Very grey…

By Marek Szczepanek (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Marek Szczepanek (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
I went twitching yesterday…sort of.

In fact, I went twitching on Sunday too, but only yesterday was successful.

There is a Great Grey Shrike in Northants, and that doesn’t happen that often, and not often in the first days of January, so I thought I’d go and have a look for it.

Sunday was a complete failure – it was very misty and I felt I’d rather be snoozing in front of the fire.

Monday morning is always a good time to go birdwatching – when everyone else is going to work – particularly on the first day back for many workers.  I headed through the lanes to an area west of Oundle and east of Corby.  Two other birders were present and our hopes weren’t very high but just as I was wondering whether some more snoozing might be a good option, the ‘man from near to Leicester’ spotted the bird briefly. I walked down the road and found the bird again sitting low in the hedge and we all, the three of us, looked at it.

Very grey it was too – I guess that”s how they got the name. Not that ‘great’ in terms of size, but quite ‘great’ in terms of being a good bird for Northants.

Happy New Year!

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16 Replies to “Very grey…”

  1. I was back in school yesterday so it was just the school walk birds for me, but the Redwing were nice to see for part of the walk. Not one Great Grey Shrike on the way home though.

  2. I went over to see the Great Grey Shrike at Harrington Airfield in October 2013. A nice enough bird but, well, under-whelming. Certainly not as attractive a bird as many of our common garden species. That's why I've never got serious twitching, the birds themselves are so often nothing special other than they are in the wrong place. My "twitch radius" is quite short....

    1. Jeff - my twitch radius is quite short too, and depends on the bird. I wouldn't have driven for 20 minutes for a whole range of rarer but duller species. I'm with you on that.

  3. I remember going to see a Great Grey Shrike near Deene Park when I was at Oundle. Shrikes excited me then and they still do now.

    For the record, I won't travel further than 25 miles to see a 'rare' bird. What is the point, I ask you?

  4. It is not often that any of us can claim a hit rate as high as four out of three on a twitch but this was achieved on Saturday with Janice Sutton. First the shorelark at Rossall Point, then on to the male great scaup at Fairhaven, ending with great grey shrike on Lytham Moss. Actually none of the three were lifers for me nor are they home county ticks now that I have to accept Greater Manchester as my home county (not county of birth though) but very good year ticks to get so early.

    OK, the missed one? Snow bunting at Rossall Point although to be truthful, the birds had not been seen for a few days although we did find three purple sandpipers lounging about in the shingle amongst hundreds of turnstones.

  5. I found myself in a great grey shrike 'twitch' several years ago when driving slowly along the edge of a spruce plantation where the wintering bird was known to hang out on the telephone poles. The 'twitch' began in earnest when I pulled up behind an oil delivery tanker who's driver with binoculars trained was leaning out of the window.

    Its all to easy when working in 'the environmental field' to forget that normal people like the same things too and I remember the story for that very reason.

  6. I think I've only seen a Great Grey Shrike on three occasions, but I remember that the first occasion required about five attempts to see it with it finally appearing on top of a bush right next to the road. They are not particularly 'great' or colourful, but quite striking little birds.

    However, it's a bit of a (great) grey area as to whether it counts as a twitch or not. It is a regular, if scarce and unpredictable, wintering species in Britain, rather than a rare vagrant blown well out of its usual range. Does going to look for waxwings that have been reported in a supermarket carpark count as twitching? What about going to Haweswater to see a golden eagle or Loch Garten to see capercaillies? Perhaps its enough to count as twitching if it is a locally unusual species that you have travelled specifically to see. I don't know and I'm probably not the best judge. I don't think I've ever travelled more than 10 miles out of my way to see a rarity, as evidenced by the fact I am typing this when I could be 15 miles away looking for a harlequin duck!

    1. Paul - I think I would travel 15 miles to see a Harlequin Duck actually (especially if it were here in Northants (and I thought it were wild)). But then again, I have travelled a few miles, probably a few more than 15 but not that many more, to see three (I think there were) Harlequin Ducks so in the parlance of real twitchers (of which I am demonstrably not one) - I don't 'need' it!

      1. Perhaps it makes a difference that I don't 'need' it either as I am fortunate to have seen the species in Iceland (although that was over 30 years ago). Anyway, I hear that the duck is being chased upstream by twitchers so if I wait long enough it might come to me!

        I've come to the conclusion that it is important for me to see a bird in its natural habitat as that is as much a part of the experience as the bird itself. I also think I am a bit anti-social and don't enjoy watching birds in a crowd! However, I can understand the excitement of finding a rare bird yourself or seeing something unusual on your local patch, so I am not totally lost to twitching.

  7. My first Great Grey Shrike was absolutely great and still one of my best ever bird memories. Key ingredients, just moseying down a familiar road (on a day as grey as the one Mark describes) not looking FOR anything, looking in a relaxed way AT everything with good company, also interested in birds. Screeching to a halt 'There was a rum looking bird in that tree ...'. Reversing. Bird still there and we had a really good view of it - smart as paint and scowling darkly at us. We THOUGHT we knew what it was and raced back home to look it up. Total excitement. A Great Grey Shrike and WE found it ourselves. The best sort of tick in my view.

    NB In my memory it was the size of a goshawk. All subsequent ones have been disappointments, to be honest. Size, eh?

  8. I dont ever "twitch" unless you count walking a mile from our house to see a nice flock of waxwings that someone told me about a couple of winters ago? (I don't).
    I've not seen a shrike in the UK but spent a lovely couple of weeks in rural Turkey a few years ago watching great grey, woodchat and masked shrike, as well as wryneck, from our ramshackle accommodation in an orange grove.
    All were very unexpected. .. well... for me anyway, and still the Med is the only place I've seen any species of shrike.

  9. Great Grey Shrike being seen regularly on Thorne Moors (South Yorkshire), see

    Hen Harrier numbers to regular roost appear (but not definitively validated) to be down .... mmmmh?


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