Say hello to the cuckoo

It’s May, it’s raining and for the first time for many a year, perhaps ever, I haven’t seen a cuckoo in April.

, via Wikimedia Commons”]My Birdtrackrecords going back to 2005 show me that I have always seen a cuckoo by now. I went out in a fine spell on Monday thinking that I should hear a cuckoo but I didn’t , and I was cheered slightly by the fact that another local birder whom I met had yet to see or hear one too.

I think of myself as Birder No 3 at my local patch as Birders Nos 1 and 2 have been birding there much of their lives and still get down there more often than I do.  Birder No 2 told me that Birder No 1 had beaten both of us to cuckoo this year.

But the good news is that two BTO cuckoos, whom we have learned to call Lyster and Chris, have returned from their 10,000 miles round trip and are back’ home’.  Lyster got back to the Norfolk Broads on Monday and Chris snuck into Epping Forest on Tuesday morning.

I admire this project hugely – it combines the soap opera and the science.  By following these individuals we learn about the details of their lives and the general behaviour of their species.  Yes we knew that cuckoos went to Africa and then came back again – but we’ve never before been able to follow the details of their journey.

Great congratulations to all at the BTO for this amazing study.

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11 Comments

  1. Roderick Leslie

    Mark, can I add my congratulations to the BTO - what a stunning project ! And in the nick of time as global threats deepen - we now have information that none of us could have imagined when we started in conservation.

    Several Cuckoos at Shapwick/Ham Wall yesterday - and Hobbies. In the morning several were sitting in the trees looking damp, but as the sun came out they were hawking - I saw 6 at once in a short visit, there'll have been more and hopeful;ly if the rain holds off we'll be into 'Hobbyfest' over the next week/10 days.

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  2. Wren

    Thanks for the link Mark. It's felt 'cuckooey' in Herefordshire on my patch for a few days now, but no sign of them yet.

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  3. Dennis Ames

    Hi Mark,another bird in trouble that is probably nothing to do with farmers,while farmers obviously share the blame for less wildlife think conservationists concentrating on blaming farming think there are lots of other issues being missed and wildlife suffering for that reason.
    Time to take a more balanced view in my opinion.I do of course agree with all your proposals on farms that would help but there has to be other things affecting woodland birds and others like the Cuckoo.
    One strange thing was that when we were on Mull in May probably 4 years ago you heard Cuckoos everywhere and could not see any reason why they flourished there while we hardly heard more than one a year in Dorset.

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    • Mark

      Dennis - I haven't met a conservationist who blames farmers so I don't know why you keep using that phrase. But since you bring it up, the reason that the fate of farmland birds is of great concern is of course that most of the country is farmed and the birds that deped most on that farmland are mostly declining. That's a balanced view.

      I think that the fact that many people, not just you, say that some upland areas are still rich in cuckoos whereas lowland areas are not is interesting too. Maybe it points to a change in insect abundance in lowland areas that doesn't apply to upland areas? Or maybe it is something else completely - we'll have to wait and see, I guess.

      I still haven't seen one this year though. Wish I had.

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  4. Dear Mark,

    Just spent the afternoon walking sugar beet with the British Sugar agronomist to check on (you'll love this !) Skylark damage. Why Skylarks love beet leaves so much is a total mystery to everyone but they will go down a row and either eat the cotyledons or pull the plant out while tackfully leaving all the weeds alone. Beet is fine luckly as it can stand a bit of unwelcome attention, there are 70,000 plants per hectare and they can't get all of them hopefully. While we were walking the conversation turned to the Skylark issue and how at that moment we felt that they were not endangered enough ! We did a quick count on the beet land and then on the neighbouring wheat as we returned to the car and reckoned that we were up to about 1 pair for every 5 ha (i.e seen divided by area we could see) The point is that the fieldsman spents 24/7 walking beet at the moment and sees this level in his entire territory (south Suffolk and N Essex) Do you have any data on this in terms of populations per region or county as to wether this is historically low or high ?

    Julian Swift

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    • Mark

      Julian - very interesting. My friend and former colleague, Prof Rhys Green, did his PhD on skylarks and wood mice eating sugar beet back in the 1970s at Brooms Barns so it's nothing new. The skylark is one of the species that has declined very significantly in the UK as awhole and in southern england for sure. here is the link to the BTO data http://blx1.bto.org/birdtrends/species.jsp?&s=skyla There is also an excellent book on skylarks written by another former colleague, Paul Donald.

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  5. Dennis Ames

    Thank you for your reply Mark,lots of food for thought and must mean I am overreacting to what I read and of course you would know what conservationists think.

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  6. paul v Irving

    I too have not seen a cuckoo yet, when I do it will be the latest firts record for many years, if that makes sense.
    When I do find them it is usually in upland or reed bed habitats, so presumably they will be reed warbler or meadow pipit parasites. May be the dunnock parasites have declined more steeply, does anyone know?
    great BTO project, a great organisation through which huge amounts of amateur observations is turned into good science invaluable for conservation.

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  7. Dennis Ames

    Dunnocks do very well in our garden,not very scientific I know.

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  8. Hello Mark, heard my first cuckoo on Cliffe Marshes on the 1st of May and nightingales too (they may have been here earlier than that but as you can imagine it has been a busy time no estuary airport campaigning in Westminster and I might have have missed them earlier) I can't imagine a summer without them!

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    • Mark

      Gill - Well done! I hope to catch up with a cuckoo soon.

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