Brown Shrike 12th-14th May 2020
During the afternoon of 12th May, a Flamborough Bird Observatory member discovered a shrike whilst walking along the coastal path. Unsure whether the bird was a female Red-backed, he circulated an image on our closed Whatsapp group: it was soon clear the bird was a Brown Shrike.
A few local members visited the location and eventually relocated the bird. The shrike frequented thick scrub between two fairways on a golf course. Due to the lockdown, the course was still shut on 12th so it was easy to maintain social distance to view the bird safely. However, golfing was due to resume the following day, precluding viewing from the fairway edge. Anyone hoping to watch the bird would be restricted to observing from the narrow cliff top path, effectively blocking it for potential users.
The following government advice was consulted which states: ‘You can exercise outside as often as you wish and you can also sit and rest outside – exercise or recreation can be alone, with members of your household, or with one other person from outside your household, while keeping two metres apart at all times. You may drive to outdoor publicly accessible open spaces irrespective of distance, but should follow social distancing guidance whilst you are there. You should plan ahead to ensure that, where you are visiting places like National Parks, you have checked that they are open and appropriately prepared for visitors.’ (gov.uk website, 13th May 2020).
In our opinion, even a relatively small crowd would inevitably contravene this guidance given the limited viewing opportunities. The alternative would be for birders to step onto the golf course edge, potentially causing conflict with golfers from the local community. As with all bird observatories, maintaining a positive relationship between the obs and the local community is of paramount importance. We rely on the goodwill of local landowners and the Council for our access and conservation initiatives; jeopardising this relationship was not something we could countenance.
It was with reluctance that we decided to keep the news within the membership and asked them to refrain from propagating the news on social media. The presence of the shrike unfortunately leaked out the following morning. I contacted both national rare bird news providers to request that information be withheld. Both provided very polite and thorough responses; Birdguides very kindly agreed to withhold news. The shrike was last seen on 14th May.
Suffice to say, the last few days have proved to be very trying. Effectively we felt forced to suppress the news of a national rarity, albeit one that is now a more regular visitor. Indeed, this was the third Brown Shrike to have visited Flamborough, with the first in 2008 widely twitched from far and wide. Over the last 20 years, the headland has managed to accommodate several significant twitches including Baikal Teal, Crag Martin, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Eastern Olivaceous Warbler, Brown Flycatcher (twice), Taiga Flycatcher and Black-headed Bunting (twice). We very much look forward to hosting many more, provided we can do so without jeopardising the health of our local community or our relationship with residents, landowners and local businesses.