The large Sparrowhawk soared up in front of me, rapidly gaining height and skilfully negotiating the strong gusts of wind as it banked right, and then left. When you’re searching for a rare bird, especially one that spends a lot of its time perched on the top of posts, the sight of a Sparrowhawk is not the most comforting omen! Back in March 2004, a group of birders were congratulating one another on catching up with a rare American Robin – which had somehow travelled from the States and ended up on an industrial estate in Grimsby – when a Sparrowhawk suddenly swooped down and grabbed it right in front of their eyes…they must have been so gutted!!
I’d made my way over to Biggleswade Common following the sighting of a Red-backed Shrike here yesterday. Shrikes are well-known for the characteristic way in which they catch insects and small mammals and then impale them on thorns, creating their own larder. No wonder they are commonly referred to as 'Butcher Birds'! One older birder I spoke to today told me that his parents used to speak of how they would often come across these larders when walking in the countryside in times past. Unfortunately, the Red-backed Shrike no longer breeds regularly in the UK, despite government attempts to encourage it to take up residence in numbers again by 2015.
It was soon after 3pm when Rob Dazely gave me a shout to say that the bird had been spotted….a stunning female! Steve Blain has given me permission to reproduce his brilliant photo here (that looks like a Speckled Bush Cricket sticking out of its bill!).
I spent the next 2 hours watching this bird as it slowly made its way down the fenceline next to the railway, undisturbed by the regular trains that careered by. At one point I saw it catch and consume a bumblebee….that will be an interesting record for Colin, our Bedfordshire Bumblebee Recorder!!