Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mocker Muddle - Northern Shrike or Northern Mockingbird?

 
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. 


48 comments:

  1. WHEW! I am truly exhausted from being on the edge of my seat reading your blog. Thank goodness you, Perry and the earrings managed to safely endure this saga. Did you ever think of adding another piercing to one ear just for an additional adornment, thereby utilizing all those single earrings you've been saving/collecting? As far as birding...you are the best! The photographs you capture are superb and anyone who criticizes you for a possible identification error, phooey to them!
    HG

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  2. Beautiful post, love your photos and reading your posts!
    Thanks for sharing.
    Have a great day.
    Greetings Mette

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  3. HG, thank you for the read, comment and compliment. I pleased that you found this to be a thriller! And over a trip to the vet and earrings! I guess I was successful in my craft there! I do have other ear peircings, by the way. If I were to wear all of the lost earrrings, my head would list to the side!

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  4. Camera Cruise, thank you! I think I shall indeed go out and have another great day, misidentifications or not!

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  5. Chrissie Pissie (OS)February 22, 2012 at 9:16 AM

    Lady, you do not lead a dull life! How's Perry?
    " He shivered, shook, trembled and drooled as if standing before an execution squad." I do the same thing when I have to do something I don't want to!

    Chrissie Pissie
    February 21, 2012 07:31 PM

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  6. Chrissie, thanks for the read, rate and comment. Actually, I think my life is as dull as the next person's. But, I will say I look at it differently than most. Beauty and hilarity are in the mundane details. Wow. That sounded profound, didn't it? I'll have to get some special earrings if I'm going to spout stuff like that!

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  7. In my books you are a great birder! You were wearing your earrings, didn't lose one, captured a gorgeous mockingbird which I haven't seen in life, and managed to take that adorable Shiba Inu to the vet.
    My (ex) husband had given me a pair of (mother of pearl) puffin earrings made in Newfoundland, because I love puffins. I thought I had lost during an Amtrak trip. There wasn't a place I left unsearched until I found it fallen under the armrest and the seat between two joints. Can you imagine my joy? My puffins are not in earring orphanage, phew! :o)


    FusunA
    February 21, 2012 10:50 PM

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  8. FusunA, thank you muchly. I once went on a trip to Machias Seal Island off the coast and far north of here for the express purpose of photographing Atlantic puffins. I adore the little Clown Birds! I went to expense and quite a bit of hassle to see them. So, I am in your court on that. I felt a twinge about your lost then found puffin earring!

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  9. This is right up there and the Mockingbird rules. I would love to hear one sing.
    ❤.•*`*•(¯`••´¯)
    (¯`••´¯)°•.¸.•°❤•(¯`´¯)
    .°•.¸.•°❤ PEACE ❤°•.¸.•° •.¸¸.•*`*•❤

    Algis Kemezys
    February 22, 2012 06:10

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  10. Algis, and thank you too for the rate, read and comment. A few years ago I had one land on the roof of my house where it perched for long enough for me to take photographs while it sang its head off! It was quite magical. Do you suppose the one I saw at the vet's office would have sung "Harness the dog! Harness the dog!"

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  11. Loved this post and your photo of the mockingbird is stunning. I love mockingbirds. I have them in abundance in my backyard, along with bluejays, and it's always a challenge to decide which is more fascinating to watch.
    Your tale of the lost earrings made me remember each and every one of the lone earrings I have resting in a special compartment in my jewelry box. Everyone knows you can't discard the earring left behind because if you do the lost earring will show up to taunt you forever.
    R
    Unbreakable
    February 22, 2012

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  12. Hi Robin,
    I LOVED it! I know exactly where you are coming from - both from the earring point of view AND the mistaken Mocker faux pas and the street "cred" worries (i.e. I always wear mascara - even when going birding at 3:00 in the morning - it just makes this 57 yr. old grandmother feel "dressed".)
    Take care,
    Margaret Viens
    Waterville

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  13. Love your posts, quite engaging. I have had the same experience with earrings, though I don't wear anymore. I felt it was a shame not to wear them when the mate was lost so I would choose two with a similar style or similar stone and wear mismatched earrings; as an artist anything goes. Now that I no longer wear earring I gave some away, use some in mixed media collage and kept a few special ones to turn into necklaces.
    The mockingbird is quite beautiful. Hugs!

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  14. Thank yaou, Tess. A great idea to put them into some art form. Hey wait! I think I just did!! Ha ha! Mockingbirds are very pretty in that they have elegant, sleek bodies and tails. They are pretty agressive birds, though. If only they would stick to singing. Thank you for the read, comments and compliments.

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  15. Your posts are always such good value Robin, I usually like to wait until I have the time to do them justice (y'know a cup of tea, biscuit perhaps!!) You shouldn't feel so bad about the mistaken identity of your two birds they are pretty similar..I once did a post on, oh I can't even remember now what bird it was, only to receive an email from my brother in law who was in England at the time (guess I should be flattered that he took time to check it out while he was on holiday) to point out I had made a completely wrong identification, I had to sheepishly change it pronto!

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  16. Great shots, Robin! Love the shrike!

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  17. Great post Robin; had me smiling all through it.

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  18. you made me laugh at the whole earring paranoia. but, lordy, i've been there with a dog that got loose outside the vet's office! luckily she was still dragging her leash, and after falling, i did manage to step on her leash and catch her before she headed to the busy highway! that terror is like nothing else!

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  19. Beautiful birds and Perry, superb.

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  20. BJK, Frank and TexWisGirl, thanks all for the reads and comments. I have noticed that no men have ever commented about earring paranoia, and they do wear them. Are they just more secure than we are in general or......or what? Tex, I can envision you falling going after the dog. Ouch! Believe me, I would have launched myself like a NFL catcher and landed on the little devil if I thought I could have caught him! And then, I would have done a touchdown dance, too! Ha ha, now there's visual for ya! Glad I made you all laugh.

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  21. Perth, thanks for that. I missed your comment somehow in the electronic "pile" that I seem to have in addition to paper these days. I often say thank god for my brother's in law. Don't I guys? Hardy har! I can imagine you with tea and a cookie reading my work. I thank YOU for THAT visual!

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  22. Glad that Perry is safe. Nice birding photos.

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  23. Great post and what a beautiful dog!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

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  24. Loved reading all about your earrings, dog, and the birds! Wonderful post!

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  25. Gary, I figured you and the Boomer would think Perry was a swell guy. And he is, when he's not taking off, losing it at the vet's, treeing racoons or tangling with porcupines. And, did I mention skunks? LET'S NOT! Thanks for the read and comment!

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    Replies
    1. Appreciate your reply on my site. Boom & I are really impressed that you speak Raven and so, more importantly, is Huegin, Broken Beak. Perry's probably just a slow maturing dog. Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

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  26. Nature Rambles, thank you! Quite a combo of subjects, indeed! Is that talent or insanity? Let's see.........mostly insanity.

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  27. A wonderful post... the first I have read today and I now have a big smile on my face.

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  28. A beautiful bird that I have never seen before. And a lovely dog aswell :) / Susanne

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  29. Beautiful birds, but this time my very favourite is Perry:)

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  30. I so love your posts Robin! I was on the edge of my seat when Perry got loose. Glad to hear everything worked out and you still have both earrings. Couldn't you occasionally wear two of the single earrings as a pair, one in each ear?

    Love the photos of the Northern Shrike and Mocker. We have Northern Mockingbirds here year round but shikes are a rarity and I always feel special when I see one and ecstatic when I am able to photograph one.

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  31. I so love your posts Robin! I was on the edge of my seat when Perry got loose. Glad to hear everything worked out and you still have both earrings. Couldn't you occasionally wear two of the single earrings as a pair, one in each ear?

    Love the photos of the Northern Shrike and Mocker. We have Northern Mockingbirds here year round but shikes are a rarity and I always feel special when I see one and ecstatic when I am able to photograph one.

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  32. What a day, congrat on your Shrike sighting. They are awesome birds. Great post and photos.

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  33. I really enjoyed your bird photographs; not ones I see where I live at all. Got your take on the odd earring saga; it is hard to give in.

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  34. I'm so glad your beautiful dog is safe. A great read with photos.

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  35. Hi there - splendid and honest post!

    Have you ever met a dog that likes his vet?

    Stewart M - Australia

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  36. What a sweet bit of writing, such a beautiful humanity about it. I totally underestimated the effect of a nice pair of earrings on the a bird photographers mental state. I seem to remember a Edwardian walking suit I had when I was about 14 that gave me a feeling of being lit up. I hadn't thought about it in years but yeah, I get it. The earring orphanage is a hysterically good metaphor, I can see those pleading trinkets with their hollow eyes wanting to be loved again. It's a shame symmetry is at the foundation of fashion sense. These, the survivors, deserve a better fate!
    Awesome post Robin!

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  37. Andrew, I'm pleased to have started your day off right. What more could a writer ask for? Uh, money? Ya, money would be good, too. :) Thanks much for the read and comment.

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  38. Stewart, thank you. I once had a dog that loved the vet. I adored her, but honestly, she wasn't the brightest dog I ever owned. She was kind of a slut that would cozy up to just about anybody who gave her attention or treats, actually. She wasn't above whoring her dignity to the vet!

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  39. Springman, I'm so touched by the depth of your comment! thank you so much. You are a splendid writer, obviously. You make me mourn for my poor little earrings all over again. :( I love the notion of an Edwardian walking suit in of itself, never mind having it light the wearer up! HA! When my son was about 4 he had a full suit of armour, complete with helmet and sabre. He seemed so much bigger in it because of his attitude while wearing it. I'll have to rumage for a photo of him in it. Thank you so much for the read and fab. commentary.

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  40. Hello Robin!
    Pleased to have found your blog--you do have a way with words!

    You don't happen to be the very same Robin Robinson who lived next door to me in Ohio as a child, right? That Robin had a little sister named Becky and a brother named Jimmy. Doesn't seem likely (and I realize Robinson could be a married name), but thought I'd ask anyway!

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  41. Unbreakable (OS)March 1, 2012 at 1:35 PM

    Loved this post and your photo of the mockingbird is stunning. I love mockingbirds. I have them in abundance in my backyard, along with bluejays, and it's always a challenge to decide which is more fascinating to watch.
    Your tale of the lost earrings made me remember each and every one of the lone earrings I have resting in a special compartment in my jewelry box. Everyone knows you can't discard the earring left behind because if you do the lost earring will show up to taunt you forever.
    R
    Unbreakable
    February 22, 2012 10:07 AM

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  42. Patricia, can't say that I grew up in Ohio nor even have any relatives there. I have been surprised at the numbers of Robin Robinsons out there, though. I even found one who is a photographer! Seven degrees of separation? Thanks for the read and compliment.

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  43. Felt among friends here , thank you. =-}
    blufeather
    February 29, 2012 11:18 PM

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  44. `A good fashionista would show us pictures of those fabulous earrings -- preferably when you're wearing them ;>).....nice gift -- lovely post, lovely bird. We have a mockingbird alarm clock these days! ,

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