Sunday, 16 October 2011

MEGA-tick (for me) Isabelline Shrike at Cliffe Pools RSPB with the Watford RSPB group

Isabelline Shrike

 A Great day out with the Watford RSPB group to the RSPB reserve of Cliffe Pools on the Ilse of Grain were we encountered a wide variety of species as well as indulging ourselves a little in the last of this years dragonflies.  Already from the car I noted 12 Lapwing in the fields bordering the M25 whilst on our journey to the reserve.  We arrived at the reserve around 9:30am and got of to a good start at the first pool were we had at least 19+ Little Grebes in the single pool together with the commoner Pochards, Tufted Ducks and Great Crested Grebes.  Our first plan of action was to climb the short distance up the closest mound that provided an ideal all round view of the reserve, and also allowed a count of 25+ Little Egrets followed by further sightings of Little Grebes and a large flock of 100+ Redshank resting on the shallow edge of the Radar Pool, unfortunately, I did miss the Marsh Harrier.  As we approached the pools more closely, it was clear that the marshy edges were providing an ideal habitat for the hundreds of Lapwing, Redshank and dozens of Black-tailed Godwits and Golden Plover.  The same pool also hosted a dramatic scene as a juv. Peregrine came into view following the take off of most of the wading birds creating an awesome spectacle as well as the characteristical "whooshing" noise of hundreds of passing Redshanks, low over the water.  The Peregrine even made a brief aborted chase after a single wader but it seemed it still had to master the technique with much more precision and accuracy, all the same it was still an immature bird.  Siskins and Skylarks were also occasionally heard passing over the pool with only the later seen.  Several insect species were also still active including a Red Admiral as well as a Migrant Hawker, along the gravel path leading to Flamingo Pool.  Other birds of note included a Greenshank and Curlew on the NW bank of Flamingo Pool.  We had just reached Cliffe Creek when the news of a "new rarity" at 11:38am came in on the pager.  The bird was only a few hundred metres from were we were stood and was only half a mile from the car park entrance, sensibly, we rushed straight there.  Only minutes later, after its initial discovery I was soaking in the sight of my first ever ISABELLINE SHRIKE (an adult ♂).  It behaved and showed amazingly, remaining well in the open for most of the time, as is the case for most Shrikes, making occasional flourishing flights into the air before landing shortly afterwards on the same or nearby perch.  It was also feeding successfully and caught several insect species including crane flies and occasional caterpillars.  For the beginning period, it remained relatively close, half way between the Pool NE of the ridge and Alpha Pool.  Later on in the day it tended to favour the farther end of the hedgerow and became more distant which made taking notes more difficult as well as the developing heat haze.  I remained at the Shrike for the rest of the day, whilst the rest of the group continue to the estuary were,  unfortunately I missed out on a flock of 150 Avocet, more Golden and Grey Plovers and Shelduck.  However, watching the Shrike was well worth the sacrifice as near the end of our trip the heat haze died and the clarity of its sleek, clean plumage became clearer, in all an amazing bird on an equally amazing trip.  All ending nicely ♂ Kestrel at the car park as we left the reserve around 15:10pm.

All photos taken using Rob Harris' digital compact camera for digiscoping (Many Thanks Rob!)

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