At the end of April I was disappointed that there was no sign yet of the Cuckoo arriving. I need not have worried – by early May he was singing loudly every day up and down the valley, and has been heard all through the village. Male Cuckoos can have a very large territory, overlapping with several females, so I don’t know if the bird heard in Rendham is the same one. The female is much more difficult to hear – I have heard only one so far. Her call is a musical repeated note, often termed the ‘bubble call’ (have heard her referred to in Sweffling as the Water Bird). In June the Cuckoo is said in the rhyme to ‘change its tune’, and it does seem that by early summer Cuckoos do start to make slight variations on the usual song, with a differently pitched note or even an extra note.
Before the end of May we were already being visited by the large clumsy brown beetles known as Maybugs or Cockchafers (chafer is and old name for beetle, as in the similar German Kafer). They emerge from the soil at this time, and come bumping at lighted windows in the night. I would prefer it if they were called Junebugs, as this is when most are actually on the wing.
On the pond, too, there are insects emerging. The first red damselflies have been added to by two of the brilliant blue species, the Common Blue and the Azure Damselfly. They are beautiful things to see – just don’t ask me how to tell them apart. The earliest Dragonflies are also emerging. These insects, unlike the butterflies, do not have a chrysalis. Instead, they crawl up the stems of tall water plants as the last stage larva, which already has something of the shape of the adult, with the developing wings showing as buds. This creature then splits down the back, and the adult dragonfly pulls itself out. It remains for a few hours, inflating its wings until they are stretched out and ready to fly. However, it is a couple of days before it acquires its full adult colours. So far I have seen two of the so-called chasers, dragonflies with rather short, broad bodies. The Four-spotted Chaser is a rather dull brown, with four prominent dark marks on its wings. The Broad-bodied Chaser is a bright powder blue, at least in the male.
Just as I was finishing this, I had to turf out of our kitchen the most enormous queen Hornet I have ever seen! I hope it goes off somewhere sensible, and doesn’t try to nest in one of your porches!
By Geoffrey Abbott on June 1st, 2016