Saturday, 29 October 2016

Tales from the larder of the butcher bird

Time was when we were just happy to see an isabelline shrike Lanius isabellinus, but those days are long gone. In these crazy times we now have to worry about whether or not it is one of two races, isabellinus (Daurian shrike) or phoenicuroides (Turkestan shrike). Why worry about it you may ask, well there's the nagging concern that one day soon isabelline shrike will be split into two species so it would be nice to know which of the two species you're looking at. In fact guess what, the dutch have already split it. Of course if it is split and you've seen both races, one tick then becomes two.

I'm not really concerned too much about that, actually I like to see races as much as species and paradoxically I used to prefer green-winged teal when it was a race! It's never been quite the same for me since it was upgraded.

However, on Thursday an isabelline shrike was found at The Leas, South Shields, just a stones throw from where I saw Britains first eastern crowned warbler a few years ago. By Friday it had been promoted to Daurian shrike so since we were in the area it seemed worth a look. 

The bird showed very well in an area known as the Mound, right on the coast at South Shields. This was my fifth "isabelline" shrike in the UK, two have been at Donna Nook in Lincolnshire (1990 & 2013), one at Stocks Reservoir in Lancashire (1996) and another at Cemlyn Bay on Anglesey (1998). 

Year: 252 (Daurian shrike, woodcock).

Since I had previously only recorded them in my database as isabelline shrike I had no idea how many Daurian or Turkestan I had seen, so today I decided to have a look back through my records and see how many I could assign to race.

I referenced back copies of British Birds, books such as "the Birds of Lancashire and North Merseyside", local bird reports and Tim Worfolks paper in Dutch Birding on the identification of Isabelline and Brown shrikes, which for a long time was considered the primary reference on the subject and may still be for all I know. In some cases the birds in question were acccepted by BBRC as a particular race, or in other cases they were considered to be most likely a particular race.

It turns out that this is my third Daurian shrike, the others were at Stocks Reservoir and Donna Nook (2013). The Stocks Reservoir bird, which was the first Lancashire record, was apparently originally considered to be Turkestan shrike, but Tim Worfolk argues in his paper that it was Daurian.

I've seen two Turkestan shrikes, one at Donna Nook (1990) and the other at Cemlyn Bay. I'd long been under the impression that the Cemlyn Bay bird was isabellinus, but Tim Worfolk considers it to be of the race phoenicuroides or Turkistan shrike. The Donna Nook bird was accepted in that years British Birds Rare Bird report as Turkestan shrike, and therefore Donna Nook holds the unique distinction of being the only place where I have seen both races!

I love these photos, the dead hogweed looks the same colour as the shrike, and they both stand out well against the grey sky.

While we were watching the shrike, we saw it catch a bee and then impale it on a bramble. Shortly afterwords the bird flew 100m to the northern part of the Mound and I quickly dashed over to it's larder and took these two pictures of the bee, which it turns out is a common carder bee Bombus pascuorum.

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