Cuckoos and Meadow Pipits – an ancient battle

I decide to get up at dawn and go to Dartmoor. I’ve decided that before and stayed in bed. This time I set my alarm for 5:00am but I’m awake at 4:50am, pondering what time it is and wondering whether I set my alarm. I eat all the remaining food in the house and am on Dartmoor before 6:00am. There are already seven cars in the nearly-full car park.

There’s a babbling warble seeping over Emsworthy Mire on Dartmoor. I know it from last year. It’s a female Cuckoo. Then there’s the familiar sound of a male with his two-note single-call repertoire.

The local Meadow Pipits are furious. They don’t know why, but they are driven to distraction by the sight and sound of a Cuckoo and will chase, peck, and harass them at any opportunity. Clearly the Meadow Pipits which did that in the past had a marginally higher breeding success for a few generations so that it became the dominant behaviour. The ones who didn’t chase off the Cuckoos had all their children murdered and were tricked into feeding a baby Cuckoo monster.

Here’s a Meadow Pipit on watch:

Meadow Pipit - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

There’s drama as a high-speed chase ensues, with a Meadow Pipit hot on the heels of an intruding Cuckoo.

Cuckoo and Meadow Pipit - The Hall of Einar - photograph (c) David Bailey (not the)

It’s against the light, so I choose a spot with the sun behind me, which has a good view of a branch I’ve seen the Cuckoo land in twice so far, and wait. I wait. Two cuckoos appear behind me, a male and a female. The male lands on the branch in the tree in front of me. It’s only there for a few seconds. It lands with its head hidden behind another twig.

Oh well. I have a beautifully exposed, pin-sharp, close-up photograph of the body of a Cuckoo with its head obscured. Better luck next time? Never mind, it’s been a lovely morning.

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