5th March 2018 Daniel Roca

Steppe Grey Shrike, first for Catalonia

The day started cloudy, but not really cold, at the Empordà plains. South-westerly winds have brought mild temperatures and weather fronts bring in some rain, a sign of the spring that is just around the corner. Past week’s north-east cold irruption, boosted by strong high pressures in Scandinavia, is gone. Who would have thought that a first for Catalonia, a mega-rare winter visitor from Central Asia, would be discovered this late in the season.

A Steppe Grey Shrike was found a few days ago by Albert Burgas and has remained in the area since then, attracting lots of birders who don’t want to miss the opportunity to see this beauty. The pretty confident bird favours a tree line next to a field where it hunts, as well as a recently planted fruit grove.

The bird strikes at first glance by its pale appearance, in contrast to the native Iberian Grey Shrike, which is much darker. When perched, the Steppe Grey Shrike has whitish underparts, pale grey upperparts, and a pale bill base and lores. Click to enlarge:

In flight, the large white patch on the primaries is cut off on the secondaries which –along with the greater coverts–, are noticeably white fringed.

With only two previous records in Iberia, this is a true rarity. Who knows when another one will end up here, so far away from its normal range? Anyway, after enjoying the bird for a couple of hours, there was still time to explore a bit more the area. The nearby fields were quite birdy, with many finch species, including some bramblings. Such a good winter for this species, as well as Siskin and Hawfinch.
This group of around 200 Golden plovers was resting in the field next to the shrike.

Empordà is well known for its rocky coasts and sandy beaches where people love to sun-bath. It is famous being home to Salvador Dalí. And its beautiful landscapes, its nature… there’s so much to see here! Just take a look at these pictures, taken from the very same spot where the shrike was. To the east, the Montgrí mountains early in the morning.

And to the west, the Pyrenees belonging massif, called “El Canigó”, well snow-capped.

The closest town to the site, Sant Iscle d’Empordà, as seen from the spot.

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