Northern Grey Shrike.

26th March 2015
A northern Grey Shrike suddenly appeared on a local upland common this week, it is an area that is not particularly well watched in winter so it may have been there some time. However, it may have just arrived from another area, one thing is for sure is that it wont be there too much longer. These Shrikes will soon be returning to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia.
I got up early yesterday and was at the location at first light, always best to be there first thing, it gives you a chance to get a shot before any disturbance or perhaps even the bird moving on.
Shrikes are notoriously difficult to approach and even if you can get close they are almost always in an elevated position, silhouetted against the sky. I parked up and just waited for the light to improve and after a few minutes I could see the bird perched, typically high up in a distant tree.
I waited some time for it to start hunting, flying from perch to perch and scanning the ground below, by doing this you can form a pattern of which trees and bushes they prefer. I could see a particular area it was returning to time after time, these observations took at least an hour of just waiting in my car doing nothing. Some people are so impatient, they just head off straight away usually achieving nothing except spooking the bird. Shrikes are masters at disappearing and for a light coloured bird whose time is spent mostly perched up in an open position, they are totally adept at just vanishing. If they are disturbed they have a habit of not flying directly from bush to bush in full view. They always drop down from their perch and fly low along the ground so that they can't be seen and sometimes they don't reappear at all.
After seeing this hunting pattern I got tucked in behind a dense hawthorn tree near to where the bird was coming to perch. I waited for at least an hour, it seemed longer, but at last it started to make its way towards where I was (hopefully!) hidden.
You can gain these birds confidence if you are very quiet and dont make much movement, they will tolerate you up to a point. When it landed about fifty feet away I took a few shots, then moved a few feet closer, took a few more etc. I always work this way because if the bird flies off then at least you have some shots.
The Shrike dropped to the groud and came back up with what looked like a Bumble Bee, which it then pulled apart and ate. It then flew further away and just perched up again, typical behaviour, in all this however, it didn't look bothered by me at all.
I always try to get some sort of solid object behind these perched Shrikes, a tree or even a distant mountain or hill can cut down the silhouetting effect dramatically. After about ten minutes it then perched on a small holly bush which was not against the sky-line, this was perfect and I took some decent shots before it flew off again to hunt.
Some dog walkers then pulled up and I realised that was as close as I was going to get to the bird so I packed up and left.
Please see Latest Images, Northern Grey Shrike.