Somedays you get lucky. I have to confess to feeling a little bleary eyed this morning, so when I arrived at the farm and could see no raptors in the air I thought it was going to be a quiet day. I needn’t have worried. I’ve got a route that I usually follow but today I veered off and spent sometime quietly in the shade of some thorn trees. As so often happens, patience is rewarded. I’ve written before of my childhood fascination with Shrikes and today was an exciting one from that point of view. But first, the Hoopoes.
The first time I ever saw a Hoopoe was as a boy, in Gibraltar. I was looking out of window at the tennis court (we lived on a RAF base) and noticed a bird fluttering onto a nearby branch. It had a striking wing pattern (black and white) that seem to flicker as it beat its wings. I looked more closely and was astonished to see a brightly coloured bird with a flamboyant crest. Since then I’ve seen several Hoopoes in Qatar — the Museum of Islamic Art gardens is a good place to see them as are the new Katara gardens. I’d not seen a pair before and these two birds put on a very pleasing show for me.
This pair were so intent on feeding that they essentially ignored me. I could hear their feet on the ground and could watch at close quarters as they probed the ground for food.
I sat watching them for about fifteen minutes as they slowly walked through the scratchy bushes, pausing every now and again as if listening. After a while they strolled out of view and I was left grateful for the few minutes we had spent together.
Isabelline or Daurian Shrike
I found this beautiful bird sitting quietly low down in a tree. It was close to a large colony of Spanish Sparrows, so was easy to miss.
I knew this was a Shrike, but the question is, which one? It’s obviously a female and there are a number of candidates. I wondered whether to call it a female Woodchat Shrike because a few minutes later I found a male (below). I decided to pop the image into the Merlin app by CornellLab. This came back with the Isabelline Shrike, otherwise known as Daurian Shrike.
Male Woodchat Shrike
So, there he is, a smart male Woodchat Shrike. I still haven’t managed to catch one feeding, but this bird does have a grub of some kind in its bill.
I would dearly love to see a Red Backed Shrike before the migration season is over. But for now I’m elated at having now got three Shrikes on my list.
I’m so pleased to have bagged these shrikes. They’ve been on my radar for years.
There are lots of Wheatears around at the moment, and identifying some of them can be tricky. I’m tentatively going with Pied Wheatear for this one.
I think it looks like it’s heading out for the night, with a smart tuxedo on. There are lots of them about too and this one is pictured in typical pose on a prickly bush.
Wheatears are among the smartest birds around — their plumage always looks neat and tidy.
As I mentioned, there are a lot of Wheatears around at the moment. The Isabelline Wheatear is a delicately coloured Wheatear which you see everywhere. This is a typical pose.
These Wheatears like to stay close to the ground and are present in large numbers on the tracks and open spaces between the fields.
These birds are now vying with Crested Larks as the most numerous (excluding the sparrows).
I spotted this little mite in a bank of long grass. It sounds a bit like a Grasshopper Warbler, a long mechanical turrring noise.
The Graceful Prynia has a long tail which it tends to cock which makes it very distinctive. The bird was quite busy, calling constantly which made me wonder whether it might be thinking about nesting.
I was reminded of my favourite UK haunt, the Newport Wetlands which in April and May are alive with the buzzing and trilling of visiting warblers.
Western Marsh Harrier
For some reason, most of the Harriers I see are female birds. So it was amazing to catch a glimpse of a male Marsh Harrier shortly before I was leaving.
These birds are amazing to watch, their slow, lazy flying motion makes it seem unlikely that they will stay airborne. This bird was quartering a field, sweeping slowly one way and then the other.
All the harriers I’ve seen this year have demonstrated their odd, slightly unlikely flying style. You do wonder how they stay airborne at times.
After a happy three hours on the farm, I was making my way to the exit when I noticed what I first thought were strips of plastic in the field. Curious I approached more closely to find a flock of Cattle Egrets.
I’d seen Little and Great Western Egrets, but until now I’d not found any of this species. They were busy feeding in a scrape that had filled with water.
I last saw a Cattle Egret in 1977 in Gibraltar. I think they’re now making a comeback on the Somerset Levels, in the UK.
Bird List 7-2-20
Woodchat Shrike, Cattle Egret, Southern Grey Shrike, Isabelline Wheatear, Graceful Prynia, Spanish Sparrow, Pied Wheatear, Marsh Harrier, Hoopoe, Isabelline (Daurian) Shrike.
This month birds of prey across the northern hemisphere will journey south to their non-breeding