The COVID lockdown enabled me to concentrate on birding my yard and local areas most of 2020 and I hadn’t chased a rarity since January. The appearance of a Eurasian Common Cuckoo in Rhode Island on November 1st more than caught my attention. Normally this species spends the late fall and winter in sub-Saharan Africa. Clearly this fellow was lost! Only the third time ever seen in the Lower 48 (why it’s a code 3 and not a code 5 perplexes me), the USA birding community mobilized.
I was not able to find 12 hours to drive to “Snake Den Farm” in Johnston, Rhode Island until Sunday November 8th. In order to comply with RI law, I took my COVID test within 72 hours of visiting….and proved negative.
Thankfully the weather has been unusually pleasant and this confused juvenile is content eating the vast supply of woolly caterpillars at the farm. I took my chances and left 19041 at 3am today. Four hours later the appearance of TWO Bald Eagles, our National symbol, eating roadkill on I395 in Norwich, CT, was a harbinger for a successful morning.
I pulled into the parking area adjacent to the farm at 7:30am and was surprised to see more than 20 cars with many different license plates already occupying most of the limited area. I quickly gathered my optics and walked briskly towards the assembled crowd a couple hundred yards away. A friendly couple approached and greeted me with a “Your timing is good”. I replied, “It better be, I just drove up from Philly”. They smiled and said: “That’s nice, we drove 14 hours from Columbia, SC”. This Cuckoo was an attention grabber!
Within minutes I had the stout vagrant in my view. I had planned to meet my brother (Wistar) at 7:30 but I didn’t see him. He lives only an hour away so I was about to text him when he texted me: “Where are you? I’m here”. I looked at the two guys to my right and one was him! I had walked past him in my excitement to see this mega-rarity. Blame the masks.
2020 has been a COVID nightmare and it also cost me a species on my life-list. The birding powers decided to lump the Northwestern Crow back in with the Common Crow. So the addition of the Common Cuckoo brought my ABA area (USA & Canada) life-list back to 785. But who’s counting? I AM!!