Christopher Majka: Observer's Notes

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Although the first observation of this bird by a birder was on November 23, local residents have subsequently informed us that they had observed it in the neighbourhood as early as three weeks previously, i.e. in early November.

On Sunday, November 23, 1997 the bird was first located by Roger Foxall along the railway tracks near the Fairview Container Terminal. Within half an hour others had arrived to see and photograph the bird.

Monday, November 25, 1997 observers find the bird frequenting the area around 17 Evans Ave.

On Tuesday, November 25, 1997 we saw it in the early afternoon and it afforded us a protracted and close-up view in full sunlight. After waiting for a half hour or so the bird appeared and sat for at least a half hour in the backyard that it has been frequenting, first on the branches of a sumac tree and later on the ground. During the time I observed it was not foraging, but simply sitting and sunning itself. It didn't vocalize at all.

On Wednesday, November 26, 1997 we observed it on repeated occasions over about a 5 hour period (from 11:00 AM to almost 4:00 PM). It foraged frequently for small insects, sometimes sitting and sunning itself for short intervals in the trees. It will characteristically sit three or four meters above the ground and quickly drop to the ground to pick up food items. On one occasion it was seen to capture a medium-sized beetle.

Sometimes it will stay low and move through the bushes and vegetation. When moving between the two sites it flies high above the road and we saw it sit for short period of time high in the maple trees beside an apartment building. There is a sawed off-limb on a maple tree in the yard adjacent to 17 Evans Ave. where it frequently sits. It has a good deal of bird excrement on it, perhaps indicating that it may have been at this site for at least a number of days prior to its first having been sighted on November 22(?) by Roger Foxall.

It frequently flicks it tail up and down. On a couple of occasions observers heard a loudish chattering call from near where the bird was (shrike-like in its character) which some people felt quite certain had been made by the bird.

It seemed slightly grayer to me than most of the illustrations I've studied (mostly of males), although it certainly did have the pale forehead and rufous underparts that the literature describes. It's hard to judge the comparative 'weight' of the bill, however it does look 'largish'. It does not show a white wing-patch. My best guess would be that it is probably an adult female, since it has both a grayish forehead, below a browner cap, and also a bit of the mottled brown barring at the edge of the breast that are indicated in Lewington, Alström & Colston's illustration of the female Brown Shrike.

Thursday November 27, 1997 there was heavy rain all day, however, observers reported that the bird was active throughout the day at Evans Avenue.

Friday, November 28, 1997 I arrived at the location at about 1:45 PM. The bird had been there until about 1:00 when it had disappeared over the edge of the bank. Despite considerable searching and many observers it was not sighted again until about 4:00 PM when it returned to Evans Ave. for about 10 minutes, before flying down to the container terminal area.

Saturday, November 29, 1997 was a cool but clear day with less wind than the previous day. The bird was observed only on two occasions. It arrived at the yard at 17 Evans Ave at about 11:00 PM. It landed in a small tree, stayed there for a short interval, dropped to the ground, and the disappeared over the bank after about 5 minutes. Later in the day at around 1:00 Ian McLaren and I were looking down towards the Fairview Container Terminal when the bird flew past us from the south, flying near the cliff's edge and disappearing in the direction of the vegatation low along west side of the Bedford Highway. When I left at about 3:30 it had not reappeared again. I speculate that on this cold day it was wandering and foraging further afield.

Sunday November 30, 1997 was a warm and sunny day and the bird was seen on a number of occasions. It was present for 10 or so minutes at arounf 1:00 PM at 17 Evans Ave. It ruturned there again at about 4:00 PM when I saw it for about 15 minutes. It sat in the sumacs, moved up into an apple tree and several times dropped to the ground to forage for small insects. I saw it catch a small beetle (or similar insect) in the yard next door. It sat on the picket fence and was about to return to the location when it was chased off by a Blue Jay, that then dropped to the same spot to search for insects. It then dropped back to the edge of the bank and disappeared down the slope.

Earlier in the day (circa 3:30) I saw it very briefly along the railway tracks across from Atlantic Accura. A passing train flushed it from the bushes in this area (where Roger Foxall originally observed it) and it flew past me along the tracks. I am told that it had been observed slightly earlier on the steep and scrubby bank that faces northeast and overlooks the Accura dealership from beside the Centennial Arena.

On Monday December 1, 1997 snow fell all during the day. The bird was not seen in the morning, however, I am infomed that Bob Donaldson (?) from New Jersey did see the shrike in the afternoon at Evans Ave.

On Tuesday December 2, 1997 there was continuous snowfall and (later in the day) rain or wet snow. Conditions were quite inclement. A couple of people spent short periods attempting to sight the bird, but without success.

Wednesday December 3, 1997 was a much more plesant day with temperatures in the range of +2 Celsius and no precipitation. In the afternoon there were periods of sunshine. There were, however, fairly strong winds which limited the movements and visibility of small birds. I was on-site for some 4.5 hours and when I left at around four, the bird had not been seen at all despite the presence, on and off, of a number of observers who monitored several areas.

Thursday, December 4, 1997 was quite a plesant and warm day, some onshore winds and even sunshine in the afternoon. There were observers on the site from at least 10:00 AM. I was there from circa 10:45 to 2:00 and searched many areas quite thoroughly but there was no sign of the bird. The diminished winds meant that there were many other passerines -- Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Black-capped Chickadees, American Goldfinches, etc -- on the move in the area, in contast to the previous day when wind was keeping birds down.

Its likely that the bird died at this stage from adverse weather conditions or (less likely) moved on. In any event it was never sighted again after December 1.

Christopher Majka