Last week I may have had some bad luck on the bird front, missing the buff-breasted sandpiper, glossy ibis and caspian gull all by relatively small amounts of time. Well this week I had some good luck in the form of a rather strange series of events. My VLW had been thinking of inviting her mother over to stay for a few days and as she lives in Stanwell (next to Staines) my VLW had asked whether there were any birds in the vicinity that I might want to see en route to picking her up. Accordingly I had been thinking of stopping off at the London WWT centre in Barnes for the long-staying spotted crake but that bird upped and left a few days ago which left me casting around for something to go and see. Two days ago a red-backed shrike was reported at Staines Moor, which is literally five minutes away from my mother-in-law's house so that would be an ideal target. I therefore had my fingers crossed that it would stay around two more days until the pick-up. Late the next day to my surprise the shrike was "upgraded" to a brown shrike so what had been a nice little bird to see had suddenly become a mega rarity. Of course this made it all much more exciting but on the other hand I had been looking forward to a quiet yomp across the moor in search of the shrike. There was no chance of any sort of quiet birding experience with such a rarity and I knew that if it stayed until the next day it would be a massive twitch.
The bird did indeed stay and after having dropped my VLW and L off at her mother's, I set off the short distance to Staines Moor. To get to the actual location of the bird involved a walk of about 20 minutes along the side of the King George VI reservoir to get to a concrete foot bridge where at least a hundred birders were paying homage to the rare shrike. The bird showed very well sitting on top of hawthorn bushes at frequent intervals as shrikes do. It was a cracking bird, with faint vermiculation down its flanks, a lovely uniform warm brown on the top of the head and all down its back and tail, a black mask pattern and pale grey underparts. Whilst the light was perfect and it was a hot sunny day, unfortunately there was lots of heat haze which made photography rather problematic. I managed a number of shots but none of them was brilliant. Still one can't complain too much when looking at something as rare as this. Apparently the brown shrike breeds across central and eastern Asia and is migratory, wintering south to India, southeast Asia and Indonesia so it was a long way from home.
You can get a sense of the heat haze from this photo
Probably the best shot quality-wise but for some reason the bird looks very grey instead of the warm brown colour that it actually was.
A videograb shot in which you can see the faint vermiculation on the flank and breast
Another videograb shot
Given the heat haze, some reasonable quality video footage
A shot of just some of the massed hoards all come to see the brown shrike
It was also amazing to note how many people I knew there. Now I expect that seasoned twitchers are used to seeing the same old faces on twitches but for me this was certainly by far the largest twitch that I'd been on so it was a new experience for me. I was pleased to meet three people from Oxon whom I knew as well as a Beds. birder whom I'd met on my unsuccessful Cambridgeshire foray. I also saw the anonymous wryneck "flusher" and had a brief chat with Lee Evans. Since the bird was showing so well it was a friendly and good natured experience all round, apart from one poor chap who had walked in from a different part of the moor and found himself on the wrong side of the river with a hoard of angry twitchers yelling out that he was going to flush the bird. He beat a hasty retreat.
Apparently a great grey shrike was also around that morning though it had not been seen for at least an hour when I arrived. Other birds of note were a pair of sparrowhawks, a kestrel, a pair of stonechats and a couple of ring-necked parakeets seen on the drive into Stanwell.
Another year and indeed life tick thanks to this genuine mega rarity.
National Year List 2009
225: Brown Shrike 13/10/09 Staines Moor (Lifer)