Updated: May 18
Photograph taken by David Clode - Unsplash
The month of May is the pleasant time; its face is beautiful; the blackbird sings his full song, the living wood is his holding, the cuckoos are singing and ever singing; there is a welcome before the brightness of the summer. - Lady Gregory (Isabella Augusta)
This spring I have been eager to get outside and potter in the garden. I finally emerged from the cocoon of my art studio in the attic to the great outdoors. In my desperation to get outside I have abandoned my artwork, not getting much painting done at all. I have been busy tidying borders, preparing vegetable beds and getting the greenhouse in order. The greenhouse was in need of a good clean and some much needed shade. I saw a lovely photograph in a magazine a couple of years ago that showed a beautiful piece of fabric hung across the roof. So, I bought a double sheet from Ebay and sent my husband up the ladder to construct an indoor canopy, using string and a bamboo cane. It seems to have worked well and having provided the plants with some shade, I decided to move in my bistro set where I have taken to drinking my morning cup of tea and contemplating my day.
This spring I have decided that my mantra is going to be "harmony and peace = joy." Too often we are too busy to observe or just be. Some days I seem to go through my day on autopilot and so this May I have followed my own advice. Off come the shoes and socks and I go for a walk around the garden, bare feet on the ground, connecting with the grass and the earth below, recharging my batteries using Mother Earth. As I wander I observe the sights and the sounds, taking mental notes on what I would like to do in the garden, listening to people mowing their lawns, noticing new plant life slowly emerging from brown to green. The earthy smell of blossom on trees and hawthorn bushes. My lovely tall delicate blue irises that have made an appearance for the first time after I planted them a couple of years ago, gifted to me by a lovely neighbour. The tulips that I waited so long for have gone for another year, disappointingly many had tulip fire and perished before they even managed to get going.
The birds have been busy, seeing the return of the house martins and swallows which always bring so much joy. We've had blue tits nesting in our box for the third year running and we have seen so many robins. For the first time we have had some hooligans causing lots of damage around the house and car. This is a new experience, the crows have been very rowdy this year. Having looked this behaviour up online, it seems to be seasonal and most likely territorial. The crows can see their reflection on shiny surfaces. I've noticed that apart from the blackbirds and the usual garden pigeons, the other birds seem to be a bit quieter now after the initial preparation for their new broods.
One bird I have missed this year is the cuckoo. I have spoken to several people about this and the consensus is the same...
where is the cuckoo?
When daisies pied and violets blue
by William Shakespeare
When daisies pied and violets blue And lady-smocks all silver-white And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue Do paint the meadows with delight, The cuckoo then, on every tree, Mocks married men; for thus sings he: “Cuckoo; Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O, word of fear, Unpleasing to a married ear! When shepherds pipe on oaten straws, And merry larks are ploughmen's clocks, When turtles tread, and rooks, and daws, And maidens bleach their summer smocks, The cuckoo then, on every tree, Mocks married men; for thus sings he, “Cuckoo; Cuckoo, cuckoo!” O, word of fear, Unpleasing to a married ear!
(from Love's Labours Lost)
Cuckoo pen & wash, using Daniel Smith watercolour tubes by Clare
AA Reader's Digest Book of British Birds 1973
The cuckoo's name is onomatopoeic. If you say it out loud this is what the cuckoo sounds like, often mistaken for the wood pigeon's call. I hear the wood pigeon most days but I am still to hear the cuckoo. It is the male that makes the distinct cuckoo call. Cuckoos have a greyish blue back, wings and head and a lighter chest with darks stripes running down their body. The female has a pinky tone on her chest as depicted in my painting.
The male's song can normally be heard in the last weeks of April welcoming the start of spring and signals that the summer season isn't far off. The cuckoo arrives from Africa and they tend to spread out across the UK. When the mating season is over the adult cuckoos leave the UK again to head south, normally in July and August. Their young stay on until September, migrating on their own to their winter home. This is remarkable as these new youngsters are born with an innate navigation system, having been raised by foster-parents.
As a child I remember a book that my Nan used to have on her bookshelf which I was allowed to take down and look at. It is the Reader's Digest Book of British Birds. I loved this book as it had wonderful artwork in it which I used to copy. I now have this book and I always remember reading about the cuckoo, which as a child had the most amazing facts, learning that the female cuckoo lays her eggs in a host's nest. The female cuckoo will either eat or destroy her victim's eggs and replace them with her own. The host then becomes the foster-parent. The baby cuckoo or changeling grows so fast that the young cuckoo soon outgrows the foster-parent's nest. The foster-parent continues to feed it by standing on its back. The drawings in the book used to fascinate me and still do. The illustrations gave me the eagerness to draw and paint birds throughout my life, through to the present day.
Sadly much of the cuckoo's habitat has been destroyed in recent years and according to the Wildlife Trust, is now on the red list of threatened species with big declines in breeding populations. The RSPB states that there are 18,000+ pairs in the UK, hence, not hearing my cuckoo this year, their calls are falling silent as the numbers plummet.
On a brighter note and a somewhat bizarre one, I will leave you with some cuckoo superstitions:
When you see or hear your first cuckoo you should put a stone on your head and run as fast as you can until the stone falls off. You should then return to the spot the following day and you will find money underneath the stone.
Similar to a superstition regarding a new moon, when you hear the first cuckoo call, it is very important that you have money in your pocket. you should then take the money, turn it over and spit on it. This ritual is said to bring you good fortune and riches in the forthcoming year. if you have no money in your pocket then you are destined to be poor for the year ahead.
It is believed that the calling of the cuckoo forewarns of incoming bad weather.
The cuckoo has long been associated with folklore and superstition and various dates across Britain are called "Cuckoo Day'. Some places still hold 'Cuckoo Fairs'.
The cuckoo is said to sing from St Tiburtius Day (14th April) to St John's Day (24th June). This is because the cuckoo arrives at different times around the UK.
Whilst researching information for this blog I came across other things in the natural world that this fascinating bird lends it's name to; Cuckoo flowers, also known as Lady's Smock, the Lords and Ladies plant, known as Cuckoo Pint and 'Cuckoo Spit' which is a frog hopper larvae, a tiny insect that looks like a tiny grasshopper. I remember getting this sticky spit on my legs and trousers whilst playing in the garden as a child.
Flower Fairies of the Spring - Cicely Mary Barker
Irises in my garden
Iris coloured pencil artwork by Clare
So, that brings me to the end of this month's post about the elusive cuckoo. Please leave me a comment and let me know if you have heard a cuckoo this year and what you were doing at the time. Did you place a stone on your head and from which direction did you hear it, left or right side, there is a reason, but I'll let you find this out for yourself. I will leave a list of resources below, plus the books I have been reading this month. I have lovely new bookmarks in my online shop with more designs to follow as the Hare design has been so popular. Thank you to all my readers, website members and subscribers, I am truly grateful for your ongoing support and kindness.
Oh and just one more thing before you go, it's the new moon in Taurus on the 19th May at 15:53 GMT, so be sure to have some money in your pocket that day to welcome a year of prosperity.
Sending you all love & light,
Stay naturally curious...
The Reader's Digest Book of British Birds (1973)
A Treasury of British Folklore - Dee Dee Chainey
This month's book recommendations:
Telling the Seasons,
Stories, Celebrations & Folklore around the year
by Martin Maudsley
beautiful illustrations by Alison Legg
The Quiet Moon
Pathways to an Ancient Way of Being
by Kevin Parr
Earthing for Health & EMF protection