Saturday, 26 November 2011

Great grey shrike, Hafren forest

Great grey shrike did not take long to locate at Hafren forest, advertising its territory perched at the top of a bare birch shrub. This bird stakes its claim on the surrounding clear-fell territory from the top of the highest perches, waving in the wind like a tricolor of striking black primaries sandwiched between a warm grey mantle and pure white underparts. Its song bird appearance is deceptive to the untrained eye, but to the birds, of which no sound can be heard here today, this starling sized shrike is a fearsomely territorial predator. A fairly rare winter visitor in the UK, the great grey shrike feeds mainly on voles but also other birds. It impales its prey on sticks and thorns, to preserve them in 'larders' for later consumption, a gruesome habit that has earned it the name of butcher bird. Whilst obvious when standing sentinel over its territory, the shrike can be equally elusive when it chooses lashing out towards the ground not to be seen again for hours at a time. Sometimes though, the shrike will disappear from a perch only to almost instantly be noticed standing boldly at the opposite end of its territory, a slight of hand that adds a dose of Cheshire cat trickery to the butcher birds curious personality.

The shrikes behaviour sets a pattern for my day, as I draw it during its periods of sentinel duty in the open, and spend long periods waiting and wondering about its secret life out of sight when it becomes conspicuous by its absence. Finally as darkness falls I catch sight of the shrike low to the ground in amongst brush wood under decapitated tree roots, it is jabbing at something with its bill, but I can't make out what. The shrike flies up and pauses on a low branch, I snatch this sketch before the light in my scope fades completely. cb, cr, ru, bu

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