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Rare bird spotted in Galveston for first time in 40 years

The bird was spotted by a birder from Fort Worth who was competing in the Texas Birding Classic.

GALVESTON, Texas — Texas bird watchers have a renewed sense of hope after a bird species that hadn’t been seen in Galveston in four decades made a surprising return last week.

The mangrove cuckoo made a very rare stop at the East End Lagoon Nature Park and Preserve on Galveston Island.

The bird was spotted by a birder from Fort Worth who was competing in the Texas Birding Classic.

“Yeah, there’s a nerd factor for sure, but it’s a good nerd factor," admits Fort Worth birder Parker Allie.

Two years ago, while working from home during the pandemic, Allie found a new hobby after identifying a strange bird in his neighborhood.

“It was kind of the spark that lit the fire into this birding world," Allie said.

His passion for finding and identifying birds is what brought him to the East End Lagoon last week while competing in the Texas Birding Classic, where participants must find and record different birds throughout the state of Texas.

The nature park on May 12 was his final stop.

“I just had my mind on this red snapper and shrimp plate that I got last summer, and I was like, ahh, I want one of those," Allie said. "By the time I got down to the East End Lagoon, I was so hungry, that’s what I was thinking about when I got there.”

He spent a few minutes walking the sandy path, when suddenly, up in a palm tree, he saw it.

“I was like, 'Oh, cool, a yellow-billed cuckoo, I’ve never seen one before, this is a new bird for me,'" Allie said.

He took some pictures and left.

Later on, he took a closer look at the pictures once he’d uploaded them to the competition’s portal.

“It had this mask, like a black mask over its eyes," Allie said. "And I knew that the yellow-billed cuckoo didn’t have that.”

Credit: Parker Allie

As it turned out, the bird was actually a mangrove cuckoo.

The tropical bird from Central America isn’t usually spotted further north than the Rio Grande Valley.

The last time it was seen in Galveston was 40 years ago.

“I’m like, ‘What in the world is going on! This is wild!'" Allie said.

Birders began descending on the lagoon to get a look for themselves.

They saw it too.

"Texas Parks and Wildlife called me on Friday and was like, ‘This is a big, big, big story,'" Allie said. "And I was like, 'OK.’”

The awards ceremony for the competition hasn’t happened yet, but Allie is confident.

He’s still not certain why the mangrove cuckoo made a stop in Galveston this month, but he’s got one idea.

“It either got lost or thought, ‘I heard Parker Allie is going to be up there on May 12,'" Allie joked. "'I want to see what he looks like.' So maybe that’s why he was hanging out there."

Matt Dougherty on social media: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

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