Saturday 5 January 2013

Great Grey Shrike in Staffordshire

It is always nice to start the year off with a trip to Cannock Chase for a wintering Great Grey Shrike. In days gone by it often involved a long, hard slog around the Sherbrook Valley or maybe a chance encounter around the Shooting Butts. If you were lucky you would catch a brief glimpse of the enigmatic 'butcher bird' before it was flushed by an elderly dog-walker or bit of hot totty on horseback. If you were unlucky you would draw a complete blank and head back to the car just before hypothermia set in.

Nadia and Dave out Shrike hunting!
Upper Longdon, Staffordshire

This returning bird is quite different though. Despite it being highly mobile in search of food,  it is almost always faithful to a small area of clear fell just off the main road outside Upper Longdon village. If you have a bit of patience and avoid the temptation to chase it around, it often rewards you with some superb views. Patience and tenacity were not required today however as within seconds of leaving the car we were watching it as it surveyed its territory atop a tall tree trunk.

Great Grey Shrike - Upper Longdon, Staffordshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

As we all know, the weather in England so far this winter has been extremely mild.  This fact was proven when the shrike swooped to the ground and snatched a Common Lizard, no doubt easy pickings as it emerged disorientated to bask in the warm sunshine. This is by far the earliest I have witnessed this reptile out and about on the Chase. They do not usual wake up from their hibernation until March!  We were then joined by Dave Hutton and Steve Richards as the bird performed well perched in full and occasionally hovering like a Kestrel about six feet above the forest floor.

Great Grey Shrike - Upper Longdon, Staffordshire
Photo by Dave Hutton

I then received a text from Kay Donaghy to say she was currently watching a Glaucous Gull roosting on the roof of an industrial unit just outside Cannock. If we could connect with the bird now it would save us having to endure the roost at Chasewater later in the day. As an added bonus I would also be home in time to watch Manchester United against West Ham in the third round of the FA Cup. By the time we arrived at Kingswood, site Kay and the Glaucous Gull had both departed but after another scan Steve managed to find an adult Iceland Gull as a consolation prize.  After another sift through the congregation I produced an impressive looking adult Caspian Gull

The gulls were very mobile as they commuted between the tip but after a bit of perseverance we eventually picked out the distinctive form of an immature 'white-winger' in flight. Based upon the bulk of the bird and the plumage, it was the second winter Glaucous Gull. As an additional bonus a couple of new 'year birds' were also spotted. Firstly a pair of Goosander were present on a tiny pool north of the main road and secondly a couple of Skylark frolicked over a scrap of grassland nearby.

After a quick bite to eat we then made our way towards Rushall for more Laridae appreciation at Stubbers Green. Unfortunately we just missed out on another adult Caspian Gull but we did connect with a nice second winter Yellow-legged Gull amongst the Lesser Black-backed Gulls and Herring Gulls . As with Kingswood, I again picked up a few extra year ticks in the form of 2 Grey Heron and 6 Lapwing. Who would have thought a few short years ago that I would see a Little Egret in the West Midlands before I had even added Grey Heron to my year list?

Anyway, all thoughts of silly year ticks suddenly disappeared as I received news from Tom Perrins that a new addition to my Warwickshire list had been found near Kingsbury Water Park!  

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