Monday, May 07, 2007

Cuckoo Cuckoo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo, High Island

Warm weather is back, with temps in the upper 80s. Now that's the kind of Texas weather we know and love! The bugs are back too. I don't mind the mosquitoes so much, but deer flies are insufferable. Hardly had I stepped out of the car today at Sabine Woods when they began to swarm over me. Sometimes cowardice is the better part of valor, and this was one of those times. I beat a hasty retreat. Probably no birds there anyway.

After my abortive visit to Sabine Woods I drove to High Island, where the bug situation was more tolerable. Hardly any deer flies at all. Hardly any birders either. When I first arrived at the Boy Scout Woods there was only one other car parked there. If the birders were absent the birds didn't seem to care. Fruiting mulberries were still attracting a good variety of migrants, including numerous Red-eyed Vireos and Gray Catbirds, a flock of Cedar Waxwings, and for added color a few Scarlet Tanagers and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.

During spring migration the relative abundance of different bird species changes from day to day and week to week. Every trip is different, and the unpredictability is part of the fun. One day you might find Hooded Warblers seemingly everywhere; go back a week later and the bird du jour may be Black-throated Green Warbler. Some days the woods are full of thrushes and catbirds, some days...not so much. On trips I made earlier in the season I had more tanagers, buntings, and orioles; today I found cuckoos and Red-eyed Vireos to be particularly abundant.

Most of the cuckoos were Yellow-billed, but I was also fortunate enough to see two Black-billed Cuckoos. The first was at the Boy Scout Woods, where I got a conclusive but unsatisfyingly brief view. Efforts to refind it failed. Then later in the afternoon I saw another at Smith Oaks - this time I got the nice long unobstructed look I wanted. To say that I don't encounter this species very often would be a gross understatement - the last time I saw one was back in 1987 (also at High Island in spring). Based on my experience I think it must be one of the scarcest and hardest to find of our neotropical migrants.

Parulids seen while wandering trails at High Island included Magnolia, Black-throated Green, Black-and-white, and Bay-breasted Warblers; American Redstart; and Ovenbird. Was hoping for some Empidonax action, but Eastern Kingbirds and Eastern Wood-Pewees were the only flycatchers seen.

When I got back home this afternoon I spotted a Mississippi Kite circling off to the north - first one I've seen this year.


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