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Birding world rocked by Watsonville sighting

Modified: Wednesday, Oct 3rd, 2012

A common cuckoo made its first-ever appearance in California at Watsonville Slough Friday. The bird, made famous by the cuckoo clock, is shown here in Watsonville Slough Monday. (Photo courtesy of Julio Mulero).

WATSONVILLE — Devout birders are in scramble mode after local birder Lois Goldfrank spotted a common cuckoo at Watsonville Slough Friday. Despite its name, the 13-inch-long bird is anything but common in this area; in fact it is the first ever sighting of a common cuckoo in California and only the second recorded sighting in the lower 48 states.

“I was on a field trip at Watsonville Slough Friday headed up by Steve Gerow,” Goldfrank said. “We had heard someone had seen a tropical kingbird. Suddenly I saw this flash of orangey-brown and it struck me as odd. There were about seven of us and we all got good looks at what we realized was a common cuckoo. As soon as I saw it I had to ask, ‘what the heck was a cuckoo doing here?’”

Goldfrank said she has seen the common cuckoo is seven other countries including China, Norway, Spain and Greece.

“We were, of course, very excited,” she said.

As the news spilled across the birding world birders began pouring into Watsonville over the weekend. Goldfrank said there were about 200 people on the Watsonville Slough trail at the end of Ford Street Sunday.

“There were people here from King County, Los Angeles, and Sacramento,” Goldfrank said. “And this is just the beginning; there will be more.”

Indeed, expert birder Dan Singer, who drove down from San Rafael early Monday, said the cuckoo could be the “bird of the year.”

“In the birding world, this is huge,” Singer said. “There’ll be a lot of folks interested in seeing this bird.”

Experts believe the cuckoo is a female. The male common cuckoo gained its fame with the cuckoo clock.

“This is the bird you hear and see in the cuckoo clock at the top of the hour with that cuckoo sound,” Singer said.

Singer said there have been “just a handful” of sightings of the common cuckoo in Alaska and another sighting in Martha Vineyard in the 1980s.

Julio Mulero of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society said he drove from Sunnyvale to Watsonville early Monday and was lucky to spot the bird right away alongside a dozen other birders.

“I left my house at 6:30 this morning and was to see the bird and get a few good photos, Mulero said. “It was here right in front of us and we all got a good look. It’s a fantastic bird.”

Common cuckoos are widespread from Great Britain clear across Europe and into Eastern Russia and usually winter in India and Central Africa, said Keith Hansen, who is a widely known bird illustrator.

Hansen said he just completed his 13th book on birds,” Birds of the Sierra Nevada,” which includes 1,400 of Hansen’s illustrations.

“I was at the Western Field Ornithologist’s annual conference the other day in Petaluma when word came through about the common cuckoo,” Hansen said. “People just stared flooding out of there to head south. The place was empty in no time.”

Dobie Jenkins, a volunteer with Watsonville Wetlands Watch and the Monterey Bay Birding Festival, said he saw the bird a few times over the weekend and on Monday morning.

“The cuckoo is attracted the willows here because of the caterpillars that live around the willows,” Jenkins said. “Let’s just hope the bird stays a while.”

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Keywords: common cuckoo, rare sighting, watsonville slough, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society

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