Birdwatch: Masked Shrike

Autumn migration is in full swing along the east coast with Yorkshire’s first masked shrike and only the third for Britain in the Triangle at Spurn. The bird, a juvenile, was first seen on Saturday morning in Well Field and continued to show well, if distantly, since then perched on fences.

A masked shrike has visited Yorkshire for the first time and it is only the third sighting in Britain.  Pic: Mike Robinson.
A masked shrike has visited Yorkshire for the first time and it is only the third sighting in Britain. Pic: Mike Robinson.

A special car park was provided for the large numbers of birders arriving to see the shrike.

The smallest member of the shrike family, the masked shrike is common in southeast Europe and the eastern end of the Mediterranean in Turkey and Cyprus. It winters in north east Africa and, as a relative short range migrant, records of vagrants in Western Europe are rare.

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The first confirmed record in the UK was a juvenile in Kilrenny, Fife in October 2004 while a second record was on St Mary’s on the Isles of Scilly in November 2006. There have also been October records in Finland and Sweden.

The adult male is a striking bird, black and white and with bright orange flanks, while females and juveniles are dark grey above, white below and with much paler orange flanks. Juveniles also have heavily vermiculated upperparts.

The masked shrike features in the 1963 movie The Great Escape - oddly enough shown on TV the same day this one arrived at Spurn - when POW Colin Blythe, aka ‘the forger’ (Donald Pleasence) teaches bird identification lessons.

Another shrike, a great grey, continued to be seen at the northern end of Beacon Lane while another rarity, an olive-backed pipit, was in the same area as the masked shrike.

More yellow-browed warblers and red-breasted flycatchers were sighted along the Yorkshire coast in what is turning out to be an exceptional autumn for both species, while six red-breasted flycatchers were present on one day at Spurn, beating the previous day record.

Little buntings were seen at Filey and Flamborough.

More common migrants included pied and spotted flycatchers, wrynecks, blackcaps, willow, garden and wood warblers, redstarts, whinchats, tree and meadow pipits and an unusual large passage of grey wagtails from Scandinavia with 55 last Friday at Spurn.

There were also several grey headed wagtails, a form that breeds in Scandinavia, with sightings at Spurn, Kilnsea and Flamborough and there were one or two white wagtails.

There were reports of Fea’s petrel off Flamborough, Filey and Long Nab, Burniston on Sunday morning and also a Leach’s storm petrel off Mappleton. Long-tailed skuas, a Sabine’s gull off Long Nab, Burniston and great and sooty shearwaters were among other sightings.

Waders included a pectoral sandpiper, little stint and spotted redshank at the Nosterfield reserve, North Yorkshire and another pectoral sandpiper at Hatfield Moors, South Yorkshire.

Reminders that winter is on its way were two jack snipe at Spurn, pink-footed and barnacle geese moving south and also the first Lapland buntings of the autumn.