We finally had a whole week of winter weather with very little snow, but temperatures were in the single digits during
the day and way below zero at night. Our low here at Eight Acre Wood was -28 degrees one morning and -25 degrees
another morning. It was pretty zippy cold when I went out to feed the birds at sunup. The birds were all sitting on their feet trying to eat in that position. The blue jays had a tough time doing this and they tried to open sunflower seeds between their toes. Their numbers have increased as they haven’t been able to find a beechnut in a few weeks. The little birds stay out of their way as they know a blue jay is capable of having them for breakfast just like a sunflower seed if given the chance.
I did have a predatory bird, a northern shrike, come in this week. It tried to catch one of my slate-colored Juncos that was in my potter trap. The other three doors were down so I went out and opened them. Not wanting to let a meal go by, the shrike came right back and went in another compartment to get at the Junco who was just hunkered down to keep from being caught. The door went down behind it, and I had the shrike. I let the banded Junco go unharmed. This is the fifth shrike I’ve caught here at Eight Acre Wood in the potter trap trying to get at another trapped bird.
Other small birds, such as a Cardinal or Grosbeak, bite and can leave marks on your fingers if they get a good hold. Shrikes, however, have a hook bill meant for tearing into meat. I got the bird inside, put on a band, measured the wing and I was checking the tail feathers for aging. It grabbed the end of my thumb, and it drew blood as I got free. Lesson learned…must keep fingers out of a shrike’s bill. This bird was an after-hatch year bird and was not fully colored gray yet. Out the window it went, and I haven’t seen it since. But with all the little birds I have at the feeders it will be back…it knows where it can find lunch.
One year I had a northern shrike that was a regular visitor, and it would sit over the feeders for what seemed like hours waiting for a mouse or shrew to come out of hiding for a seed in the daylight. It would swoop down and hardly ever missed getting a meal. The shrike is only robin-size and it sometimes struggled to fly away with its prey. One day while the shrike was waiting for a mouse to appear a black-capped chickadee came in for a seed and the shrike took chase, but the chickadee escaped capture. That chickadee learned to check out its surroundings before getting a snack or possibly becoming the snack. Another experience I had with a shrike was when I was patrolling in the Moose River Plains in late fall. I saw a small drag mark in the freshly fallen snow with wing tip marks along the drag path which went under a bush. I had to check this out and out from under the bush flew a northern shrike. I checked under the bush and there was a dead robin which the shrike had caught and killed. Both birds are about the same size, but a predator is a predator and when I went by that spot later in the day the robin had been eaten.
You may have missed the PowerPoint presentation of Jonathan Zaharek at View and his adventures of climbing the 46 High Peaks in winter. It was a great show and I’m sure it will be shown at other places, so don’t miss it. His photos are in a gallery at View along with the exhibit, Winter in Action. Both shows are worth the time, so go check them out. Ice fishermen are a hardy bunch, and many have been out (even in this below zero weather) trying to catch that big one. I’ve seen some nice catches, but as of yet, I haven’t put a line in the water. I’ve been checking my trap line, but with all my traps now in the cellar I might get out and catch a few splake on Limekiln Lake or get into one of the tournaments this weekend. The Mike Norris Fishing Derby on Raquette Lake is today, Saturday, January 29. Lines in the water at 7 a.m., and the last weigh-in is at 3:30 p.m. Call (518) 624-3077 for more information. The other tournament is the annual Ken Lyons Memorial Ice Fishing Derby this weekend, on January, 29 and 30. The cost is $25 for adults and $10 for kids under age 10. Participants will be fishing First through Fourth Lakes only as ice conditions allow. Weigh-in is at the Alger Island Access Area on Fourth Lake. For additional information or to make a donation please call Chris at (315) 922-4868, Chip at (315) 392-4705, or Dylan at (315) 796-2795. Keep your dogs confined, but that’s another story. See ya.
Photo at top: Mature Northern Shrike in 2019. Photo credit: Gary Lee.