7 Apr 2011

Great Grey Shrike at The Ulster Wildlife Trust Slievenacloy Reserve

Great Grey Shrike sitting on Blackthorn

Last week a Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) was found at the Slievenacloy Ulster Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve in the hills above Belfast. It was found by Dermot Hughes, who was a former director of conservation at the Trust. There have been only 17 records of one in Ireland since 1900. I had resisted the urge to race off and twitch it and had decided if I was going to look for it I would wait until we had better weather. As the reports kept on coming in that it was still around and I had to go to Belfast anyway I decided to combine the two.
I arrived at 10.30 and there was one other bird photographer there. He had not seen the bird at this point.  I had just missed Cork/Donegal birder Ronan McLaughlin who I was told had got some nice photos of the bird. I scanned the blackthorn bushes on the north side of the road and immediately a bit of white caught my eye on some far off bushes. I was thinking Yes! this is easy. But it didn't move and after a while I decided it couldn't be. So I headed in it's general direction and was disappointed to see it was a small plastic bag. I spent an hour and a half looking along with some more birders that had arrived from Dublin. The only thing I had seen of note at this stage was this Orange Tip Butterfly.
Orange Tip Butterfly Anthocharis cardamines
 I was going to give up and I decided to drive up and down the Flowbog road and scan from the car again no success. A birder I didn't recognise waved and I waved back and then I drove to where I originally parked and decided to have a snooze. Little did I know until later that the birder was waving me to stop as the bird was on top of the bushes in the roadside hedge as I was passing by under it ! After kipping for an hour I headed back up the road and saw Mark Killops with his scope and the birder who had waved at me, who introduced himself as Mark McMullan. It turned out that he read my blog and I had also come across his photos on Flickr . They had the bird in their scopes on the south side of the road. Brill a lifer for me and thanks Mark K for the use of your scope. It was a long way away and even with the two times converter on my sigma 500 lens I was getting pretty poor results.
Great Grey Shrike
It then flew off to some adjacent bushes and as you can see I couldn't manually focus fast enough :-)
Great Grey Shrike in Flight
We also got good views of the bird dropping down into the grass and catching some prey before flying back into blackthorn and impaling it on a thorn and then eating it. From it's size it looked most likely to be a small frog.
Great Grey Shrike Dropping Down Onto Prey
 Mike O'Keefe then suggested that we were not going to get decent shots of the bird if we stayed on the road so we slid under the fence and headed closer to it. I learnt a lesson do not take your eyes of a bird in this type of habitat as it had disappeared. It took us a wee while to relocate it and  by this time it was hundreds of yards away. After about ten minutes it flew back again to where we had originally seen it and on this occasion I was able to stalk the bird and get within about 20 yards and it posed nicely for me :-) Click on images for larger view.

Great Grey Shrike at UWT Slievenacloy Nature Reserve

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