Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Isabelline Shrike, South Huish Marsh

A beautiful sunny day on October 12th and so we headed off for a walk along the South Devon coastpath, parking the car in Thurlestone village and walking to Hope Cove and back. Heading down the road from Thurlestone church and a small group of birds moving through the hedges and sycamores caught my eye - a brief view of what I am sure was a yellow browed warbler had me scanning through the dying leaves but I never refound it and I never heard it call. While looking for the warbler I did find at least 2 chiffchaffs and at least 1 firecrest along with goldcrests, blue tits, great tits and long tailed tits.

Thurlestone marsh was devoid of birds due to disturbance from diggers dredging the drainage channel running through the golf course and dumping the mud on the marsh. South Huish Marsh did however have some birds on view - a grey heron, a little egret, a buzzard, a male kestrel, a black tailed godwit, a snipe, teal, mallard and a moorhen.

Also seen along the walk were 17 swallows heading inland and flying east, a lone gannet offshore over a flat clam sea, a small copper, a small tortoiseshell, red admirals, large whites, stonechats and a few common darters including a mating pair.

The following day at South Huish a shrike was found by a birder, initially ID'd as a red backed shrike it soon became apparent from photos it was in fact an isabelline shrike and this was confirmed on the 14th, just as I began a 4 day stretch at work! I also wondered if it had been around on the 12th when we were out walking around the area.

Anyway my day off on Sunday18th duly arrived and we headed off again to Thurlestone for a walk and a look for the shrike which had been showing up to the 17th. We parked in Thurlestone village again and walking down past the church a few goldcrest and a chiffchaff were flitting about in the trees but there was no sign of anything rarer.

A surprise was seeing Thurlestone Marsh drained and the reeds being cut down - apparently the farmer who owns the marsh is draining it to make grazing land for cows, such a shame.

There were quite a few birders around in the area and so I headed off straight away to The White House overlooking South Huish marsh as per the DBWPS and Birdguides instructions to find 2 birders photographing a bird high up in the roadside hedge - and there it was, the isabelline shrike and my 3rd British lifer of the year. I even managed to get a few (poor) photos too.

Isabelline Shrike

It was on the opposite side of a high hedge by the road with no easy vantage points, against the sun and viewing was difficult due to all the vegetation but it was only a few metres away and totally unperturbed by the people watching it. I managed some decent views but unfortunately never of the whole bird out in the open. It disappeared from view at times as it chased after wasps but it always returned to the top of the hedge and was frustratingly always partly obscured by leaves!

There is quite a bit of debate going on about its exact ID as well with the view being it is a Daurian shrike but I'm quite happy to call it an isabelline and let others debate the genetics and taxonomics. A very nice bird but a little ugly around the bill as shrikes invariably are.

 Isabelline Shrike

Isabelline Shrike
Isabelline Shrike - not my photo! (Unfortunately!) - Photo courtesy of DBWPS Website
After watching the shrike for a while we headed off to Hope Cove for some lunch, seeing a group of 20+ swallows flying west, stonechats, a few red admirals and a few large whites on the way. On the walk back a male kestrel flew over the cliffs, spooking pipits and finches and unfortunately it went on to spook the shrike too as when I returned to The White House the shrike had flown off and I never got another view of it, not helped by a birder walking along the hedge on the field side despite it being private land.

Other birds of note around South Huish marsh were a female and a juvenile sparrowhawk, 4 black tailed godwits and a chiffchaff. A few red admiral and common darters were on the wing too.

Caterpillar sp. found on the road near the shrike hedge

And so another new bird for my British (and life) list, some close but partly obscured views and not too twitchy - all in all a good day out.

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