There was much excitement this morning at breakfast - the cuckoo is back! We have been looking forward to its arrival but weren't expecting it quite so soon. Last year Maisie used to wake us all up at 6am cuckoo-ing, the actual cuckoo singing in the background outside. Maisie's cuckoos are an oddly amusing sound to wake up to. She has been practising them again recently as a result of all the cuckoo chat, warming-up for her morning serenades with her old pal. We can't wait. It is a mysterious bird, we have very rarely seen it, but we will now hear it regularly for the rest of the Spring and Summer. Apparently it ‘forgets its tune’ in June and may make other less cuckoo-y calls. Today it returns from wintering in Africa and has come all this way to find foster parents for its offspring. The manner in which it does this we don't like to think a about.
The cuckoo’s call heralds a carousel of new flora and fauna arrivals from now until Autumn which is why it’s so lovely to hear it. Spring is all systems go. Let there be colour, birdsong, sunshine and life!
As soon as the cuckoo arrives a pretty pink flower appears by the lakeshores and in the meadows, conspicuous by its sudden abundance compared to the sparse scattering of the other wildflowers at this time of year. It is named after its timely arrival with the cuckoo...the Cuckooflower, also known as 'Lady's Smock' as the flower was said to resemble a milkmaid's smock. In folklore it was said to be sacred to the fairies and so was unlucky if brought indoors. Nature has a finely tuned watch – we heard the cuckoo this morning and the first cuckooflower was spotted in the afternoon. We stopped the car and all got out to share a group wow moment and admire it on the lakeshore. Aisha expressed her wow moment by pulling its petals off. As you do when you're two.
A third new arrival is now imminent – a gorgeously summery white butterfly with orange tipped wings whose larval foodplant is the cuckooflower. The Orange-tip butterflies lay their eggs on these plants. They take one week to hatch and the caterpillars which emerge are green and well camouflaged (we haven't seen one yet). They last for just a month before building their chrysalis, within which they remain for up to 11 months...right up until the cuckooflower re-appears the following April and they emerge again ready to lay eggs. No amount of re-familiarising yourself with the life cycle of a butterfly lessens the dazzling awe of it.
Yet another, less glamorous, but cuckoo-related synchronicity is the appearance around now of a funny spittle-like froth on plants everywhere including the cuckooflower; Cuckoo Spit. Not actually cuckoo spit, it is a secretion made by the nymph of the Froghopper insect, a tiny creature which jumps further than a flea. It encases itself in the spittle which hides it from predators as well as protecting it from drying out in warmer weather. It’s a common sight everywhere in the countryside and I remember seeing it as a kid but had no idea what it was. Every tiny minutiae in nature has a backstory.
There will be many more wonder to come over the next few months as the landscape around at Lough Mardal transforms and comes alive - a little piece of heaven.
'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: O, word of fear,
Unpleasing to a married ear!'
Love's Labour Lost