Tuesday 9 June 2020

Always Look at Linnets

A couple of posts back I mentioned how a little prompt from Ian M had encouraged me to check whether there was currently a Starling roost at the Cogden reedbed. And there was. Though it contained no pink ones on Saturday, I resolved to visit again soon. Which brings us to last night...

I tend not to park at Cogden, but further west. Given the time, this allows me to check a few spots which almost certainly don't get birded much, if at all. The best they've given me so far this spring is a good number of Wheatears and a Grasshopper Warbler, but the area definitely holds promise. Anyway, yesterday evening I was delighted to come across another, rather late, Wheatear, a nice male...

Just lovely. As always, it's hard to beat a male Wheatear. But not impossible...

Heading over to Cogden I knew I would have a bit of spare time before the Starlings plonked into the reeds, so I dawdled along, enjoying the gentle evening warmth, the easy 'whoosh' of surf on shingle, and a nice foxy encounter...

Think I've been sussed.

At regular intervals I was passed by small groups of Starlings heading in the same direction. Of course I checked them all, and of course they were all un-pink. But I didn't really care. I was in one of those very pleasant moods where you take what you get and are happy with it. In all honesty I was so chuffed with the surprise Wheatear that I wasn't expecting anything else anyway.

Along pretty much all of this coastal strip you will meet Linnets. They are probably the default 'small bird'. Even so, whenever I see them - and despite my naked eye telling me that it's another Linnet, or another two Linnets, or another flock of Linnets - I almost always raise my bins and have a proper look. I reason that lots of other, far more exciting, small birds are Linnet-sized, and I ought to just check and be sure. I would hate to overlook a Serin or Twite or Trumpeter Finch. One Linnet a few springs back became a male Redstart. In my defense, it was quite far away! Anyway, it was almost 21:00 now, so having finally arrived at Cogden I started along the coast path towards the reedbed. Ooh, what's this? Three probable Linnets on top of a bush. I raised my bins...

Yep, Linnets. All three. However, just as this confirmatory thought was registering in my brain, so also was the fact that another, previously unnoticed bird was in my field of view, perched quietly on the left hand side of the same bush, right above the coast path. And flippin' heck, it was a male Red-backed Shrike! I mentally pinched myself and double-checked, and then reached for the camera. At that same moment it flicked off the bush and away from me, then veered right and out of view. Rather than chase it I phoned Mike and Alan, the Bex and Cogden patch birders, and then found some higher ground to my left. I guessed it hadn't gone far, and was almost certainly somewhere in the extensive brambles flanking the path beyond the bush.

I spent a good ten minutes or more scanning carefully. Absolutely no sign. It had to be in there, surely? The only other option was to head out onto the beach and view from the other side. So I did, and was immensely relieved to finally spot it again, quite distant, perched up in the brambles. Now for the camera...

Oof! What an absolute cracker!

It was now about 21:15. The light was rubbish, so I daren't zoom to more than 1200mm because the combination of slow shutter speed and long range would almost certainly have killed any chance of getting something half-decent. I took three photos...and then remembered the video function...

That's it, just 31 seconds. Then it dropped out of sight and was not seen again. Mike and Alan arrived, and we had a little search, but no joy. Same this morning. No sign. That shrike was this close to not getting seen by anyone at all.

A bit of context. The last male Red-backed Shrike I remember seeing was at Santon Downham in the Brecks, when they still bred there! That'll be the mid-'80s. In Dorset it is a very scarce bird. I've just received the 2018 Dorset Bird Report. Two records.

It was a fair old walk back to the car, and was getting quite dark by the time I made it. Being on cloud nine, I barely noticed.

I am so glad I look at Linnets...


  1. Replies
    1. Indeed! Think that's probably it for the year now! 😄

  2. Wow! Brilliant find Gav. You just can't beat shrikes. Very jealous.

    1. Ha ha! Thanks Matt. 😊
      Yes, definitely a very special bird! I reckon that one will keep me going for a while...

  3. Top-drawer find of a cracking bird!!
    Nice one.

    1. Many thanks Mike. I've had more than my share of good birds this spring, but that one was definitely the cherry on top!

  4. I once found a female in a hedge at Druridge while looking for a patch year tick Blackcap. The shrike flew into a nearby farm garden and back to its hedge. By the time other birders came there was no sign and it was never sen again. No camera either. Love your shot, very atmospheric.

    1. Thanks Stewart, I was glad to get any images at all really. Shrikes are so good at just vanishing. Took me a few years to see my first Great Grey Shrike. "It was here a minute ago." Must have heard that a dozen times...

  5. Oh I forgot have you heard our latest nocmig controversy? Ian Mills in South Shields nocmigged a very strange mystery call that was identified by dutch birders as a singing Pacific Golden Plover! Wow we said unbelievable. How true this was, later came to be when Magnus Robb identified the recording not only as PGP but as one of his own recordings!! Someone had been out playing it through the night at Mills garden either maliciously or as a wind up. The perp has yet to be found...

    1. Yes, caught that on Twitter. If I was a lot younger I'd have been well up for a wheeze like that! But now I'm old and humourless I take a really dim view... 😄

      On a more serious note, I think with nocmig there is a real danger of fraud, whether intentional or pranked. Subject for a future post maybe.