Nature Reserve & Biological Station

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The Return of the Cuckoos

It is actually so exciting to write this blog post. We have been waiting for this day for over 14 months……the Banded Ground-Cuckoos have returned!!

Although we had quite a lot of army ants in the reserve in the past weeks and we even had an intern working with ant-following birds checking the bivouacs every morning there was no sight of the cuckoos. I was actually quite dissappointed and was wondering why these birds wouldn’t show up although we had three colonies at a time. Well, they were probably busy elsewhere….

Our intern stopped observing bivouacs about two weeks ago and therefore we also stopped tracking the army ants. Every once in a while one would find them on the trails, but nobody actually expected to see a cuckoo again. Not until yesterday: Christian, our dear friend and employee, came back from the Wood-Quail feeder in the afternoon. First he didn’t dare to tell me because he thought I wouldn’t believe it. But then he told me that he had spotted two ground-cuckoos crossing the trail towards the ant swarm. One was very shy and the other one stopped for a bit and looked at him.

We were so excited to hear it, but I knew that I had to confirm it myself to really believe it. At dusk I was working with the interns on the leafcutter ants in that part of the reserve where the army ant swarm had raided earlier. And while the forest was getting darker we could hear the calls of several ant-followers: Bicolored Antbirds, Immaculate Antbirds, Plain-brown Woodcreepers, Northern Barred Woodcreepers and all of a sudden we also heard a click, click, click……the Cuckoos had to be there!!

Last night then Christian and I tracked the (nomadic) ants from their old bivouac to their new nest spot in a tree while Wilo collected grasshoppers. I had to observe the bivouac next morning and I needed to confirm if there was still a tame cuckoo around.

This morning I got up at 5.30am and headed to the bivouac. At the beginning there were no birds around; although the ants had already started to come out of the tree. It took a while and then the first pair of Bicolored Antbirds arrived. It was joined a bit later by an Immaculate Antbird and then something bigger flew in: a Plumbeous Forest-Falcon. The birds got silent and they only started with their activity again when the falcon had left.

And then I heard something very familiar. Click, click, muuuhhh…the cuckoos were coming. I heard leaves moving on the ground and when I got the first glimpse of the rufous back and the green-violet tail my heart almost stood still. There were two cuckoos and one was coming straight towards me. I didn’t know what to do first: get the camera, get a grasshopper, get the walky talky and call Wilo…..??? So I decided for the grasshopper. The cuckoo came running and picked it out of my fingers immediately!!!! OMG that was so exciting! I couldn’t believe that this little guy still knew me after so much time. I was so amazed and relieved at the same time that this little creature was still doing well. The other cuckoo didn’t want to come closer. It was constantly calling for its partner, but the tame cuckoo stayed with me. So now it was time to take some photos…..they all turned out shaky. I was too excited. And I had only brought the big lense which was too close…I should have known better. So then I called Wilo.

Wilo arrived at the spot about ten minutes later and we spent another half an hour together feeding the tame individual while the shy one was still calling on the other side of the little creek the ants were crossing. And then it also came into the open and perched on a fallen bambu, observing the ants, us, its partner…who knows. But we got good looks of it. Unfortunately the photos all turned out blurry, but this individual seemed to be somewhat bigger which makes me believe that it is probably a female.

My grasshoppers were already gone when we suddenly realized that it might be difficult to repeat the feeding tomorrow morning and that the interns would have loved to see the cuckoo as well. So Wilo ran up the hill and back to the station to get them. They were just having breakfast when he stumbled into the station and told them to come with him. Quick, quick (zack, zack as Wilo likes to say)!! I doubted that the cuckoo would still hang out with me without grasshoppers and I feared that he might leave when we heard that the interns were coming, running down the trails. But it all turned out too well. They slowed down, sneaked through the bushes and found me right there with a cuckoo in front of me. I turned around to look at them and they all had big smiles on their faces. And then Vivian said: ” So he really does exist!”

Tonight we’ll see if we can track the army ants again. We are hoping that they stay where they are, because the direction they were taking today was not a good one. We’ll see and I’ll keep you posted as always!

This blog post was written by Nicole

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