Saturday, 5 January 2008

Shrike One!

Budby Common

Another successful local rarity tracked down today. Budby Common, an area of sandy heathland immediately north of Sherwood Forest Country Park NNR, has been a traditional site for Great Grey Shrike for years now. This winter has been no different, with at least one being reported since early December. It can go up to a week without apparently being seen, but you can generally be sure there's a shrike out there.

A short walk from Budby village brought us to the heath and almost immediately the GGS showed up, pearching atop a scattering of several small trees. It had obviously read the ID literature because this bird showed textbook behaviour, standing on guard on the highest, most exposed branches and even hovering before swooping down on prey hidden deep in the heather. It was just a completely different story to the aloof Shrike we saw only very at Ogston Reservoir last winter. Perhaps the close proximity of the road at the Derbyshire site influenced the very shy behaviour of that bird.

Back to Budby, and there's a two bird theory among some of the locals, although I'm not so sure myself. We watched our shrike for about an hour and saw it wander quite widely between the two areas it has most commonly been sighted. This movements makes sense as their winter territories can reach 50 ha, and that's pretty damn big.

Here's another murky digi-video-scope for the birdtrail record. Hey it was windy all right? And it's the middle of winter out there!

For a better video try this delightful YouTube offering of a Great Grey Shrike in Israel dispatching a mouse. These birds are hardly the size of a Song Thrush, but ferocious enough to deal with all kinds of prey, birds up to the size of Fieldfare and mammals as large as Stoats! Just a real marauder of bird species, making the black highwayman's mask very fitting plumage.

In Britain the Great Grey Shrike is strictly a winter and passage visitor, most of ours probably coming from Scandinavia or possibly Russia. Perhaps 50 or so are present in the UK each year, with a tendency to turn up practically anywhere there is suitable habitat - including but not exclusive to heathland, peat bogs, the edges of pine woodland, and coastal dunes. Basically wherever they are, it's a top notch species, always special.

Elsewhere on the common were Jay, Green Woodpecker, Meadow Pipit, Kestrel and in adjoining farmland a Skylark warbled and a Buzzard cried as it sailed into woodland. A birder who walked from the Sherwood direction noted a pair of Stonechat.
Otherwise, Budby Common is best in spring/summer, as during a July afternoon you have better than not chances of see Nightjar, Cuckoo, Woodcock, Woodlark and Tree Pipit (blog entry from last year). If you can give it a day, you could scarcely find a more rewarding site in the whole of the East Midlands, and they have ice cream at Sherwood Country Park visitor centre!

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