Saturday, April 21, 2007

Got Coco Puffs?

Well, I thought my strange visitor was a Cuckoo, but I wasn't sure what kind since I can't remember ever seeing one in real life, and I'm absolutely positive I've never seen a Cuckoo here at Pure Florida HQ. The photo above is what first caught my eye, although in reality it was shadier and farther away than this cropped image suggests.

Still, it tripped the "Whoa, that's different" switch in my critter scanning system. He was absolutely silent (as was I) and I only spotted him because I was looking up at that moment instead of watching where I stepped (rattlesnakemistake).

The brisk wind in the trees covered my approach and I got a lot closer by creeping and shooting ... all the while expecting him to fly at any moment.
When I spotted him, he was in leafy shadow and totally backlit with the still bright, but fading 6 PM sunlight. I used some fill flash and the fast action sports setting to get the shot below.

So the strange visitor turns out to be a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus).
Here's what I like about this discovery:
1) It's a discovery.
2) This is a new one for PFHQ.
3) My battered Golden Guide To Birds Of North America (not Petersens as I said yesterday) states that the YB Cuckoo is " found in woods and brush, especially during outbreaks of tent caterpillars."
When I bought Pure Florida back in '86, there was one large black cherry tree buried deep in the oaks. Since that time I have added black cherry (Prunus serotina) religously because I think it's beautiful and rich in wildlife benefits. Today there are dozens of black cherries interspersed in my woods.
I was not thinking of Cuckoos specifically ... which is odd since I teach middle school.
Anyway, (and this is where I get to the point) black cherry trees are a favorite of the tent caterpillars. This spring as every spring, they are festooned with silken caterpillar nests and most have had to leaf out twice as the caterpillars are ravenous. In fact, I lamented in some previous post that nothing seems to eat "tent worms".
I was wrong ... yippeeee!!
You see my point of course.
It is all about habitat.
Give them what they need and they will come.
Just a little pre-Earth Day reminder.
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17 comments:

roger said...

the bird is a cocopuff? it is very pretty.

Laura said...

I've never heard of these! I learn so much over here. ;)
We were in a nature preserve last night and there was a beautiful cardinal in the mangroves that I was trying in vain to photograph. Alas, all I could capture was a blur of red. So tell me, how do you get them to Hold Still for you? LOL!

I don't have trouble with the larger birds, but the little guys tend to fritter to and fro too fast for my zoom lens.

Makes me appreciate your photos from the post below much more!

robin andrea said...

I don't know what kind of bird that is, but it sure is a beauty. Wow, FC, what nice pics.

Deb said...

Awesome photos!

robin andrea said...

I'm glad I came back to see what this bird is, a yellow-billed cuckoo. What a grand find.

rcwbiologist said...

Brilliant post! I love when you emphasize HABITAT! I agree 100% with you, it really is all about habitat. Great shots, well worth the wait.

SophieMae said...

Dawg! I'm liking your camera more and more! Awesome shot!

Thursday's butterfly is, if I'm not mistaken, a Little Wood-satyr (Megisto cymela). Looks like something's already taken a few nibbles.

Cathy said...

Perfect pictures. I wonder if you'll be hearing it. I still can't distinguish the calls of our two cuckoos as we don't hear them often.

threecollie said...

When you said the Petersens I thought how much I prefer the Golden. In fact I have three of them.
Congrats on your cuckoo. I have never seen one.

Floridacracker said...

roger,
not until you add milk ...then it's a cocopuff.

Laura,
Loved the heron and catfish at your site.
He seemed to be practicing for your goldfish pond.

Robin,
It's a new one to me, but the book says it's very common. Go figure.

Deb,
Thanks!

RCW,
Such a neat unintended consequence of planting black cherries. You just never know who you're benefitting.

Sophie,
Thanks for the butterfly ID. He definitely had a few close calls. Where you been?

Cathy,
I wouldn't know if I did :)

ThreeCollie,
I just assumed. The book is probably 20 years old at least. After I posted I looked to see how you spell Petersen and surprise !

OldHorsetailSnake said...

Gee, I would almost raise tent caterpillars just to have a cuckoo or two. Almost.

LauraHinNJ said...

I'm stunned by your pics! Just gorgeous - in fact, the best look I've ever had at a cuckoo! I hear them often enough, but they're near impossible to see at all because the're usually buried in the foliage - what a treat for you!

I remember your lamenting about the tent caterpillars. I also remember asking if you didn't have cuckoos in Florida and that you had said no. Glad you were mistaken!

Suze said...

Wow!! Beautiful bird! We have 2 or 3 catbirds in our backyard. What makes this unusual is that this is nesting season and they aren't known to nest here in Southeast Florida (Pembroke Pines to be exact). Plus - they like brush and woods, not usually backyards. Here is the neat part - we've let our backyard get a little overgrown. We have native bushes planted all around the fence periphery, with a blob of bushes forming a mini-woods about 12 feet high, 6 feet wide and about 10 feet deep towards the fence. They are clerodendrums that we've let grow - all the backyard birds love those miniwoods - and now we have catbirds out of season, which I believe are nesting here.....

Floridacracker said...

Hoss,
It might conflict with your dung beetle ranch plans. Don't spread yourself too thin :)

Laurahinnj,
See, that is the difference between a true birder (you!)and a generalist like me. You knew back then about the tentworm-cuckoo connection. I didn't have a clue.
Glad you liked the pics!

Suze,
Great! I'm a strong believer in letting the yard go as wild as you can live with. The dividends are outstanding.
I hope your catbirds successfully nest!

swamp4me said...

A most set of most excellent shots! The "rain crows" haven't made it up to our neck of the woods yet but they should be showing up any day now. It is a lot of fun to watch them hunt - they look almost mechanical in their actions as they search the underside of leaves for their prey. But tell your treefrogs to watch out - Treebeard saw a yellow-billed eat a green treefrog once :)

Floridacracker said...

Swampy,
Rain crows? What a cool name.
Sounds like you've seen a lot more of them than I have.
I'll pass the warning to the treefrogs.

Sandy said...

I should have left my little out-break of tent caterpillers in my plum trees alone. Now I know to watch for this unusual bird next time, who loves to dine on them.
I mistakenly foiled a dining feast for these birds.