Saturday, 24 September 2016

A night out in Plymouth

The 400th species of bird I saw in Britain was Lesser Grey Shrike, one of which spent some time around Middlebere in Dorset in 2008, not long after I moved here, but long before I had a decent camera. Reports of another of this species in neighbouring Devon saw me head down after work on Friday night in the hope of improving on my digiscoped efforts from eight years ago.
There had been no news on the bird after 1230 on Friday so I wasn't sure it would still be there, but talking to several birders who were on site when I arrived, it emerged that it had been seen shortly before, and I caught up with it shortly after. I had left it a bit late though, and despite enjoying a close but obscured view as it sat in an Elder, and extended views of it feeding distantly before it went to roost at about 1840, the hope of a decent photograph remained unfulfilled. I put the news out, and, feeling a little disappointed, and none too keen on the idea of a long drive, phoned home and was granted permission to stay over in Plymouth so I could have another look for the Shrike in the morning. I found a reasonably priced B&B via the miracle of the internet, though was slightly disconcerted to find a wedding disco taking place under my bedroom window when I arrived.
The DJ was pure Ray Von, and plans of an early night were put on hold as he lurched from The Kooks She Moves in Her Own Way (no problem with that) to Grease Lighting (more problematic) via a stompy disco version of Take Me Home Country Roads (a plutonium-grade problem). Eventually the ear-torturing Abba sing-alongs died down and I entered the land of nod. I was back on the coast path at 0700 this morning and just under an hour later the Shrike emerged from where I had seen it go to roost.
After a distant showing, the Shrike flew closer but then did a most un-shrike like thing and failed to perch up as expected on a prominent tree. It continued not to do so for the best part of the next three hours, by which point I convinced myself it had done a bunk and started heading for the car, now regretting my decision to stay over. Newly arriving birders appeared to know different though and persuaded me to turn back as the group I had just left were indicating that the bird was back on view.
I returned to find the Shrike perched up at close range for an extended period - here the pinkish underparts and black forecrown of an adult bird were visible. The black mask shape reminded me of a Penduline Tit more than a typical Shrike. Viewing was restricted to a small area so having got some half-decent photographs and concluded it was unlikely to come closer, I retreated to let others squeeze in to the confined space - at which point the Shrike flew even closer with the petrol blue sea off Jennycliff Beach as a backdrop! As you can see from these links, Steve Carey and James Packer, among others, were able to get some attractive photographs in this position. Still, I was happy with my efforts - a distinct improvement on those fuzzy digiscoped images of the Dorset bird. 


  1. Fantastic Series Peter and Thanks for Link and Phone Call Bud

    1. Thanks Steve, no problem, good job you hadn't gone far