Woodchat Shrike – in song

(Well alright, sub-song at least)

In May 2006, news filtered out of a Woodchat Shrike here in Hampshire. To be precise, it was in Hambledon, the village where cricket began.

Like many of the shrike family, it was confiding and for several days, birdwatchers came from all over to catch a glimpse of this colourful, and extremely rare, bird. Just one or two might be blown across to the UK each year. Its main habitat is the Mediterranean and south of the Sahara. This individual frequented a hedgerow along a lane, often out of sight but occasionally sitting on a post or at the top of foliage. Click here to view the video.

Shrikes are called ‘Butcher Birds’; they will take reptiles, small birds, rodents and have the unsociable habit of impaling and storing their prey, such as lizards, on thorns and spikes. Friends of mine were once observing a Great Grey Shrike in the New Forest, when it looked down, dropped to the ground and and speared a Robin. That would make a Christmas card with a difference. Although spared this, we did watch this individual taking spiders and bumble bees.

I photographed the Woodchat Shrike for 2 days, and attempted to digiscope (taking photographs with a digital still camera, through a telescope) as the bird flittered between posts, fences and shrubs. Then a colleague thought he heard it singing. We kept mum, and for 2 or 3 minutes, were privileged to see and hear it singing, but in a very quiet, gentle manner (not loud, as the books would have it). I set the camera to ‘Video Mode’ and for the next 53 seconds recorded the bird. Towards the end a car can be heard rushing past.

(We were surprised at the quality that the camera and the scope can give [Nikon 8400 & Swarovski ATS80HD], and cannot imagine that this has been tried many times before. This was largely due to luck, the conditions were ideal; the bird was accommodating and facing us, there was perfect light and no wind. A couple of more conventional pictures can be seen under the ‘Specials’ classification - http://www.natureandpictures.co.uk/albums/SPECIALS/index5.html

FOOTNOTE: The Shrike had been recorded as being a female, but when news came out about a recording of the bird actually singing, it was changed to being a male. However - - - now that the recording can be seen and heard, this has again been changed. I unexpectedly received this e-mail from Birdguides;

''I had a look at the video, and it is indeed a Woodchat Shrike,
but given the white forehead I'd say it was a female, despite it singing, as
it were. It's what you might call sub-song, or a female version. Shrikes are
generally very musical with a variety of whistles, chatters and scratchy
warbles, and a male would be a bit more forceful, louder and more energetic.
Andy Hirst''

Any further comments can be noted, but as matters stand, it would seem that it was a female.


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