Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo, by Michael McCarthy
Wings and Rings: A History of Bird Migration Studies in Europe, by Richard VaughanOn a May night in 1967, walking home down a Dorset farm track, I counted the song of 13 nightingales. Today in those woods no nightingale is heard. For 40 years I visited a bridge on the Dorset Stour to watch sand martins nesting in the riverbank. Since 1984 they have vanished. In 2002 I wrote a letter to the Times, headed ‘The last cuckoo’, to note that for the first time in decades I had not heard the cuckoo arriving on the button (17 April in Dorset, 18 April in Somerset), My letter was not printed.One of the tragedies of our fast-changing world has been the dramatic decline in the numbers of those migrant birds which since time immemorial have been what Michael McCarthy, in his lovely but heart-tugging book, calls ‘the bringers of spring’ — the ‘great aerial river’ of 16 million birds flooding up from Africa between March and May to fill our island with the songs of chiff-chaffs and blackcaps, the aerial displays of swallows and swifts, and that most evocative of all spring sounds, the ‘wandering voice’ of the cuckoo.