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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.

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.