Yes, I understand what you are thinking. How can one, in what is barely the second week of the first month of the year – even think of suggesting a Bird of the Year? Well, let me explain.

I began recording my bird sightings with photographs in late 2009, and since then I have seen (or at least heard) a fair proportion of species recorded within my home country of Trinidad & Tobago. The euphoria of chasing sightings lasted for only a few years, eventually giving way to my current ethos of simply putting myself in place and letting nature toss me whatever she feels I need. This enriching practice makes fortuitous sightings even more precious when they do occur.

One of T&T’s resident species has been taking me for a real run around since I began birding – the delicately beautiful Mangrove Cuckoo. I first caught sight of one while birding a mangrove swamp in 2012. The view was of its rich buff underside and long, spotted tail as it flew from treetop to treetop – if I say the view lasted a full second I’m being generous. The second time I saw one was late in 2020 (could be 2021, the pandemic years are a blur), where a small group of photographers were enjoying (apparently) a bird in full view. It took me a while to find it and as soon as I laid eyes on the bird it flew off, never to be seen again.

As I’ve been on Tobago for the last year, many have expressed surprise that I had never photographed a Mangrove Cuckoo. After all, it was a straightforward procedure: drive to the mangrove swamps, play the call, photograph the bird, leave. I experienced this first hand while attending last year’s CBC, but because I’m motivated by feelings I didn’t consider this a true experience. Nature is an infinitely unpredictable organism and I’m happy to bird naturally.

Which brings me to the happenings of yesterday morning. After an enjoyable sunrise session on the beach with several Whimbrels, Southern Lapwings (including a partially leucistic individual!), and Black-bellied Plovers, we were just packing up and finalizing arrangements for where to have breakfast. I had just switched my camera off and tossed the binoculars into the back seat when Joanne pointed out a bird that was perched almost directly overhead. Yeah, you guessed it – a Mangrove Cuckoo!


Black-bellied Plovers are always fun to spend time with!

This partially leucistic Southern Lapwing didn’t seem in the least bit ostracized by its peers. A lesson we are gradually learning.

I forgot all about breakfast and tracked the bird for about twenty minutes as it foraged in the treetops, only occasionally sitting for longer than a few seconds. Most of those times it was obscured by branches, but I did manage some images I’m happy with.

My arms were already shaking by the time the Mangrove Cuckoo hopped on this open branch but fortunately advancements in software now mean that I can salvage images I would’ve previously tossed. What a gorgeous bird!

Given how many times I’ve missed out seeing a Mangrove Cuckoo over the years and the close calls I’ve had with the species, I’m moved to consider this as a real contender for my BOTY. Of course, a major factor in this decision rests in its status as a resident species. Will it be upstaged by another? Who knows what this year will bring?! Perhaps finally an opportunity with a Pearl Kite (don’t get me started on this), or the holy grail itself – Scaled Antpitta. 2023, you have 50 weeks, let’s see what happens!

Written by Faraaz Abdool
Faraaz Abdool is an internationally published freelance conservation and wildlife photographer/writer who specializes in birds and the issues they face worldwide. He graciously serves on the Trinidad and Tobago Bird Status and Distribution Committee (formerly the Trinidad and Tobago Rare Bird Committee), and leads birding trips on both islands. Faraaz also runs yearly birding and wildlife tours to East Africa. Although he doesn’t keep a life list, Faraaz has been a keen birder for many years, separating Black and Turkey Vultures at distance as a little boy, skipping class to gaze at Magnificent Frigatebirds as a teenager and quitting his job as an electrical engineer to put all his energy into conservation as an adult. Faraaz cultivates wildlife consciousness via his words and images, in a last-ditch attempt to reconnect humans with nature and save the world.