On 31st May 2014, on a very misty, very early morning, I caught my first adult cuckoo. He was a stunning bird, and as well as having a metal ring with a unique number this cuckoo was also fitted with a satellite transmitter as part of a BTO project. I wrote a story about that morning called To Catch a Cuckoo, and at the end of that post I asked where would this cuckoo go, how would he fair during his migration south and hopeful return? The bird was named Stanley by generous sponsors Derek and Maggie Washington.

The magnificent Stanley

Well, by June 2014 Stanley was off! He was over the English Channel and heading south. It is one of the interesting results the tagging project is showing, male cuckoos in particular do no hang around, and very quickly start heading south. By August he was across the Sahara and recovering from the crossing in the dry regions of Nigeria and Cameroon. By September 2014 he had moved further south over the Equator into the rainforest block of Congo and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Here he stayed until starting his northerly migration in January 2015. Heading northwards through West Africa, Stanley arrived in southern Spain in April 2015 and returned to the UK by the end of the month. He was the third of the tagged cuckoos to arrive back, but perhaps a little oddly arrived in Cornwall before heading back to his breeding grounds in Norfolk. Once again Stanley did not stay long, and by mid-June he was in southern France heading south. He arrived in Africa by the middle of July, and by September he was back in the Congo rainforest in the same area where he had spent the previous winter. By March 2016 he was well on his way north and west, and the race with the other tagged cuckoos was on! Who would be first back this time? Early April and Stanley raced over the Sahara and then the Mediterranean, hot on the heels of Vigilamus who was leading the race of the tagged cuckoos. April 21st 2016 and Stanley had won the race! He was the first of the tagged cuckoos to return to the UK in 2016! Whoop! Even more interesting is that once again he first touched down on English soil in the south west! This time Devon. By the 22nd he was back in Norfolk and near to Cranwich!

Such wonderful data is coming back from the satellite tagging, more that we could get from just metal ringing alone. The map on the BTO’s website shows that Stanley tends to head straight down through Italy and across the Sahara on his way south. While on his return he heads northwest into West Africa before heading across the Sahara and back through southern Spain. So far he always seems to make landfall in southwest England before heading northeast to Norfolk.

In the time since I caught Stanley and fitted his metal ring things have changed for me. My life has turned upside down, in a very good way, with the arrival of my little Robyn. But I have continued to catch and ring birds. I have not however held an adult cuckoo in that time.  Stanley, of course is not the only cuckoo to be back in the UK and Norfolk. My first cuckoo of the year was at our ringing site, near to Stanley’s breeding ground, on the 17th April. Then just yesterday, at the next ringing session again a cuckoo could be heard. This time, with the Robyn alarm waking us extra early we took the opportunity to set a net in the hope we might catch another cuckoo. It was not looking great, with the net remaining empty all morning and with a cuckoo tantalising us in the trees nearby. In typical fashion though the last check revealed a rather large looking grey bird in the bottom shelf. For the first time since Stanley almost two years before I had an adult male cuckoo in the hand! While this cuckoo does not have a satellite tag to tell us all the fine details of his movements, he does have a metal ring which if recovered will certainly contribute to the knowledge we are building of these incredible birds.

The equally stunning cuckoo caught today…


What a bird!

Information on Stanley’s journey so far was used with the kind permission of the BTO.

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