Spring migration is largely over. It was a rather disappointing migration overall, in that there were relatively low numbers of warblers, which also seemed to cut into the variety I normally see. Despite a very wet spring and many flooded fields and other suitable habitat, shorebird migration was VERY slow in our part of the state. After having the heater on last weekend, today we’ve touched 102 degrees! From a birding perspective, we’re on to looking for summer residents.
This morning I went down to Newton Hills State Park, about a 30-minute drive south of us. It’s a gorgeous park that is characterized by beautiful deciduous forest with a wonderfully healthy understory. In other words…a rather unique habitat for South Dakota. It’s one of the best spots in the state for finding eastern “forest birds”, and this morning certainly didn’t disappoint.
While I saw a number of the “usuals”, it wasn’t long after arriving at dawn that I heard a Cuk-Cuk-Cuk-Cuk…Cuk…Cuk…..Cuk…a rather unusual, non-musical call with a distinct slowing pace at the end. Cuckoo! We have both Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoos around here, but I don’t come across either one very often, so at first I didn’t remember which species to associate with that call. The answer soon came though as two of the birds drifted into the sumac on the side of the road next to me, seemingly chasing each other. Yellow-billed Cuckoos! Two of them! While I’ve heard them on occasion, Cuckoos are notorious for staying close to vegetative cover. In my 18 years of birding here I’ve only gotten one halfway decent look at them, yet here two of them were interacting within 30 feet of me!
They were definitely more interested in each other than me, with each vocalizing and moving occasionally through the sumac and surrounding trees, with one often following the movements of the other bird. They’d occasionally disappear from view so I can’t be sure, but I believe there were actually three birds present from the views and simultaneous calls that I heard.
It’s been an absolutely miserable day here with the heat, humidity, and cloud of gnats seemingly everywhere. However, if that’s the price that has to be paid to get great looks and photos of a Yellow-billed Cuckoo, I’ll take it!