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.