Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos Brunswick, Maine February 2012
Lest there be doubt about where I saw this bird!
The Mocker flew to a nearby tree.
Northern Shrike, Lanius excubitor, Phippsburg Maine March 2011. See how similar the two birds are? Note the hook on the shrike's bill.
Our dog, Perry, safely back in the car. Perry is a Shiba inu.
My darling husband gave to me a Happy Day Surprise recently of a stunning pair of earrings. Each earring is a large, mother of pearl Bald Eagle in flight! They are magnificent! When I wore them for the first time yesterday , I felt like an Indian princess and an intrepid wildlife photographer all rolled into one. I held my chin a little higher (always good for a middle aged woman) and walked with a jaunty stride and my shoulders back. I felt goooood!
I did keep checking them though, repeatedly touching my fingers to my ears. At nearly three inches long, they are quite ostentatious. I wasn't self conscious; I was worried I'd lose one! It is a universal law of inverse proportions that you will lose one earring of a pair you love the most. You won't necessarily lose a member of the most expensive pair, but one that has the most meaning for you.
When David and I once went to Italy, I brought home a pair of earrings. They weren't expensive, but they were a memento from that trip. We had been so happy on that trip that those earrings made me feel a little rush of those same times. When I put them on, I could feel that certain Italian sun that shines on temple stone and nearly smell the wild rosemary in the air.
I often wear earrings when I go out regardless of what else I'm wearing, because they make me feel good. It's not uncommon for me to wear outrageous earrings while still in my bathrobe, especially if they are new ones. I know a woman who wears astounding, ruby-red lipstick everywhere she goes. Her garish swipe of cherry pucker-up flies in the face of her jeans, her husband's chamois shirt and her muck boots. I frequently see her mowing her back acres on her John Deere with grass clippings plastered all over her, but she looks fine! Some would say she looks ridiculous with that ghoulish gash across her face, but I for one completely understand.
I once went on a photo trip north of here to shoot elk and deer. It was winter and the snow was deep which proved to be perfect. The cloven hoofed wonders looked pristine in the snow and the reflected light was gorgeous. I wore an oversized sweater with a suede vest lined with shearling pile. My cashmere, fingerless, "photographer's” gloves matched perfectly. I topped off my sumptuous outfit with my Italian earrings. I got lots of great photographs of elk and deer and promptly lost one of the earrings in the hopelessly deep snow. That was years ago, but it still haunts me.
Every woman knows that you are saddled forever with the one earring that wasn’t lost. They can't be discarded for crimes they didn't commit, each with a blameless soul. I have an entire container devoted to single earrings that have lost their lovers. My lone, Italian earring resides there in my earring orphanage. When I see it, I can feel myself looking for its mate, as if I lost it yesterday and might actually find it. Like old photographs of long lost family, they haunt me and sometimes mock me.
The Monday morning quarterbacking solution to this is to always wear earrings with keepers on the backs. Having learned, I now usually do this, but it's not always an answer. Sometimes I forget, I’m hurrying, or simply wearing a pair that isn't constructed correctly for this. Such is the case with the fabulous Bald eagle earrings. I wasn’t going into the bush yesterday, only taking the dog to the vet. But, donning my dynamic, Bald eagle earrings, I felt born aloft! Knowing what can happen without warning to one you love, I compulsively fingered them making sure they were still there.
Our dog despises the vet. Regardless of what I do to try to fake him out, he always knows that's where we are going. He loves to ride in the car, but I have to get him in hours in advance of departure. If he senses that we are going to the vet, he will not get into the car. He is ten years old and has learned my every nuance. He has also learned that he can get away with blowing me off when I give him a verbal command. I have to be really careful not to telegraph my intent because once I have done so, there is no amount of yelling, cajoling or bribery that will get him to come or get into the car. He cannot be bought nor caught.
This time, I left the car door open in the yard and ignored him. He got in of his own accord and off we went. But, on pulling into the parking lot at the vet's, he was a wreck. He knew. He shivered, shook, trembled and drooled as if standing before an execution squad. I talked sweetness which didn't work, then had to yank him out of the car. Along with him came the winter's accumulation of trash and assorted articles, which I had to pick up. Flustered and irritated, I tossed a crumpled, paper bag, an empty soda can, and a glove back into the car. "Where's the other glove?" I wondered. Reflexively, I touched my earring.
When I stood up, the leash with the collar attached hung lax in my hand without the dog. A jolting, black panic filled me. From across the lot, the freed dog looked at me, his face distorted with terror. Then, he headed directly for the road, a busy, local version of the Los Angeles freeway. I called him once, which he barely noticed. I resisted the urge to run after him. Instead, I went to the car and opened the door. "Hey, Perry!" I called as calmly as I could, choking on my own fear, "We're going home, buddy! Come on and get in the car - home!" I tried to sound cheerful. I stepped back from the open car door and thankfully, in he jumped.
Before I had time to think or feel that sick feeling that comes with catastrophe, a bird flew into the shrubs beside the car. "Oh, my god! It's a shrike!" I grabbed my camera from the front seat, aimed and fired off a round of shots. I could hardly believe my eyes! From the confines of the car, the dog watched me advance closer and closer to the bird. I could not believe what I was seeing! I could hardly wait to post this find on the birding internet!
To get the dog into the vet’s office and exam room, I had to carry him. At just over forty pounds, he’s not a big dog. However, he weighs more than a third of my total body weight and was not a cooperative subject. The next time, I would definitely harness him! He flailed and splayed his legs out, which of course, caught on the frame of the door jamming us both in the doorway. I almost dropped him! A receptionist watched us blankly from behind the safety of her desk without inclination to help us. Setting him down on the floor, I straightened up, picked a tuft of fur from my lips and checked my earrings. I had them both.
Though exhausting, it was a great day! I still had the dog, both earrings and I had a great bird! Once home, the dog went directly to bed. I posted my bird to the internet. I was promptly corrected that I had not seen a shrike, but rather, a Northern Mockingbird. A Northern shrike would have been an excellent sighting. A Northern Mockingbird is a good bird for late winter in mid-coast Maine, but not a great bird. I don’t see them often in Phippsburg at any time of year.
At first glance, I had actually thought it was a Mocker. But then, I was so flustered by having lost the dog that I didn’t think it through before posting to the internet. Embarrassed by this birding faux pas, I imagined the birding elite out there mocking my Mocker. Credibility is central amongst birders. To grossly misidentify a bird in a fit of uncontrolled exuberance was really crapping on my street “cred.”
Admittedly, the two songbirds look quite similar. They are both ten inches long, brownish gray, have long tails, and black wings with white bars. Their head shapes are slightly different and shrikes have a hook at the end of the bill. But, the bird’s position could make those points difficult to distinguish. Northern Mockingbirds have a dark stripe through the eye while shrikes have a full mask. However, a first winter shrike’s mask is not as pronounced making it easy to confuse with a Mocker. Both have white eye rings and are fast fliers that like high perches. A good birder would never have confused the two. However, a really great birder would be wearing terrific earrings and have a camera ready.