Friday, July 12, 2013

Common Cuckoo

I got the latest issue of Western Birds (put out by the Western Field Ornithologists) recently. The picture on the front made me laugh really hard. I have such a great story to go along with it.

This cover photo (taken by Gary Lindquist) is of a Common Cuckoo. Common Cuckoos are from the Old World - Europe and Africa and Asia. You may be asking, why is there a European bird on the cover of a publication about western birds? It's because this particular cuckoo showed up in Watsonville, CA last September.

But it didn't show up at just any time. It showed up right in the middle of the Western Field Ornithologists' conference in Petaluma, CA. I was at the conference with hundreds of other birders.

Let me set the stage. We are sitting in a large conference room, listening to a presentation. Coincidentally, the presentation happens to be about vagrants and other rare birds. So there's a birder at the front of the room, talking to us and showing us a slideshow, and he takes a moment to muse about past WFO Conferences. He's saying something like "You know, it seems that we always get some rare bird popping up during these conferences--" and someone's phone rings in the audience. They take the call in the back of the room. No one's really paying attention... until the person with the phone turns around and exclaims breathlessly: "There's a Common Cuckoo in Watsonville!"

A thrill runs through the whole crowd. People are turning to each other and murmuring, tapping their friends on their shoulders, almost completely ignoring the speaker at the front of the room. The speaker is excited, too! You don't get European vagrants every day -- and this was the first time that a Common Cuckoo had EVER BEEN RECORDED in California. Literally dozens of people stand up and quietly exit the room. They are going for this bird. You can see the determination in their eyes. I'M almost out the door, too, until I find out it's a five hour drive to Watsonville. That was just a bit too far for me. But plenty of people went. All afternoon, the conference was buzzing with updates about this cuckoo. Where is it, how long is it staying in each spot, who's getting the best pictures? The next morning, even more people set out to find it. To heck with all those presentations and birding tours they had planned - there's a cuckoo in Watsonville.

I just... I love birders so much. People stood up and left. They stood up and left to find a bird. These are my brethren. I'm so happy. Seeing this gorgeous picture of the gorgeous bird on Western Birds brought the memory all back to me.

(Western Birds is a really great publication outside of its cover photos, too! It contains cool articles by ornithologists, records of notable bird finds, and more. This particular volume also contains a memoriam for Rich Stallcup, a legendary birder who spent much of his life in Point Reyes, CA, and passed away last December. I would have loved to meet him, but it wasn't meant to be. He will be remembered.)

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