots of scattered bushes, especially Hawthorn, makes up the habitat here, however, views are from the periphery as this is private land.
Having parked alongside one of the many forest trails near the village of Lynford, I walked the forest trails until the heathland opened up in front of me and within seconds I saw a bright white speck on a distant Hawthorn, checking this with the binoculars revealed the Great Grey Shrike.  The bird remained in view for all of my 30 minute stay, however, it always remained distant.

Great Grey Shrike at Grimes Graves 03/11/14
Despite remaining distant, the Shrike was typically conspicuous, this being due to its behaviour of sitting on prominent perches on top of Hawthorns, watching and waiting for potential prey to be sighted.
Occasionally, the Shrike flew between perches or gave chase to passing Finches, in doing so the beautiful mix of black, whites, and greys were seen on this bird.
Although distant, the picture on the left shows the highly distinctive plumage features of this predatory species.  The crown and mantle are a pale grey, this contrasts strongly with the black mask through the eye, black wings, black tail (white sides), and bright white underparts. A white patch on the wings opens into a bright white wing-bar when in flight.  Close views of this bird would show a raptor-like hooked bill, this highly efficient tool is used to tear open its prey.
Great Grey Shrike at Grimes Graves 03/11/14
The picture to the left shows a very typical view of a Great Grey Shrike sitting on the topmost part of a bush and watching its surroundings for potential prey. From such a perch, the Shrike will launch its attack, and indeed, I witnessed this when a Finch of Bunting species was chased to height before the Shrike returned to the same, or nearby perch.
Although distant, this picture shows how easy it is to pick out this species, however, a distant bird may be more difficult to pick out if its was against a bright background.  



Also seen at this locality was a few Mistle Thrushes, one of which was chased by the Shrike, Jay, Carrion Crows, and a single Fieldfare.
The mixture of Pine and Birch habitat in the area held several Goldcrests and a mobile Long-tailed Tit flock which included more Goldcrests.
Shrikes are my favourite group of birds and throughout the coming winter months I will be visiting this stunning bird again.

2 comments:

  1. Nice, convenient posers birds the shrike family....
    we had a couple of visits this year from Red Backed Shrikes...
    that is a couple more than normal...
    first time they've graced the garden, tho' we've seen them in the valley [further along]...
    when they were here, they used the bean frame as a lookout.
    We've seen Woodchat Shrike hereabouts too...
    but none so good as a Leeds RSPB group to the east coast and Druridge Bay...
    whilst en-route one of our more "twitchy" members got paged that there was a Woodchat Shrike at a coastal car park... not far off our route...
    so at a rest stop he and the driver had a conflab and we ended up doing a bit of "twitching" ...
    by 70 seater coach!!
    There were a number of "professional twitchers" there...
    recognisable by the ultra-long-sleeved white coats they were wearing...
    on seeing the coach arrive they and their carers all left...
    telling us that it wasn't showing as they went...
    yes, it wasn't...
    well, not in the direction that they were all busy looking...
    into thick vegetation... low down...
    it was showing beautifully...
    right by the car park [as paged]...
    on a telephone wire...
    it was about nine foot above their heads as they were standing when we arrived...
    we spent about twenty minutes watching it catching assorted large insects and scoffing them back on the wire...
    it wasn't perturbed by our presence at all.
    We then continued on towards Druridge Bay and some coast watching.
    Thought that tale might amuse you...

    I've still to get a good look at a Grey!!

    I think you ought to use that wonderful Wagtail pic as your header!!
    It is a real corker of a shot!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Tim
      Yes Tim, I loved this story, very amusing.
      You lucky man, Red-backed shrikes in your garden...I would be glued to them for the whole day. I just love the Shrike family, all exquisite, smart birds.
      Sadly, Red-backed Shrikes as you know are now scarce migrants to the UK, and yet 40 to 50 years ago they were a common breeder. We have had our gains such as Little Egret, Cetti's Warblers, welcome increases in Buzzards and Red Kites, but one bird I yearn to see as a regular breeding bird again in the UK is the Red-backed Shrike. I believe these birds breed in Scotland (possibly overshoots from Norwegion population), and a pair on Dartmoor. I really hope the fortunes of Red-backed Shrikes improve in years to come.
      Great Grey Shrikes are stunning birds, and as I wrote in the post, these birds inhabit areas I love to frequent...bleak, open country, where they sit surveying their surrounds. I love to share the countryside with this efficient hunter.
      Tim, once again, thanks for following the blog and for your comments also.
      Chat soon.
      Paul

      Delete