My top five birds. ( Red Backed Shrike )

17th December 2012
The Shrikes are one of my favourite families of birds, there is just something about the way they perch on the top of bushes, out in the open, almost declaring that they are around and then completely disappearing and no amount of searching can relocate them.
I have seen and photographed all the European Shrikes and many others around the world but the Red Backed has always been my favourite, I love its subtle colours, the pink, the rusty red, the powder blue, for me all these colours combine beautifully to make it a glorious bird to see.
I always remember travelling to Norfolk over twenty years ago and it had been a busy stressful journey, hot and with heavy traffic. We had arrived at the cottage we were renting and after unpacking I checked the 'Norfolk Birdline' and it said a male Red Backed Shrike Holme Dunes, (about 3 miles away). It was about three O'clock and the FA cup was just kicking off, Spurs V Arsenal, Gazza etc. I said to Susan we'll go for that first thing in the morning, she agreed. We went out later and had a nice meal and a few beers to relax, but looking forward to our 'FIRST' Red Backed in the morning.
First thing we arrived at Holme and were told there was no sign of the bird and no further sightings were seen at all. I was shattered, I mistakenly believed that Red Backed hung around like Great Greys...THEY DON'T. Over the years I had always reacted the same day to Shrike reports but they were always juveniles, still a lovely bird but not the male with that gorgeous plumage. I was in Norfolk in the spring of 2012 when a report came through on my smartphone from birdguides... Male RBS Cromer on waste ground east of town. I left immediately I had to try and get it, I was so anxious about getting to see and possibly photograph one that it hurt. I drove around for ages and couldn't find the waste ground and we were about to concede defeat when we saw a group of birders in the distance on some ground behind a private housing estate. We drove around the estate and finally found a pathway on to the waste ground. I ran all the way over to the birders and one confirmed the bird was there, hidden in a bramble patch. Then suddenly it flew up into the air and flew away over the trees, I thought it was all over, so near and yet so far!
The birders began to disperse but I just couldn't leave yet, one thing I have learned is you have to be persistent or you will get nowhere. When it had quietened down I walked on further and I could see him on another bramble patch, I was really nervous, but I crept closer and closer until I was quite near, I focussed and when the shutter finally clicked I was so elated I can't describe it, all those long twenty years and here it was 'in the can' to use motion picture parlance.
It felt really good to finally get that shot of a bird you have longed for, a bird that used to be fairly common in the UK in the past but now is so elusive. I was talking to two seasoned birders recently who have been birding since the fifties and they said that Red Backed used to be easy to see in the UK countryside. Those days are gone and sadly will not return.
This is why the Red Backed Shrike is another of my 'top five'
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