Wednesday 25 December 2019

Brown Shrike twitch

Although we most like to enjoy birds in their native habitat, every now and then we unleash our twitching instinct. Nowadays this happens quite rarely, maybe once a year, when the general wildlife scene becomes very poor. In winter, birds become our only focus and then, some twitching is allowed. A few days ago, an incredibly rare Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus turned up in a field north of Udine in nearby Italy, just about one hour drive from our home. It is the 2nd ever record for Italy and it was found by Marta Trombetta whose full account (in Italian) with photos can be found in this blog. The decision to make a "silent twitch" was taken. That means we took advantage of today's festivity to enjoy traffic-free roads and the absence of twitching crowds (we're not in Britain, but this remains a 2nd for Italy!). Picking up a friend on the way and meeting a few more on the site, by mid morning we were watching the Brown Shrike. At first it was rather skulking, staying partly hidden in low bushes, but later we managed to obtain excellent views. It was actively hunting from perches and usually catching crickets Gryllus sp. On a few occasions we even watched it impale its prey on twigs. Brown Shrike is a rare vagrant to Europe as its main breeding range is in the Asian part of Siberia, Mongolia, eastern China, the Koreas and Japan. It usually winters in India and southeastern Asia, therefore any birds found in Europe are considered great rarities.
Brown Shrike Lanius cristatus
Hunting grounds of the Brown Shrike.

After enjoying the Brown Shrike, as well as two Great Grey Shrikes Lanius excubitor, we headed to the nearby nature reserve of Cornino, known for its thriving population of Griffon Vultures Gyps fulvus. In the sky and on the mountain ridge above the visitor's center we watched about 30 Griffons, many Ravens Corvus corax and heard a Rock Bunting Emberiza cia, while the expected Wallcreeper Tichodroma muraria didn't show up. However we were happy to see 3 Goosanders Mergus merganser on the scenic river Tagliamento/Tilment, with the Julian Prealps as a backdrop.
Griffon Vulture Gyps fulvus
Thermophilous cliffs at Cornino with sub-Mediterranean vegetation of Holm Oak Quercus ilex.
Goosander Mergus merganser
The wild river Tagliamento/Tilment.
Mount Plauris/Lopič in the Julian Prealps.