Ranger Kathryn's Arches

April 16, 2011

Loggerhead Shrikes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 6:23 pm
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Loggerhead Shrike (google image)

At the end of our long day in the field, the Loggerhead Shrike posed on its perch just long enough for us to get a definitive ID. Swooping to the ground, he nabbed a grasshopper, and in a flash was at another perch by a female. He leaned down to her branch, presenting it to her gallantly, and she cocked her head and appreciatively received it before he flew off to hunt some more. It was the most tender transaction of the day.

I realize that by inserting those adverbs and that adjective I am anthropomorphizing, but I can’t help myself. I would never assign emotions in a scientific research report, but this is my blog, for crying out loud, and those two birds were in love. They needed to cement their relationship before proceeding with nest-building, as she needs to know he’ll be a good provider for their babies. Besides, he didn’t have a Facebird account on which he could put that little red heart status icon saying “Loggerhead is in a relationship,” so he resourcefully used what was at hand.

Tricia and I said “Awwww!” in unison on seeing the sweet gift bestowed, and I typed two paragraphs documenting it. Welcome to the hearts of women. If I were a man writing about this event, I’d say: “Saw Loggerhead Shrike pair exchange food.”

Here’s your opportunity to weigh in on male/female communication contrasts. Or Loggerhead Shrikes, if you prefer.

Eagle Park, Part 2

Continued from Eagle Park, Part 1

My eye drifted to tall fins about a half mile east. I squinted. Something was different on top, and I lifted my binoculars. A raptor shape! I had found a perched raptor! You may think that is a “so what” statement, but when you work with a skillful and accomplished birder who sees every speck in the sky (even while driving) and every bump on the rocks, you despair of EVER seeing something before she does. Tricia had predicted that this moment would come, and we exchanged a high-five and then set up the spotting scope to see what raptor it might be.

Spotting scopes magnify the image 30, 45, 60 times... invaluable when birding

The distance made it difficult. We could tell it wasn’t black like a raven, but it gave us no further clues. It sat stock still — for a half hour. Meanwhile, my keen-eyed boss sighted a flying raptor and we lay back on the rock to keep it in our binocs. A handsome Red-tailed Hawk circled effortlessly, peering earthward frequently… and then began an aerial display, rising, diving, rising again, tucking his wings, plunging, over and over again… then drifting north until our eyes lost the speck he had become.

I had given up on the unmoving bird to the east, concluding that it must have been a raptor-shaped rock taunting me, but as I turned my attention to it it took off. Its rufous tail caught the afternoon sun and all the pieces suddenly fit together. She had been the audience for whom the flight display was intended. We had a pair! In my business, a pair is a wonderful thing, and may lead you to a nest if you’re in the right place at the right time.

What a day. Our tiredness only added to the sublime sense of satisfaction we felt. Five hours in Eagle Park was a restorative for our souls; I’ll be back.

Eagle Park, Part 1

The old stick nest was in a large hollow in the sandstone fin. Its shape was vaguely bowl-like, and there was whitewash everywhere, but it didn’t look as if it had had recent occupants. We’d hiked a couple of rugged miles off trail to reach it, on the most perfect of spring days — sunny, 60 degrees, 4 mph wind. Conditions were as flawless as they can get in the Utah desert, and to top it off we were in Eagle Park.

Russian Thistle -- "tumbleweed" -- is an invasive species that is the bane of our existence here. Each one has hundreds of thorns. I always wear long pants.

Let me paint a picture of this far northwest corner of Arches. Nobody goes to Eagle Park. There are no trails, and only one little-traveled dirt road passes through Salt Valley. It is deceptively plain-looking from that road, contrasting starkly with the bold and eye-catching formations for which Arches National Park is famous. There is little to demand your attention — until you get past two ridges and a tumbleweed-choked wash. And then…

… you’re in another world. The striking sandstone fins from Devils Garden reach their northern terminus here, and valleys and vistas open before you. Silence pervades everything. How last year’s intern had ever discovered this nest is a complete mystery, as it is about as far off the beaten path as any in the park. My job this year is to visit as many of the previously-documented raptor nests as I can, to evaluate each for current condition and activity. I’m living my dream.

to be continued in Eagle Park, Part 2 

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