I have joined the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Recovery Team as a seasonal biologist, and am thrilled to be contributing to the conservation breeding and release program. I am stationed in Napanee, one of Ontario’s core areas for the shrike, and began my first week in May in the field looking for these “perch and wait” predatory songbirds.

Following the reports of volunteer sightings, I selected my first site to visit. Within a few minutes of arriving, I saw my first ever loggerhead shrike! After excitedly smiling and bouncing around a bit, I remembered I had a job to do.

Each year, captive bred young and wild adults are banded with colour-coded bands to monitor the population. Colour-banding helps biologists identify each individual and keep track of how many birds come back each year. After identifying one leg of bands (birds do not sit still for long), I started thinking:

What makes it so exciting to see a new bird species for the first time?

Is it the bragging rights as you add the species to your growing list? For me, it comes down to several things.

Life history strategies

Life history strategies

 Have you ever seen a songbird stick prey on barbed wire to eat it? I haven’t, and that is exactly what loggerhead shrikes do. A sight to see for sure.

Habitat

Habitat

Many bird species are habitat specialists, meaning their needs for breeding and eating are found in specific habitat types such as grasslands or forests. Surveying a new habitat means seeing unique plant species, breathtaking landscapes and, of course, a new group of co-existing birds.

Colour and shape

Colour and shape

The black mask of the loggerhead shrike against the white throat with that beautifully hooked bill is a treat for the eyes.

 

Photo: A. Samuelson

Migratory Species

Migratory Species

There is something extra special about species that migrate south for the winter. Knowing they are here for a limited time adds to the excitement of seeing one for the first time.

Rarity

Rarity

  • While this one can be a bit bittersweet because rarity often means endangered. With only 16 wild pairs of loggerhead shrike located in 2020, seeing one of these birds can feel a bit surreal.
The challenge

The challenge

Sometimes searching for birds can test your dedication. For example, at a new site, I flooded my boot, fell in cow poop, walked through a large patch of thorny shrubs, which shrikes use to store and pick apart their prey, and lost my bear spray somewhere along the way. All of this, and I did not see a loggerhead shrike at this location. The thrill of knowing I could find one keeps me going.

Ultimately, the best part of seeing a new species for the first time is that it feels like you won nature’s treasure hunt. Like you caught a real-life mystical creature in your binoculars. After staring at the first loggerhead shrike I have ever seen, I attempted to take pictures through my scope. Even when these photos turn out blurry, and you can only see the bird’s back, it is still worth keeping.

I look forward to seeing more loggerhead shrike’s and hopefully sharing better photographs in the future.

Eastern loggerhead shrike seen through a scope. Photo: Paula Gomez Villalba

Heather Polowyk, MSc. (she/her)

Napanee Seasonal Biologist, Eastern Loggerhead Shrike Program

Heather completed her M.Sc. studying an endangered wetland plant at the University of Waterloo. She has worked with bird species at risk in forest, wetland and grassland habitats. Heather has volunteered at a wildlife rehabilitation centre as an intern and an animal care coordinator, assisting with volunteer training and the care and release of injured or orphaned Ontario wildlife. 


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