Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Blue Grosbeak

Late this morning, as I was walking up a sunny hill wishing I had gotten out earlier because it was already uncomfortably hot and humid, the dry, close full call of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo came from a stand of water oaks just ahead of me – cuk-cuk-cuk-cuk-cawp-cawp-cawp-cawp. Welcome back! One of the most exotic and tropical sounds of our woods in summer.

The cuckoo was hidden somewhere deep inside the dense leaves of the oaks, dark green against an intensely blue sky. I stood beneath the trees for several minutes, trying to catch a glimpse of the long black and white-spotted tail, hoping it would call again – but no. Either it had flown without my seeing it, or it was staying hidden. Still, it was a bright spot in the day.

Several minutes later and much further up the road, along the old field, I heard a repeated, loud metallic chink! from the scrubby grove of large oaks that still survives near the dead-end of the road, just across from where the weeds have recently been mowed all around two billboards, to make sure they can be seen from the highway below.

A Blue Grosbeak flew from a thicket up to a branch on one of the oaks, where I had a beautiful view of its deep indigo-blue plumage, rusty-orange wing bars, and big silver beak. Switching his tail back and forth, he called out several more chinks! before flying away to a shrubby area beyond the end of the road.

The arrival of just two birds – colorful and striking though they are – returning from the tropics to the woods and fields around our neighborhood, seems a rather small thing against the backdrop of the devastating oil spill in the Gulf, and so much else that’s going on in the world. But it also seems perhaps even more important to note these things. Each bird that returns strikes me as one small piece of evidence, one more reason to do what we can to value and protect the natural world. A vivid reminder and example of how much we have to lose.

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