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.

If you wish to register, please email me
Log in


Expand All
BUBO Listing
  • Categories

  • My Favourite Links

  • White-winged Tern, Chew

    Portbury Wharf

    Portbury Wharf View

    Another Friday evening dash from work to Chew Valley Lake to catch a bird that might move on any time. This one was on its way from Southern Russia to East Africa, so a little off course but not so far that I haven’t seen the species twice before. The first was at East Chevington in Northumberland in 2003; the second, Dun’s Dish, near Brechin, in 2005.

    That long ago, I can’t recall if either bird was easy to spot but this year’s, although distant from Herriotts Bridge, more…

    Guns, Germs, and Steel

    How did agriculture take hold? Piecemeal seems to be the answer, at first supplementing hunter-gatherers‘ food, then in favourable conditions replacing it. Those conditions were most favourable in the Fertile Crescent, where crops came to provide much of humans’ needs. That is to say, subsistence needs; the evidence also points to a marked decline in health and lifespan during this period.

    So, how did agriculture start? By chance initially. We selected optimum sources of nutrition and unwittingly spread them, in a natural symbiotic process. Other creatures have done the same since the beginning of life. We had the advantage of more…

    River Avon, Bristol

    Bristol Temple Meads

    Bristol Temple Meads & Site of Bath Road

    This immediately conjures up images of the Gorge, the Downs and Clifton Suspension Bridge. But forget all those. Last Saturday my route to Mrs Beese’s beer and cider festival took me past grungier stretches of the river.

    I’m amazed actually that I haven’t walked the loop round St Philip’s Marsh. It’s so nearby. And straightaway a jay made its presence known, as did a calling grey wagtail. Better, although more frustrating, was a couple of more…

    Civilization IV Decline

    Interesting though the exercise was in subverting the goal of this computer game to anarchy, the software also allows modification of some of its basic parameters. XML files hold these values and a few look like they’d simulate depletion of resources and the spiralling costs of maintaining an ever more complex civilisation. See Tainter if you don’t believe more…

    Wryneck, New Passage


    Wryneck, Israel © Marcel Holyoak

    The day after Frampton’s marsh sandpiper, Twitter was abuzz with news of this relative of the woodpeckers. Knowing from experience that the species doesn’t hang around, I rescheduled my Sunday and motored up to New Passage. My previous dips cautioned against optimism but just 100 yards on from parking the car, a knot of watchers got the pulse racing.

    An alert little long-tailed shape on a lawn had to be the bird and my binoculars confirmed it. If the shape was distinctive, the markings were more…

    Marsh Sandpiper, Frampton

    My 298th UK species but not a lifer thanks to birds at Cairns and Albany in Australia. Does this imply that marsh sandpiper is some sort of mega? Certainly there was a consistent posse of watchers for this corner of Gloucestershire, from various points of the country. My Collins notes that the bird breeds in southern Russia and winters in Africa, so this one was not too far off course.

    Morcombe, who describes it as a small greenshank, has it as regular down under. This makes its wintering range broad and vagrants must be expected. Luckily for the assembled at Frampton, several more…

    Civilization for Anarchists

    To continue this strategy for Civilization IV – i.e. not aiming to expand an empire, just survive the expansion of others – even the basics I’ve come up with sound like rather a lot of civilised activity. It’s not half as much as is available in the game. For instance, religion doesn’t get a look in, to confirm my belief that it’s an artefact of civilisation.

    Another facet is diplomacy. Forget open borders for a start: we don’t need them and we don’t aim to be friendly with anyone who’s looking to subjugate us in some way. Trade proposals are another more…


    Sid Meier's Civilization IV

    Sid Meier’s Civilization IV

    A propos of nothing at all to do with this blog, here’s my version of the computer game, Civilization IV. I’ve subverted its goal though: not to build the “best” empire, but to be as uncivilised or anarchic as possible. This may suggest how to survive the worst aspects of empire, such as power, slavery, poverty, disease and so on. Of course this is just a game and its rules don’t reflect the real world, or even this society’s interpretation of it, so the exercise is simplistic.

    The first over-simplification is the picking of a country to play, the assumption being that more…