How do you fancy this three thousand mile trip:
First stop off in France to soak up the culture then on to Mont Blanc and the Swiss alps for a few weeks rest and recuperation in the beautiful mountain scenery. It can be cool in the mountains, even in the summer so head south into Italy, perhaps Tuscany or further south again to Sicily. If that isn’t warm enough, take a short hop over the Mediterranean Sea to Libya then across the Sahara to Lake Chad.It’s not an itinerary that you’ll find in many travel brochures but it is quite popular in certain circles. Mungo, a bird from near Loch Katrine made that very trip and met up with Chance who travelled by a different route from Loch Katrine, via Belgium and Austria, and Chris from the Norfolk Broads. They are all Cuckoo’s that have been tagged by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) in order to track their annual migrations to Africa. Chris is a veteran who was tagged last year so this is his second recorded journey. His route to Lake Chad this year is similar to the route last year but one of the other tagged birds from Norfolk, Lyster, has travelled by quite different routes last year and this year.
They’re trip isn’t over yet. It is likely that they will continue south, perhaps to the Congo basin before returning to the UK.
The number of cuckoos in the UK has declined significantly: 50% less breeding pairs than 25 years ago, with the situation slightly worse in England than in other areas. By tagging several cuckoos from different parts of the UK, the BTO hope to gain a better understanding of their annual migration and hence factors that could be driving their decline. The study has already identified stopover locations that were not previously known to be used by cuckoos from the UK, such as an area north of Madrid. These stopovers are important for the birds to fatten up for the sea crossing and more importantly, crossing the Sahara.
A few of the tagged birds have stopped for now near Lake Chad, a place which has seen significant changes itself over recent decades, losing about 95% of its surface area between 1960 and 2000. It is not credible that the wildlife which depends on the habitat it provides would be unaffected.
It has been estimated that half of the reduction can be attributed to over abstraction, either directly or from rivers which flow in to the lake, and the remainder had been attributed to climate change. Abstraction has been for both drinking water and for irrigation. The climate change that has affected Lake Chad may partly be related to global warning but is more significantly related to changing land use aground the lake and in the greater lake chad basin. Changes such as deforestation and over grazing leading to desertification: encroachment of Sahara. This in turn has led to a more arid local climate.
Other locations that the tagged cuckoos visit may have different problems: changing agricultural practices, deforestation, urban encroachment or pollution which can affect the survival chances of migrating cuckoos.
Being thoroughly modern cuckoos, they won't send you a postcard but you can keep up to date with their progress on their very own blogs:
Or on their map page: cuckoo-tracking
And they can be sponsored too.
Here is hoping they make it back safely to the Norfolk Broads or Loch Katrine(plenty of water here) for the breeding season next spring.