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Cuckoo calling delights visitors
On May 23, I took some visitors into the Dales who had never been in England before and they were surprised how hot it was – so was I!
They thought it rained a lot. So it does!
We were in the area of the Ribblehead viaduct and I heard a cuckoo. The rhyme is true: The Cuckoo comes in April Sings its song in May Then in June it changes its tune And then it flies away.
We are all worried about the decline of the bird which lays its egg in another much smaller bird’s nest and the greedy youngster throws out the hosts offspring.
The cuckoo grows much larger than the host, but the overworked parents do a grand job. It is only the male cuckoo which makes the sound we know while the female produces an unattractive rattling sound.
The female takes care to select a victim and when they are absent she sneaks in, lays her egg and takes away one of the parent birds eggs.
The cuckoo spends its breeding period with us and then flies to South Africa during our winter.
There are lots of mysteries surrounding the cuckoo, but one of the most fascinating is how the young cuckoos find their way. The adult cuckoos set off to Africa, but the young birds migrate later and yet find their way.
The thing I love most about nature is there is so much that I don’t understand. A bit like our weather I suppose!
View of England in new eyes
It is amazing that those of us who live in Northern England take our countryside for granted.
Last week I hosted some Danish people on their first visit to England.
They wanted to see hills and waterfalls because in their country their highest point is less than 500ft.
I took them to Aysgarth Falls. Although they had little or no English I understood what “Oo and Ah” meant.
As readers of this column know, I have often visited Aysgarth, but on a lovely morning I was rewarded by seeing lots of birds. There were swallows, swifts, kingfisher, dipper, common sandpiper, grey wagtail and a heron.
May and June is a good time to watch birds because they are so busy feeding their young that they are less wary. All you have to do is to locate the nest area, then keep your distance and wait. I found out that beautiful countryside is a universal language!
Peculiar duck is not a freak
Many times over the years people have written in to this column asking me to try to identify a strange looking duck.
This happened again in April when a ‘very unusual duck’ was seen along the canal near Foulridge and another one on a Rishton reservoir.
Most of the sightings, including these two, turned out to be Muscovy ducks. It is a peculiar-looking bird and it looks as if it had been built up from bits and pieces of other birds!
The bird is a domesticated version of the Muscovy, which has its origins in South America, and was introduced into Europe from the middle of the 16th century. It is thought to have been named after the Muysca folk of South America. In its native habitat it is a much more graceful bird and spends time along rivers fringed by trees.
For safety at night, the birds perch in trees and these days they often perch on gates or walls. They have very short legs which make them look ungainly but they are very graceful in flight.
The drake is larger than the duck, but the plumage is very similar, with lots of black and white feathers and a huge red area between the ye and the bill.
I don’t think that the Muscovy will ever be common in our area but we should be aware that it is a ‘proper species’ and is not a freak.