The tweet had come through to my phone whilst we were driving over to see my aged Mother. This was to be a surprise visit. For three weeks she had been pestering me to introduce my latest girlfriend to her. I suppose she was as shocked as I that a nice young girl was willing to accommodate my foibles, bad habits and awful sense of humour and be foolish enough to meet me more than once.
Every time I had ever mentioned a girl’s name I could imagine her plotting a wedding. So far, she had been disappointed and I wasn’t sorry to keep dashing her hopes.
I could imagine her reaction when I had announced that I’d met someone and this crazy girl had expressed a desire to meet her despite my reservations and thinly veiled warnings.
The afore-mentioned was called Sally, and was beside me in the car. She picked up the phone when the notification sounded and told me that it was a tweet then asked if I was happy for her to read it for me.
It transpired that a Great grey shrike had been sighted about fourteen miles away from our destination. Sally was aware that I was a pretty keen birdwatcher and had occasionally sat quietly in a bird hide with me and despite her probable boredom had manged to retain a sense of humour. I sensed that under the attractive exterior was a closet twitcher.
This bird would be a first for me and as I always carried binoculars in the car this was an opportunity not to be missed. We stopped and taking the phone from her I checked the time of the message. Then we pulled the atlas out of the glove compartment and with a growing excitement on my part, started to plan the route to the last known sighting place. We could get there within half an hour. It was out at the edge of the moor, quite close to one of the narrow B roads that abound in that part of the country.
As we approached the site it was easy to spot for there were quite a few cars drawn up along the grass verges. We followed suit and grabbing my binoculars and camera we headed for a break in the granite, dry-stone wall. Luckily the ground was dry as there had been unseasonably little rain for the past couple of months.
There was a small group of people standing about a hundred yards from the opening; a few standing next to tripods on which were perched cameras with telephoto lenses attached. Each as long and thick as one of my arms. All lenses pointing at a medium height ash tree with sharp, snapped limbs and very little leaf cover.
Sally and I tagged on the end of the semi-circle and raising my glasses I started to focus on the bare branches. It only took a couple of minutes to spot the first tell-tale sign of the shrike. Festooned over the spiky, short branches I spotted a frog, two mice and numerous large flying insects, all hanging grotesquely like circus acrobats frozen in mid-swing. Each little corpse starkly silhouetted against the darkening sky. A few twitched haphazardly in their death throes. I asked Sally if she wanted a look and was surprised at her eagerness to take the glasses from me. She asked me what was happening there so I explained about the rather gruesome habits of this bird, also known as the Butcher bird. Her fascination was palpable when I explained that the bird catches prey when it can and uses a tree or sometimes a wire fence as a larder in case food becomes scarce.
An excited tremor passed through the group and all eyes went up as suddenly the focus of our attention turned to a small grey bird that flew rapidly back to the tree. Then it hopped from branch to branch looking for another natural hook on which to hang the still struggling body of a field-mouse. Then he was off again and with my desire to add this bird to my list sated, Sally and I took a few photos of the grisly display. With a broad grin on both our faces we returned to the car to continue our journey.
I was happy that Sally had been so interested but the look on her face when I told her about the larder could be a bit worrying as it might show a different side to her character..