I hadn't really checked email while we were doing the Delmarva tour so I was surprised to find an message from Mike Mandracchia asking me if I wanted to try to find the shrike that had been spotted at Whitesbog on Monday. What shrike?
Doing a little research on Jerseybirds and eBirds I quickly found that Greg had discovered what seemed to be a Northern Shrike in the bogs and then refound it a few hours later. I remembered a couple of years ago chasing a shrike at Whitesbog that was a one-day wonder and that frustrating memory, coupled with my dead tiredness from the long weekend and the drive back dampened my enthusiasm for the hunt. But the idea that it was in Ocean County overwhelmed my disinclination and besides, I hadn't seen Mike in a while.
Greg emailed me the couple of places he'd seen the bird and Mike & I set out this morning to look. We did about 2/3 of the circuit around the main bogs with very little bird activity. But at the dogleg there was a pocket of sparrows jumping around and when we got out of the car to investigate a really interesting one we'd seen well but couldn't identify (and still can't) Mike looked up in a bare tree not fifty feet from us and found the shrike. We got pretty good looks at it with our binoculars and then it flew into a small tree in the bog. By the time we set up our scopes, Mike had a brief look, enough to convince him that it was Northern Shrike and not a Loggerhead (they are notoriously difficult to tell apart and since NJ is the southernmost range of the Northern and northernmost range of the Loggerhead we can get either one), but then it flew again. Actually, we never saw it fly. It disappeared, Only to turn up about an 1/8 of a mile to the west atop another tree. Unfortunately, we had committed the cardinal sin of wandering away from our scopes, so by the time I had run down the road to retrieve one, it flew. Again. Disappeared. Again.
We'd seen it and Mike had seen it better than I had but it was still a BVD bird. Greg, by this time, was on the dikes and after comparing sightings from yesterday and today we split up to look for the bird. Mike and I circled the bogs a couple of times with no results and then decided to plant ourselves in good habitat and hope the bird would show up. That didn't work either.
Around noon we decided our looks were decent enough that we could leave and feel successful. I was driving out Whitesbog Road when my cell phone rang. I stopped the car and answered, only because I thought it was Shari. It was Greg; he'd found the bird.
My Saturn Ion really isn't built for Whitesbogs' roads, but I went bumping along to where Greg was, even though I was sure that the 5 minutes it took to get there would be 1 minute too long and it was. The bird disappeared. Again.
It is at these points that I start to hate birding. Why? Why am I doing this?
Greg got into my car and we drove around, meeting other birders along the road, none of whom had been successful until one of them got a text that the bird was all the way down by the double-laned road. We drove down there and found birders intent on their scopes. By the time we set up our scopes, the bird disappeared. Again.
We shouldered our scopes and started walking back to where we'd met. Greg was saying that when he had the bird about an hour before it was actually vocalizing. Then we heard something. Now, it might have been the shrike, or it might have been the flicker we saw flying across the bog that made the sound. But the flicker flew to a tree and in that tree I saw the shrike. The shrike and flicker fought a bit for possession of the limb the shrike occupied with the shrike winning the skirmish. And finally, we were both able to get the bird in our scopes and finally I was able to convince myself that it was a Northern Shrike, based on color, mask, bill, and the negative factor that it didn't look like a mockingbird as Loggerheads will.
After more than 6 hours (and not much bird life other than the shrike) I was content to leave.
Turkey Vulture 3
Red-shouldered Hawk 1
Belted Kingfisher 2
Downy Woodpecker 2
Northern Flicker 2
Northern Shrike 1
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2
Song Sparrow 10
Swamp Sparrow 5
Dark-eyed Junco 5
Red-winged Blackbird 1
American Goldfinch 1 Heard, Dogleg