The Hunting of the Shrike

“Just the place for a shrike!” the Hartyman cried,
   As he gathered his crew with care
He welcomed them warmly, with donuts he plied
   The women and men gathered there
 
The crew was complete: it included a Jim,
   A Jen, a John, and alas,
A snake-seeking woman full of humor and Grace
   And a man made entirely of Glass
 
The Hartyman they all praised to the skies
    Such an outfit – bold kerchief and hat
Such solemnity, too! One could see he was wise,
    For the shrike he would go to the mat!

The Hartyman uses a mirror to see inside a nest — this one was built by a pair of mourning doves and harbored four eggs.

He brought a large map representing Midewin,
   And pointed out where they should hike
And the crew were much pleased to spend the whole day in
   Search of the elusive shrike.
 
Some went to the west of Route 66
   Some went to the east with the bison
All tucked in their socks to keep out the ticks
   And kept hydrated under the high sun.

It can be quite a slog searching for shrikes. On the other hand, it’s like being a kid again, sloshing through the muck and the mire on a stunningly beautiful spring morning.

Before they departed, the Hartyman said,
   “Come, listen, my friends, hear me speak
Do not be deceived, do not be misled
   By false feathers or uncrossed beak.”
 
“There are only five unmistakable marks
   To distinguish a shrike from a mockingbird:
The beak and the plumage, the song and the nest
   The fifth trait well known to a bird nerd.”
 
“The beak is so big with a dangerous hook
   The plumage is black, grey and white
The nest made of sticks with a haphazard look
   The song more a buzz than polite.”

It can be hard to see a shrike nest even when you’re staring right at it — a jumble of sticks amid a tangle of twigs.

“The other key, unmistakable trait
    Of the shrike, should you care to inquire,
Is impaling its prey, like fisherman bait,
  On Osage or’nge thorns or barbed wire.”
 
All day they did search in the grasslands and bushes
  They found lots of warblers and wrens
They saw a few thrashers and sparrows and thrushes
   Some sandhills and meadowlark friends.

Searching for shrikes requires you to scan barbed wire for imperiled prey — a telltale sign that shrikes are near. This also affords the opportunity to relish eastern meadowlarks perched on fence posts and filling their air with their melodious tunes.

Two weeks later, as well, they searched anew,
   In bunker fields and in the prairie
The fact that they found, of shrikes, far too few
   Was awfully depressingly scary
 
The Hartyman noticed his crew spirit low,
   And repeated in musical tone
Some jokes he had kept for a season of woe—
   But the crew would do nothing but groan.
 
“What kind of birds never rise from their knees?”
   “Birds of prey,” he said with a grin.
“But seriously, folks, I’m begging you please
   Don’t give up on this place called Midewin.”
 
“Where else can you find so much land to restore
   So much prairie and shrubland, and hark!
We restore this place for the sake of all birds
Lest they go the way of the poor snark.”

Here and there at Midewin you still can find some remains of the fabled snark.

And so ends our tale with an invite for you
   To come to Midewin and quest
For bison and shrikes and other things, too
   For peace, joy and healing and rest.

The elusive loggerhead shrike. Listed as one of the “Common Birds in Decline,” its total population has decreased on average 3% over the past 40 years — that may not seem like much, but the cumulative impact is a whopping 76% plummet in its total population.

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