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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..

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 Cuckoo is slightly early this year; announcing his presence with a circuit of the village at 5.15 this morning. In the clear, slightly chilly morning air his call was clear and close – the closer they are, the more the syllables separate. His aerial tour continued to the river, calling all the way.

The Anglo-Saxons, who felt the changing year more keenly than we do, referred to 9th May as the beginning of Summer. (For a more expert view I recommend the blog A Clerk of Oxford http://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/summer-sun-brightest-anglo-saxon-summer.html ). So often I find myself agreeing with the Anglo-Saxon view. Rogationtide, that three day run up to Ascension Day, starts tomorrow and fits neatly into the turning of the seasonal calendar.

I am sitting in the garden as I write. From time to time a shower of Cherry blossom drifts down – not caused by “rough winds” but by a gentle breeze that stirs the top branches, before dying down again. A Blackbird sings from a nearby fir, a Blackcap from the copse, Swifts scream whilst twisting and turning overhead. The strong insistent song of a Wren bursts out just before it dives into its nest, tucked in the porch rafters. Rather worryingly for the garden, Woodpigeons have taken up residence within striking distance of the young Sweet Peas. But their mellifluous repetitive song just adds to the meditative atmosphere of the garden.

The Cuckoo has been silent in the valley for three days since announcing its arrival last Thursday. I have noticed this before – a settling in period, before the period of persistent song arrives in earnest. When they do get going Cuckoos travel up and down the river valley and I have been lucky enough to see their nuptial flight (or their territorial battle, depending upon your interpretation), more than once at this time of the year.

In most years the Cuckoos arrive in the Bure valley on or around St George’s Day. This year is an exception. Even though the radio-tracked BTO Cuckoos are starting to reach the UK, we have yet to hear the first call of a Brampton Cuckoo. Even David Humphrey, who lives as close to the river meadows as anyone and is usually the first to notice, has not heard one yet. The winds have been slightly chill and northerly-ish, so this has probably had something to do with it. We keep waiting and listening.
Other summer migrants are settling in. A Blackcap has settled in the copse next to the cottage and announces his presence with his complex warbling song. The Chiffchaffs have been here for seemingly ages. A few Swallows hawk over the river as we walked past this evening. More surprisingly, as I walked down the road this lunch time a series of alarm calls from various small birds made me look up to see a Hobby sail over Street Farm. Spotting these little Falcons never ceases to cause that tingle of excitement – possibly because of the collective alarms calls which great their appearance. But once again this felt a little out of sequence – I usually expect to see them after the House Martins have arrived, assuming that they follow them northwards for the summer. But assumptions are so often wrong.

Brampton asylum

June 23, 2014

In the first place it was Andrew’s desire to actually see and not just hear a Cuckoo that made me keep my eyes peeled. The occasion was the Village Barbecue – a gathering of neighbours, which this year was to be held on Geoff and Helen’s ground. Their garden has an enviable location, lying snugly along the western edge of the grazing marshes known as Brampton Common. The Common itself is a wildlife highway. The focus of movement is the route of the clear, slow flow of the River Bure. It seems that much wildlife migration, whether local or international, follows this line.

It was across the Common or at least on electricity cables which cross it, that the Cuckoos gathered. Not just one Cuckoo but, as our eyes adjusted and binoculars were gathered an as we watched four Cuckoos grouped on the cables. Each would call from time to time. Almost in turn they swooped down intermittently in what must have been the pursuit of some hatching insect. Some food item had drawn their attention and collected them together.

I attempted to photograph the event with the camera which I had to hand. Grainy images were all I could muster. Some provided a recognisable silhouette, others merely proved that “bird sits on wire”.
One of the Gang of Four.
what we saw was a rare event and certainly as far as I am concerned, unseen before now. My original theory that it was a pre-migration gathering (although a little too early in the year) has since been disproven as Cuckoos have continued to call locally all the way through to the end of June.

it was solely down to that helpful combination of gatherings, a food source and many pairs of eyes. That goes for those at the barbecue and those birds on a wire.

Cuckoo arrives then silence ensues for a few days. It seems to happen every year. We patiently wait for the first announcement of arrival within the village. This year it was Sue’s turn; a lunchtime stint in the allotment on 21st April was rewarded with the first calls of the newly arrived Cuckoo. Then all goes quiet, whilst we wonder if “our” Cuckoo was just passing through. Then the calls start again as the Brampton Cuckoo calls her way from Burgh, along the river Oxnead and back again. The same trees are favoured as the are very year – the Ash on the grazing meadows, the Poplars near Oxnead Bridge and the old Oak on the Brampton hill. Sumer is icumen in.