Severn Beach, 30th August 2003
The weather on the morning of Saturday 30th August was similar to that of the previous week, sunny, dry, warm with a light north east wind. I left my home in Severn Beach early, having decided to walk south along the sea wall towards an area of scrub known by local birders as“ the pipes”. On previous days reasonable numbers of migrants (for Severnside anyway) had been seen in the bushes and scrub along the railway line. Birds seen over the week had included Common Redstarts, Spotted Flycatchers, Whinchats, a good variety of Warblers and a bonus bird in the form of a Tree Sparrow. I was therefore quite disappointed to just see three“ noisy” Common Whitethroats and two Lesser Whitethroats. A flock of fifty Goldfinches feeding on Teasels near the pipes were a nice sight and allowed a few “digipics” to be taken. At about nine o’clock I decided it was time to head back for some breakfast.
After walking fifty yards along the concrete footpath I heard a distinctive and unusual call, a sharp “chacking”, that I was sure had heard somewhere before. I saw the bird by naked eye twenty yards away perched on the side of a small Hawthorn bush. As I raised my binoculars I thought to myself it looks like a Shrike and to my astonishment saw that it was. I then realised that the call was similar to that of the Turkestan Shrike I had seen in Somerset back in June.
Don’t Panic I thought. What should I do? I quickly erected my tripod and telescope and tried to take some digital photographs. The combination of the bird being on the shaded side of the bush and my trembling resulted in the first few shots being totally blurred. The bird then flew away from me and landed in some tall weeds between the seawall and the railway. I quickly focused on the bird held my breath and took this picture.....
Not brilliant I thought, but at least better than a record shot. The next few pictures were shaky again as the bird dropped and fed on what appeared to beetles and bees. I had just got the bird in focus for a better shot, pushed the shutter, just as it flew off......
At this point I decided to make some calls on mobile telephone. I was convinced the first person I called would be near. He was normally out birding everyday on Severnside. The call went straight through to message divert. Damn. I left a short and concise message, roughly translated to..... there is Red-backed Shrike along the railway, get here as soon as you can.! The next call I made was answered by a well known Chew Valley birder, when he answered, said he was still in bed and implied he had a few units of alcohol the night before but was on his way! To save time I then called one of the bird pager companies for them to release the news. I was still on my own with a bird that not a national rarity but was certainly rare in this County. I looked back towards the beach and could see two people walking towards me with a very large German Shepherd dog. Beyond them I could see a birder who I knew watching waders on the high tide roost. The Shrike had now reappeared in the weeds at the base of the sea wall, the dog and walkers would surely flush it. To my surprise the bird remained as they walked a few yards from it.
After what seemed like an eternity, the birder on the beach saw me watching something and slowly walked along the seawall to join me. I didn’t have his mobile number so flapped my arms around to encourage him to speed up. As he approached I managed to get this picture of the bird in partial silhouette.
The two of us watched the bird for a few minutes as it moved north along the railway scrub, being mobbed continuously by Common Whitethroats. It perched on the top of a bush just as the first birder I had left a message with arrived, then promptly flew inland across the railway line before he saw it.
We waited for an hour and more people started to arrive. It still had not reappeared so I decided to take the walk back to the tunnel beneath the railway and then gain access to the overgrown fields inland from the railway. After a few minutes my attention was drawn to some agitated Blue Tits and Common Whitethroats and there it was perched up in a tall Hawthorn hedge. I telephoned the birders across the railway and gave instructions and directions to join me. Within minutes the first twenty arrived as the Shrike gave excellent views in bright, albeit heat hazed light.
I managed to get these digipics and was kindly sent one by Chris Trott.
The bird was last seen at about six in the evening and an estimated eighty people managed to see it during it’s short stay.
This was the first Severnside record and the first to be seen in the county of Avon since June 1988.
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