Monday, 25 August 2014

Red-backed Shrike and Passenger Pigeons

Our marshes have been pretty quiet lately with no new birds for Patchwork Challenge for several weeks but a Goldcrest in a flock of half a dozen Chiffchaffs broke Augusts duck at last. Two Lesser Whitethroats yesterday and a couple of Whitethroats in the garden before today's rain suggested some warbler movement too but that's been about it for migrants.
The nearby Hobbies added to the local raptor success story with at least two very vocal youngsters fledging on Friday. Bizarrely, one flew past the house calling loudly after dark last night.
Yesterday, my husband and I braved the holiday traffic around Great Yarmouth and drove up the coast to Winterton after the showy male Red-backed Shrike that has over-summered there. I've visited Winterton many times but never got as far as the landmark concrete blocks so this was a first for me. I also hadn't realised quite how far they were from the car-park but the long walk was well worth it with the shrike performing beautifully.

It was hunting very actively and successfully, catching insects almost every time it sallied from its perches on various bramble patches. Flies, bees and butterflies were swallowed whole, and it only paused to remove the wings and legs from a darter before swallowing its body in one gulp too. The shrike was the perfect subject for my husband to try out his new digiscoping adaptor, one of the results of which is above.
Following reports of a Barred Warbler at Eccles we headed further in to deepest East Norfolk along narrow single track lanes to where a long ribbon of residential caravans and ramshackle wooden chalets nestled in the lee of the coastal dunes. Just a few birders were stationed by an enormous wide dense bramble patch. There had been no definite sign of the Barred Warbler since its initial sighting and we were not to be lucky but the brambles were a haven for several Lesser Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Common Whitethroat and a Garden Warbler.
Today's heavy rain made the prospect of birding unappealing so instead I spent my afternoon at the Wonder Of Birds exhibition at Norwich Museum. I'm in the middle of reading Mark Avery's new book "A Message from Martha" about the extinction of the Passenger Pigeon, and one of the first exhibits my eyes fell on was a stuffed Passenger Pigeon. Its colours were inevitably faded only hinting at the rich purple and red of its plumage in life which with its long pointed tail must have made it a beautiful looking bird. The sheer size of the now disappeared flocks described in the book are hard (if not impossible) to comprehend but we have surely lost one of the greatest wildlife spectacles of recent history. The Red-backed Shrike is a bird that became extinct as a British breeding bird in my birding lifetime but at least we can still enjoy it as a passage migrant and it has recently returned as an occasional breeder. Maybe it will one day return full time.

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