As winter has waxed and then started to slowly wane I started to become more and more aggrieved by my inability to find any Northern Shrikes. These awesome birds are typically only found in Michigan in the winter, and to miss them would be a crying shame. As a result, I found myself heading out once again to search suitable habitat for this loveable little killer. Destination: Maple Rapids, MI
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The shrike family are often known as the 'butcher birds' because of their habit of impaling their prey on thorns for storage. In fact, the latin name of the Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor, literally translates as "sentinel butcher", a nod not only to it's grizzly habits but also to the Shrike's habit of perching at the very top of trees and bushes when looking for prey. If that isn't badass enough for you, consider this, the Northern Shrike is a passerine, or songbird. That's right, while maintaining a butter-wouldn't-melt-in-my-mouth choir-bird demeanour, and playing it's part in the dawn chorus, this masked psychopath is dreaming of impaling another mouse on a nice sharp thorn. This bird is Dexter!
After heading up to Maple River and driving around, scanning for the shrike, it was starting to look like the innumerable other times I had gone scouting for shrike this winter, i.e. lacking in shrike. So I decided to try to capture the look and feel of a tree that does not contain a shrike perched up in it. I think you'll agree, it can give a tree in winter a quite forlorn look.
However, pessimistic dark humour notwithstanding, I suddenly spotted a distant silhouette, and there was no doubting what it was.
|Hint of Northern Shrike|
I hope I don't have to tell you that the just perceptible shape at the top of the tree there is the shrike I have been searching for all winter. Exciting times! There is nothing like distant birding of barely distinguishable shapes. Anyway, after watching for a painful length of time trying to convince myself that the shrike was going to fly in a direction where I might actually being able to see the psychotic glint in it's eye, I eventually accepted that this was as good as it was going to get.
Moving on, we rounded a corner in the round and saw ... another Northern Shrike. This time close enough to see it furrow it's brow as it tried to imagine where it would find a big enough spike for my loathsome flesh.
After providing some long and deliciously luxurious close-up views the shrike flew up to a nearby telegraph wire. As a dedicated stalker I wasn't able to take my eyes off the bird and continued to immortalise the feathered giver of death in pixel format.
I was hoping to catch a shot of the shrike in flight to show the bright contrasting wing pattern displayed in flight; a pattern confusingly similar to the Northern Mockingbird. Unfortunately, the canny little bugger managed to fly directly between the sun and me resulting in this washed out photo of a feathery torpedo rocketing past.
It's punishment was more stalkerage.
Finally moving on, Red-shouldered Hawks were the next target, but although they have been seen in the vicinity recently, none could be found this day. Just a seemingly empty marsh, covered in snow and silence. Eventually, shortly after I flushed a troupe of Turkey that were hunkered down near the trail, a Red-tailed Hawk and a couple of Song Sparrows and Tufted Titmice made a show.
Me, myself and no birds.
I was, and am, quite curious as to what might have made the following tracks. A badger on a pogo stick? A cartwheeling groundhog? Answers on a stamped addressed envelope, or in the comments please.
The following tracks were much easier to identify as the Greater Hairy European Twitter. Who else would be out here in this otherwise fairly remote spot on a cold day like this?
A little farther down the road we came across two of the most unlikely looking tough guys. Sorry fellas, your name's not on the list, we can't let you by.
The day was finally brought to a glorious end with the kind of sunset only a cold winter day can produce. An unproductive search for Owls of all kinds in the darkening gloom of dusk was entirely unsuccessful ... but I saw my Shrike!