CUCKOO CHASE - 16 May 2015

The movement caught my eye. A bird the size and shape of a Kestrel moving at speed, being followed by a much smaller bird. But I knew instantly it wasn't a Kestrel. Although the wings were similar in length, the bird's tail was too long, giving the bird overall proportions that didn't match that identification."Cuckoo" I exclaimed excitedly, but I could not look further as I was driving at the time over Alnwick Moor. I was on route to a day's birdwatching in the Cheviot hills where Cuckoo was one of my target birds, so it was a great start before I had even reached my destination. My first UK sighting of the year. Admittedly, I had enjoyed hearing one several days earlier on similar Northumbrian moorland, but I always prefer to see one. That's probably not an opinion shared by the much smaller bird that followed it - A Meadow Pipit in hot pursuit!

What a marvelous day I had in the hills. I caught up with Cuckoo again including another brief view of a bird in flight. But there was better. I was greeted on arrival by a male Ring Ouzel in full song bestriding a fence post - looking resplendent with its contrast of white crescent against black body. I had great views of Tree Pipit repeatedly performing its display flight. I saw my first Spotted Flycatchers of the year, behaving characteristically with their darting circular flights. These birds were silent and they were the exception. The hills that day were alive with birdsong. Blackcaps, Garden Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Chaffinches seemed to compete with each other and together provided a wonderful audio backdrop, punctuated occasionally by Curlew, Oystercatcher and Cuckoo. And I heard the bird I had come to hear. Redstart. I found 3 singing males and managed to see them eventually, but this time I focused on the song. It's neither inspiring nor particularly memorable, but I enjoy the fact that I can recognise it. It's a short affair, lasting a few seconds. "Whee-ta-ta-ta-ton". "Whee-ta-ta-ta-ton"."Whee-ta-ta-ta-ton".

Mark Winter

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