Sunday, 6 November 2011

Biting off more than we can Chew

On Friday night, I was in two minds as to what to do on Saturday. Ian had invited me on a trip to see the Steppe Grey Shrike, early November is prime time for Canons Farm birding and I really wanted to spend a day there but I simply could not turn down a more or less guaranteed lifer.

So, on Saturday morning Ian picked me up then we collected Peter 'Polo' from Burgh Heath and headed for Telford. I fell asleep for much of it so it didn't seem as long as it really was. We arrived at about 8.30am, parked up and put our change in for the Royal British Legion. I don't normally take much notice when the pager says 'tho distant' because for many people seem to define a distant bird as one a few feet out of range for a frame-filling shot. In this instance, the bird wasn't described as distant but when I saw everyone's scopes pointed at the other end of a 800 metre wide field I realised we weren't in for a experience like this.

Steppe Grey Shrike

The STEPPE GREY SHRIKE was indeed a long way off and you could just about tell it was a grey shrike and at times you could get the idea it didn't have a dark bill or lores. Just when we were thinking of leaving, it came closer - still very distant but a significant improvement - and most of the identification features could be noted. It certainly appeared very pale, having large amounts of white in the wing and having light lores and bill. Being a race of Southern Grey Shrike, this represents my sixth shrike species.

We then set off for Chew Valley Lake. I needed Lesser Scaup and Ian and Peter needed some of the other things that had been around, so there was lots to mop up in a short period of time. I was expecting a site about the size of Abberton Reservoir but it wasn't as vast as I anticipated. There were ruddy lots of ducks though, all very distant. The pager hadn't given precise areas for the various birds and there was little daylight left so we felt utterly overwhelmed. I set to work scanning a 'raft' of aythyas and was surprised when I picked up a drake scaup quite quickly. When I took my eye off it or tried to get the others onto it I lost it into the flock and it was hard to pick up again. It soon became active, diving and swimming about a lot and I couldn't keep up with it. It appeared to be the same size as the neighbouring Tufted Ducks but a solid ID was impossible at that range. I began to hate Chew Valley Lake, and ducks.

We moved round to a hide that was closer to the birds but the sun was in front of us and, even though we were working with nearer birds, they were silhouettes. We gave up as gulls gathered to roost, a Raven flew past and the sun descended.