Posted by: Ross Gardner | September 3, 2013

All good things……

It’s taken thirty-odd years, but I have finally caught up with a bird that all that time ago was not so much a ‘near miss’ as a ‘missed near miss’.  If you will forgive me the indulgence of quoting from by own book (Never a Dull Moment), while singing the high praises of the marvellous Winterton Dunes on the east coast of Norfolk I recalled “still rue[ing] my decision not to walk the dunes one morning with my mum and brother, only to miss a Red-backed Shrike (a bird I am yet to see) atop a gorse bush.”  As the saying goes: ‘all good things come to those who wait’, and I can now say that mine and that bird’s paths have at last come to cross.

It is, alas, yet another bird that has known far better times in the UK.  As an insectivore, cooler, wetter summers are thought to have contributed to its steady decline through much of the 20th century, through a resulting paucity in large insect prey.  Habitat degradation and agricultural intensification has also played a rather too familiar part.  After disappearing as breeding bird around the end of the last century, they have begun to breed again in Southwest England, so maybe things are looking up.

Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio).  Ross Gardner 2013

Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio). Ross Gardner 2013

It was on the marshes of South Essex however, my acquaintance would be made, of a young bird on its autumn passage.  It wasn’t the mature male that I missed in Norfolk all those years ago, but I am not about to get fussy.  Even without grey head and rump, the chestnut brown back and wings and black face-mask, it was still an unexpected treat.  As with other shrikes they are known for their habit of stocking larders by impaling prey items on thorns; the nickname of ‘Butcher Bird’ is well earned.  This bird didn’t display any such behaviour for the small gathering of birders, but was nevertheless a most abiding and active performer.  What it made, if anything, of the mild fuss it had created among its observers and avidly snapping photographers is anyone’s guess.

There is, of course, a great deal of luck involved with wildlife watching, but I am a firm believer in, at times, making our own luck.  And there are those times when what is required is patience…… about three decades worth perhaps!

An abiding subject - the shrike is on the top right of the bush.  Ross Gardner 2013

An abiding subject – the shrike is on the top right of the bush. Ross Gardner 2013

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