As Joni rightly said, you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. But here’s another truth: you don’t know what’s gone until it’s been gone a long time… We notice stuff when it arrives, of course we do: that’s deep in our natures to do so. We cheer when the swifts appear in our skies: and quote Ted Hughes: they’re back – which means the globe’s still working.
And then there’s a day, round about August 14, when you say: you know, I haven’t seen a swift for a few days. They must have gone already. And it seems all the sadder because the loss was below the threshold of awareness. That same kind of subtle creeping awareness comes with animals in sharp decline: when did you last see a spotted flycatcher or a lesser spotted woodpecker, or hear a turtle dove?
If you’re a phenologist, studying seasonal changes, you have all kinds of data about when things arrive and show and flower and sing for the first time: and very little about when things disappear or shut up.
This year, and for every day of Wild June so far, I have noted a cuckoo calling at my place. I heard one yesterday, as I took a quiet beer out on the marsh, and I jotted it down. And I heard one this morning at dawn, from bed – and still remembered to take a note, though later, later. For the five years I’ve been here, cuckoos have sung from the last week in April to the first week in June. It began a little later this year – May 27 – but he or they is/are still going. Which might be a small change, and might even be a significant change.
And did I hear a female cuckoo this morning as well? That rich, rapid bubbling call? I think so, but I was more than halfway back to sleep by then and the record is therefore suspect. Still, I heard at least one female back in May, so it would see that all this cuckooing has not been in vain.
Will he call again tomorrow? Or does he reckon that’s enough? I’m all eager to make another major contribution to science… unless I fall back to sleep, of course…