The Cuckoo and the Deer

Today was the first time this spring when I’ve been free for a morning recording session on a day when the weather forecast looked promising. After waking up at 03:30 I headed for Dartmoor National Park with two bird species in mind – the Cuckoo, newly returned from overwintering in Africa, and Snipe, which in springtime can be heard drumming over the moor.

The recording spot I picked is in a small valley known as Blackslade Mire, where rain from Rippon Tor, Pil Tor and Top Tor gathers before flowing off the moor in Ruddycleave Water. In contrast to some of the more barren valleys Blackslade contains a fair amount of birch scrub as well as a stand of conifers which makes it a good spot for birds.

When I arrived just after 05:00 a cuckoo was already calling from the conifers. As is usually the case, by the time I had the microphones set up and the recorder running it had moved further up the valley where its distant call continued to taunt me. Rather than trying to follow it I decided to stay put in the hope that it would eventually circle round and return to its original song post.

As the daylight increased, so did the frequency of jet airliners passing overhead. With several major airways passing over Dartmoor these are unavoidable when recording in the National Park and you simply have to hope that any interesting activity falls into the period of silence in between aircraft.

Finally, as the rumble of an eastbound flight faded into the distance, I heard the “laughing” call of a cuckoo coming from the conifers, followed by its song. It didn’t call for very long, but it’s the closest recording I’ve ever managed to get of a cuckoo. A few minutes later I was startled by a sharp bark from an animal I couldn’t see but which was clearly nearby. A deer was the obvious culprit but, this being Dartmoor, the Hound of the Baskervilles also seemed like a possibility. To my relief, a few moments later a very nice roe deer buck emerged from the gorse less than 30m away and stood watching me. We stared at each other for a minute or so while he occasionally barked and stamped his feet, then finally he must have decided I was best avoided as he turned round and ran off up the slope and out of the valley. As his barks faded into the distance the rumble of the next approaching aircraft could just be heard – perfect timing!

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