It was the start of 30 Days Wild and Eddie and I were sitting on the common in the late afternoon. A sudden cry, tremendously loud and just behind us: cuckoo!
And then he was flying over us, across us and away, wings shearing the air like an especially sharp pair of scissors.
The bird has been a voice for nearly six weeks; every day we’ve heard him call. His success depends on how often and how loud he can say his name: summoning a female across the Norfolk miles.
To set eyes on him was in its small way remarkable: like meeting a radio star, with a voice you know almost as well as your own – so much so that the possession of a physical appearance seems almost presumptuous.
Then from behind us again, another cry of cuckoo. Two birds then, both males, one telling the other to try his luck at some place less promising than these few acres of marshland.
It’s all in the voice: the simple far-carrying syllables of the name. The bird’s existence and his future are all caught up in those two notes. A few years back, a particularly keen bird consistently threw in an extra syllable: cu-cuck-oo! Did that make him extra desirable, or a freak to be shunned?
And who was this interloper, this bird forced to flee above our heads? Perhaps he was raised by a luckless pair of reed warblers on the marshes below, perhaps sired by the obstreperous singer who forced him to fly elsewhere.
The sweet cheat gone… C.K. Scott Moncrieff’s idiosyncratic translation of Albertine Disparue. Not one for the purists, but singularly appropriate for the fleeing cuckoo.
He who remained called out his name once again. In the pause, we all listened hard for the joyous bubbling call of a female cuckoo. Alas, without luck. So call again. Call again, while spring still lasts.
Eddie’s Blog: Wild June 1