American Bittern & Northern Shrike (?) on West Dyke Trail

Well, this last couple of days was fun. Not. The weather wasn't too good for me to trek out to the dyke or to other not-yet-explored places. And I don't have enough money to buy the things I wanted this Boxing Day (which is still a big question mark between buying a DSLR or a ultrazoom "bridge" camera). Anyways, all I did this holiday were: going online, watching the televsison, and birdwatching (of gulls, crows, and starlings) from my windows. Bottom line: not exciting.

Today was great. No snow or rain (although some snow is starting to turn into slush, which is the only consequence of snow that I cannot stand), in fact, the sky even cleared a bit this afternoon for me to see some blue skies. The good weather gave me the chance to hike to the dyke. I saw many different waterfowls there today, such as Mallards, American Wigeons, Snow Geese, Coots, Green-winged Teals, Northern Pintails, and even an American Bittern!!

American Wigeon

American Coot

Northern Pintail

I was very excited to see the American Bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus) because it was my second time seeing it on Sturgeon Bank and first time able to photograph it. I didn't even know the bittern was in the marshes until it started to hastily walk away from me. It is an amazing master of disguise. It kept its head held high at all times, not allowing the brownish neck streaks to break form and blending with the cattails. It was quite cooperative to allow me to take these pictures, but I wish I can hear its call just once.

Have fun trying to spot the bittern in these pictures.

Passing the golf course on Blundell road, the skies above the gulf islands were clearing up to give a beautiful glow on the snowy mountains over there.

On that little patch of trees across from the golf course, I was surprised to see some insects still alive and resting on top of the snow. I believe the one on the left is a gnat, while the one on the right looks like a fruit fly.

Last time I was here, I came across a Muskrat, and it was here this time too! I was able to get a little closer this time to take pictures. The picture on the left is me trying the method of digiscoping. It was quite unafraid of me as I inched closer. It only paused (from eating) for a while whenever I get closer, but then it continued on munching the vegetations.

Far away, I spotted this solitary Great Blue Heron all alone.

As I was heading back because my socks were wet and my feet were getting freezing, I saw this medium-sized bird resting on top of a birch tree. Using my binocular (10x25), I could see that it was a blue bird with black eye lines. I could not tell what it was at the time, so I took these pictures. But now that I compared the photos with my field guide, I still could not find what species it is.

The bird flew away when I got closer. But later on, I came across the same (?) bird again right on top of me. Hope I can get some help identifying it. [Edit: Helps from WhatBird Forums and Hugh of Rock Paper Lizard came up with Northern Shrike (Lanius excubitor), which seems to fit the bird in the picture. Thank you.]

Northern Shrike is a raptorial passerine, and the males impale preys on thorns or barbed wires as a courtship display. The Latin species name means "Butcher watchman". A suitable name for such an aggressive bird.

Near that tree, there were feathers scattered everywhere. I saw flesh still attached at the base of the feathers, meaning it was a fresh kill, probably by the hungry Northern Harriers I saw flying around (or the Northern Shrike that I saw perching on the nearby trees just moments ago).

The views heading back home.

Another Great Blue Heron

Suddenly, I saw these European Starlings flying from the marshes.

Turning around, a Northern Harrier just flew by me. That must be why the blackbirds suddenly took off.

At the pond near where I get off the trail, the Northern Harrier tried again at snatching some Mallards and/or Wigeons. Once again, unsuccessful.

I feel bad for everybody - the hungry harriers and the innocent waterfowls, but this is the way of life in order to survive.

I wish the need for food can be slept away.


Hugh said...

The mystery bird sure looks like a Northern Shrike--which could also explain the feathers. An excellent sighting.

PSYL said...

Thanks Hugh. I think it is indeed a Northern Shrike. Do they also go after waterfowls because I think these winter waterfowls might be heavier and bigger than the shrike's usual prey.

Nevertheless, I am very excited about seeing this bird!

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