Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Cuckoo.

Cuckoo. David Cookson 

I think anyone who doesn't know the difference between a Blackbird and a Thrush would be able to identify the call of the Cuckoo in the spring. Here are a few brief notes of a bird about which many articles and books have been written to do justice to this remarkable and complex species of which the female has the ability to lay eggs that perfectly match those of the host.

A harbinger of spring, I look forward to seeing my first on Clougha/Birk Bank, Harrisend, or maybe Barbondale perhaps sometime in the middle of April. The photograph is that of the juvenile that spent some time at Cockers Dyke on the Fylde coast during August 2010 having probably been the result of a breeding success in one of the few remaining lowland pockets in areas like Pilling in the north Fylde, this bird performed well to the many birders who visited the site showing off its ability to catch hairy caterpillar's to perfection.

In Oakes time in our area of north Lancashire the Cuckoo was regarded as 'universally distributed' but by the mid 70's it was generally accepted to be in decline, today the population in the county probably doesn't reach 200 pairs, mainly breeding on the moors where the Meadow Pipit is the main host, whilst the Dunnock and to a lesser extent the Robin are hosts in what few lowland farmland locations are left where this parasite still breeds.

Amazing isn't it, that the juvenile Cuckoo not ever having known its parents because of their parasitic habits, embark on the first southward migration without any guidance whatsoever from adult birds. There is a remarkable total absence of any recoveries of British Cuckoos in North Africa in Autumn which seems to bear out one theory that fewer birds are seen there at this time of year because having reached the northern shores of the Mediterranean Sea the birds fatten up then overfly that sea, North Africa, and the Sahara in a single flight of at least 3,500km. There is only one recovery of a British Cuckoo on its wintering grounds, that of a bird in Cameroon, a Dutch bird was found in nearby Togo.

The earliest spring record of the Cuckoo in Lancashire and North Merseyside was at Martin Mere on 23 March 1990, but the record of twelve birds flying east over Anglezarke Moor in half an hour at the end of April in 1983 must have seemed like a dream for the observer. As the status of the Cuckoo stands today I'll settle for one bird seen or heard this summer, though last years total in my records was four seen at Harrisend, Birk Bank, Tower Lodge area, and Cross of Greet.

Cuckoo. Pete Woodruff.

This photograph has made a previous appearance on Birds2bog but I have no hesitation in posting it once again as it represents probably the one and only opportunity I will ever have of achieving such an image of a juvenile Cuckoo I observed below Birk Bank one day in July 2006. This little monster was being fed by the unfortunate Meadow Pipit which had unwittingly become its parent having been parasitised by the youngsters devilish mother.

You will no doubt agree, the photograph at the top of the post is to say the least pretty impressive, with thanks to DC whose website I thoroughly recommend you visit.


Warren Baker said...

Cant wait for them to get here pete, in about 14-16 days time ;-)

Pete Woodruff said...

It all really takes off next moth Warren, as you say....can't wait!

Pete Woodruff said...

That's 'next month' by the way Warren.