May 28th   Leave a comment

Male Red-backed Shrike

There is a red-backed shrike out at Fife Ness. It was reported in the morning from Fife Ness Muir, but I didn’t hear about it until late afternoon. I cycled down to Fife Ness straight away, with the strong westerly making it a very quick trip (not so quick going back but then it didn’t matter). There was a note up at the ringing station at Fife Ness that the shrike was seen early in the morning but had moved on. I had a quick look around the patch anyway. A lovely evening, with whitethroats and sedge warblers singing, but no sign of the shrike. I then started working my way back to Crail slowly checking all the likely sheltered spots on the way. With the strong wind any insect feeding migrant like a shrike will have gone to the first sunny and shrubby patch out of the wind. Kilminning seemed an obvious place and I got lucky straight away at the entrance. There it was perched on top of a small hawthorn bush about 20 meters away. It looked fantastic: in immaculate spring plumage shining in the early evening sunlight. I stared at it in that brief moment of disbelief that you get when you first find a rarity and it stared at me, probably also in disbelief as I popped up by its bush. It then promptly dived into the middle of the hawthorn bush. I wandered round for another ten minutes before relocating it, more or less in the same place, but low down, and inconspicuous in the hawthorn. A lot of the migrant red-backed shrikes I have seen seem to do this. They forage within bushes often like big warblers rather than perching out in the open pouncing on large insects as they do in their usual range on the continent or when wintering in Africa. I guess we don’t have the big insects here and their best chance is caterpillars or moths that will be hiding in the bushes. I watched it perched for another ten minutes before returning to Crail. The best bird of the year so far, and I almost found it myself.

I saw my first red-backed shrike about 30 years ago in Norfolk. My first, but actually the last regular breeding pair in the UK, and the last summer they bred at the site. 100 years ago red-backed shrikes were a common summer migrant breeding in most parts of the UK. But they have been extinct as a regular breeding species here since the 1980s. Another one of our disappearing migrants.

Posted May 28, 2011 by wildcrail in Sightings

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