North American Birds

VOLUME 70 NO3-NO4 2019

A Quarterly Journal of Ornithological Record Published by the American Birding Association. The mission of the journal is to provide a complete overview of the changing panorama of our continent’s birdlife.

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253 V O L U M E 7 0 ( 2 0 1 9 ) • N U M B E R S 3 / 4 RED-BACKED SHRIKE IN ALASKA Brown Shrike, which would help confirm or rule out that species from contention. Better- quality images were obtained and circulated. Consensus built rapidly that this bird looked like a Red-backed Shrike. The images were examined by Pyle and Moores. Based on their experience identifying a hybrid Red-backed Shrike × Turkestan Shrike (L. phoenicuroides), a taxon also known as Red-tailed Shrike (Gill and Donsker 2017), in California (Pyle et al. 2015), they believed that the Gambell bird's wing and tail morphology appeared to be out - side of the range of Brown Shrike but typical of Red-backed Shrike. On 8 October, the Gambell shrike started to "calm down" somewhat. Although it was still shy and wary, it would occasionally pose fairly well, albeit briefly—perching on wormwood, bones, or on the ground. Both Bryer and Irrigoo were able to acquire an ex- tensive series of excellent photographs over the ensuing days (fig. 1-5). Lehman departed the island on 12 October. Alaska birder Brad Benter arrived for a short, 24-hour visit on 19 October, and he supplemented the num- ber of high-quality photos obtained (fig 6). During its stay, the shrike was observed on several occasions to drop to the ground to feed on what presumably were insects. It was not observed chasing any small passer- ines. During this period, weather conditions at Gambell ranged from overcast with light too far away to be studied in any detail with binoculars. Bryer and Rosenberg took photo - graphs, despite the great distance. The bird then flew even farther away, disappeared, and could not be found again the remainder of the day. Studying the maximally enlarged photos confirmed that the bird had the gen - eral appearance of a Brown Shrike, a species which had been recorded at Gambell six times previously. Three days later, on 6 October, a shrike which was assumed to be the same indi- vidual was re-found in the village's "near boneyard," a half-kilometer away from the original sighting. The bird was very skittish, not allowing close approach and quickly flying off, low to the ground, for relatively long distances before landing out of sight. Some Brown Shrikes at Gambell in previous years were similarly wide-ranging, shy, and furtive. Due to this bird's behavior, the ob- servers' in-field views with binoculars were frustratingly limited in quality and duration. A few additional photos, still of marginal quality, were obtained by Gambell resident and bird photographer Clarence Irrigoo Jr. Given the limited detail visible in the photos, as well as the "conventional wisdom" that Brown Shrike was the expected Asian shrike to occur in western Alaska, it was logical to assume the bird was indeed a Brown Shrike. On 8 October, Lehman circulated a single photo of the shrike, taken by Irrigoo the previous day, as part of his on-going effort to share a variety of rarity photos taken at Gambell during the season. He received a message from Julian Hough of Connecticut and formerly of the United Kingdom: "That shrike, in that image, is quite Red-backed- like in color/tone and bill…. but [I] wouldn't want to see [the bird] that briefly!" Lehman then asked the two bird photographers pres - ent at Gambell—Bryer and Irrigoo—to do all they could to take additional photos. Irrigoo was able to obtain such later in the day on 8 October. Upon detailed examination of the photos, Lehman believed that Hough was in - deed correct and that the bird had the poten- tial to be a Red-backed Shrike. Several of the best photos were dispatched to experts for ad - ditional comments. Hough and several others, including Moores, wrote back that the bird showed multiple characters of Red-backed Shrike. Hough took the best available photo and added annotations to it, which explained which characters he was using to arrive at that identification (fig. 2). He also urged Lehman to try and note whether the bird lacked the noticeably short and narrow outer rectrices of Figure 2. This enlarged image of the Gambell shrike, taken on 8 October 2017, was the first higher quality photo obtained of the bird. Upon receipt of this photo, Hough added the annotations seen here, explaining many of the reasons he believed the bird was, in fact, a Red-backed Shrike. Photo by © Clarence Irrigoo Jr. showers to partly cloudy, calm to very windy, and the temperatures were between 1-6° C (34-44° F). Insect life was still relatively plentiful in the boneyards. However, begin- ning on 19 October, the weather quickly be- gan to deteriorate, with a prolonged, multi- day period of sub-freezing temperatures, strong winds, and frozen precipitation. During this time, the shrike was observed by Irrigoo mostly just perched in protected ar- eas, including on or in a bird-box erected on the side of his house, where it was thought that it might be roosting. It was last seen on 22 October, during continued poor weather conditions. Attempts by Irrigoo to find a car- cass, or even individual feathers, in the bird- box or elsewhere nearby were unsuccessful. Description During its relatively long stay, the Gambell shrike never became tame or confiding. Thus, many of the finer details of its appearance were gleaned from photos obtained, rather than from field observations. No vocalizations were heard, at least not with any certainty. • SIZE, SHAPE, AND SOFT PARTS: A shrike in overall shape, proportions, and bill (fig. 1-6), but small in comparison to e.g., Northern Shrike (L. borealis). The head appeared somewhat rounded rather than blocky. The bill appeared noticeably slighter

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