Friday 10 October 2014

'Steppe Grey Shrike'

I haven't done any filthy twitching for some time now. I worked through all my breaks today and this afternoon I got out of work a little early making it to Burnham Norton just after 4pm. As I recall the first time I ever did an 'after-work dash' for a rare bird was to the Old Head of Kinsale in Cork in 2006 to see Ireland's only second ever Isabelline Shrike. A fine bird that was and this Shrike was no different.
Depending on which literature you consult 'Steppe Grey Shrike' pallidirostris is either a subspecies of Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor or Southern Grey Shrike Lanius meridionalis. Either-way not a full species, but that doesn't matter. Still a very striking looking bird and it had come from a long way away (as the name suggests from the central Asian steppe of northern Pakistan, north-east Iran, Afghanistan extending as far east as China)....quite a journey!
The bird had been found almost a week ago and early reports and photos suggested that most of the time it was quite distant. So I wasn't expecting any photographs, I even brought my scope being quite happy to just see the bird never mind take any decent photographs. However, much to my surprise, when I arrived at the site it was perched on a fence post only thirty feet away. The assembled crowd of twenty or thirty people were enjoying frame filling scope views and those with long lens were getting decent shots. I whipped my gear out as quick as I could and fired off a few frames hand-held. These weren't great but the bird gave me time to get the tripod and extender set up and I managed a decent enough pic as it sat on what seemed to be its favourite post.

Steppe Grey Shrike - Burnham Norton, Norfolk
This photo shows off some of the distinct plumage characteristics of this race quite nicely. The steel-grey bill, diminished face mask, pale lores and large white primary patch. Of course even before you take all of that in there is the fact that on first impression the bird is a lot more pallid and washed-out looking than Great Grey Shrike and the underparts have a beautiful pinkish-buff hue about them, possibly more in keeping with its desert habitat (??).
The bird's routine was to fly down into the turned up earth and hunt around for grubs and meal-worms. Most times it returned to the same post but on one occasion it brought its prey item to a bramble a little closer and proceeded to do what shrike's do by impaling it on a spike!

Steppe Grey Shrike - Burnham Norton, Norfolk
I presume if its 'lardering' then it has more than enough food. How long it stays around though is anyone's guess. I'm also thinking that it was 'fresh-in' when found last Sunday and has spent the week recovering its fat reserves following what was presumably a very long migration.
The bird posed briefly on the bramble before retreating into a hawthorn bush further along the edge of the flooded ditch. The rain began to fall gently as I packed up and headed back, by the time I reached the car it was a thunderous downfall. Clearly the bird knew this was coming and had retreated to cover for the evening.

Steppe Grey Shrike - Burnham Norton, Norfolk

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