Sam Crowe on November 6th, 2017

The widespread Loggerhead Shrike is an uncommon breeding or year-round resident across much of the U.S. Despite being classified as a Passerine (the group containing most of our songbirds) and lacking the strong, gripping talons of hawks, falcons, and eagles, it is a predatory species capable of taking insects, snakes, rodents, and birds nearly as large as itself, though sparrow sized birds are more common prey. It has a hooked beak for tearing flesh, and it has acquired the nickname “butcherbird” because of its proclivity to impale its prey on thorns or barbed wire fences.  Knowing this, birders wishing to see such a cache from a shrike should, after locating an area in which shrikes are regularly observed, concentrate their search in thorny trees or shrubs and along pasture edges where barbed wire fences offer artificial “thorns”.

loggerhead shrike

Loggerhead Shrike. © Sam Crowe

Dressed in an attractive pattern of black, white, and gray feathers, a Loggerhead Shrike could perhaps be mistake for a Northern Mockingbird, or vice versa. The wings are darker black in shrikes, the black face mask is distinctive in shrikes, and the stubby, hooked beak might be apparent with a good look. Doesn’t sound like an identification challenge? Consider that during the winter months, an Arctic relative, the Northern Shrike, makes rare but regular appearances across much of the northern and central U.S. A quick glance at a field guide will show that Northern Shrikes are quite similar in appearance to Loggerhead Shrikes, and may be overlooked by casual observers accustomed to seeing the latter.

What should a careful observer look for when observing a shrike in winter? Several differences are apparent upon close inspection.  Northern Shrikes have a noticeably longer beak than Loggerhead Shrikes, with a more prominent hook at the tip.  Northern Shrikes are paler gray on the back and head, though this may be hard to judge without a nearby Loggerhead Shrike for comparison. Careful observation of the black face mask will show that it extends slightly above the eye on Loggerhead Shrikes, while remaining below the eye on Northern Shrikes. The line of feathers bordering the upper bill are black in Loggerheads, but white in Northerns. Faint barring on the breast is more pronounced on Northern Shrikes. Northern Shrikes are also slightly larger, though again, this is hard to judge on a single bird without the other species for reference.

juvenile northern shrike

Juvenile Northern Shrike. © Greg Lavaty

There are useful age-related differences between the two species as well.  Juveniles of both species have more heavily barred breasts than adults.  Juvenile Northern Shrikes have a brownish appearance overall, while juvenile Loggerheads are mostly gray.  Juvenile shrikes also provide one example of the helpfulness of an understanding of molt by birders.  Juvenile Loggerhead Shrikes molt out of their juvenal plumage by early fall, while juvenile Northern Shrikes retain their juvenal plumage until spring. Therefore, a brownish shrike with a heavily barred breast seen in the winter months must be a Northern Shrike.

There is much concern regarding declines in Loggerhead Shrike populations. Uncommon wherever it is found, it is a fascinating species worthy of a few hours of observation should you encounter one along a country road, or spot its telltale prey dangling from a thorn or fence. Worthy of your time as well is the chance to find its larger northern cousin on a blustery January morning.

Thanks to Dan Reinking for sharing the above information.

Sam Crowe on October 28th, 2017

The American Birding Association will hold its Annual Membership Meeting on Saturday, November 11, 2017 at 5:00 pm at the Harlingen Municipal Auditorium, 1204 Fair Park Blvd, Harlingen, TX 78550 in partnership with the Rio Grande Valley Birding Festival. The meeting will include an update on efforts to save Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, and dozens of storied birding hotspots from being cut off by the proposed additional border wall.

After the meeting, there will be a concert in the park featuring local heroes Del Castillo and an assortment of food trucks to tempt your appetite. We hope that many of you will make plans to join us there!

Sam Crowe on October 23rd, 2017

The recent hurricanes that blasted through the Caribbean have done untold damage to people and wildlife.

Reviewing Irma’s carnage is painful. Video from Cuba’s northern Cays shows flamingos killed outright or slowing dying from the impacts of this intense storm. In Barbuda, almost every building was left uninhabitable, and the vegetation seems to be virtually scrubbed out of existence. Efforts to assess the damage to birdlife in Barbuda have been mixed, but fortunately at least eight endemic Barbuda Warblers were finally found after Irma. See details here:

Other reports, from St. Martin, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, are equally unsettling. On the islands that took the brunt of the two hurricanes the damage is mind-boggling. The humanitarian crisis is sweeping, with losses of food, shelter, power, and medical care.

Trees were uprooted or left denuded of all fruit and leaves. On some islands, local Bananaquits and hummingbirds have been reported starving because flowers and leaves have been stripped from plants, and many flowering plants have been killed. Riverbanks were scoured, and fields were flooded with salt-water. At some inland locations, there are threats of landslides. The damage to mangroves, reefs, seagrass beds, and beaches mean that birds will have to deal with the serious loss of nesting habitat, shelter, and food.

Most of the devoted bird-educators, bird conservationists, and bird researchers who live and labor on these islands work or volunteer with non-profit organizations, or small government departments. Their resources are limited. All are extremely dedicated to their work and all are taking time to help birds, even as they themselves may have lost their homes or offices. They need help to get back on their feet in order to begin vital restoration efforts for the birds and habitats that suffered the fury of Irma and Maria.

If you wish to help the birds, habitats, and island communities in the region, BirdsCaribbean is supporting a Caribbean-wide network of partner organizations to help stabilize operations so that people can return to critical post-hurricane bird-conservation work. You can find more details, make a contribution, and/or leave comments here:

….From The Birding Community E-Bulletin.

Sam Crowe on October 17th, 2017

Whooping Cranes are returning to Texas – what is left after Hurricane Harvey.

Hurricane Harvey did a number on the Texas coast, with damage as far south as the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, home to wintering populations of the beautiful Whooping Crane.  One of the major incentives for developing other Whooping Crane populations was the great fear that a late season hurricane could destroy vital habitat or even kill the remaining Whooping Cranes.

A recent article on the Friends of Wild Whoopers describes the current situation at Aransas.

Sam Crowe on October 9th, 2017

Hawk migration is well underway. Hawk watchers at the major hawk watch locations are turning in large numbers of sightings.

ON Sept 30, the Corpus Christi, Texas site counted 17,163 hawks migrating along the Texas coast on their way south for the winter. Most were Broad-winged but Mississippi Kites, Red-tailed Hawks, Osprey, Northern Harrier, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, Swainson’s Hawk, White-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin,

Visit the Hawk Count web site to see a list of Hawk Watch locations and daily results.   Good numbers of hawks are still passing through hawk watch locations.

While Corpus Christi annually tops the list of most birds reported in the U.S. (by a wide margin) the place to go to really enjoy raptor migration is Veracruz, Mexico. The Veracruz River of Raptors site is reporting over 100,000 raptors a day. It is on my “must do” list some day.

Sam Crowe on September 24th, 2017

One of my favorite and most important web sites is the Boreal Songbird Initiative. Habitat loss is the most significant threat to native bird and animal specials. North America’s boreal forest, which spans the northern portion of the continent from Alaska all the way to Newfoundland, covers an astonishing 1.5 billion acres, making it larger than all but 6 countries, including India.

This great track of land is of vital importance to a great number of birds. 325 North American bird species rely on the boreal forest for nesting or migratory stopover habitat. How important? 80% of North American waterfowl species, 63% of finch species, and 53% of warbler species breed in the boreal.

A recent post on their web site provides more information on the importance of the Boreal Forest and recent successes in protecting this vital area.

An excerpt of the article follows, visit their web site for the complete story. Bonus points if you can tell if this is a Long-billed or Short-billed Dowitcher.

dowitcher in boreal forest

“Two provincial governments, Ontario and Quebec, have actually committed to protecting at least half of their northern boreal regions. Succeeding in this will require a commitment to work with Indigenous governments and communities. The Moose Cree First Nation in Ontario, for example, wants to ban mining from the North French River—one of North America’s most impressive undammed and uncontaminated rivers. But achieving this requires buy-in from the provincial government—something they are still working to achieve.

As a signatory, Canada is committed to meeting Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Among these is a requirement of protecting at least 17% of the nation’s land by 2020. Although Canada’s current pace indicates it may not meet this by that year, the most logical place to start would be in the Boreal Forest.

It requires a shift in thinking, and one that sees the forest rather than just the trees. Given recent successes, the Boreal’s prospects are certainly looking up. The billions of birds that depend on the Boreal are sure hoping this momentum continues; after all, it may be their last hope.”

Sam Crowe on September 18th, 2017

The American Birding Expo is North America’s most extensive gathering of birding-related products, services, companies, destinations, and organizations. That’s why we call it “the world of birding in one place!” Whether you’re a world-traveling bird chaser, just starting out as a bird watcher, or only interested in the birds in your backyard, the Expo has everything you need! Entry to the Expo is just $10* for the entire weekend. Come connect with the community of birders from North American and beyond!

 

The Big Sit! is an annual, international, noncompetitive birding event hosted by Bird Watcher’s Digest and founded by the New Haven (Connecticut) Bird Club. Every team that observes the year’s “Golden Bird” has a chance to win $500. Every year, bird watchers from around the globe unite on this special day by participating in this free event, open to any person and club in any country! The Big Sit! is sponsored by Swarovski Optik.

The Big Sit! is like a Big Day or a bird-a-thon in that the object is to tally as many bird species as can be seen or heard within 24 hours. The difference lies in the area limitation from which you may observe.

Some people have called it a “tailgate party for birders.” Find a good spot for bird watching—preferably one with good views of a variety of habitats and lots of birds. Next, create a real or imaginary circle 17 feet in diameter and sit inside the circle for 24 hours, counting all the bird species you see or hear. That’s it. Find a spot, sit in it, have fun. Then submit your findings.

Learn more and sign up on the Bird Watcher’s Digest web site. Signing up is only required if you wish to report results.

Sam Crowe on August 30th, 2017

For the third year in a role Mississippi Kites have nested near my home near Dallas. My home backs up to a golf course which provides excellent soaring space for the young kites. They are active much of the day and sometimes swoop by within 30-40 feet of my home. Last year I watched one chase a hummingbird which hid behind a cedar tree about 20 feet from my window.  The kite followed the hummingbird around the tree but the hummer managed to escape, that time.

Not the best photo but shot through a window in my upstairs home office.  A favorite perch about 35 yards away and next to the No. 5 tee box.  The golfers and kites get along fine, pretty much ignoring each other.

Sam Crowe on August 21st, 2017

While many birders flock to air conditioned comfort during August, many shorebird species will start their southern migration during the month. According to the Stanford web site more than 20 million shorebirds migrate through the United States to the Arctic each year. The web page includes the following information.

Whimbrel

Whimbrel

“As a group, shorebirds undertake some of the most spectacular of long-distance migrations of any North American birds. Nearly two-thirds of the species that breed in North America journey from their arctic nesting grounds to winter in Central and South America, and then return to the Arctic the following spring. Many species traverse more than 15,000 miles in this annual circuit. Some fly at altitudes exceeding 10,000 feet and achieve cruising speeds approaching 50 mph. From sightings of marked individuals, we know that at least some birds on nonstop flights cover nearly 2,000 miles in less than two days. Hudsonian Godwits may fly 8,000 miles nonstop between breeding and wintering areas, unless brief stopovers are made at as-yet-undiscovered spots somewhere in South America. The surprising migration feats of Sanderlings were discovered only recently by ornithologist Pete Myers. Their hitherto unsuspected circumnavigation of the Americas each year follows a route east across the top of North America and down the Atlantic coast in the autumn to their wintering grounds in Chile and Peru, and back north in the spring through the western United States to their arctic breeding grounds.”