Last Monday Morning News Country asked a rather obvious question given the time of year – have you heard the cuckoo yet?
Well, it seems many of you have.
Dozens of readers contacted us to tell us they had picked out the distinctive two-note call of this iconic summer visitor with the dubious nesting habits – and almost everyone was delighted by the experience.
As a survey of migratory bird life the results surely fall short of the rigour required by learned bird observation organisations like the British Trust for Ornithology and the RSPB. But as a straw poll designed to find out if there are any cuckoos still visiting the Westcountry it was a valuable and worthwhile exercise.
So first the good news. Despite reports of a catastrophic decline in cuckoo soundings and sightings in the UK in recent years, the birds are still about in our region. However, a number of readers did contact us to answer our question "have you heard the cuckoo" in the negative and some of those readers who had heard one reported that, in some cases, it was the first for a number of years. It is clear therefore, that hearing the bird's distinctive summer call – something that used to be pleasant, but hardly surprising, akin to the regularly heard tinkling of the ice-cream van – is now something of a rarity to be cherished.
There was a pattern to the replies, with a large number coming from readers who had been out walking on moorland and heathland, particularly Dartmoor and the moors of West Penwith.
The earliest reported was on April 11 at Bowermans Nose, near Houndtor, heard by Hilary Harvey.
Another early bird this year came from Yvonne Anderson who lives in Chagford. She wrote: "In my 40 years here on Dartmoor, I have heard the cuckoo every year. This year my gardener heard him during the weekend of April 19-21. I heard him on May 3rd. – His ears are younger than mine!"
Another reader, also on Dartmoor, reported hearing her first cuckoo around the same time, on April 20. Mary Alford of Moortown Farm, Tavistock, writes about what she calls "our cuckoo".
"This year our cuckoo returned on April 20, about a week late. Being a Dartmoor hill farmer it is always a welcome sound that the grass and summer is on its way. The foals on the moor also started to come at that time as well.
"The cuckoo and the foals show us that the seasons are changing. Their predictions are always better than the weather forecast."
Several readers reported the cuckoo back in its regular spot. Migratory birds often return to the same place, year after year, and the cuckoos which favour the Westcountry are clearly no exception. One reader wrote: "First heard on April 25 in the area between Garrow Tor and Hawkes Tor on Bodmin Moor. Heard on a number of occasions since, particularly in the area between Garrow Tor and Brown Willy. This is the normal spot to hear the call and we do so regularly each year."
Patrick Buckley has advice for would be cuckoo watchers about the best areas to go looking and listening. "I heard my first cuckoo of the year last bank holiday – May 7," he writes.
"We heard two that day, the first near Shipley Bridge on the River Avon and the second at Bellever Bridge just below Postbridge on the East Dart. We very regularly hear them on Dartmoor. They prefer areas where people can't walk through like fields near the open moor that don't have access through them."
Di Hern of Liverton also witnessed her cuckoo – flying – near Manaton on Dartmoor on May 12. She added: "The nightjars are back too – aren't we lucky!"
Heading east and an early report comes from Woodbury Castle where Jeremy Boyden heard a clear call in the last week of April. He says swallows, on the other hand, have been few and far between in his part of East Devon this year.
At the other end of the peninsula, the cuckoo has made it to the Scillies. Steve Grant writes: "I heard – and saw – two cuckoos on Saturday. (May 19) I had just walked out of Old Town, St Mary's, and was by the old church there on the coast path. One of the birds flew right down by the sea and perched on a rock."
Some WMN readers are lucky enough to have the cuckoo come to them. Peter and Christine of St Giles in the Wood, Torrington, told us: "Last Thursday (May 17) at 5.30am my wife and I heard the cuckoo for the first time in over ten years. It was in a tree in our garden. It was there for about an hour. It was lovely to hear it again after so long."
Hearing a cuckoo is clearly a cause of celebration for many people. Yvette Cameron told us she was walking her black Labrador, Toby, through the woodland near Hartland on April 27 when she heard the bird call. She said: "I could hear the cuckoo a little way away up in one of the trees. Toby ran towards the tree and when I whispered to call him back, the bird stopped, mid-flow.
"Then it flew over my head – it was wonderful. I was so excited by it that I had to tell the first person I saw when I got back to the car park. The bird had started cuckoo-ing again by then, and it was so loud that I could hear it in the car park.
"I informed the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) as soon as I got home and they were very keen to hear about it.
"But I have been back almost every day since and haven't heard it again."