Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)

May 07, 2020  •  1 Comment

Cuckoos are birds that many of us will not have seen but will know lots about. We're all familiar with their distinctive call that gives them their name and the fact that they lay their eggs in other birds nests. I've heard them many times but this week marked the first time for me to actually see one.

I decided to take my daily walk in the fields around the bottom of the Eildon Hills, a very well-known tourist attraction in the scottish borders. Many legends are associated with these 3 peaks - that they were formed from a single hill by the blow of the Devil's spade, that King Arthur and his knights sheltered in a cavern in the hills and that Thomas the Rhymer was spirited away by the Queen of the Fairies to a land inside the hills for 7 years. Covered in heather and gorse there are many different species of flora and fauna there. The walk to the top is steep in places but you are rewarded with stunning views when you reach the summit.

I had heard reports that a Cuckoo had been heard calling nearby and thought it would be nice to find somewhere to sit and listen out for it. The area is also popular with Meadow Pipits and, as that was part of my BTO homework for this week, I thought I could also listen for them and start to identify their song and flight patterns in the field rather than from YouTube videos. I'm not quite fit enough yet to make it to the summit of the Middle Hill and so opted to walk up to the Wester Hill and back around by Little Hill - trying hard to avoid the cattle. 

The area at the bottom has plenty of gorse and, at the right time of day, this is filled with singing Warblers, Thrushes, Wrens, Blackcaps and Yellowhammers. There were certainly Wrens and Blackcaps singing as well as the distinctive noise of the Chiffchaff singing near the stone dyke. Closer to the top I could hear the deep, guttural 'caw' of a Raven. Meadow Pipits were shooting up from the clumps of grass, with their song getting faster and higher in pitch as it rose into the sky before ballooning back down to earth with a 'choo choo choo'.

I walked up the field to the stone dyke at the top where I could join the path, scattering Meadow Pipits from their hiding places in the grass as I went. A Raven sat on an old tree further up on Wester Hill, watching me as I climbed. Suddenly my attention was drawn to my right, to a fence post next to the dyke. A largish grey bird had just landed. With its striped breast and grey colouring I though at first it was a bird of prey - a Sparrowhawk or Peregrine - but it was being mobbed by lots of smaller birds. It was too far away to photograph but I rattled off a few shots for ID purposes. As I got closer I realised that its behaviour and shape was different to a Sparrowhawk. Suddenly it left its post and flew across the path and landed on a tree stump - still being mobbed by the other birds. It was then that I realised I was seeing my first ever Cuckoo. Excitement took over. I took another burst of shots, none of which will win any awards as it was still just out of reach of my lens and my hands were shaking from the excitement, and then watched as the smaller birds chased it further down the path into some fallen branches and heather where I lost sight of it.


The whole sighting was brief, maybe a couple of minutes in all, but it will stay with me for a long time to come. It is such a special moment when you see such an iconic bird for the first time - made even more special when you weren't actually expecting it.

I hung around for a while to see if it returned but unfortunately it wasn't to be. I continued on, hyped up from my sighting, round the Little Hill, a knoll between the Mid and Wester Hill that was said to have been created when the devil wiped his spade after forming the Eildon Hills. This hill is rockier than the others and is well known locally as being a good place to see the rarer Northern Brown Argus butterfly during June and July. I'll be keeping a close eye on this area as that is one butterfly I am keen to see this year. Plenty of rabbits live in the burrows on one side of this hill and Wheaters have been seen here in previous years - another bird that is one my bucket list.

The walk back home didn't throw up anything else new. A Grey Squirrel lurked in the trees along Wester Road and Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers and Blackcaps called from the shrubby areas at the side. There are plenty of interesting looking animal pathways through the woods on either side of the road that warrant a good exploration when the lockdown is over. The fields are still full of lambs and the Swallows have returned, with several zipping over the fields and chattering on the wires.

I do consider myself very lucky to live in a place where it is so easy to access beautiful places with lots of wildlife during these times. I don't think I'd cope if I was in a city flat somewhere. Being forced to stay local and really explore my local patch is fantastic and I don't actually think I want to venture further away when this is all over. The Eildon Hills are a wonderful place for birds and butterflies and there is still so much more to be discovered there.

Til next time,

Stay safe.




Douglas Finlayson(non-registered)
Felt like I was walking with you - thanks Lisa ❤️
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