Saturday, August 4, 2012

Loggerhead Shrike

We spotted this Loggerhead Shrike five hundred feet ahead of us on the trail, perched in a small tree.  By ‘we’ I mean the twenty or so people on the early morning birding trek into the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge in southern Arizona.  Of the twenty people on the trek, only two of us were interested in photographing birds.  The others were only interested in seeing birds, as most birders like to do. 

On command, we all stopped when the Loggerhead Shrike was spotted.  We preceded slowly, a few steps at a time.  We were hoping to sneak-up on him, although we were clearly in his sight lines all the time.

‘We’ now means a German gentleman and me.  'We' wanted to get close enough to this Loggerhead Shrike to get good pictures.  I took ten small steps forward, then stopped and shot.  Then he would take ten steps in front of me to get his shots.  Then it would be my turn and so on and so on. His English was heavily accented and my German was ‘nicht so gut’, but we tacitly agreed to repeat this maneuver until the bird flew away, but honestly, I don’t have any idea what we agreed to. 

Meanwhile the main group was watching from the rear and being good sports about letting us get our pictures first.  They all had binoculars, so they weren’t missing anything, but it was nice of them to allow us the opportunity.  The voices from the rear, normally soft, now were whispers.

Our cameras were making the most noise.  Although shutter clicks are not particularly noisy, they could scare a jittery bird.   We kept sneaking and whispering, with a few finger signals thrown in for emphasis.   We were lucky.  The shrike remained on his perch.  Eventually we got so close we were looking up his butt and he still wasn’t moving.  The whole group arrived pointing, peering and chatting about him in the tree above.  He ignored us, seemingly to the point of, ‘I couldn’t care less about you people.’

Loggerhead Shrikes are sometimes referred to as ‘butcher birds’.  They are mainly meat eaters.  They have a technique of impaling their meals on a thorn or barbwire fence to dissect it.  Their ‘victims’ are usually grasshoppers, reptiles or other birds.  They don’t have strong feet or talons to hold their prey, so they use this method to aid them in butchering.  They also have a small ‘tooth’ just behind the bend in their beak. That is used to severe the spinal cords of their victims before the butchering begins. The ‘remains’ sometimes remain on the thorns for all to see. 

I’ve seen ‘victim’ remains hanging on a butchering thorn along Cedar Creek, near Cedarburg, WI, but I don’t know who did the deed.  A Northern Shrike could have done it.  Northern Shrikes are more likely to be in Wisconsin than Loggerhead Shrikes.  These two species are so similar you need one bird in your left hand and the other in your right to notice the difference.  The Loggerhead Shrike is slightly smaller.   

If I’d seen either shrike in Wisconsin, it must have been farther away than five hundred feet because I don’t remember ever seeing one. 

January 14, 2012