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  • Writer's pictureVicki Wilmarth

Buffalo Lake's Boisterous Northern Shrike

A beautiful, buff-colored bird has sparked birdwatcher's interest in Buffalo Lake National Wildlife Refuge this winter. The juvenile Northern Shrike was first spotted at the beginning of November, and he has been entertaining birders ever since.

I first saw this photogenic Shrike on November 10 when I traveled 30 minutes south of Amarillo to Umbarger specifically to try to spot him. I thought I would have to spend some time hunting for him, but he was at the front entrance to the refuge, seemingly waiting for me. He patiently posed for pictures, as if he knew how special he is.

Northern Shrikes are generally found in Texas only in the Panhandle, and even here, they are considered a rare winter visitor. They prefer places like Canada, Alaska and the northern half of the continental U.S. Cornell's range maps don't even show them in Texas at all. But for more than a month, this one has made the wildlife refuge his home.

On December 21, 2019, during the Christmas Bird Count for the 15 miles around Buffalo Lake NWR, one of the stated goals was to find and include this cute juvenile Northern Shrike in the bird total. We even had two birders from Austin join the counting group so that they could see him.

The show-off bird didn't disappoint. He appeared less than 10 minutes down the first birding trail. He talked, he posed, he chased off a dove and then returned to sit for more pictures. He was like a celebrity working it on the red carpet, turning around to give us his best side, perching at the top of a tree against a brilliant blue sky, and allowing photographers to walk right up to his territory for a better shot.

We saw him again on the return trip, in almost the same spot. But for an encore, he left his tree, flew overhead, hovered long enough for flight shots and then perched at the top of another tree in perfect morning sunlight. All six birders in our group got a great view of him during his performance.

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