27 May 2016

Born in the USA.

A very apt title for this post and many thanks to Steve Williams for the inspiration for the title. When a Black-billed Cuckoo turned up recently on  N Uist my interest was piqued as this is a massively declining species in its American home range with only 14 accepted UK records up to 2014 with the last twitchable one being a 3 day bird on the Scillies in 1982! As with its close relative, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, autumn birds don't tend to survive more than a day so you'd have to be very near to where it was found t have any  chance of seeing it. Because of this I wasn't unduly worried. It wouldn't be there the following day....................Anyway, I had other commitments! Including attending Bruce Springsteen in concert!

Contrary to all expectations the bird survived. Possibly autumn birds are immatures who find the long sea crossing to much whereas a spring bird is already much more street wise and stronger having survived its first winter. Whether this bird arrived in gales somewhere in southern Europe and has followed its natural urge to migrate north or whether its a spring overshoot is open to conjecture. It doesn't matter. It was over here, surviving and eating our caterpillars.

As the length of its stay wore on my interest began to increase. Surely this major unblocker couldn't survive until after The Boss's concert............. I had High Hopes.

Plans were hatched and thanks to some Working On a Dream and terrific organisation from Stuart Brown I found my self meeting up with him, Steve W and Andy at my house after 3 hrs sleep and with my ears still ringing from listening to Bruce and the superb East Street Band to drive over to Notts where we were due to meet up with Stuart Butchard and fly up to N Uist. A tense wait whilst the pilot prepared the plane ensued as there was no news o the bird. Luckily it was still there and the news eventually came through at 08.00 and we were on our way! Trying to forget the words of Bruce's song I'm going down I tried to relax and catch up on some sleep before we arrived at The Promised Land. We had a light hearted moment when Stu lost a £20 note (I actually dropped it) and the wind took it across Benbecula airport followed by Stu doing his impression of The E Street Shuffle to much hilarity from us all.

I'd got a few car hire numbers and before we took off I arranged a car for us at Benbecula airport. Everything went smoothly and according to plan. No Pink Cadillac but a functional Vauxhall Zafira One third of our journey completed. We were on site  and hoping! Some local birders were watching one of the few vegetated gardens and we strolled over to discover the bird had flown in a few minutes prior to our arrival. Another tense period ensued before the bird suddenly pooped up infant of me before promptly disappearing back into the garden before everyone had a chance to see it. With nerves now dissapating as we'd now completed the 2nd third of our quest - actually being the bird - we endured another 30 minutes peering into the undergrowth before the Cuckoo suddenly appeared o the opposite side of the grade and performed for the small crowd by catching and eating caterpillars along the fence line seemingly not worried by our presence or the presence of the house owners working in the garden.

This was one bird I truly didn't expect to see in my lifetime let alone in the spring. After literally stumbling across a Yellow-billed Cuckoo a few years ago on Orkney I've now seen all 4 of the Cuckoo species recorded in the UK. See here for that bird.

The bird became very active and moved along the fence line before flying off to several other gardens to feed.

 At one point it got mobbed by the resident Meadow Pipits who were clearly programmed to recognise it as threat before flying off to another garden where the local Starlings gave it a hard time.

It was great meeting up with old friend Stuart Taylor who works for the RSPB on The Hebs and armed with information he gave us we managed to see some of the other local specialities before heading back to the airport for our flight home

This was uneventful and  I managed to doze off a few times on the plane before driving the team back to Chehsire after saying our goodbyes to Stuart Butchard who was heading back to Cambridge. Mission accomplished - a game of three thirds had been successfully completed and  Celebrated with a cold beer. A proper job!

A great day with good company (thanks guys), some good birds, beautiful scenery and fabulous weather. Whats not to like?

'The team'. Glory Days indeed.

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