THE CHANCE SIGHTING near South Shields of a small bird normally seen in Mongolia was a “dream come true” for one National Trust ranger.
Dougie Holden, National Trust Assistant Ranger at Souter Lighthouse and the Leas, spotted the Isabelline shrike (Lanius isabellius) on Friday on land cared for by the conservation charity about two miles north of Souter Lighthouse.
The Isabelline shrike is believed to have been blown far off course during its annual migration from Mongolia and China to North Africa. The British Trust for Ornithology estimates that on average just one of these rare visitors is seen in Britain every year.
Dougie, a keen birdwatcher, said: “We get a lot of migratory birds flying over the lighthouse, but I didn’t expect to see the shrike – it was a dream come true.
“The shrike was roughly the size of a starling, thick-set with a heavy bill. They’re called the ‘butcher bird’ because they spear shrews and lizards on thorns. But with what looks like a black mask across its head, our shrike looked more like a burglar.”
News quickly spread that the rare bird had been spotted and, by Friday afternoon, over 70 birdwatchers had arrived trying to catch a glimpse of the shrike.
Ex-soldier Dougie, 54, a South Shields native who spent periods in the infantry and as machine operator with an engineering firm before becoming a ranger, added: “Our shrike really performed for the cameras, entertaining hundreds of birdwatchers over the weekend.”
The National Trust works closely with the Whitburn bird ringing group to survey birds at the Tyne & Wear estate. This year volunteers on the Leas have already spotted large numbers of Redwing and Goldcrest, which migrate to the north-east from Scandinavia and Russia.