From: Robert Ross <plumisl...> Date: Fri, 3 Jan 2020 11:48:25 -0500 Subject: Shrike Hunt
The campground at Salisbury State Park this time of year is a ghost town. With the RVs in storage, the grounds become a favorite spot for winter birding.
As I walked across the grounds, I heard an usual sound of a flock of mourning doves, cooing loudly and in panic. I then saw the flock lift off from a small, wind-smacked cedar and fly into a small stand of pines. The flock was at least ten birds and they flew together.
My first thought was a hawk or Merlin was near. Both are common in the campground in the winter. I stopped to look around. I could not find any falconiformes. The tops of the cedars were clear and there was no wings soaring above, nor any shadows.
The flock of doves spooked again and flew toward the southeast corner. I moved on, toward the small woods framing the north edge of the campground and boarding the marsh, I heard the unmistakable chirps of snow buntings and horned larks. The birds were in the marsh. Nearby, goldfinch and sparrows also chirped excitedly.
Then a small, blueish-grey bird flew, head high, right in front of me. It flew quickly and into a small pine where it instantly vanished. The white bars on the black wings were obvious.
Shrike! I searched the tree with my binoculars but could not find the grey ghost of passerines past. I scanned for several minutes. Nothing. The bird had vanished in the instant it had appeared.
While we often see shrikes on the top of small bushes or trees, when they are hunting they are stealth hunters. They often slip quietly into the center of trees and into bushes where they instantly disappear. This Shrike was on the hunt. I searched and searched, yet it alluded me. The Shrike was not hiding from me. It was hiding from its prey. The query was much sharper at picking out predators than I and the Shrike, as all successful predators, is a master of hiding from its prey.
In the West, it is often said of mountain lions, the only time you see one is when it is not hungry. If it is hungry, you will never see it coming. I thought of this as I gave up on the Shrike. If I wanted to get a good look I would have to wait until it was sated. If it was till hungry, I would never see it coming.