Saturday 9 July; Finally!
The bird that I'd been alluding to in my previous flashback blogs, finally came home to roost when we travelled up to Bempton Cliffs to see the very rare Red-tailed Shrike that had already spent a few weeks on and close to the RSPB reserve. The Turkestan Shrike, as it also sometimes called, forms one half of a species pair with the Isabelline Shrike but has slight differences in appearance, voice and range. Both birds hail from Central Asia and both are very rare migrants to the UK. We'd seen two Isabelline Shrikes before, remarkably both were within just two miles of each other in an area of the South Devon coast but a year apart. The Red-tailed Shrike would be a lifer, my 396th species seen in Britain.
By the time we made the trip, the Shrike had moved to the overgrown part of a farmyard about a mile walk from the parking area at the RSPB visitor centre. The walk was along the cliffs which would be the usual focus of attention when visiting Bempton. It was difficult to ignore the thousands of seabirds that filled the air as we walked but we'd come for the rare Shrike so just about managed it. We'd spend some time with Puffins and the like later. The only bird that I stopped to admire on the way was a fine Corn Bunting that rattled its car keys as it perched on an ear of wheat.
|Corn Bunting (Emberiza calandra)
We joined around twenty others at the farmyard, paid our "fee" to the farmer who had graciously allowed us all onto his land and studied the scrubby area at the back of a lawned area. Apparently this was the garden to the farm house but was typically adorned with broken down tractors and machinery and I'm sure that if you looked hard enough then you'd find a bottomless hole full of goodies such as dead cows and kitchen sinks (Handsome Family reference right there). We got our first view of the Red-tailed Shrike only five minutes after arriving when it suddenly appeared in the hawthorn hedge.
|Red-tailed Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides)
Shrikes of all persuasions can be active birds and very mobile when hunting but can also sit tight for ages within hedges. This bird was of the less active variety which meant that for the next hour and half I'd take hundreds of very similar photos. I managed to get most of the angles and poses covered and it felt as if this bird knew it was a superstar because it posed like a catwalk model. Not that anyone was complaining about that.
The Red-tailed Shrike was most active on the odd occasion it decided that it needed a snack. We saw it chase and catch bees, a butterfly and a huge green caterpillar (for this Shrike's size) which the bird took several minutes to despatch.
A colony of Tree Sparrows were also residing in the garden and while wary of their temporary neighbour, didn't appear too bothered of it. If it was a Great Grey Shrike then that would be an entirely different matter but Red-tailed Shrikes are not much larger than a Sparrow. With a full memory card we decided that the cliffs demanded a bit of our time. We had seen the fantastic Black-browed Albatross back at the end of May and it had been reported as being in residence again. Nobody could ever get enough of that spectacular creature (read about it here)!
|Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)
Opposite the gateway that led to the farm was an indent in the high cliffs. We sat by the edge and while enjoying our lunch had superb views of Puffins both stood on the cliffs and flying in and out from them. The Puffins used the updrafts to help with the old air brakes but many looked to be just enjoying the fact that could pull some shapes and stunts.
|Puffin (Fratercula arctica)
Other birds were also enjoying the clifftop breezes but generally I just watched the birds having taken many photos here before. I still took a few photos of course of Razorbills and Guillemots that shared the cliffs with the Puffins. It was fun watching the Gannets as we walked back to the car as well. Sadly we couldn't find the Albatross and it wasn't seen flying around at all that afternoon.
|Razorbill (Alca torda)
|Guillemot (Uria aalge)
|Gannet (Morus bassanus)
Year List addition;
249) Red-tailed Shrike