The RED-BACKED SHRIKE Twitch To Powell River!

On Friday my friend Iwan Van Veen sent me a photo of a blurry Asian shrike. I could tell right away it was an Asian shrike and I thought due to range most likely it would be Brown.

He had first thought on Thursday when he first saw the bird that it was a Northern Shrike but something bugged him about the bird so he went back and got the photo. Once he saw it more clear he figured he probably had a Brown Shrike too.

Well because the photo was blurry I said we can’t rule out the other Asian shrikes like Red-backed, Isabelline and Red-tailed and could you go back and get better photos. Well he did that same day. He got every angle of the bird covered which would be needed for expert opinions.

I studied up reading this amazing article by Dutch Birding and after consulting with a few others thought "oh my gosh this looks better for Red-backed"as so many features were lining up!. Since I had never seen Red-backed Shrike and it would be the first record for Canada and the second for the ABA I quickly began consulting experts. Lehman sent me the excellent paper he wrote about his first record for North American Birds as well and Pyle sent me his detailed paper on the California hybrid Red-tailed X Red-backed.

I got expert opinions from Korea in Asia,  Europe (Sweden etc) and Israel and experts in America. 
All of them came back with this is a 1st year male Red-backed Shrike. 
Truly incredible. They also said there was no visible signs of hybridism and no inconsistencies in that regard. Big thank you especially to Nial Moores, Lars Svensson, Julian Hough, Jonathan Meyrav, Yoav Perlman, Peter Pyle, Paul Lehman, Itai Shanni and the detailed phone conversation with my friend Michael Force.

What a phenomenal record and find for my friend Iwan and what a blessing that it stuck around for so many to see it. Ilya and I had packed up the same night and arrived at Powell River at midnight. We didn’t get much sleep that night because we were so nervous the bird wouldn’t be there. The skies were clear and we heard Snow Geese migrating over our heads all night lol! Well the next morning was Ilya’s birthday and we went there and saw friendly familiar faces from Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the Sunshine Coast and 1 from Ontario and the star himself Iwan. Many of my friends from WA texted me how much they wanted to be there too but couldn't of course due to the border closure.

I don’t think he’s ever seen this many birders in Powell River. The last time I was there for the Black-tailed Gull the numbers didn’t even compare. A nice news article about Iwan’s find was published that you can read HERE

Anyways after a very freezing cold morning the bird showed up at 8:30am hunting from a vacant lot. Everyone was thrilled we could even count the diagnostic 7 primaries extending past the tertials. We could clearly see the rufous brown ear spot and the white flanks and underbelly lacking any buff wash. The back was heavily scalloped and the weak facial supercilium evident. The bright red tail with outer rect with prominent white edging with black subterminal mark all were diagnostic of this species.  

All field marks were clear. How exciting and what a thrill and a great birthday present for Ilya. He’s seen them before in Ukraine but his BC list to him is more important than his life list. I’m the other way, where my life list is more important than my BC list, so we were both happy. It was BC Bird # 439 for me and ABA bird #718!. We watched him hunt and successfully catch a cricket, beetle and eat a berry. He also had blood on his beak so probably got a mouse.

1st year male Red-backed Shrike in Powell River - Photo: Melissa Hafting

After a nice Thai lunch we birded Cranberry Lake after and then scoped the ocean and saw a massive raft of Sea Lions. We then went home via Saltery Bay ferry and at Earl’s Cove we’re delighted to see a small herd of coastal Elk with a nice Bull.

Elk in Egmont, BC - Photo: Melissa Hafting

The next day I got up and saw a Harris’s Sparrow (Canada's only endemic breeder and NA's biggest sparrow) and vagrant Blue Jay to cap off my weekend. They were birds 260 and 261 respectively. I wonder if 270 is possible again this year? Time will tell. It is now evident that 250 is not much of a challenge anymore the way information is changed and the new goal should be 260 in my opinion as well as Keith Riding who told me the same last year.

Harris's Sparrow in Richmond - Photo: Melissa Hafting

Blue Jay in Richmond - Photos: Melissa Hafting

What a great weekend with a truly incredible bird that brightened up the lives of many birders in this dreary pandemic!.


  1. Congratulations on seeing such a rare bird. Some beautiful pictures as well

    1. thank you so much! i was thrilled he got so close at one point after hours of waiting in the freezing cold!

  2. Wow this is so excellent Mel. Congratulations

  3. Awesome twitch. I'm happy for you. Great shots. I should make hour drive and see if I can find the Blue Jay that isn't far from me.

    1. thanks so much jim. i hope you get out to see that blue jay!

  4. Melissa, congratulatons to you and Ilya.

  5. What an amazing bird and incredible twitch!! Congrats!! Great shots too.

    1. thanks liron it sure was one of the coolest birds ive ever seen in bc thanks again :)

  6. OH my mel this is fabulous! your photos are the best by far i've seen of the BC Red-backed shrike!

  7. Mel
    Fabulous twitch and such an incredible bird. Your photos are ( as usual) absolutely outstanding. Now, I m just hoping it hangs around until Fri., then I can pop over from Comox

    1. thank you so much ken that It is so very kind! I am crossing my fingers and toes for you that the bird sticks till friday :D!!

  8. great photos of an incredible bird melissa. glad you got to see it! this was a fun and interesting read. congratulations to iwan on his impressive find!


Post a Comment

Popular Posts

Dowitcher Identification

Hawk Identification Tips from every angle (Sharpie vs Cooper and Red-tailed Subspecies)


*Updated - The most famous Red-tailed Hawk is eating fish on the ground just like a Bald Eagle!

My First Mother's Day Without My Mother