It's been a while since we've seen one of our ground-cuckoos in the reserve. I think the last time that we actually had a sighting was last summer around an ant swarm down there in the forest when a volunteer video-taped an individual. Since we are not feeding the birds anymore, they have again become as elusive as anywhere else. Although we are still checking out army ant swarms when one comes by and we also check bivouacs when we know where there is one to find, it's hard to get a grip on that bird. That's what the Banded Ground-Cuckoo is famous for, right?
In the past two weeks we had been a bit on the hunt again, as there is an army ant colony staying stationary next to the student house and we always hope to get to see a bird again. It's like an addiction and somehow we know that they are around, but to see one is a different thing. Unfortunately we weren't lucky and apart from a few times that somebody thought to have heard a bill snap, there was no sign of a cuckoo.
Two days ago, Jonathan, one of our Dutch interns, arrived at the reserve again. He did a five months internship last year studying molt patterns in antbirds and even though he had seen a lot of ant swarms, he never saw a cuckoo during his stay. He's probably the craziest of my bird-loving students so far, chasing every new species and also banding birds back home in the Netherlands. Just before getting here, he spent 50 hours on busses driving through Peru just to get to see the Marvelous Spatuletail for 20 seconds!
So, he's back now to continue his project on antbirds and we were working further down in the forest with the mistnets today. Despite the misty weather, it had actually been a good morning with a good number of birds, so we decided to close the nets around 11 AM, because the activity had calmed down and we were already happy with the morning. We were extracting the last few birds and closing up, when I heard Jonathan shout from the other side: "Cuckoo!" "Oh, no." I thought. "Hopefully it doesn't get out of the net." Unfortunately that had happened to me last year once with a very lucky cuckoo, who ran out of the net, just when I walked around the corner. But this time, Jonathan was fast enough and he got it.
What an excitement! A few years ago I had wished to be able to colourband the different ground-cuckoo individuals that we were feeding. Although I could recognize some of the individuals for a while, in the long-term it would have been interesting to be able to distinguish them in the field. But due to the photographing visitors and a deep feeling inside of me that my tame cuckoos would hate me after catching them, we never intended to catch them during that time. But now, we are not feeding them anymore and we are also not intending to do so. The effort wasn't really worth it anymore, but that's a different story. So now, we had a Banded Ground-Cuckoo in our hands. Thanks to the Walki-Talkies we could also quickly tell everybody that they should come and see our catch. And no wonder, that soon we had a couple of students and Wilo running down the slippery hill to meet us at the banding spot.
I had always wondered if my metall bands would be big enough for a cuckoo and unfortunately I had to find out that they're not. The biggest band just fits a toucan, but the news is that it doesn't fit a cuckoo. What a shame, but well, the cuckoo also isn't a songbird, right? And that's what we're usually banding. Luckily though I had some bigger colour bands and in the field it's even better to have those. The chances of catching a cuckoo again, just by coincidence, are not so high, but whenever we find one, we can now at least check out the colour bands. The individual we caught today still had an active brood patch, so we assume it was an adult female (it didn't show a cloacal protuberance). So it might be breeding still, or again. The juvenile individuals we had found in the past, had always hatched around June. But this year apparently there are a lot of birds attempting to breed again. The summer has been wetter than others and we've been catching a lot of juveniles and birds in breeding condition lately. So maybe also the cuckoo is trying a second time this year. Hopefully! As they usually only lay one egg, breeding success for this endangered bird species is crucial.
I probably won't have to tell you that everybody was extremely excited today with this surprise and whenever I see Jonathan's face, he can't hide his big smile. Well, me neither ;-)