Friday, March 11, 2011

A visitor so rare: Joe Neal's report from March 10, 2011

March 10, 2011, opened simply enough. Joan Reynolds had part of a day  
for Devils Den State Park. We met in Fayetteville around 9, blasted  
off into bright sunshine, heading south on old Cato Springs Road. Joan  
spotted two Greater Roadrunners seeming to enjoy the same spring sun  
just north of Hog Eye. Birding was slow in the park, but sunshine  
energized patches of golden pale corydalis and toothwort. White  
dog-tooth violets poked up through brown leaves on a rocky hillside.  
We were back in Fayetteville by 2. Joan returned home to Rogers to  
pick up her kids from school, me to the house with a blinking  
answering machine.
Behind the blinks was the familiar voice of Mike Mlodinow. A guy  
hauling hay bales loaned Mike his cell phone so he could let us know  
about a Northern Shrike he was watching at Woolsey Wet Prairie in  
Fayetteville. The answering machine is just inside the front door. My  
birding gear, especially spotting scope and camera, were still in the  
car. As on Black Friday, if you snooze you lose. I spun for Woolsey,  
sudden acceleration from sunny slow birding and spring wildflowers to  
high drama of a second state record. No time for lunch, no time for  
noon nap.
Woolsey Wet Prairie is not huge. The formal wetland mitigation is 30  
acres give or take, but mounded former prairie occupies at least three  
times that, including a fine pioneer oak savanna. Where is the shrike?  
I pull up, park, scan fences and powerlines; in the past I have had  
Loggerhead Shrikes here. At the savanna edge is a deteriorating barn,  
remains of an old rock home, and dense fencerows. Scan tree tops, scan  
tumbling fences marked by tangles of multiflora rose and blackberries.  
No shrike, but here is the figure of none other than Mike Mlodinow! He  
is walking toward me; once there, informs me we are in the right  
place, thickets by the house remains.
By now it is 3 in the afternoon. Mike has spent the day here. He rode  
mass transit as far as he could, then walked the rest to Woolsey. That  
is his style. Now we walk some more.  
We scan and scan, thickets and house place, around the barn. And then,  
way on top of a catalpa tree, Mike spots the Northern Shrike: thin  
mask with the eye rising above it, bill large and strongly hooked.  
Reddish-brownish bars mark the soft gray of breast and under parts.  
This is a bird in the first year that has mostly molted to adult  
plumage. A real northerner, it may have been pushed south by two big  
snows of early February.
A visitor so rare exudes star power. Return flight north is  
inevitable, but maybe, just maybe, it will remain a few days for  
others attracted to so rare a sun. For those bitten by birding, it is  
not enough to see a picture.
JOSEPH C. NEAL in Fayetteville, Arkansas

No comments:

Post a Comment