Spit in the Lake (I)

April 5, 2008

I went birding this morning in Tommy Thompson Park. I counted 31 species of birds, including 15 species of anseriformes (= ducks, geese, and swans). The Ring-necked Duck was a new one for my life list, as was the Green-winged Teal. If The Marvelous in Nature reads this, she’ll be happy to know that I finally saw my first American Tree Sparrow.

The bird that thrilled me the most, however, was one that I almost missed because I was looking at a bunny instead. It was just after noon. When I took my eyes out of the ditch and back onto the road, what I saw next was the birder on her bicycle about 20 feet from me and bunnykins. Approaching quietly, I followed her line of sight, and viewed a pale grey bird, the size of a robin, at the top of a mid-sized tree.

“What have you got there?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” she replied, “I don’t have my guide with me.”

“I do.” I pulled my well-thumbed ROM Field Guide to Birds of Ontario from my bookbag. I looked through my binoculars. “Ohhhh… I think it’s… lemme look in the index…” Flip, flip. “This?”

We took turns reading the description, peering through our binocs, describing it out loud, until we were sure that that was our bird. It was a Northern Shrike, not as rare as its cousin the Loggerhead Shrike, but uncommon enough for me. Northern Shrikes breed way up in the top fifth of Ontario, about three-fifths higher north than I’ve ever been. So let us say, once again, that I was thrilled. The other birder cycled away, I penciled the new bird on today’s list, I looked up, and the Shrike was gone. It was one of those magic moments.