Note the shrike’s tomial tooth, the notch on the upper beak. Characteristic of falcons, hawks and other birds of prey, it is believed that this protrusion aids in delivering the coup de grâce to captured animals. With fall settling in, bird populations here in Chignik Lake are changing. Although shrikes are still hanging around, they depend on small birds for food and so it remains to be seen whether they will stay through winter here.
It has now been four days since I saw the last warbler – a straggling Yellow that appeared to be alone. With chicks successfully fledged and able to fend for themselves, most of his companions departed during the night several days earlier. They’ll fly a few tens of miles, maybe further, stop to replenish their bodies with food, and continue on in this hop-scotching manner till they reach locales from Southern California to Peru. No recent sign of Wilson’s Warblers or the Pacific Wren I’d photographed a few days ago, either. And so the confirmed insect-eaters are gone. Black-capped Chickadees, Sooty Fox Sparrows and Savannah Sparrows remain, but the Golden-crowned and White-crowned Sparrows, too, seem to have departed. A few people in the village put out seeds for passerines, so that might help the shrikes to extend their stay.
By wearing a camouflage jacket, sitting on a tuft of long, thick grass and remaining still near an alder tree favored by a variety of species of birds, I was in place and ready when this shrike landed a few feet away. He didn’t stay long though; I was fortunate to get a couple of photos. The eye mask, the falcon-like chest pattern and the hooked beak are all diagnostic on this robin-sized predator. Unlike true birds of prey, the shrike’s claws are comparatively dainty – adapted for perching rather than killing and carrying.
I was just reaching to make adjustments when he gave me this disconcerted stare. And then he was off.