When the Cuckoo won’t show

I’m a bad blogger.  I can say that with some certainty now, after not being able to finish the florida trip reports.  I have not been able to post on weekly happenings locally migration wise.  I haven’t even posted about my glorious weekend in south Jersey doing the WSB and Brigantine the next day.  But I am posting now about an outing last weekend to the town of Kent, a rural jewel up in the true Connecticut- a land of farms, waterfalls, and bug infested woodland.

Our real destination was a single road in this town, a place known as River Road.  With my dad and close young birding friend Alex Burdo, we birded the road for the only known breeding Cerulean Warblers in CT.  We birded it for the breeding Hooded and Chestnut-sided Wablers.  We birded it for late migrants and other breeders.  But we were truly birding it for that elusive may ghost- the Black-billed Cuckoo.  Not a rare bird in CT, but one rarely seen by birders and a bird that had managed to elude both Alex and me.  The Cuckoo quest.

We arrived at the road head at about 7,  with the rushing Housatonic River on one side of us and lush woodland on the other.  We quickly pulled up both Warbling and Red-eyed VireosWorm-eating Warbler, American Redstart, Wood Thrush, House Wren, and the fist of many Veery.  We soon learned there was no shortage of these thrushes along the road- many moved through the forest and across the road.


Mist above Kent


River Road



We parked and started to walk the first portion of the road.  Birds were calling everywhere, and we soon had a pretty good list compiled.  The river produced Great-blue Heron and Spotted Sandpiper.  In the woods- Black and White Warbler, Common Yellowthroat,  Yellow-throated Vireo, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Orchard Oriole, Baltimore Oriole, Eastern Wood Pewee, Blue-grey Gnatcatcher, and many more.  Most were probably breeders as migration had pretty much winded down and we observed pairs.  Through the gaps in the canopy we picked out Red-shouldered and Red-tailed Hawk along with many Turkey Vultures.  

It wasn’t long before we heard our first Cerulean Warbler.  This uncommon warbler gem is known for its devilish canopy loving habit, and we could not manage to pick out the bird.  We only heard a few along the road, but at least they were on territory and will most likely raise a successful brood.  We had entered an area of high hickory’s and oaks with lots of understory- good for cuckoo.  We enjoyed everything the bird world had to offer here, including Pileated Woodpecker, but nagging at the back of our minds was the thought of a BB Cuckoo and the hope one would show.  We decided we wouldn’t have enough time to bird the cable cut hillside at the end of the road at the pace we were going, so we agreed to go back to the car and speed up our journey to the end.  

About halfway back, however, the clear melodic song of a Hooded Warbler rang through the woods.  It sounded close too, and not long after we were enjoying glorious views of a male Hooded Warbler singing from a low branch.  He stayed in the same place for a while too, and we could see his throat feathers quiver as he belted his song.  In the same section of woods we also heard a Magnolia Warbler.      

We drove to the end slowly, listening, but didn’t hear anything new or unusual.  No cuckoo.  At the end of the road we took a path up a steep rocky cable cut that winded through brush and low trees.  At any moment it seemed like a Cuckoo might pop up or start calling.  Thats why when the cuckoo did call, we were taken totally off guard.  For about a minute the monotone chant of the BB Cuckoo wafted up from the woods right where we were standing.  But this elusive bird must have been cracking up about 5 minutes later when our efforts to see him went unrewarded.  We climbed higher up the path hoping to maybe follow the cuckoo, but we were distracted by a Chestnut-sided Warbler which gave great views above our heads.

With no sign of the Cuckoo for about 15 minutes, we returned to the base of the trail which overlooked the river.  Alex and I than bushwacked deep into the forest up the hill right where the cuckoo had been to try and get a visual.  We worked like a seasoned team, splitting up and flanking the patches of brush, pishing and waiting for any movement.  Nothing- except a ton of bugs.  After only what was probably 2 minutes in there, were we barely managing to stay on our feet while swatting at the relentless swarm…. all while scanning with bins and pishing.  Not as bad as the Snake Bight trail in the Everglades- but bad.     We split up on our way back down to the hillside; Alex taking the edge of the cable cut as I went through the sticky dense woods.  There were Catbirds and the constant Veery, but not one peep or glimpse of the Cuckoo.  We met up with my dad on the road, where he pointed out a Common Merganser and chicks on the river and a beautiful male Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  All of us though were frusterated and  tired after the Cuckoo hunt.  We spent some more time on the road before heading south again, but that Black-billed Cuckoo stayed hidden, watching us, saying “Won’t those birders ever learn?”


Looking down the cable cut


Puts the river in road


Even with the new and improved camera, photographing birds moving through the trees is still hard.  Take this RB Grosbeak, for example.

– BM

2 responses to “When the Cuckoo won’t show

  1. Good lord this bird must be one of the biggest nemesis birds of all time for all three of us… sounds like you guys put in quite the valiant effort though.


  2. Good point, James! Perhaps none of us will come up with the bird until we’re all together in just the right place. Awesome post, yet again, Brendan! Can’t wait for the WS account.


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