Thursday 5 June 2014

The RED-BACKED SHRIKE in Warwickshire

Red-backed Shrike (adult male)
Ladywalk NR, Warwickshire.
Photo by Dave Hutton

At lunchtime this afternoon a stunning adult male Red-backed Shrike was discovered at Ladywalk Nature Reserve, just a short distance from where I live. It was a nervous wait until I could get myself on site and just as I did this huge County rarity did the inevitable, it flew off. It was thought to have crossed the River Tame and head towards the edge of Whitacre Heath Nature Reserve where there was plenty of suitable habitat for a hungry shrike to disappear into. Luckily though, it was picked up once again as it perched in a distant hawthorn. Satisfactory scope views were enjoyed until it was mobbed by a pair of Reed Bunting and off it flew once again.

A few lucky Warwickshire birders celebrate a new 'County tick'!
Photo by Adam Archer

After a period of disappearance I wondered whether it could have returned to its original site around the decaying tree stumps in front of Bittern Hide. It was certainly worth a try. No sooner had I sat down in the hide and lifted the flap than there it was, one of the most handsome birds you could wish to see in Britain. I quickly called Steve Cawthary with the positive news and soon enough more eager Warwickshire birders had crammed into the hide and added this much sought after species to their County list.

Red-backed Shrike (adult male) - Ladywalk NR, Warwickshire.
Photo by Dave Hutton

Remarkably this is the first twitchable Red-backed Shrike in Warwickshire in modern times. Another male was spotted at Bermuda way back on the 10th August 1983 whilst there have been two, brief single-observer records in North Warwickshire in recent years. A first-winter bird was reported from Birchmoor on the 6th November 2003, followed by a juvenile at Alvecote Pools on the evening of the 12th September 2005. Coincidently both of these recent sightings were by the very same observer.

Red-backed Shrike (adult male)
Ladywalk NR, Warwickshire
Photo by Adam Archer

It is amazing to think that just over a century ago this species was far from uncommon in the County. In 1903 one gentleman counted no less than a dozen birds along just twelve kilometres of roads around Stratford-upon-Avon. The last confirmed breeding pair in Warwickshire was at Lillington in 1960.

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