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My Life’s Birds: #501

June 1, 2011
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January 30, 2011Plum Island, Essex Co, Ma – In December of 2007 my dad found a Northern Shrike in northern Greene County, Missouri, mere days before I was scheduled to come home for the holidays.  As you may, or more likely may not, know, Northern Shrike is a pretty good bird that far south, and I think it may have been the farthest south record of Northern Shrike for that year in the Midwest (though I vaguely remember another bird in the southeast part of the state that was pretty close.  Neither here nor there at this point…).  In any case, this was the single most exciting thing waiting for me on this trip back to the old homestead.

Besides family.  And pie.  And vacation time away.  So let’s just say it either reflects especially well on the Shrike how highly it was regarded.

And why not?  Shrikes are amazing.  All the attitude of raptors in a little passerine body.  For all the Warblers and Grosbeaks and Tanagers birders in the New World can lay claim to, we are seriously shrike deficient compared to our friends on the other side of the ocean.  And we’re worse off for not having a wide variety of butcher birds to enjoy, limited as we are to the modestly hued Loggerhead and it’s far northern cogener.

My dad and I spent a couple mornings and an afternoon at the place where the Shrike had been found and came back empty, which you no doubt figured out.  And thus, the Northern Shrike avoided me even as I tested my mettle in its far northern haunts in the dead of winter for two consecutive years.  It must have taken notice as a bird teed up on the top of a fir tree while the Bloggerhead Kingbirds desperately tried to make it into anything ended up being my life Northern Shrike just over three years after the bird first became a possibility for me.

That doesn’t mean it was a good look or anything.  The Shrike was about a mile and a half away on the north end of Plum Island while we were standing across the river on Salisbury Beach trying to make something out of its silhouette.  And we really didn’t even think it was a Shrike at first either.  It looked like a small falcon, likely a Kestrel, until it flew off beating its tiny wings rapidly in that way shrikes do that seems so entirely inconsistent with their ferocious reputation.  It’s as if Mr Universe contestant has a speaking voice like a little girl.  So it was far from ideal, but enough to tick.  I guess Northern Shrike needs more from me before giving itself up completely.  So it goes with one-sided relationships.

NORSHR by Firstmac via flickr (CC BY-2.0)

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