Yellow-billed Cuckoo Eating a Katydid

After an all-day rain on Saturday, yesterday dawned clear and sunny, with blue sky and high, thin white clouds, a beautiful day to be outside – and the birds seemed to agree. Several Chimney Swifts swept high overhead. An American Goldfinch flew over. The pair of Eastern Bluebirds in our front yard was busy making trips to the nest box, and in a tree at the end of the driveway, a rose-red male Summer Tanager moved through the branches. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird paused in flight to hover around my head and check me out, like a Disney cartoon bird, then zipped on toward the back-yard feeder.

One of the nicest surprises of the day was a Yellow-billed Cuckoo on a fairly low and close branch of a large dogwood in a thick stand of trees on the edge of a thicket. Not what I expected to find there – a tall, slender, sleek bird with smooth grayish-brown back and head, and pure white throat and breast, bright reddish-bronze edges on the wings, and a dramatic long tail with white spots on black, the Cuckoo turned its head toward me. The spindly, grasshopper-like legs of a large insect, maybe a katydid, were disappearing into the yellow, down-curved bill. After a couple of minutes, the Cuckoo finished its meal and unhurriedly hopped further into the leaves and out of sight.

In the same group of trees, a much smaller and more animated bird flitted around in the foliage, gleaning insects from the leaves – another Northern Parula. Small and round with a short tail, greenish back, bluish head and bright white wing bars, a yellow throat and very white belly, and white under the tail – I think it was a first-year female, because it showed no sign of a coral band across the breast.

Chickadees, Titmice, Carolina Wrens, Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Cardinals, Chipping Sparrows, lots of Bluebirds and several Phoebes, Robins, House Finches and Goldfinches, and the spee-spee of a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher here and there – all the usual suspects seemed to be out and about in the pleasant sunshine and light breezes of early morning.

Another surprise of the day was a Pine Warbler singing in the dense, dark stand of tall pines and other trees toward one end of the field – which is flush and rampant with grasses, vines and weeds of every description taking full advantage of all the recent rain and sun – along with White-eyed Vireos, Eastern Towhees and the mewing calls of a Gray Catbird – at least, I think it was a Catbird, and not a White-eyed Vireo. I wasn’t able to see it, but it mewed several times.

Toward the other end of the field, a young Red-tailed Hawk circled very low, gaining altitude, and I stopped to watch as it flew slowly over and above me, wide pale wings outspread, feathers subtly shifting, tail turning slightly, making it look at the same time so easy and so intricate, silent music in the air, and finally sailed off toward the east.

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