Cuckoo Nirvana.

10th June 2016
I have previously mentioned in my blog posts that Cuckoos are one of my top five birds and I have always been fascinated by their enigmatic existence. Once April comes around I am always listening for that tell-tale sound, for days there is nothing and then one morning you think you can hear that faint ‘Cuckoo-Cuckoo’ borne on the wind, you listen again and then ‘yes’ there it is your first Cuckoo. For me personally these birds are true heralds of spring and it always uplifts me to hear them. However, for anybody aspiring to photograph these wonderful birds this is when the hard work begins!
Cuckoos are very shy and wary birds, they are also very ‘street wise’ and as a result they are very difficult to approach and subsequently photograph. This does not deter me because I like a challenge and they are such attractive birds, seen up close their plumage is stunningly beautiful. In addition to them being so difficult to approach they are always being harassed by small birds like Meadow Pipits etc.

This constant harassment doesn’t help the spectator or the photographer of which I am both! No other birds like a Cuckoo given its parasitic behaviour and that’s fair enough, would you? They don’t even like each other they are constantly squabbling over mates and territories.
All these factors make the ‘how to photograph Cuckoos equation’ particularly difficult to solve. These birds are at their most frustrating when they are at the top of a tree calling, as if to say ‘you’ve got no chance matey’. However, there is one thing in the photographer’s favour and that is at some time they have to come down, firstly to find food and secondly to pursue their mating and egg laying activities. They are like all birds creatures of habit and have their favourite perches - be it a gate post, a particular bush or a prominent bare branch.

In the Beacons Cuckoos like elevated open areas interspersed with low trees and bushes. This is where planning comes into operation. I always observe a Cuckoo’s habits in detail before attempting to photograph them because anybody just trying to photograph these birds by chance is usually (without a huge slice of luck) going to be disappointed.
There is a secluded area up on the Beacons where historically Cuckoos have spent the spring and summer. I have watched this area for many years, it is a typically open location sparsely populated with Rowan and Hawthorn bushes. However, here there is one advantage – there is one particular place where you can look at eye level to the top of some of these bushes. This is like the holy grail for me, to look across instead of up at a bird like a Cuckoo is everything!
Yesterday morning I made the trek up to this area, I knew there was a Cuckoo there because I had heard it previously. I approached very carefully and I could hear him calling distantly so I got under cover and settled in looking across at the tops of three bushes about fifteen yards away. If ever I needed a Meadow Pipit to start harassing a Cuckoo it was now. The calls started to come nearer getting my hopes up but then they would fade away again, very frustrating. I had been waiting about two hours when I could hear a commotion and a male Cuckoo landed on the top of the furthest Hawthorn bush. I was able to photograph him in very pleasing light amongst the Hawthorn blossom - a great feeling of satisfaction.

The light continued to improve and I was praying for him to perch on the nearer two Hawthorns. More activity ensued and then incredibly he perched right on top of the nearest bush!

I couldn’t believe it, what a bird in wondrous light!! He stayed there for about a minute and I gratefully shot him in various poses then he was off again. I thought that was it, and that was fine, I knew I had many nice images – BUT!! He came back, another three times on different perches in the same bush – creature of habit? I shot him in many different poses until he finally flew off and didn’t return. What an experience with a magical bird!
Please see Latest Images, Cuckoos in the Beacons, Spring 2016