Oh cuckoo, shall I call thee bird
Or but a wandering voice
Wrote the poet Wordsworth. Clearly, he never saw his bird. There would have been far more cuckoos in Cumbria in the early 19th century, but Wordsworth did not have the advantage of binoculars or a camera. When I took this shot on 1 June 2014 I contrived, by inching forward, to come close to the bird without his seeing me. I could tell from his preening and his shifting posture that he was unaware of my presence. I watched the muscles of his throat as he emitted that loud call. I tried to creep up using the cover of juniper and hawthorn. But I needed a camera with more powerful magnification and the light was poor.
Why do I bother? Well, it's thrilling to listen to cuckoo and to find them. More than that, I want to verify that the cuckoo has returned to this place, as it has done for many years. I'd like to be sure it finds a female and that the pair find enough meadow pipit hosts to stay and breed. If none of this happens that's a real concern. The cuckoo and the meadow pipit are in decline and to find them here tells me that they're hanging on.
Today, I met birder David Horrabin who told me he'd heard a cuckoo, briefly at half-hour intervals, on Helsington Barrows. We always share information, and it's competitive too. He'd heard the local cuckoo, I had to match that. So off I went. Helsington Barrows is parkland habitat. Some years, the cuckoo sits in the canopy where trees are dense- impossible to find. Today, I heard him call only once and I got my binoculars straight onto him. His habit is to call from a bare branch, where he's visible to the female he wants to attract. I could see him but parkland is often open, so he could see me and I could tell he was watching me. I would only be tolerated so far. So I began to take photographs, inching slowly forward.
Today was almost too easy. I like the long-drawn out hunting for cuckoo, following his call trying to locate him, all the while deeply engrossed in spring.
As I returned along the escarpment a man asked me if I could identify a purple flower and I knew before I looked he had found early purple orchid. And he was delighted to learn what it was.
Home again, I listened to Tweet of the Day to confirm that I'd been hearing lesser redpoll on Scout Scar. I often hear them in flight, but my best sighting today was a forked tail and a silhouette.
23 May 2015. Listening to redstart, I looked for it. Heard and saw cuckoo BA, exactly the usual territory and with a small bird trying to threaten it on the same bare branch. By the time I could take the photo it flew. Then Charlie the dog ate my sunglasses on Cunswick Fell.