In the space of half an hour this afternoon, I have been taunted by not one but two birds that I don't normally see here. I was trying to make a quick pop-it-in-the-oven lunch for the kids, so I was back and forth between the cookshed and the house, when I saw the first one. Actually I heard it first, a strange call that almost sounded like one of our sheep, but higher pitched. The blue jays were going crazy. Then as I stood on the step I saw it come swooping down, something a bit larger than a blue jay with white below and steel gray above, and a very definite black "mask" on the head. I had time to watch its irregular flight as it swooped down to the ground then perched in a bare maple tree, but of course by the time I grabbed the binoculars and Sibley's it was long gone. At first I was thinking small hawk, but none of the usual suspects (sharp-shinned, merlin) matched the distinctive markings I was able to see. Then I thought shrike, but again the picture in the book was definitely not what I saw. I'm thinking it might be a gray jay! I have seen them in far northern Minnesota, and they are known for hanging around camps and cabins looking for food. I'll leave some food scraps out and hope it comes back.
The second bird came when my awareness was still heightened from the first. However, I had put the binoculars down so again it flew away before I got a good look. I did see a very definite black back with white breast, and it was acting very woodpecker-like, so I'm calling it...a black-backed woodpecker. Again, this is a northern species, uncommon in this area, but I have seen one here before a few years ago.
It is partly sunny here today, a bit on the cold, windy side but it's nice to see the sun. I think I'll go out to the cook shed and bottle my beer while listening to two new CD's that arrived today: another Vasen (Swedish group), and Yonder Mountain String Band live. Then maybe play some music of my own; Robin from Dharma Bums has got me thinking about Kate Wolf again.