I must say I have the greatest admiration for birders who, as well as visiting established nature reserves and popular birding sites, routinely demonstrate a pioneering spirit by going off the beaten track to discover and explore new, and different, localities with potential for attracting birds. This usually means ditching quantity in favour of taking a gamble on finding quality birds in areas not – or rarely – visited by others.
Doing just that, Nigel Muddiman struck gold on Monday, 3rd October by finding a Red-backed Shrike while visiting a site on the edge of Duston, not too far from his home.
The shrike, a juvenile/first-winter, was located in an open area, flanked by a raised grass bank, in which it occupied a narrow line of low trees and bushes, alongside an overgrown, reed-filled pond. Remaining faithful to this small area, it was on view to all comers throughout the afternoon, usually showing well at quite close range.
During the period of observation, it was constantly feeding – usually dropping down from any number of random perches into the fairly short grass before emerging with prey items, which consisted principally of unidentified beetles and grasshoppers. It was clearly in good health and was also seen to eject pellets.
Readily aged as a first calendar year bird and, more precisely, a first-winter, the close views revealing a distinctly barred crown against rufous ground colouring of head and upperparts, along with pronounced and extensively barred underparts.
With the last record in Northants in 2015, this was a great find – especially in view of the fact that it’s only the sixth record this century and only the fourteenth in the last 50 years!
Nationally, Red-backed Shrike’s UK status is red-listed and is now down to 1-3 breeding pairs, with 180-250 birds recorded annually on passage (BTO/RSPB).
Despite a thorough search of the area during the morning and again in the afternoon of the following day, the shrike was nowhere to be seen.
All images © Mike Alibone