Sunday, 27 January 2019

Hanging Houghton :: 26 January 2019

The forecast suggested that the morning would be the best time to be outdoors and so, with reports of a great grey shrike just north of my usual Northants range, I decided on an early start. When I arrived at Hanging Houghton I was unsure of access by car, and signs suggested that the surface was unsuitable. I continued driving until I came to an open barn and parked up with a dozen or so other vehicles - according to GoogleMaps I was only 500m away.

As I walked along I saw a flock of goldfinches to my left, then yellowhammer and a couple of skylark. Ahead I could see around ten people with scopes presumably on the shrike or trying to pick out a lapland bunting, reported the day before. A couple of cars had ventured this far but the potholes confirmed I had done the right thing in leaving my car back at the barn. As I reached the congregation I talked to a chap coming from my right and found out that the shrike had been seen but was off to the right and across a couple of fields. I decided that it might be a losing battle trying to spot the lapland bunting in the scrub, so headed straight for the shrike. Around the scrub were flocks of skylarks, chasing each other and some rising as they often do - I'm not sure I've ever seen this many together before.

When I got to the top of the hill there were two blokes scanning with scopes. They had seen the shrike 10 minutes before on the hedge ahead but it had dropped and disappeared. Great grey shrike In just a couple of minutes, one of the guys (a young lad who worked at an RSPB reserve) picked out the bird on the other side of the field - distant, but a tick. The young lad said he was visiting family but he had popped out to add to his year list, already standing just short of 150 - in fact he had been to Blashford Lakes the previous week to see the lesser scaup. In the hedge ahead of us we were treated with numbers of chaffinch, yellowhammers, linnet, reed bunting and tree sparrows.

The shrike worked its way along the far hedge and eventually both of the others left. I was joined by another local birder and we watched as the shrike worked back along the far hedge, eventually dropping to the ground. It didn't reappear but as I looked along the hedge behind us it appeared ahead but still a little distant. It didn't stay more than a minute and dropped again, out of sight. Raven passed over, cronking as they went.

Not long after @Old_Caley (Nick) and his wife turned up - amazing who you bump into on a cold, windy Northants hillside! Eventually I saw the shrike fly out from the hedgerow ahead and across the field to the far side. We watched it settling in various far away bushes and trees. At this point an annoying birder decided to walk along the far hedgerow and right up to the bird - it stayed still until he was right upon it at which point it took off, into the high branches of a tall tree - talking to him later it appears that he never saw it, even when it flew off! It then disappeared for some time, and I had to head home to meet for lunch. I said goodbye to Nick and his wife and headed back.

Sightings (17) included: blackbird, carrion crow, chaffinch, dunnock, goldfinch, great grey shrike [#74], great tit, linnet, magpie, pied wagtail, raven, reed bunting, rook, skylark, stock dove, tree sparrow and yellowhammer.

As I write this I have just finished my "Big Garden Birdwatch". Nothing out of the ordinary but after I submitted my results I had an extra group of goldfinch visit - 15 - and a beautiful male sparrowhawk [#75]. I also see that Old Caley managed to get closer views of the shrike just after I left - oh well.

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