Notice and Credit – I obtained this publicly available photo through Wikipedia. This is not my photo!
Over the past few weeks there have been sporadic reports of a Northern Shrike hanging around the impoundment area of Lake Assunpink in Assunpink Wildlife Management Area. The bird had apparently gone missing for a few days, but was spotted earlier this week by Scott Barnes of New Jersey Audubon’s All Things Birds.
Once again I was up early and standing in a field watching the sun come up. Another beautiful sunrise – winter’s leaf-less trees backlit by bright red skies.
Slowly the surrounding landscape became light enough to make out shapes and forms. I listened quietly for an owl to call, no luck. Shortly after sunrise, I noticed the headlights of car approaching and soon another birder entered the field. He introduced himself as Todd and we exchanged “good mornings.” I was very happy to learn that Todd had experience locating this particular bird, as he offered ideas of where it might first appear.
This bird has developed a reputation of showing up at nearly the same time, around 7:30 AM, every day and hunting for about an hour before disappearing once again. So we waiting, and watched, and waited. Slowly, fog began to rise from the ground and obscure the low lying brush around the areas we were searching.
I checked the time on my phone – 7:10. No bird.
I checked the time on my phone – 7:21. Still no bird. Darn – I’ve got work today and can’t stay much longer.
Then – 7:35 – I am scanning the field through my binoculars and Todd announces “There it is!”
The shrike had suddenly, as if by magic, appeared in the top of one of the tallest trees in our target area. We watched the bird as it sparred with a Northern Mockingbird for nearly 20 minutes, flying back and forth between trees and shrubs.
Eventually, I had to pick up my scope and head for work. Sigh – don’t you just hate it when real life invades your birding time!
As I slowly drove away from the field, I noticed a large flock of small birds feeding in a horse pasture. I lowered my window and scanned the flock (I keep binoculars on my passenger seat for just such occasions) and found White-Throated, White-Crowned, and American Tree Sparrows mixed in with several Dark-Eyed Juncos. A nice bonus at the end of my birding time for today.
Tomorrow I am headed back to Cape May for three days. I am hoping to find some of those more difficult winter rarities that eluded me during my visit last weekend. It’s also the first time my wife will be going along with me birding, so I may have other local attractions to include in my report. Perhaps so local wine tasting?
In the meantime, keep birding folks! And, if you haven’t done so already, please consider making a pledge of support for the New Jersey Audubon Citizen Science program. My New Jersey Big Year and fund raising efforts received a great write up on the New Jersey eBird site – you can read all about it here!
Until next time – Good Birding!