I’m walking along the beach at Mae Sands on a beautiful morning. I’m heading out to see one of the Arctic Tern colonies on Westray in the hope of getting some action photographs. The sand at Mae Sands is beautiful, white shell sand and the sea is an intense turquoise. It’s idyllic and has all the colours of the Caribbean rather than the common perception of Orkney. It’s anything but grey. A bird lands on one of the many stabs, the wooden posts which create the barbed-wire fences which cover the landscape here. Westray is a land of few trees and a million stabs.
My first thought is that a Sparrowhawk has landed on the post, as I see spread, fingered wings open on landing. One look, though, and I realise it’s a Cuckoo. It’s a gorgeous mottled tawny brown with a distinctive white patch on the back of the head. It must be a juvenile. I’ve never seen a juvenile before.
It’s being harassed by Meadow Pipits, who have evolved to recognise Cuckoos as an existential threat to their family life and consequently give them a torrid time.
I’m on the beach below the sand dunes looking up at the fence. It’s a good position, because I’m largely hidden, but I want to get as close as possible while not disturbing them. I realise the Meadow Pipits are driving the Cuckoo along the fence so I run to the end of the fence, hunker down and hide myself and wait for the Meadow Pipits to drive the Cuckoo to me.
What a lovely bird, and a thrill to see. I wish it luck on its way to Africa.