Isabelline Shrike – 1995 – first for Pembrokeshire

Lanius isabellinus phoenicuroidesCigydd Llwydfelen – vagrant

Photo – Isabelline Shrike at Porthclais, November 2011

Jack Donovan:

Ever since some American visitors told me they had seen a Baltimore Oriole at Nine Wells Valley (never proven of course), I have viewed this site as a possible “Porthgwarra of Pembrokeshire” and therefore, given the season and weather, I will visit to seek out rarities.  Thus it was that on the sunny afternoon of 27 October I walked down the valley noting butterflies and droneflies feeding on ivy flowers adorning hawthorn; I passed one particularly good spot and noted a bird movement – my low position on the path excluded a good view so I ventured a little further and then turned to walk slowly back. 

This gave me a direct view into a blackthorn patch on the top of which and a some 15 yards distance, sat a Shrike – a pale fawn-coloured bird with a very much darker, almost chestnut, tail.  I recognised it as an Isabelline Shrike in first winter plumage and watched it for some 20 minutes as it captured Painted Lady butterflies and hoverflies from the Ivy-covered shrubs on the other side of the valley path.  A splendid and unmistakable bird.  I decided to spread the word locally and walked towards the car park, was delighted to find David Astins not too far away and we went back and viewed the bird together.

I left for St Davids to spread the word, David left to telephone.  I returned later to find a gathering of observers enjoying excellent views – sadly we had no suitable cameras with us so only descriptions were obtained.

Towards dusk the sky was clear and the bird seemingly restless – it did not properly “go to roost” and rather predictably it had left during the night, so sadly the hopeful observers who arrived early next morning, and later, were disappointed.

David Astins:

When I returned JWD had moved on but I soon found the bird in the same spot 2/3 of the way down the valley.  Rod Hadfield arrived, followed by Trevor Price, Graham Rees and Peter Tithecott, and we all enjoyed the bird until it appeared to roost at 4.50 pm. 

It was similar in appearance to Red-backed Shrike but much paler and with a longer, contrastingly reddish tail.  The bill was greyish horn with a darker tip, which was hooked, darker culmen and darker base to the upper mandible.  The legs were dark greyish, the eye black and striking.  The underparts were pale sandy, with fine crescent marks on the upper breast and flanks.  The upperparts were sandy brown as was the forehead, crown and nape. The wings were darker brown with obvious pale fringes, particularly on the tertials.  Behind the eye was a darker brown mask, bordered above by a pale reddish brown, contrasting with the back and upperparts, particularly noticeable in flight.

The Isabelline Shrike has only once previously been recorded in Wales, at Holyhead Stack, Anglesey, in October 1985.  The species breeds in Iran and areas east of this and winters in S and SW Asia and NE Africa.

Source – Pembrokeshire Bird Report 1995

More about the Isabelline Shrike in Pembrokeshire