June has proved to be such a changeable month. There is no pattern in the weather. Nothing is settled. This is reflected in the behaviour of birds. On Monday morning, for example, the fine early morning was heralded by the constant call of the Cuckoo. And not from just one direction – the calls seemed to be from Oxnead at one minute, from the Town field the following and from Burgh the next. At the time is sounded like a last hurrah and since then it’s calls have been absent or at the very most sporadic. My suspicion is that the job is done and the Cuckoo must now concentrate on building up energy again for the long trip south. This is not so far away.
Cuckoo’s last hurrah
The Bure was a near-perfect mirror as we crossed the Common. A cuckoo called from the Church Wood at Oxnead and, as we paused, the calls got closer. Then over the top of the slope of Limekiln Farm two Cuckoos appeared. Both unaware of our presence they settled on the top of the Island Willow. As they passed one uttered that curious contact call – something of a cross between a chuckle and a shake of dice – whilst the other continued the signature call. This was Cuckoo courtship.
All this activity reminded me of that Thomas Hardy line, “this is the weather the Cuckoo likes”, for it was. A finer blue sky had not appeared until today and to add to the poem’s picture the Chestnut near the Cradle Bridge was fully in flower.
At last a Cuckoo has arrived in the village. It is the morning of the 27th April, during a fine morning interrupted by early showers, it’s call drifts over the long meadow. The Bure is mirror-like. The Hawthorns are a fresh emergent green, the blackthorns in flower. Oak leaves are emerging and the grass is, at last, showing some good growth. The Cuckoo perches at the top of an a Hawthorn, with wings drooped down and head jutting it projects a call which changes subtly depending upon the distance of the listener. We first hear the whoop-woo from just a quarter of a mile
At last the Brampton Cuckoo has put in an appearance. On Tuesday night, on the Karnser, it called from a low perch, with that call that is more of a “whoop-you” than a Cuckoo. It is noticeable that the calls of birds which have evolved for transmitting over large distances so often seem distorted when heard from close by. This one flew with that weak falcon shaped silhouette eastwards along the marsh hedge, it’s grey plumage and paler undersides showing clearly in the light of the setting sun. Jenny tells me that she heard it call on Sunday evening, in which case it beat the BTO monitored Cuckoos back to the UK, but for my own record the 2nd May must the date in the book – the latest over the last few years.
Waiting for the Cuckoo 2
Still yet, neither sight nor sound of a Cuckoo in the village; over the years they have arrived at any time between 20th April and the 1st May. Indeed in 2011 they were not in evidence until the latter date. According to the BTO the most northerly of the satellite-monitored Norfolk Cuckoos was recorded on Friday evening as being hunkered down somewhere just south of Paris and east of Orleans near the village of Chatillon-Coligny. No surprise that the NE winds have slowed its progress. The next signal transmission is expected on Monday morning, by which time it may be back in the Yare Valley in Norfolk. One thing we do know is that when it arrives it will be confronted by a very wet landscape, yesterday’s rain took us to a monthly total of 4 inches, over 200% of the monthly average for April. Other parts of Norfolk have had even more.
Waiting for the Cuckoo
The Cuckoos are on their way here. In the next few days someone in the valley should hear their first call. They need a steady southerly wind to ease the trip and the current south-easterlies are probably not quite enough. Some idea of their journey can be gauged by following this link to the British Trust for Ornithology’s satellite tracking of Norfolk Cuckoos http: //www.bto.org/science/migration/tracking-studies/cuckoo-tracking It will be interesting to see how they and the start of the local calls coincide.
Cuckoos of both colours – there is a grey form and a brown form – are temporarily resident in the village. On Thursday evening a pair, one of each form, flew from Willow to Poplar along the Long Meadow.
The call of a Cuckoo, when heard in close proximity, is far less melodious than when it is heard at distance. It is more of a “Cuck-Coop” than the smoother distance version. When a pair are calling together the call takes on whole new phrase; “whup ..whup..cuck..whup ..whup..koo” is as near as I can get. This does not really do it justice.
It seems that the Cuckoo is extending it’s range becoming the core territory along the reed beds of the Bure. Presumably she is in search of further nests as hosts for her progeny; perhaps the supply of Reed Warbler nests has been used up. Whatever the purpose, she does not hand around for long – her call marking her progress; one or two calls in each location and then move on. This could be reconnaissance prior to a raid on a newly located nest.
Cuckoo courtship flight
The two of us and Dr Christie looked on as a courtship flight of two Cuckoos drifted over the Long Meadow to the Poplars near Burgh church and back again. Both birds seemed to relish the uplifting power of the wind which helped to make their relatively weak flight into an aerial display. One closely followedn the other. A degree of mimicry was involved in the flight pattern. From time to time one of the pair fanned it’s tail and stretched forward to call at which point there was a slight pause before it continued it’s trail. Both Cuckoos maintained their height which was at or around the level of the topmost branches of the Poplar. We left them to it – it seemed that the display would continue all morning, but all the same we felt very privileged to have seen it.
In the end it was on a breezy, clear morning of the 1stMay when the Cuckoo announced its presence. The call which drifted in and out on the breeze was persistent and seemed to come from higher up the valley –perhaps from Tuttington. In spite of reports from others and letters of announcement in the newspaper, this was the first definite local Cuckoo which I have heard. Earlier incarnations seem to have been just passing through. Perhaps the east winds have not favoured the Cuckoo in its normal migration route making it a little late.