Sunday, 6 June 2010

Shrike central

Today's male Red-backed Shrike at Richmond Park.

Back on 21 December 1974, a school friend and I took a train from north London to Richmond, walked up Star and Garter Hill and spent a day birding in Richmond Park. I think it was my first birding trip there, and it fairly quickly got off to a flying start when we found a Great Grey Shrike perched up in bracken just north of the Pen Ponds. As finds go it wasn’t altogether seismic, but this is London, it was a life bird, and I was 14. We also had our lifer Goosander there, so it was a day to remember.

There is something about Richmond and shrikes. Back in spring 1953 a Woodchat Shrike lingered there for three weeks, while in 1994 London’s only Isabelline Shrike – apparently of the form phoenicuroides, Turkestan Shrike - was brought in dead by a cat in nearby Lambert Avenue on 21 March.

Today was the turn of shrike species number four. An initial text from Franko and thoughtful follow-ups from Johnny Allan, Mark Pearson and Bob Watts alerted me to possibly my best and probably my only chance of a Red-backed Shrike in London this year. I took my daughter Ava for an impromptu afternoon outing, and we watched the shrike – a fine male – catch bees, perch up in full view and even sing occasionally, at a site where this now absent British breeder once nested.

We didn’t have the luxury of time on our side, but Ava managed to take some decent shots of it too.

Here’s the official London year-list update:
182. Red-backed Shrike.

And here’s one of Ava’s finest efforts:

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