December 25, 2021

Surf and Turf: The Bird Edition

birding, exploring nature

Nature is so cool. Today I saw a Double Crested Cormorant swallow a flounder whole and watched a song bird that eats birds hang out in the same tree as several other birds without eating them. I spent most of the day wandering around the field looking at all sorts of cool birds, but my hope was to get another lifer on the list. Yesterday I added the Sedge Wren to my list and today I added the Loggerhead Shrike to my list, bringing my year’s total up to 194 with 6 days to go. It would be great if I could see a lifer a day, but my Ace up the sleeve is the pelagic bird tour I will be taking on the 29th. In the meantime, I will continue searching because it’s just so much fun. It’s like a scavenger hunt for adults. Nerdy adults. 

My first stop was Ft. Fisher where I have been looking for the rare and elusive Dickcissel. I covered a good bit of ground but no luck with the sparrow-like bird I searched for. While I was standing alongside the Cape Fear River I noticed a couple Cormorants making a commotion. Cormorants are one of the most common water birds around here, so I  initially dismissed any interest in them, then I decided I might get some cool action shots while they are tussling. I should have known they were tussling over some delicious food item, and focused my camera just in time to watch the Cormorant swallow a small flounder while the other one watched with envy. I regret not having begun shooting sooner, but am pleased I was able to capture that which I did.

After making my usual rounds at Ft. Fisher I decided to try a small hotspot I have not yet been to. My sources say that a Loggerhead Shrike has been observed at the Ashley High School pond a few times over the past couple years, so I made some laps around this tiny pond while playing the Shrike call on my phone. After several hours of this, I heard the call. Honestly, when I first heard it I thought it was just the app still playing on my phone in my pocket, until I checked and saw it was not. I heard it! Now to find it. My eyes raced around and I did that birder dance of moving fast enough to get where you need to be but not so fast as to scare the target away. As I zigged and zagged in the highschool parking lot playing the proverbial game of Marco Polo with a bird, getting warmer then cooler then hotter then bingo! Perched high atop the light pole, the Loggerhead Shrike watched me find him. 

As we chatted, eventually he alighted and with my eyes locked on him I watched where he landed and saw how close I could get. This happened several times from light pole to light pole until finally he landed on a tree top. Loggerhead Shrikes are known as “butcher-birds” and mostly impale their prey on thorns. They eat insects, rodents, snakes and even small birds. Lacking the talons of a raptor, they are in the songbird family, called passerines, but they seem more like a raptor in disguise.

That info makes what I am about to say seem all the more “Christmas Miracly”. When the Shrike landed in the tree right in the middle of this parking lot, I realized that a Mockingbird and a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker were in the same tree. Smaller birds will often gang up and mob predatory bids to run them off, as they hunt by element of surprise and once their cover is blown they will move on. There was no mobbing with these birds. It was as if they knew each other. I kept walking closer and closer while photoing these birds, and eventually the Shrike flew into another tree. The Mockingbird had also taken alight, but the Sapsucker remained and let me get within five feet of him while he just did his woodpecker thing. 

After some time I decided to put my eyes on the Shrike again, and this time I found him in the same tree as a Ruby Crowned Kinglet, which is a bird no larger than a hummingbird. It was cool to see these birds together. After I got my shots I began to get in my truck and took one more glance at the Sapsucker to discover the Shrike was back, and they were pretty close together. As I photoed them I watched the Sapsucker fly closer and closer to the Shrike until they were almost side by side, I was able to capture a series of frames showing the Sapsucker in flight as the Shrike gives him a sideways glance, then a pouty look, then a glance at me and another glance at Woody. 

Perhaps the Loggerhead Shrike has a diet that mostly consists of insects and was none too interested in the other birds. They didn’t seem to think he was a threat. Maybe he decided to go vegan. Whatever the reason, any day that something is seen which isn’t seen every day is a day I can dig.