One Fast Cuckoo

Another day, another post!  Guessing the doubters are starting to get a little concerned (hehehe).  I’m not out of the woods completely, but as each post rolls out through the publishing pipeline the stress ratchets down another notch.  The good news in all of this is I was able to get started on another vacation’s worth of shots from last year.  The great news is it looks like the topic hopper will be full for an extended period of time based on activities that has transpired as of late.  Of course, this does have the downside of erasing all the gains made on the already overflowing topic queue.  A very good problem to have when all your peeps have such high expectations.

Speaking of queues, next pop from the stack places us back in Henderson Nevada, home of the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve discussed a couple of posts back (link here).  If you recall, that post introduced a new bird to the blog.  Let’s continue that streak with still another new species.

Most people will recognize this bird thanks to the numerous references over the years.  If you are struggling, imagine it as a highly clever bird painted in blue and yellow.  No help?  How about Beep Beep?  If that didn’t trigger the name, then clearly you did not watch enough cartoons as a kid.  Just in case the suspense is too high, this is a Greater Roadrunner.  That day in Henderson officially marked the first time I’ve ever seen a live one of these and to say I was elated is an understatement.  After shooting the Green-Winged Teal, a blur of brown and white caught my eye dashing across the shoreline of an adjacent pond.  Intrigued,  I immediately headed over there and tried to get a decent shot.  Let it be known that the amazing speed of these birds is confirmed.  It could flat out move making focus tracking nearly impossible.  Left, right, under brush, out of brush, to the water, back to the shore – it never seemed to stop.  To get the shots here required some high shutter speeds combined with just a smidgen of luck.  Tracking brown colored birds against a brown backdrop makes for interesting times with the Beast, but when you get it… you generally get it.

Hit the jump to read more about this runner’s friend

This particular set of shots came from two encounters that day.  The morning one and then another brief encounter just before leaving that first day.  The execution was significantly better the second time, now being aware of  how they moved.  The specimen above does not possess the coloring seen in upcoming shots.  True to course with my online reference materials lately, the reason for this was not easily determined.  Even my Audubon Android app failed to address this detail.  This gives me some latitude so I’m going with the reason is it is either a juvenile or a female.  I’d research it more, but the last 30 minutes has been fruitless and the pillow is screaming out my name.

Here is a shot showing the colored spot behind the ears.

News to me, these birds come from the ground Cuckoo family or if it helps, the family of Geococcyx (Pat, I’d like to buy a vowel please). They have been popularized by Looney Tunes which played on their incredible ground speed. They can go up to 20 mph on the ground, but apparently do have the ability to fly very short distances. Truth be told we never saw these birds take flight, instead preferring to dash to and fro across the desert.

With the help of our friends over at Wikipedia, I learned that these birds are zygodactyl  but assuming you already knew that (psst, that is just a fancy name for having two toes in front and two toes in back).  They carry an average size of 20 inches from beak to tail making them fairly easy to spot as long as they are contrasted with a different color palette – they blend in very well to the desert and rock based roads.  It appears to me (and again, unconfirmed) that that they have the ability to retract their crown.  The shot above looks like it is down where the shot below clearly has it more pronounced.

This characteristic plus their large tail must give them the quick reflexes on display while we were at Henderson.  This trait must come in handy for these omnivores since they live on a diet of lizards and other small mammals.  Note, this also includes… wait for it… rattlesnakes – Linda’s new favorite bird.  Alas, there are no shots of it racing down the road with a rattler hanging from its beak.  Thank god for Linda’s sake.

We never really witnessed it eating anything while we were there.  It just ran along the road darting in and out of ground cover as the Beast tried to track its every move.  One thing evident during the shoot is these creature’s appearance gives them the look of being pissed off.  Would be interesting some time to track down why Looney Tunes opted to portray them as lovable, happy birds with a slight grudge against conniving coyotes (again, the pillow is calling or I would have tracked that down for you).  Not much else left to say about this particular bird other than how thrilled I was to check if off the list.  Within 10 minutes of being at this Preserve, there were two more checkmarks in my book.

Figured I’d leave you with a quick quiz.. find the bird!

Told you they were designed with concealment in mind.  Hope you enjoyed this new bird.  Now off to bed and see you again real soon

2 thoughts on “One Fast Cuckoo”

  1. I’ve never seen a photo of a Roadrunner much less the actual bird, so this is cool–thanks. And I learned a new word: zygodactyl. Sounds like a dinosaur one better than a pterodactyl.

    That last photo reminds me of the rat they photographed on Mars:

    BTW, a tip: the next time you’re in this situation of having to capture a fast-moving animal, maybe Linda could snap off a photo.



  2. Holy crap there’s rats on Mars!! That’s it, no more proof needed, we have a picture that tells it all. By the way, did you see our last vacation shots from Saturn? Their spectacular although it was a little cold for our taste. Now, are pterodactyl still in the text books? Ever since my early education lied to me about the Brontosaurus I’ve been suspicious of ALL dino research.

    Ummm are you suggesting the best way to take a picture of a fast moving object is to just set the aperture to 22 and fire away indiscriminately?


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