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This year the Cuckoo was a late arrival in the valley. We can usually expect to hear their first call in late April, but not this year. Bill heard the first call yesterday morning (25th May) and I did not hear mine until 6.30 this morning (26th). The call was high and clear, sailing above the chorus of warblers and blackbirds that we are, thankfully, used to.

As the Cuckoo is such a wily and observant species, not given to wasting energy – or so I like to assume – then the species upon which is parasitises (the egg host) must be just into full egg laying. Perhaps the Sedge Warblers along the Bure. Certainly not the garden Dunnocks who seem to have been hard at work for a month or so already. We are unlikely to find out for certain. All we can say is the the Cuckoo is back from West Africa – Sumer is incumen in..

September skies over Brampton

September 11, 2016

Buzzards have moved from rare to commonplace in Norfolk over the last twenty years or so. However common they are, I still thrill to the site of the family groups that soar on the village thermals. This morning (Sunday) we watch as a group of four – presumably tow adults and two young – slowly circle over the Common. We immediately assume, probably wrongly, that the individual which soars at a higher level, conveniently away from the others, is the male. The other three circle one another, calling constantly and occasionally making contact in some form of aerial game of tag. A feint and a roll, one of the pair turning upside down as they touch talons in mid air – some form of pretend exchange of food or some such. All through this their mewing calls drift down from a sky of almost Italianate blue.

A lone Swift flies over the garden this afternoon. I had become so used to the packs of Swifts cutting through the skies and round the chimney tops, that their absence brings a strange silence to the evenings. Autumn is approaching.

The familiar flight silhouette. An insistent call, loud and chattering, high up around the upper branches of a swaying Poplar, following by an effortless scything flight. The Summer-visiting Hobby Falcon was back. In this case, two of them – the first the agile flier, the second (presumably the female) slightly shy, keeping the branches between it and us as we gazed up. The call changed to the more familiar repetitive falcon kee-kee-kee-kee.. as the male completed an arc, in sight then out of sight, before returning along the far side of the trees, his wings at first spread in a fast approval and then folded in a shallow dive towards his mate. To us this seemed like the start of Summer. To them, no doubt, the start of the serious business of the breeding season.

Not quite a Nightingale. This song was full throated, but without the seemingly endless variety of its relation; this was the song of the Blackcap. This morning we had the chance to stop and watch for a few minutes. The male was perched in full view on a Hawthorn. They usually sing from a perch with a bit more cover, throwing their strong voices and using the natural echoing acoustic of the scrub. But this morning he had adopted an more exposed perch. From where we stood some 10 yards away, the full throated effort and its resultant volume was apparent. Each verse seemingly ending with the same short phrase tooey-tooey-tooey-tooo, then a pause, before embarking on another convoluted tune. Oblivious to us he continued until we slowly walked on at which point he briefly retired deeper into the scrub, before resuming at our passing.

Cuckoos are mysterious. It is in their nature. Since the first Brampton Cuckoo arrived and started calling on Easter Sunday, there has been a suspicious silence. In fact it was only very early this morning that I heard another Cuckoo calling and since then, nothing.

This is however, so often the case. I am not convinced that it is purely down to a decline in Cuckoo numbers. In most years we still have a population. It may be that as a species they travel over large distances in order to find a mate and until this is completed they don’t settle – this does seem to be borne out by radio tracking data published by the British Trust for Ornithology. On their records Cuckoos travel widely before they home into the areas from which they originated (or so it seems).

In any event, I watch, listen and wait.

The return of Swifts to the village sky makes this a red letter day. News of their reappearance elsewhere in England was announced all over Twitter yesterday – I can’t quite fathom out why Gloucestershire should see them before we do in Norfolk, but that was how it appeared. Brampton Swifts waited until Ascencion day.

Walking back from the polling station, having been notified by Bill, there they were a circling group of eight Swifts over the village houses. Their sharp calls cutting through the air. It was noticeable that there was a hatch of flies about at ground level, so no doubt their arrival was somehow timed. From experience they will circle no gather for a few days before starting to return to roof eve nest sites. Sadly these sites have become fewer over the years as cottage roofs are repaired and gaps sealed up – the Swifts are barred from their age old sites. There is a real need for more Swift nest boxes to be constructed and installed.