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The Napanee Guide

Loggerhead shrike volunteers, landowners, honoured

November 4th, 2004

by Aimee Pianosi

Local News - There may be fewer Eastern Loggerhead shrike than ever, but it isn't because there is a lack of interest or a lack of effort.

In fact, according to local shrike biologist Kurt Hennige, no one is exactly sure why the endangered bird is declining in the area.

Two years ago there were 25 breeding pairs, last year 12, and this year 13.

On October 25 a group of local landowners, conservationists and preservationists gathered to celebrate the species, and their efforts in its rescue from the brink. Representatives were on hand from Wildlife Preservation Trust Canada, the Ontario Cattlemens Association, and Environment Canada to talk to guests.

Hennige is in charge of the local restoration effort and works for WRPT Canada. He helped landowners use up $100,000 in projects over last winter. This funding came from the Habitat Stewardship Program of the Cattlemens Association.

"A lot of landowners are happy. We help them cut the red cedar," he said. Currently shrike are nesting in red cedar, but too much red cedar decreases their opportunities for hunting. Traditionally the birds nested in hawthorn trees for protection, but these have also declined.

Besides working as a field biologist, he coordinates the bird survey each year. Last year there were 21 volunteers who spent a total of 160 hours surveying 137 sites. But Hennige said there are over 600 possible sites in the area, so more surveying always needs to be done.

"Before you can even get on the land, you have to find who the landowners are, ask the landowners.:

The breeding pairs are the lowest recorded numbers in Napanee Plain for the last 40 years.

"Even more alarming is actually that out of the 13 pairs, we only had seven nests with successful fledgling young. That's really low. In any loggerhead shrike studies, 70-90 per cent would be more normal."

Hennige said that nest predation by raccoons, cats, crows, blue jays, ravens and even snakes could be the cause of the drop in success.

"The year before we did think it was West Nile Virus, but since we see two years in a row a lot of predation going on in Napanee, and we don't see the same in the Carden Plain, their breeding success is 90 per cent."

One landowner who got involved in the program is Mike Clair of Newburgh. He grew up on a cattle farm, and still farms.

"There were always shrikes around here. In the morning you'd go out and move your cattle from one side of the road to the other, and especially when the babies were just trying to get out of the nest, the parents would just go insane around you. You know they are there."

But Clair had missed their presence. One day he saw someone sitting in a car near his home surveying the field, and found out it was former project co-ordinator Chris Grooms.

"He was watching them, but as time went along he was looking for them," said Clair.

So his family got involved with the restoration project by installing some fence line and cutting brush. Wire and post were donated, and someone was hired to do the labour.

Clair said until he met Grooms he had no idea his birds were some of the last in Ontario.

"They were here. You didn't think there was anything wrong with them." He said there were also some snakes on the fence near his parent's home that had been impaled by the shrikes, and that was probably the last local pair.

"We've got the place ready for them to come back here. Hopefully we'll get them back, that screaming noise, I can always remember them being here."

He said that some of his neighbors have also done some habitat restoration, and they are all ready and waiting for the shrike's return.

Hennige said the total breeding population of the Eastern Loggerhead Shrike in Ontario this summer was 27 pairs, but there are 100 birds being bred in captivity, both at the Metro Toronto Zoo, and another facility.

This bird is a subspecies of the loggerhead shrike, and one other subspecies in California is also endangered. There is a western subspecies which migrate into Calgary which are also doing better, although still on the endangered list.

Hennige says all seven of the subspecies have experienced significant decline in numbers over the last 25 years.

He advises if you are a landowner with potential nesting spots, or are interested in volunteering to help with counts, construction projects or land clearing, contact WPTC at 1-866-833-8888, or go to http://www.shrike.ca