Red-backed Shrike, Sand Point

How good is a three-day weekend? On Sunday a report of purple heron at Westhay Moor drove me back from a foray to Portland and the Dorset coast. I was getting greedy after logging yellow-browed warbler for the year and adding black guillemot to my English list. A rather subdued redstart had also been my latest sighting for the species by quite some margin. So a blank for the heron shouldn’t have been a surprise and it wasn’t.

What was a surprise was a bird pinging over my head. Bearded tit, I thought, but wasn’t sure if they’d spread that far through the Somerset Levels. A few minutes later several more of these little electric sounds emanated from nearby reeds. I went to log the species on my county list and… it wasn’t there. I’ve never recorded bearded tit in Somerset so it became species number 196.

197 followed on Monday afternoon. A red-backed shrike (Lanius collurio) had been on and off the BirdGuides/Twitter radar for a few days. I figured it still had to be around; indeed as I arrived in Weston another alert came through.

It was still a beautiful day when I reached Sand Point, which juts out north of Weston-super-Mare. In fact September has been consistently warm – nay, hot – and dry, so lugging a scope et al up from the car park was a workout. I was glad of the paraphernalia too because my first views of the bird were distant. I only managed to locate it by extrapolating from a group of birders pointing up from the lower path. I’d opted for my usual route round the Point and was scanning from above. Nevertheless, though somewhat muted, the bird was identifiable enough from its upright posture and general shape.

My usual route did later put me below its favoured patch of bushes and gave me a ten-second burst of pure magic. She (or possibly he if juvenile) perched openly about 50 yards away. Again, the back was more of a rusty brown than red but the mask was clearer and most striking were striations on the side of its breast.

My previous, and only, sighting of the species had been at Walsey, Norfolk in 2003, so of course the shrike was a year bird. It was naturally also new for Avon, which does well for shrikes – a great grey (L. excubitor) at Avonmouth way back in 1999 and the Chipping Sodbury woodchat (L. senator) of 2011. They were all firsts in their time; the Lanius genus sets so many records!

A good weekend then, but not great. Two dips bookended it, both of the same bird. A rose-coloured starling has been near Barrow Gurney. Having failed on Saturday on the way down to Dorset, I tried for it again after the shrike. No joy. The site is at least on my commute back from work, so if the starling hangs around, I may nail it yet.

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  • White-winged Tern, Chew

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