On January 1 of this year (2019) we had a very unusual visitor show up at the Whalon Lake Forest Preserve near my house west of Chicago. I understand from a fellow birder that the woman who discovered it was too afraid to report it because no one would believe it, so another birder reported it. But she was right, and we were pleased to host a Black-legged Kittiwake for a few days!
Shrikes are small but awe-inspiring birds of prey. Two species of shrike reside in the U.S., the Northern Shrike and the Loggerhead Shrike. The Northern Shrike summers in Northern Canada and Alaska and winters in the northern half of the states, while the Loggerhead Shrike lives year-round in the southern states and moves northward in the breeding season (I have photos of a Loggerhead near Chicago).
The Loggerhead Shrike pictured above displays the thicker black mask when compared to the Northern Shrike, one that generally rises over the eye and extends over the bill to form a single, connected mask. They really remind me of the Lone Ranger.
Their taste for birds, lizards and small mammals such as mice is complicated by the fact that they have the feet of perching birds (passerines) rather than talons of other birds of prey. To compensate, shrikes have evolved a method of killing their prey by biting their neck to induce paralysis and then shaking them to break their neck and impaling them on thorns, twigs or even barbed-wire! Yes, they can break the necks of mice by rolling their heads at high speeds. They will also leave prey impaled on these as a larder for future meals. They are affectionately known as “butcherbirds”.
In December of 2017 I was at Lakes Park in Fort Myers, Florida, and I saw a couple Loggerhead Shrikes. It all started out innocently enough as I started taking photos of one of them, but the situation quickly went south. Here’s a rough running commentary of my thoughts during that photo shoot!
A rookery is a colony of breeding birds. Often these are man-made, and these can look like the exposed superstructure of a huge sunken pirate ship, teeming with herons, cormorants and egrets. Others are natural collections of large nests at the top of tall trees, attracting the same types of birds. I like the natural rookeries much more, and on March 20, 2016, I took some photos of Great Blue Herons at a natural “heronry” in the Danada Forest Preserve in Wheaton, Illinois. There were about 12-15 nests at the time, every one in use.
I came across a family of two Sandhill Crane parents and two colts enjoying a beautiful day in June, 2015, at the Deer Grove East Forest Preserve in Palatine, Illinois, oblivious to picnickers and photographers alike.
On August 11, 2015, I stopped by the Paul Douglas Forest Preserve in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, after work. I heard what I found later to be a Virginia Rail calling very loudly in the reeds of the marsh, and with a lot of patience managed to photograph a female Virginia Rail and one of her four chicks.