So far this year, I have observed and reported 290 species of birds in California. I am still new to birding and hadn’t been all that interested in “listing” until this year. My one and only New Year’s resolution for 2017 was to submit at least one eBird checklist every day of this year. I’ve always been a “lister” – I list wildflowers, daily to-do lists, lists of books to read, lists of places I want to travel, lists for Christmas gifts…..and the list goes on. So, it should come as no surprise that I took to listing like a duck to water.
At the start of the year, I had no sense of how many birds I might see in a year and had no particular goal. My intention to submit a daily checklist was meant to motivate me to take time each day to prioritize time outside being observant, patient, curious and, ultimately, to learn more about birds. Indulge me here for a moment: this has been a life-changing pursuit.
Each list captures a moment. These moments occurred in the mountains, on the ocean, in the desert, in the snow, in the rain, at sunrise, at sunset, in darkness, in fields of wildflowers, on freeways, at work, at fish hatcheries, in my backyard, on an island, at wastewater treatment plants, at the beach, with strangers, with both new and old friends, and by myself. And so, I seek more of these moments.
Which brings me to the Groove-billed Ani. Two hundred and ninety is oh-so-close to 300, and so I have been paying a bit more attention to bird reports in an effort to reach that goal by the end of the year. I received an alert that a Groove-billed Ani was reported in Encinitas, CA but was unable to drop everything and drive south. I bided my time and managed to drive down on Tuesday, in between work and picking my mom up from the airport.
When I first arrived at the Encinitas Community Park, it was crawling with kids, parents, and dogs, but not a birder in sight. I wandered around and quickly deduced that I must be in the wrong place (I believe Sunday had something like 60 birders clamoring for a look at this bird). I looked up reports from earlier in the day, and quickly located the bird in the exact spot that an earlier observer described.
That bill! Those eyelashes! Those iridescent glossy-edged feathers! I was immediately enamored. Groove-billed Anis are prehistoric-looking, disheveled birds with an awkwardly large, curved bill with visible grooves. These unusual cuckoos are resident
species of both coasts of Mexico, Central America, South America to northern Chile and northwest Argentina, and a small portion of south Texas. They are very rare visitors to California – from what I hear, this was the 1st record for San Diego and the 13th or 14th record for the state.
The bird was quite a bit smaller than I expected, likely because a big portion of its 13.5″ length is tail. Its known to dip and wag and spread this prominent tail, a behavior I was lucky to observe as the bird bounced from a lemonade berry, to a sycamore, eventually settling on a perch in a toyon. Like other birds in the family Cuculidae, Groove-billed Anis have a two-toes forward, two-toes back foot arrangement. Unlike Old World cuckoos, these anis are communal nesters with as many as 4-5 birds sharing a cup-shaped nest lined with fresh green leaves. Once the dominant female in a group lays an egg, the other female birds follow suit and the joint clutch is incubated and cared for by all parents involved in the affair.
As I was leaving the park, I bumped into a few birders and lead them back to the Groove-billed Ani. One birder had driven south from Sacramento to see this bird. He chuckled at the cooperative nature of this Groove-billed Ani, who was perched so close to the trail that he was able to obtain cell phone pictures for his checklist!
eBird Checklist: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S40650955
Life Bird #: 331
2017 Bird #: 324