Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Migrants and Masked Shrike

This last week started very slowly but steadily built to a stunning climax. Despite birds starting to arrive in East Anglia, Monday and Tuesday were a dead loss as work kept me from any birding at all. Free time arrived on Wednesday afternoon, so thinking there had to be something to find, I tried Corton a few miles away on the coast, a known migrant hot-spot. Sadly, it was decidedly cold, bird and weather-wise with a chill, grey murk hanging over land and sea. Migrants were distinctly thin on the ground, the only highlight being a flyover calling Tree Pipit.
Come Thursday, birds were pouring in to the north coast of the county but my few free hours were assigned to sorting out some sheep with the help of my husband. A flock of 6 Buzzards circling low over our wood, mewing loudly provided a welcome diversion as did a couple of Hobbies, an adult followed by a begging youngster. Having driven the ewe flock back out on to the marsh, there was at least time for a quick spin round. Walking along a reed-fringed dyke, a chat popped up in front of us. Stonechat said my husband Chris, as I called Whinchat. It turned out the 4 bird theory was in play and we were both right, with 2 Whinchats and 2 Stonechats flicking  across the top of the reeds heading rapidly eastwards. It was hard to keep up with them but they eventually settled distantly using a dense reed margin and electricity wires as vantage points. Stonechats regularly winter on the marshes, but Whinchats are scarce visitors here so its always a pleasure to see one.
I was working Saturday morning so news of a Masked Shrike at Spurn had to be temporarily ignored but after lunch we drove north to join the "crowds" at Burnham Overy. We had missed the peak of the flood of migrants that had passed through here and the crowds of birders were actually quite small by the time we arrived at 2.30pm. Arriving at the bushes at the end of the boardwalk, we quickly caught up with 2 Red-breasted Flycatchers, and then walked east in to the dunes looking to see what else we could find. There were virtually no other birders here. Chris quickly located a third Red-breasted Flycatcher which obliging flew and promptly landed in full view in a bare bush right in front of me. We managed to find a few Garden Warblers, Redstart and Wheatears and were about to head westwards again when we noticed a solitary birder staring intently into a single bush with his camera poised. Chris remarked that he had been there for at least 20 minutes so we wandered nonchalantly over to investigate. It turned out the birder had been watching this particular bush for an hour and a half trying to get decent views of a Barred Warbler which was lurking within, apparently feeding on fallen berries on the ground. As we were about to join him in his vigil a large greyish warbler with whitish outer tail rocketed out of the bush in to a much denser and larger clump. Our quest for the Barred Warbler had seemingly suddenly got a lot harder. I took up station on one side, where there was a gap through to the middle of the clump, Chris on the other. Within minutes I spotted movement and the Barred Warbler skulked through the back of the gap but was out of view by the time Chris got round to me. He returned to his spot, I stayed at mine and again the Barred Warbler appeared and again Chris missed it. When this happened for a third time, this time with the Barred Warbler in full, glorious view, we swapped sides. Ironically, I had a brief glimpse on my (new) side but Chris quickly got decent views before the Barred warbler flipped out of the clump.
Sunday saw us getting up early and heading north again but this time on the long tedious drive up the A17 to Spurn. The Masked Shrike was in view distantly from the Well Field car park as we arrived, making me appreciate again the benefits of a zoom on a decent scope. It was clear there were many other migrants in the area and walking down the road to the sea wall we spent some time scanning a hedgerow. Birds just kept popping out one after the other including another RBF, Pied and Spotted Flycatchers, Redstart, Garden Warblers, Common and Lesser Whitethroats and Tree Sparrows.
Returning down the road we discovered a viewing area for the Shrike had been opened up. From here we had phenomenal close views as the Shrike worked its way up and back down the hedgerow towards us, a delightful bird, its long black white-edged tail recalling an overgrown Long-tailed Tit. I was able to try out my new phone-scoping adaptor with pleasing results.

I would have liked to spend longer in the area but having abandoned our children at home (although of an age to be legally abandoned) we left in the early afternoon to get home at a reasonable time. It was still a very satisfying half days birding and an excellent end to the week.

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