The cuckoo she’s a pretty bird, She sings as she flies, She brings us glad tidings, And tells us no lies. She sucks on pretty flowers, To make her voice clear, She never sings cuckoo, Till spring of the year.
What sound is more evocative of early summer than the cuckoo? Its soft, lazy call drifts across the fens and heathland here on the Norfolk / Suffolk border and is such a resonant, reassuring sound. It always makes my heart do a little skip when I hear one for the first time each spring.
This habitat suits their wicked ways as their favoured nests are that of the reed and sedge warbler, which frequents the local fens, and the pied wagtail and meadow pipit, who reside in the Breckland heaths.
A young cuckoo with his "mother" Meadow Pipit
Image courtesy of Nick Bartrum
This year I was walking on Knettishall Heath when the call rang out, and it took me by surprise. The sound is notoriously difficult to locate, and often disappears as soon as you have hear it, making you question its dreamlike sound. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can catch sight of one in flight, with its sharp, pointed wings, swooping low across the heather, but they are elusive, secretive birds, which makes their pursuit all the more thrilling.
The arrival of the cuckoo as the herald of summer days has long been celebrated, from the joyful “Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu”, written by a thirteenth-century monk of Reading Abbey, when the arrival of light, long days would have been especially welcome, to the notes replicated by Beethoven in his “Pastoral Symphony,” written after he had lost his hearing and all the more poignant as he captured their pitch perfectly.
A recent discovery is a wonderful recording by Cosmo Sheldrake, that was created as part of the “Wake up Calls” project, made over a period of nine years, to alert us to birds in peril on the Yellow and Red list, but also to open our ears to the glories of the natural world.
Which brings me to the real purpose of this post. June is the month of #30DaysWild, a whole month when the Wildlife Trusts encourages us to go out each day and do one thing that opens our eyes and ears to nature: to bury your nose in elderflowers, see the hawthorn blossom fading to soft pink, or to put out a dish of water and watch the birds splish and splash. It is the now perfect time to go out and seek the song of the cuckoo and, even if he eludes you this year, I am sure you will certainly discover something equally thrilling!
You can find my original linoprint of the cuckoo on my website shop. Subscribers to my newsletter receive previews of new work and exclusive discounts on prints and paintings.