The big breaking news late on Saturday evening was that a Woodchat Shrike had turned up on Gower and was to be found feeding around Llangennith Moor. An early morning text off Barry Stewart on Sunday confirmed that the bird was indeed present and also served as a handy prompt to drag myself out of bed. My parents were down visiting for the weekend and with my dad a keen bird photographer it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss. Half an hour later and we were on our way.
Upon arrival things weren’t looking good with a large area of suitable habitat to search and no clues apart from another distant birder who seemed not to be looking at anything in particular. I put the binoculars to my eyes for a quick scan and there, sitting on top of the first bush I came across, was the Woodchat Shrike.
Against the blue sky and in the sunshine the chestnut brown head stood out brilliantly whilst the beak and body shape made the bird completely unmistakeable. We sat down and watched the Shrike for a good hour as it moved from bush to bush, taking what looked to be small insects from both the ground and the air. We had almost unbroken views throughout, right up until a fantastic Merlin came swooping past us through the reed bed, taking our attention completely. As you can probably guess the Shrike chose that exact moment to hop out of view and conceal itself while no one was watching.
By now the other birder had drifted off and we found ourselves alone giving us a perfect opportunity to move in closer to try for a few photos. That of course relied on us relocating the Shrike which we eventually did when it popped back up on top of the same bush from which it had originally disappeared. The distance between us and the bird was still huge and with the heat haze kicking in the record shot above was the best that I could manage. Interestingly this is the second Woodchat Shrike that I have seen in this area, the first being a couple of miles away on Rhossili Down in 2009. I wonder when we will get our next one?
There were plenty of other birds in the vicinity including Dunnocks (which for some reason my Dad kept mistaking for the Shrike when they hopped into view – he’s going mad I think), Meadow Pipits, Linnets, Pied Wagtails, Stonechats and a couple of Reed Buntings. They were all quite flighty but I got a couple of pictures that turned out nicely.
From the above you probably get the impression that we headed straight for Llangennith but you’d be wrong. Continuing in my philosophy of not going somewhere just to see a bird we actually started the day off at Rhossili and walked the coast path from there to reach the Shrike. This turned out to be a great move as the vegetation along the the route was packed with recently arrived migrants. The highlight for me was my first Blackcaps of the year with at least five individuals feeding on berries in and around the old Rhossili Rectory. They were given a good run for their money though by the Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs that were showing beautifully in the flowering Blackthorn.
Other birds seen on the day included a couple of Kestrels, a pair of Ravens, Fulmars, Cormorants and the usual Gull suspects loafing around on the sea. We also seem to be suffering from an influx of Lesser Spotted Tourists. It certainly wasn’t this busy in December!