Every time we return to Portugal we notice that it takes us a day or two to get our ‘birding eyes in’, by that I mean the magical ability to spot and identify birds from a distance, and/or to keep up with them as we observe them through our binoculars and camera lens. Once we have got our eye in though, the natural world around us becomes even more marvellous.
I thought my readers and also the #TreeSquare gang might enjoy training your eyes and brain to ‘get your eye in’, and I have two species of shrike to help us. First up the Woodchat Shrike hiding in the Algarvian trees in springtime. Can you spot it?
Did you see it? I think this one is quite easy to see as its red head stands out in the foreground, if you cannot see it take another look in the upper branches of the tall spindly tree in the centre of the photo. Got it? Brilliant. Why not try a shot of another Shrike, a Southern Grey Shrike. This one is probably impossible to spot, but thanks to image compare you can easily zoom in!
Shrikes are passerine birds, and there are more than 30 species. They are mostly found in Europe and Africa, but there are two species in North America and one species in New Guinea. Their common name is Old English and apparently comes from their shriek like call, but you may also hear them called butcher birds because of their habit of keeping a larder of insects and small invertebrates on spikes (thorns or barbed wire). It was this name that made me presume they were also to be found in Australia as I recall Bushboy sharing posts on pied butcherbirds. However those birds are a completely different family, they just happen to share the habit of keeping a larder!
Right here’s your third opportunity to get your eye in, and this time I am going to give you a big hint – it is on the overhead wires. I spotted it without zooming in when I took the photograph on the left, but it wasn’t until I zoomed in that I identified it as a Southern Grey Shrike!
Did you spot it? It is on the upper wires, close to the pillar on the left hand side. Almost impossible to see with the naked eye but once you have found it the black dot kind of stands out. Well it does to me now I have got my birding eye in!
My next image compare is of the same set of wires on another day, and is a shout out to all the birders out there. I took these photographs within moments of each other, there are two Woodchat Shrikes in both shots. I think one male and one female, but just notice how the light and angle changes everything in that second shot.
Woodchat by the way is an Anglicisation of German waldkatze, literally “woodcat”. Seems a perfect description for a bird that waits on a perch to spot its prey before pouncing. Some of you might be wondering why they are passerines rather than birds of prey, and that is because of their feet. They don’t have talons and so are unable to hold the prey in their feet whilst they consume it. Instead they need to use a spike to impale their prey. They also can sing, and in fact some have been known to use their song to lure their prey into an ambush. Guess it can sound all rather horrid, but then the thrush with its beautiful song gets away with bashing snails against a rock and another songbird, the blackbird, will thanks to its incredible hearing catch multiple worms in minutes. We all have to make our dinner somehow!
Now you probably haven’t noticed it yet but the Southern Grey Shrike has a hooked beak, rather like a bird of prey. So let me finish with a #TreeSquare to show off that hook.