A diary of my birding activity covering highlights and photos from my birding adventures. Mainly Norfolk (UK), occasionally beyond. I might mention the odd thing that isn't avian, but for moth and other insect news check out my mothing diary.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


I try and keep my posts in order but I'm weeks behind and yesterday's excitement can't wait for me to catch up!

I'm down in Cornwall at the moment, staying in Trevilley as we couldn't get our usual cottage at Porthgwarra.  The main problem with Trevilley is that although Porthgwarra is easy walking distance, it has Nanjizal Valley in between.  There are two reasons I don't like Nanjizal - one is that from the outside you only see a fraction of what's there, so you feel pleased enough with seeing a couple of Firecrests but then find out that the guys who trap there had 6 Yellow-browed Warblers and 4 Firecrests there, which kind of feels a bit deflating (as happened on Monday).  But my real bugbear is the footpath.  I'm a bit decrepid and don't like clambering over awkward styles and big rocks, or steep slopes.  There are several points on the walk between Trevilley and PG that I struggle with but the worst is in Nanjizal Valley.  Styles or tight kissing gates at each end, steep slope down and steep slope back up, but what I really hate is that huge boulder at the bottom.  Carrying a telescope, camera, bins, camera bag and having dodgy knees, I find it a real challenge.  There's no space at the side to rest the scope or other baggage while I get myself over the boulder and even without all that I would find it hard to get over it with my knees.  Yesterday morning was no exception and in the process of getting over I twisted my ankle.  Fortunately although it was painful it wasn't quite bad enough to stop me, and I limped on to Porthgwarra.  Good job I did.

Crossing the wall at the top of the moor I dropped down to the dried up pool.  As I approached the pool I suddenly noticed a pale shape in the sallows left of the pool.  Bins up and a Red-backed Shrike was facing me. And then it was gone. I hadn't got much on it – pale front, obvious dark eye-stripe and a brown crown. Nothing to stop it being a Red-backed... but I had that niggling feeling that something wasn’t right. Maybe the prominence of the dark eye-stripe contributed but my doubt was over the very brown crown. Where had it gone? It didn't look like it went far but I looked for ages and there was no sign.

What sounded a bit like a Pallas's Warbler called from direction of where the shrike had disappeared. I was tempted to go in after it but decided I'd best keep back and wait for the shrike to reappear. In the past I think I would have acted differently. In the last few years I realised that one reason I never find rare birds is that I see something that looks interesting, it disappears and I talk myself out of it, giving up on it. I would have convinced myself this was obviously just a Red-backed Shrike and hurried down for look for what was potentially anther good bird. I'd have probably spent a few minutes looking for the Pallas's and then convinced myself that I'd imagined that as well, and carried on down the valley. The shrike hadn’t shown for ages and looking for that potential Pallas's Warbler was tempting – but I decided that seeing the shrike again was more important. Even if it was a Red-backed I needed to resolve it for certain, and that meant waiting for as long as it takes.

Mark Wallace birds Porthgwarra most days and I've met him there a few times in previous years.  I sent him a message to say I'd had brief views of a shrike but couldn't relocate it.  Probably Red-backed but need more views, I said.  He said he'd pop over but I didn't realise he was at St Levan... so it took him a while!  And for most of that while there was no further sign of the Shrike.

But then it reappeared, side on, and wow! It really was brown. Not the reddish colour of a juvenile Red-backed Shrike, and plainer on the upperparts too. This looked interesting! And the flanks... they were a lovely warm buff colour – really obvious. Isn't that a good feature for Brown Shrike, I thought? The dark eye-stripe is. And those plain, dark-centred tertials. And that long narrow reddish tail. And then it was gone again. I sent Mark another message, though he didn't get it... "Got it again - looks interesting!"  It looked bang on for Brown Shrike but in such a brief view had I really seen what I thought I'd seen?  Was there some imagination going on?

It reappeared and no, I wasn't imagining it.  The bill looked really thick too.

Brown Shrike, Porthgwarra, 20th October

I tried tweeting Mark again: "Would like a second opinion but it's looking very Brown..."  Internet reception is rubbish here and it didn't send, but it wasn't long before Mark appeared the other side of the valley.  Just before he reached me a noisy couple walked straight through with their dog and it went to ground once more.  When it eventually reappeared Mark agreed it looked good.  Encouraging.  But there were still two important features we hadn't seen.  I'd not been able to pick out the shorter outer tail feathers and I hadn't specifically noticed that the primary projection was short (I'd forgotten to check for this).  After it went out of view again Mark headed round to look from another angle while I stayed put.  Eventually it appeared low in a sallow next to a pool and perched facing me.  I could see the underside of the tail and could just make out the tips of the outer tail feathers - they were short!  That'll do!

Brown Shrike, Porthgwarra, 20th October

Mark had seen it again too and was also convinced now.  It was sorted.  Air punched it was now time to get the news out (easier said than done as neither of our phones had any reception now). 

Brown Shrike, Porthgwarra, 20th October

The above photos were taken with my DSLR.  The next one was digi-scoped - got some better detail on it but the colours are a bit off.

Brown Shrike, Porthgwarra, 20th October

By the time the first 4-5 people had arrived we hadn't seen the shrike again.  Eventually it did reappear and performed for the building crowd.  As the crowd grew the shrike retreated, but continued to show on and off until I left 2-3 hours later. Apparently it flew off down the valley towards the end of the afternoon and despite a cloudy night with rain before dawn there was no sign of it this morning.

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