WFO 2012: Birding Indoors

Friday 28 September was the only day of our Western Field Ornithologist (WFO) Conference trip that involved no birding. Shawneen attended a sketching workshop led by Keith Hansen, while I took a molt workshop taught by Peter Pyle. Both sessions were informative and helpful in building our birding skills. After lunch, we spent the afternoon enjoying the Plenary/Science Session which involved several folks doing short presentations about the research work that they are conducting. Arguably, the most entertaining presentation was Peter Pyle's talk about the discovery and subsequent investigations that resulted in Bryan's Shearwater becoming a recognized species. The human sub-plot and unforeseen connections to Pyle's own family tree were at least as interesting as the study of the bird itself.


The 28 September 2012 discovery of this hatch-year female Common Cuckoo along the Watsonville Slough, in Watsonville, Santa Cruz County, California caused many to abandon the 2012 WFO Conference. (Photo by Dave Irons)

One hardly expects to be jolted out of their seat by a bird discovery during an indoor meeting, but that's exactly what happened about 2:15 on Friday afternoon. During the last presentation before a mid-afternoon break, Kimball Garrett was reporting on the annual proceedings of the California Bird Records Committee (CBRC). During the course of reviewing the 2011 additions to the California state list, he noted that one of the new birds, a Common Ringed Plover found in Davis, CA during August 2011, had been discovered while many of California's top birders were attending the previous year's WFO Conference in Sierra Vista, Arizona. Then Garrett dropped a bombshell, "We may be having a similar occurrence right now." Right on cue, John Sterling entered the large banquet hall through a door in the back of the room and announced. "I'm on the phone with them right now, and they are sure that it's a rufous morph Common Cuckoo at Watsonville. 

Garrett had clearly lost his audience, thus he hastily concluded his report and the meeting was adjourned for a 15-minute break. Finding a seat for the afternoon session was not going to be a problem. With nearly five hours of daylight remaining and Watsonville a mere two hours down the road, there would surely be a mass exodus by those anxious to tick off this astounding rarity. The only other Common Cuckoo ever found in the Lower 48 had been at Martha's Vineyard, MA in 1981. So for those not inclined to spend days stationed on the various island off of w. Alaska, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this bird in the ABA Area

We chatted with several in the departing horde and got the details and the exact location of the bird. It had been spotted by Lois Goldfrank during a Santa Cruz Bird Club walk being led by Steve Gerow. Gerow was able to confirm Goldfrank's initial impression, which led her to conclude that the bird was an Old World cuckoo. They suspected it was a Common, but were not certain that the very similar Oriental Cuckoo could be eliminated. Over the next few days the bird was seen and photographed by hundreds of birders and after consultation with several experts familiar with both species, it was determined to be a hatch-year female Common Cuckoo. 

Shawneen and I considered abandoning the meeting, but thought the better of what would end up being a four-hour round trip drive since we were staying in Mill Valley. Later in the day, word filtered back that the cuckoo was cooperative and being seen by everyone who went to look for it. We would have a decision to make about where we wanted to bird the following day.

Post a Comment

Name Valid Error
Email Valid Error