Great Grey Shrikes in winter in Brandenburg

RaubwürgerHaving seen the Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor) sitting in a snowstorm during a trip to Lapland and Finmark in northern Norway in early spring, I decided to pay more attention to discover this bird – which is called Great Grey Shrike, too – in the lowlands of Brandenburg in Winter as well. It turned out, that it is a good strategy to drive low-traffic countryroads in farmlands. Often you can see the bird sitting remoteless in a low birch wood, a hazel bush of a cherry tree along the road. It does not matter whether the fields are cultivated intensively or whether it is fallow land. Important is a object which can be used as a perch. Photography of Northern Shrikes suffer from the fact, that Shrikes are first of all quite shy, second have big winter territories and third perch on top of higher objects like trees, pylons of power lines. This means you often have a boring grey winter sky as a background. Additionally this position poses quite a challenge in terms of contrast and saturation of colors.

Numbers of the wintering population vary from year to year. It seems, that nowadays, the wintering population in Brandenburg has reduced, as severe winters appear to have become a something of the past. Recent mild winters have presumably seduced the birds to stay further to the north-east near their breeding grounds. However, birds frequently return to favored wintering sites in successive winters and often linger for protracted periods of time allowing patient photographers their reward. If you pay attention, you might enjoy comparable pictuers ot that, you see in the Great Grey Shrike Gallery. A good idea might be to discover preferred perches in their big winter territories along country roads which are paved in an elevated level over the rest of the countryside. The nice image of the blog e.g. was shot from a elevated country road with some frequent traffic (so that the Shrikes get accustomed to vehicles!) leading through a clearing for a power line. The background is extraordinary good, as there is a vegetated hill in the background. If the landscape is covered with a white linen of snow, the chances to see Great Grey Shrike are even better. Sometimes it is possible to shoot images of the hunting Shrikes in the high snow.

According to Wikipedia the Great Grey Shrike occurs throughout most temperate and subarctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Its breeding range is limited to areas north of 50° northern latitude in Eurasia and south of 70° northern latitude. In winter time, there is some movement to escape the most northern parts of the distribution range.

But how do they survive in winter. Horst Mester in his article “Feeding habits of the Great Grey Shrike in winter”  describes some strategies. A thin cover of snow may make it easier for Great Grey Shrike to catch small mammals, especially Microtus sp. , but when these remain hidden by deep snow the shrikes must turn to small birds as their main prey. In such periods of food shortage they can be seen hunting round human habitations, presumably attracted by the birds concentrated around barns and other feeding places. On the edge of Frondenberg (western part of Germany) he once saw a shrike capture two Great Tits (Parus major) on a bird table within half an hour. Even so, protracted hard weather evidently causes considerable losses among Great Grey Shrikes

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western Palearctic. Trips to productive locations in Germany but also to remote places in the world to capture images of rare birds of western Palearctic were very successful. The nice image of the blog was shot on a power line clearing near Luckenwalde in Germany and is only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give a message, if could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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