My top five birds. ( Cuckoo )

18th December 2012
I am always asking people what their their favourite birds are and inevitably they can't answer without a great deal of thought and even after thinking they change their minds again and again. I am in the same boat because my favourite bird list is often influenced by a recent birds behaviour.
However, a few birds keep returning back to the top of the list, even if I haven't seen them for a long time, so these birds I have to conclude must be my favourite birds. In my case these are inevitably enigmatic species, by this I mean birds that are usually extraordinarily shy or require a great deal of effort to see and in my case photograph.
I have no particular order to what I term my 'top five' birds they all have their reasons for being there.
They are;
Red Backed Shrike.

My reasons for choosing these birds are as follows;

I always used to heard a Cuckoo calling every May and June but try as I did I couldn't get anywhere near enough for a photograph. This was extremely frustrating so I decided to try and do something about it, this however, achieved nothing it only added to my frustration because any one who has tried to photograph Cuckoos will tell you just how elusive and shy they are. Then out of the blue one day while out walking I turned a corner and there was a young Cuckoo sitting on a fence being fed by a Meadow Pipit. I could barely believe it, after all my previous fruitless efforts here was a bird in front of me. I managed to take a few quick shots before they flew away but at least I had got near, this made me even more determined because I could see what a beautiful and unusual bird it was.
I now knew what type of terrain to look for and the following spring when I could again here a male bird calling, this time instead of walking around trying to get near to him, which I knew from past experience was futile, I just waited and watched for hours. Using this MO I was able to establish a pattern to his behaviour and I could see that at some time he was going to perch on the same isolated branch because he had done so frequently throughout the time I watched him.
However, getting near to that branch was difficult and I knew I also had a potentially long wait in front of me. Nevertheless I decided to try and outwit him and I got up very early one morning and arrived at the location in darkness. As I got out of the car to my great surprise I could hear him calling nearby in complete darkness, I never realised that Cuckoos did that, I was totally demoralised, I thought that it would be impossible to get to the place I wanted to be in without him detecting me because I had to go in by torchlight.
Nevertheless, I decided that I had to go forward with my plan and I got my portable hide set up under some old Gorse bushes and with the rising sun coming up behind me everything was in place. Once it had become light I could see him in the distance sitting in a tall tree just looking in my direction, I was not hopeful!
He just stayed there for about an hour doing nothing but then out of nowhere I could here a female Cuckoo calling. This really livened him up and he took off immediately in my direction, I had my lens focussed on 'the branch' but he just shot over the top of me and started calling in a tree behind me. Then the moment I had been longing for happened he landed on the branch, I shot him immediately and the feeling of achievement was really overwhelming, he took off and I thought OK that's my lot, but never mind I had him!
That wasn't it though, he came back again and again sometimes with hairy caterpillars in his beak and I was able to observe him flicking the unwanted poisonous insides away before eating the rest. When he finally left I almost floated back to the car I was so pleased.
Since that time I have had more success shooting these birds using this method. The Cuckoo is so full of character and because of its unique call and behaviour it is etched into the natural history of our spring. This is why it's one of my top five!

Next Blog... Red Backed Shrike.