Friday, May 27, 2005

Unidentified Bird

I went out to look for birds yesterday after a few days of wet cold weather and mind-numbing tasks at work. It was about 6:30, still cool, and the sky was low and gray with clouds that reminded me of early fall in the Adirondacks. I went to a place in town where a large swamp drains into a shallow lake which itself drains into a small stream that flows through New Canaan and Stamford to the Sound. Lily pads turn the pond into a mat of green, and it's a good place to see and hear birds close to home. We see otters here sometimes and on sunny days, painted turtles and maybe musk turtles line the rocks and fallen limbs like pottery on a shelf. I parked on the side of the road and scanned the water. Rough-winged swallows were as thick as mosquitoes. I could hear wood pewee, yellow warbler and black-and-white warbler, Baltimore oriole and warbling vireo. Grackles and red-winged blackbirds raised a fuss.

I followed a buzzy little sound high in the trees that I listened to over and over until I finally remembered -- blue-gray gnatcatchers. I scanned the water for ducks but there were none. I heard a high pitched little song and recognized blackpoll warbler. I walked toward where it was singing from high among the red maples in a swamp. Before I could spot it, though, I heard a loud flutter, and a large bird flew in to the top of a red maple. Wood duck, I thought. But I caught it quickly in my binoculars; it was not a duck. In my first glimpse it was bluish-gray, and I thought "blue jay" for a fraction of a second. But it was much too large. Its head and the transition from head to bill were pigeon-like, but the bird was too big to be a pigeon. Was it a cuckoo? If it was, it was a black-billed, because the bill appeared to be the same slate-gray as the head. But this bird was not slender, as a cuckoo is, and its bill had a very different form.

It was the size of a grouse, or gallinule, and in fact looked chicken-like at times. I watched and watched, afraid to look down to rest my neck because as soon as I'd do so, it would leave. But it didn't leave. It looked around a bit. Every once in a while it would grab a bug from a leaf. But it never tried to better its perch. I moved under it for a different perspective. Its sides were grayish with lighter gray markings. Its underside and tail were dark. Nothing I did spooked it. I did my best imitations of a screech owl and a barred owl -- the latter prompted two barred owls up the road to erupt in responses for a couple of minutes -- but neither disturbed the bird. A runner came by and then another. The bird didn't stir. A car stopped and a woman said, "What are you tracking there?" I told her and she looked but couldn't see it. A big silver pickup stopped underneath and idled as its driver talked on his cell phone. The bird didn't move.

After a half-hour, I drove home to consult my field guides. But nothing -- and I mean nothing -- looked like this bird.


Blogger Birdscapes said...

Have you figured this one out yet??

1:10 AM  
Blogger Tom Andersen said...


7:40 AM  

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