Shrike v Galoot

Getting good views of the Turkestan Shrike at Bempton Cliffs was harder than I expected this morning, but it was great fun trying.

The bird was visible at long range at 8am, but I had to grease a farmer’s palm with silver to get access with other birders to the yard at Wandale Farm (it all commendably went to charidee folks), where I enjoyed great views of it perched up, albeit briefly before it whizzed off to roam the hedgerows and fields behind Bempton Cliffs.

The shrike was very restless this morning, and although the bird perched on overhead wires, bushes and bare branches, it rarely paused in view for long periods of time – a contrast to the point-blank show it delivered yesterday morning.

It took nearly four hours before the shrike came reasonably close to me more by accident than design, in between snatching bees from the air and getting hassle from Reed Bunts, Yellow Wags and Mipits.

Although a beautiful bird, that was clearly getting in touch with its inner summer plumage Greater Sandplover, its bright white supercilium was not always obvious, which was a surprise – I put that down to heat haze, distance and hard summer light…. wibbly wobbly video clips of the shrike on YouTube here and here.

Apologies as ever.

Lovely red tail and big black mask, pale undercrackers, grey brown back, white wing flash and rufous crown and nape.

Any shrike is always good though… but as good as Bempton’s most famous seafarer?

After four hours of shrike, I walked down to Staple Newk, where almost an hour later the big lad flew in to circle below the cliffs exactly as it had done so many times last year – there are few birds that make the heart leap like a Black Browed Albatross, especially as this was my first encounter of the year.

The gasps of delight from a crowded platform were constant whenever it wheeled by. Marvellous.

Did the shrike make me smile as widely as the big galoot soaring through clouds of Gannets, Puffins and Kittiwakes?

It did not.

A great bird, but not in the same league for me… I eagerly look forward to more 2022 albatross encounters.

Lost in a haze

After a quick check at Marshside (young Avocets and LRPs, Blackwits on the lagoon etc) I headed to Martin Mere as the hard June sun began to melt the horizon.

A change is as good as a rest as they say, and the mere wasn’t particularly busy, so it was the perfect opportunity to watch the Marsh Harriers from the Ron Barker hide.

The well-marked male was busy hunting and occasionally bringing in food to a fledged youngster hidden in the reeds and it often passed close to the hide in the wibbly-wobbly heat shimmer.

After a time the larger female type came in with prey items which she dropped to the youngster.

Common Terns wafted through as the Marsh Harriers quartered the reserve.

Summer slow.

Another female Marsh Harrier drifted over the Tarleton by-pass.

Arable, with Magpie hassle

Wasn’t expecting too much, and I wasn’t disappointed, during an evening spin around the mosses.

Magpies were giving one of the local Little Owls serious hassle as it tried to hunt for food running along a track.

It’s tough work feeding two young when the ground is baked hard by the long drought and worms became even more difficult to come by as the three Magpies swooped and mobbed the owl.

Not surprisingly the owl gave up hunting and perched on a nearby gutter, scowling until the Magpies had cleared off.

Corn Buntings were delivering their greatest hit (YouTube snippet here), and Yellowhammers were singing too, although a bit subdued as grey skies sapped their solar charge.

Distant, but interesting…

Many thanks to dedicated and expert wader counter Peter Knight, for sending me these images taken on the shore between Ainsdale and Birkdale over the tide yesterday.

Peter’s images highlight the frustration of heat shimmer and range that is frequently a factor along the shore, but as he says the blurry images he managed to get do point towards American Golden Plover…

Peter explains: “At the Birkdale roost today was an odd-looking Golden Plover with the 2CY Grey Plovers. Unfortunately it was some way off and heat shimmer had started.

“Looked small and sleek and the back was strikingly dark with very prominent white on head and sides of neck.

“Attached are some snips from a record digiscoped video. It looks like a breeding plumage AGP to me, but is it just a ‘regular’ Golden Plover?”

Any thoughts folks???

Catching Flys

What with lockdowns and everything, it’s been a few years since I last got up to Moor Piece. I put that right today.

Certainly fewer trees in some parts this morning (the result of winter storms or the tree-killing fungus Phytophthera ramorum which has hit the site?), but as peaceful woodlands go, Moor Piece in Lancashire’s far east, still takes some beating.

Renowned for its Pied Flycatchers, this Lancs Wildlife Trust reserve also held Spotted Flycatcher, and a good selection of commoner woodland birds too today, although it took a little while before at least two male Pied Flycatchers tuned up with their sweet “squeaky wheel” song.

YouTube snippet here. Sorry.

Five or six birds as I strolled around, but there were probably more.

One pair sat for a time on their territory allowing me to try to get some pictures of them in the gloom from the road, while Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were singing away.

Quite lost track of time as I walked the road through the trees and out the other side, where a Red Kite skimmed over the canopy and Curlew called away on open fields.

With the sun bursting through I took the long circuitous way home through the Trough of Bowland, which wasn’t that busy, surprising on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

A young Dipper was just downstream of Langden Beck – a treat as I don’t know about you, but I don’t see this plumage that often.

Footage of the tubby snorkeller on YouTube here.

Further down the Trough Grey Wagtails singing from Larches (as you do), Redpoll, Siskin and more Pied Flys.

Common Sandpiper, seven more calling Curlews, although I couldn’t find any Redstarts which was annoying – perhaps it was too windy, as the SE’ly was really funnelling through the Trough by this time…

And for those who would ask me “Wasn’t this excursion into the eastern woods just an exercise in bunting dodging?”, I fear I would have to answer with another question:

“Do Pied Flycatchers sing in the woods?”