Friday, October 24, 2014

Amersham, October 24, 2014 - Great Grey Shrike, and the thrill of seeking shelter in a hedge

Amersham hills
Amersham
Sheltering in a hedge - the best
Great Grey Shrike Lanius excubitor
Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius
European Robin Erithacus rubecula, my partner in hedge
  After a lovely month-and-a-bit in Denmark, I'm back in Amersham for a week before heading to Devon this weekend (last chance for Ring Ouzels?!).  It's been classically autumnal here, with silvery skies, chilly rain, and rolling fields of tan.  Under the threatening clouds that regularly roll through the area, I went out for a stroll in the hills of Amersham today.  
  About ten minutes into my muddy saunter, the skies opened up, in a strange situation that looked to me like one small, dark rain-cloud had parked itself over me, cartoon-style.  Instead of using my exciting new surplus poncho (surplus stores rock), I followed the ancient impulse that lit up in my head  - 'hide'.  After kicking away some menacing thorns, I pushed my way into a small void in a hedge, and hunkered down under the thin canopy of yellowing leaves.  As the rain squall soaked the fields, I sat there for 15 minutes or so, relatively dry and happy.  It was a strangely relaxing and cozy situation, and pretty soon other rain refugees joined me.  A Robin and a small band of Long-tailed Tits bounced through the hedge and perched around and above me for the duration of the rain shower, eyeing me curiously.  We're in this together, fellas.
  It reminded me of a warm and fuzzy memory from my youth.  While staying at a country house north of Montreal with my family, I made a habit of heading into the forest when it rained, wearing a huge green poncho.  I'd sit on a clump of moss, listening to the rain drum on my hood, for endless happy hours.  He's a weird one, that one.
  When the rain ended (today, not in my youth), I reluctantly extricated myself from the hedge, my knees going off like firecrackers.  Not five minutes down the trail, I walked past a gap in a hedge, and found myself staring at a medium-sized greyish bird at a distance of about 20 feet.  In the span of one second, the internal dialogue in my head went like this: 'Shrike!  Can't be, it's a Jay.  Jay, must be.  Jay habitat?  Not Jay.  Great Grey Shrike!  Shrike!! Get an image!', and I cracked off a few record shots before it flew off into the empty field, eventually doubling back into the same long hedge.  High five! 
  Other highlights from my walk included 30+ Skylarks overhead, numerous Yellowhammers, some good looks at an actual Eurasian Jay, several flyover Fieldfares, two active clusters of Chaffinch, single Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Eurasian Sparrowhawk being seen off by a Magpie, and noisy European Robins – everywhere.  Additionally, contrasting with their secretive summer behaviour, numerous Pheasants and Moorhens were spotted out in the open, feeding at the edges of the fields fairly boldly.  On my way back an hour later, the Great Grey Shrike was spotted again in the same bit of hedge.  Re-high five!

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