Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Familiar haunts

I find myself returning to these same patches within the forest year after year, much like the bird that I have come to see. While it won’t necessarily be the same individual that I have seen here in previous years, the great grey shrike present this winter is no doubt attracted to the open habitat, with its isolated thorn bushes and abundance of prey. There is a good chance that the bird will remain for much, if not all, of the winter.

I wonder for how many generations these striking birds have been coming to Norfolk. They don’t appear every winter at this site but most years there is a good chance of catching up with one somewhere in the Brecks. The Brecks seem to suit this bird and its character; both are a little wild and a touch unloved.

These visiting shrikes arrive from Norway and other parts of Fennoscandia, the first individuals turning up from late September onwards. By now most of the birds present will have established a territory for the winter. A few of those here in late November will move on to other sites, perhaps located further south within the country. The territory maintained by the shrikes is surprisingly large, with individual birds moving between different patches in the forest, often several kilometres apart. It is on these patches that the shrike will catch small mammals and birds, some of which are then impaled on a thorn or barbed wire fence to be kept for a few days as part of a larder. It is this habit that leads some birdwatchers to refer to shrikes as ‘butcher birds’.

Great grey shrikes are rather smart in their appearance, the mixture of black, white and grey plumage striking to the eye. Somehow they always look neat, immaculately dressed, as any good butcher should be. That the birds return to sites favoured in previous years makes them fairly easy to find and individual sites may attract good numbers of birdwatchers over the course of the winter, all keen to see this winter visitor. Grimes Graves, just up the road from me in the Brecks, is one such site and well worth checking out this winter.

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