Friday, March 31, 2006

Going Cuckoo in the Mangroves

Early morning on the deserted wildilfe drive at Ding. On any other day there would be hundreds of other visitors.

This morning we were invited along on a mangrove cuckoo census survey with three local naturalist/interns, two of whom, Andrew and Debbie, work at Ding Darling NWR. This was the first cuckoo survey of the season, so we did not know what to expect. But since the mangrove cuckoo would be a life bird for both Julie and me, we eagerly accepted the invite.

We met the Ding crew at the visitors' center at 7 am and drove into the refuge via the legendary wildlife drive. What made today special, other than our quest bird, was the fact that Ding is closed to the public on Fridays. So we had the place to ourselves! After seeing the high traffic of yesterday afternoon along the drive, this was an amazing difference. Though I have to admit that the birds in the refuge seemed equally oblivious to human disturbance whether there were 20 cars along the drive or just our one official government truck.
My shadow led me down the road to get a closer look at some shorebirds.

Since it was still early in the season, we did not get our hopes up for seeing the cuckoo. In fact, we made a point to be very light-hearted about things, even calling it the "Mangrove Throat-Warbler" spoofed in Monty Python years ago (Andrew and his friend Stephanie were too young to remember this--which means, conversely, we are old enough to remember....)

On the way to the first listening site we stopped to admire some shorebirds and a very active osprey nest. The male osprey flew in with a stick to the nest, but this did not seem to impress the female. Both birds flew off the nest when a bald eagle began calling nearby.

A male osprey (note lack of dark "bra") perching near his nest along the wildlife drive at Ding.

Cardinals down here on Sanibel sound different to our Ohio-accustomed ears--these southern ones sound sweeter, higher, and more slurred than our midwestern birds. In fact, Julie initially heard one and thought it was Tennessee warbler. We ridiculed her for hours on that one. Until I misidentified a sharpie as a fly-by cuckoo--a taste of my own medicine.

How could I resist taking this guy's photo? A male northern cardinal in the Deep South.

During our third or fourth stop, Andrew and Debbie heard a distant mangrove cuckoo call. Jules and I were 50 yards away digiscoping a pileated woodpecker, and missed the call. I got that sick feeling in my stomach that I might have just missed my chance. The calling bird did not come closer. We moved along farther down the drive.

Just look at the excitement on the faces of these bird watchers as they ogle their life mangrove cuckoo!

A stop or two later a cuckoo called from close by and then came toward us. I spotted it flying but lost it, then we all saw it as it passed in front of us, crossing the road and showing us its buffy underparts. It perched where we could all see it and I got the bird in the scope. Ooohh-laa-laa! Such a lovely creature. And I snapped away with the camera while the cuckoo called and preened. He, too seemed to have the Ding Darling acclimation to humans. Debbie had to leave us after this sighting, so we exchanged high-fives all around (and e-mail address so I could share some of my photos).

Ten minutes later, just after a large flight of roseate spoonbills flew over us, and a young bald eagle made large circles in the sky, another cuckoo began calling very near to the road. This bird made our first one appear skittish. I took about 40 digiscoped photos of him--getting about 85% keepers.
The world's most cooperative mangrove cuckoo.

We spent at least 20 minutes with this mangrove cuckoo. What a bird!

A fabulous finish to our short Florida adventure. As we headed back to clear out of our hotel, Julie asked me our standard bird-trip question: "What was your favorite bird of the trip?"

"Why the mangrove throat-warbler, of course!" She knew what I meant....


At 11:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fun way to see Ding Darling, with no trams and traffic. I have been reading Andrew's postings on the SW Florida birding listserv, it was fun to see the picture and see what they actually do. What a neat place for an internship.
Caroline Stafford

At 9:16 AM, Blogger ornitholoco said...

"Well, it may LOOK like it's Luxury-Yacht, but it is pronounced Throat-Warbler-Mangrove..."

When I was running into Mangrove Warblers on a Central America trip, I always referred to them as Throat-Warbler-Mangroves. Guess I'll have to add that name to my Mangrove Cuckoo sightings as well...

At 12:17 PM, Anonymous missed the cuckoo said...

I was at Ding Darling very soon after your cuckoo survey (2 April) and didn't see any details of your cuckoo sighting in the bird log at the visitor's center, and the folks at the info desk were apparently not informed either.


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