This morning I had a visit to see a male Woodchat Shrike just to the east of Rochford town centre.
The Woodchat Shrike is a rare visitor to the UK and this particular bird was first reported at this location on 1st May 2021.
Due to the cold spring weather plus some strong winds and heavy rain, I had expected the bird to move on quickly but it has continued to be reported on a daily basis. With good weather yesterday and a good weather forecast for this morning plus an early morning record of the bird today, I decided to make the bus and train journey to see it.
After a short walk from Rochford station, I easily found the location of the bird from directions given on the Internet and when I arrived there were around 10 socially-distanced birders.
Within 5 minutes, the male Woodchat Shrike appeared and perched at the top of a bush some distance away. Over the course of the next 30 minutes or so, the bird occasionally left what was clearly its favoured hunting perch but it always returned to it.
Despite the bird being a considerable distance away, it provided exceptional views in the sunshine with binoculars. I was also able to get a few record photos with my 100-400mm lens fully extended and with a 1.4x teleconvertor (equivalent to 1200mm on my micro 4/3 camera) and then I additionally cropped the best on my PC.
This was my third UK record of Woodchat Shrike (after males at Kelling Hard, Norfolk on 27th June 1993 and at Great Orme, Conwy on 2nd October 2006) and my first record for my home County of Essex.
This record was obviously an addition to my 2021 UK year list, taking it to 111 species. This is still well down on the number of species that I would normally have seen by mid-May due to the absence of winter visits and limited spring visits arising from the Covid-19 related travel restrictions.
The Woodchat Shrike (Lanius senator) is a member of the shrike family Laniidae. The genus name, Lanius, is derived from the Latin word for "butcher" and some shrikes are also known as "butcher birds" because of their habit of impaling corpses of insects, birds, reptiles and amphibians on thorns or barbed wire. The specific name senator is Latin for "senator", so-named because the male bird's chestnut cap recalled the colour of the stripe on the toga of a Roman senator.
The Woodchat Shrike breeds across southern Europe, northern Africa and the Middle East in open cultivated country with scattered trees and bushes and it winters across tropical central Africa. It often overshoots its breeding range on spring migration and it is a rare, but annual, visitor to the UK. During my trips to southern Europe, I have seen hundreds of Woodchat Shrikes, especially in Andalucia in southern Spain but also in northern Greece and Bulgaria.
Distribution map of Woodchat Shrike (orange = summer/breeding range, blue = winter range)
During my visit this morning, I also recorded the following species at the site ....
Common Whitethroat: 3 singing males at least
Lesser Whitethroat: 2 singing males at least (heard only)
Blackcap: 1 male
Chiffchaff: 1 singing male (heard only)
Reed Bunting: 1 male
Greenfinch: 1 singing male (heard only)
Great Spotted Woodpecker: 2 seen in flight together
I also saw a single Peacock and 2 Orange Tips.
Whilst waiting for my return train at Rochford station, I saw a Common Buzzard soaring high over the town and heard at least one "screaming" Swift and a singing male Blackcap.
After recently seeing a dead Hedgehog on the rear lawn of the block of flats where I live (see here), I sadly saw another today when I walked over to Asda to catch my bus to Billericay station. This animal was clearly a road casualty.
💚🦆 🦉🦋🐝🦊🦡🌼 🌳💚
Stay safe, stay well, stay strong, stay connected with nature