There are still adult Cuckoos on Dartmoor. When they all leave for their migration to Africa there will still be Cuckoos here, but they’ll be the juveniles, mouths still begging, filling the nests of their host parents with their outsized bodies.
I decide to take some adult Cuckoo photographs while I have the chance, so I get up early (for me) and I’m on the moor and in position by 8:30am. I’ll spend the next seven hours sitting in the same position looking at the same tree. It’s better than most TV.
Was it worth it?
It was worth it.
When I visit to photograph Cuckoos I see many people ‘hunting’ for Cuckoos, as they follow them about, disturbing them, making them fly, and then trundling on after them in bright casual clothes. Successful wildlife photography has more in common with fishing then it does with hunting.
Here’s how to take beautiful photographs of Cuckoos, given my limited experience:
- Choose one of the vanishing places which still has Cuckoos. (They are Red-listed birds in serious danger.)
- Visit it for several days and sit with a pair of binoculars, listen to their calls and locate their favourite perches. Draw a map of the trees if you want, and note down how many times they perch in each. Understand their behaviour.
- Choose a favourite, most-visited perch.
- Find a place with an unrestricted view of the perch, with the sun behind you, and be aware of where the sun and shadows will move during the day.
- Locate an angle with a pleasing background behind the perch for your photograph.
- Use camouflage. (I see people who spend £5,000 on a camera and lens and yet can’t seem to afford £10 for a camouflage sheet.)
- Sit and wait with a flask of tea (other hot and cold beverages are available).
- Stay very, very still and quiet and respect and enjoy the wildness of these birds.
I should have mentioned sun cream. My red face isn’t just embarrassment.
I tried some flying shots, some perching shots and some landing shots and all worked fine.
What I didn’t get were any Cuckoo with caterpillar shots, Cuckoo on the ground shots, or Cuckoo being mobbed by Meadow Pipits shots. Next time.
Cuckoos mimic Sparrowhawks to frighten birds off their nests so they can lay their eggs.
Young Cuckoos have darker eyes than the brilliant yellow of the adult birds. Cuckoos usually have the left eye darker than the right eye. Nobody knows why.
This is my favourite shot: a Cuckoo on a mission. I love its steely determination, its persistence, its dedication. All qualities we’re going to need to change our destruction of the natural world so future generations can enjoy this truly wild experience.
Thanks for sharing the experience with me. Have you seen or heard Cuckoos this year?