Monday, November 03, 2008

Shrike Strikes Twice!

Nearly a year ago I had one of the coolest encounters with a Northern Shrike I've ever experienced. Unbelievably, it happened again today and this time with another birder in exactly the same spot as last year! Dottie Johnson and I were checking the back edge of Pheasant Branch prairie adjacent to the agricultural field for sparrows. We were hoping to find a Harris's Sparrow in the mix of White-crowned, Fox, American Tree, Song and Swamp Sparrows. Without warning, the group of sparrows we were sorting through dashed frantically for cover. My first instinct was an incoming accipiter but was quickly proven wrong. From behind the brush, a gorgeous Northern Shrike perched just above our heads not more than 20 feet from where we were standing on the trail. But did I have my camera with me? Nooooooo! Drat. Still, the shrike gave us quite a show by remaining perched before us for nearly half a minute. Filling the field of view of our binoculars, we silently admired the sleak hunter - the detail was amazing. The shrike scanned around in a frenzied sort of way as it zeroed in on potential meals. We stood perfectly still and didn't say a word. Eventually the shrike resumed hunting further along the trail. I told Dottie we should leave the area so as not to prevent the shrike from catching a meal, or inadvertently make it too easy by unnecessarily flushing sparrows its direction. So, we left! Dottie told me it was the closest she had ever been to a Northern Shrike.

© 2008 Mike McDowell

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