Masked bandit turns up at nature reserve

THIS rare great grey shrike has been spotted at a Suffolk reserve for the first time since the oasis was transformed from carrot fields to reedbeds and damp meadows.

James Mortlock

THIS rare great grey shrike has been spotted at a Suffolk reserve for the first time since the oasis was transformed from carrot fields to reedbeds and damp meadows.

Staff at RSPB Lakenheath Fen were thrilled to see the reserve's latest visitor, nicknamed the masked bandit thanks to its unusual eye markings.

A spokesman for the fen said it was the first time the bird had turned up at Lakenheath since work began to create the reserve in 1996.


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He said the great grey shrike was a scarce winter visitor to the UK, with only small numbers arriving here in autumn. It usually leaves Britain again in April or May to return to its breeding grounds in Scandinavia.

The spokesman said the great grey shrike was a bird of striking character: “It's the size of a blackbird, with a light grey and white body, black Zorro-esque mask across the eyes, black and white wings, a long tail and a chunky bill with a hooked tip.

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“The great grey shrike favours open areas, such as heath land, farmland, scrub, clear-felled areas of forestry and coastal dunes, and is often spotted perched on tops of trees and bushes so it has a vantage point from which to hunt.

“And it has some rather gruesome eating habits. Much like Vlad The Impaler, the great grey shrike has a tendency to impale its victims. Its prey, which consists of beetles and other insects, small rodents and small birds, is often impaled on thorns as a way of hoarding it for later.”

The Lakenheath Fen nature reserve is located just north of the level crossing on the B1112 between Hockwold and Lakenheath villages.

The principal aim of Lakenheath Fen was to form a landscape-scale wetland suitable for breeding bitterns.

The Lakenheath visitor centre was built thanks to funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund, Waste Recycling Environmental (WREN), which distributes landfill tax credits for Waste Recycling Group Ltd (WRG), Suffolk Development Agency and Suffolk County Council.

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