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