Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The cuckoo's calling

I am not sure which is the more unpleasant: that I am stood in four feet of muddy water and have a leak in my chest waders, or that an unscheduled thunderstorm has soaked me to the skin and put an end to my reed-bed nest monitoring for the evening. It’s not even as if I get paid for this monitoring work! I am a volunteer, like dozens of others around the country who give up their time to monitor nests in support of conservation and research. What I do get, however, is the opportunity to see our birdlife from a privileged viewpoint, plus the knowledge that what I am doing is making a difference. And that, as the television adverts insist on telling you, is what life should be about.

That I am wet from top to toe does not matter; it has been a beautiful evening. A female cuckoo was calling upon my arrival; various damselflies could be seen dancing just above the water’s surface and the reed-bed echoed to the chattering songs of reed warblers. So far, none of the dozen nests in this particular reed-bed have been parasitized by the cuckoo, but many are yet to contain eggs and there’s a good chance that the cuckoo will pick her moment and lay her deception in the nest of an unsuspecting reed warbler. When she does, I will have the solemn task of completing two nest record cards: one charting the demise of the warblers’ own nesting attempt (failed due to being parasitized) and one charting the fortunes of the single cuckoo now demanding the full attentions of its foster parents.

Anecdotal reports suggest that it has been a good year for the cuckoos, with many different being reported from across the county. A fellow volunteer, monitoring a site not far up the road and just on the edge of the Brecks, has found 17 cuckoo eggs so far, the output of two different female cuckoos working his site. Given that reed warbler numbers are on the increase and that cuckoo numbers are in decline, one hopes that we will see a few more successful cuckoos this year.

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