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Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The BROWN SHRIKE in MIDDLESEX
















































Local birdwatcher John Gates discovered a 'Red-backed Shrike' on Staines Moor (Middlesex) late morning on Sunday 11 October. It was favouring the scattered bushes at the north end of the moor and was showing quite well. News of its presence was quickly circulated and during the afternoon some 40 or so observers connected, although wet conditions set in curtailing any close inspection. A few observers including Andrew Moon, Pete Naylor and Franko Maroevic commented on its 'odd appearance'.

With much better weather conditions on Monday morning, the bird was seen well and was still frequenting the same area of Hawthorn scrub close to one of the small bridges over the river. A few more people noted some irregularities in its plumage and after a meticulous study of its key components, Chris Heard re-identified the bird as a first-winter ASIATIC BROWN SHRIKE Lanius cristatus mid-afternoon. This incredible and very dramatic news was quickly relayed to the Information Services and by nightfall, 56 observers had managed to make it. The bird roosted in a dense isolated clump just 25 yards NE of the bridge at 1827 hours.

Despite a full moon and a calm starlit night, the Brown Shrike remained for a third day and after the early morning mist had given way to clear skies and warm autumn sunshine, some 560 observers made their way to the site. It showed well on and off throughout the day and was photographed (see Mike Lawrence's images above) and videoed. I spent some six hours watching it, particularly as it was such an educational individual. Views ranged from 35 yards to 130 yards, the bird frequently catching Wasps and Beetles during the observation period and occasionally disappearing inside the foliage to rest.

It was still present on Wednesday 14 October when a further 350 observers visited.

IDENTIFICATION

A very educational bird in first-winter plumage. Although superficially resembling a first-winter Red-backed Shrike, differed mainly in its structure and general tones of plumage. The dark mask around the eye was extensive and eye-catching, extending well beyond the eye and onto the ear-coverts, with a pale line above the mask and just above the bill-base. The crown was noticeably warm brown and relatively unmarked (particularly at distance), this shading continuing down on to the mantle (the dark barring only being noticeable at closer ranges). The upperwings lacked the white primary flash of the 'isabellinus-types' and were pale buff-fringed on the greater coverts and on the inner wing linings, whilst the tertails were significantly dark, the longest two exhibiting a blackish subterminal bar. Most noticeable was the short primary projection, with just FIVE tips generally visible (unlike the typical 6-7 of Red-backed) and emargination on the third to fifth primaries. On a rear view, the primary tips reached ONLY midway up the uppertail-coverts, giving it a significant structural difference in appearance to a typical Red-backed Shrike. Furthermore, when viewed splaying the tail, the outer tail feather was very noticeably much shorter, with the darker central feathers contrasting with the brighter (more rufous) and shorter t5 and t6 and very obviously graduated in shape. At all times, the tail appeared very slim and long, the length being accentuated by the short primary extension. The tips of the central feathers appeared very pointed. The uppertail-coverts were very slightly warmer brown that the rest of the upperparts.

The underparts were off-white and distinctly marked with crescentic barring, quite extensive on the flanks and breast-sides. Apart from some warmth at the rear of the ventral region, there was no warmth (cream or buff-washing) to the underparts - a feature associated with the majority of Brown Shrikes.

The legs and feet were distinctly pale grey with something of a bluish tint whilst the stout bill was pale greyish based along much of the length of the lower mandible, and then tipped dark. The upper mandible was also darker towards the tip.

PREVIOUS RECORDS IN BRITAIN AND IRELAND

There are six accepted records of this species that winters in the Indian subcontinent and SE Asia and breeds from the Ob River basin in Siberia east to the Sea of Okhost and Kamchatka, North Japan and throughout much of Eastern China, including a well-twitched adult in North Yorkshire last autumn.

1) An adult at Scatness (Shetland) from 30 September to 2 October 1985 (British Birds 81: 586; 86: 600-603, plates 224-225; Scottish Bird Report 1987: 49; 1992: 70; Ibis 133: 219);

2) A first-winter female trapped and ringed on Fair Isle (Shetland) on 21 October 2000 (fully documented by Hywel Maggs & Deryk Shaw in Birding World 13: 420-422);

3) A first-winter retrospectively identified on Bryher (Scilly) on 24-28 September 2001 (fully documented by Marcus Lawson in Birding World 14: 427-431);

4) An adult male trapped and ringed at Skaw on Whalsay (Shetland) on 19-24 September 2004 (fully documented by Brian Marshall in Birding World 17: 390-391);

5) An adult at Flamborough Head (East Yorkshire) on 24-25 September 2008 (British Birds 102: 587);

6) An elusive first-winter at Vallay Strand Plantation, North Uist (Outer Hebrides) on 18 and 23-24 September 2008 (British Birds 102: 587, plate 385).

There is one additional record from IRELAND - an adult female at Bellyferriter (County Kerry) from 22 November to 10 December 1999 (fully documented in Birding World 12: 485-486).

DIRECTIONS

Leave the M25 at Junction 14 and at the roundabout take the Stanwell Moor village turning. At the pub junction, turn right on to Hithermoor Road and park sensibly and courteously after 250 yards. Continue on foot to the bridleway leading down the NW side of King George VI Reservoir and after 250 yards, veer right through the gate to Staines Moor. After 100 yards, cross the boardwalk and bridge on to the moor, from where the shrike can be viewed looking north across the river at TQ 034 733 just NW of the first bridge.