Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Posts Tagged ‘cuckoo’

Storytelling Starters ~ Orientating

Saturday, June 17th, 2017

Spider web cropHow much we take for granted. On 6th June, an update message from BTO, the British Trust for Ornithology, announced that the first of their tagged cuckoos had left Britain two days previously on the cuckoos’ annual migration to Central Africa. I was surprised: when I was a child, the call of the cuckoo symbolised summer to me. So now, with me only just beginning to realise that this year’s summer might have arrived, it felt odd to learn that our cuckoos were already starting to leave.

Cuckoo migrations:

The news of the first of the cuckoos departing has been tinged with sadness for me. David, the cuckoo I’d been sponsoring, had failed to return to the UK this year. Or if he did, we don’t know about it. Last information from his tag, he was still in Central Africa. When no further transmissions were received, BTO had to assume either that his tag had failed or that he was dead.

David was first tagged in May 2012 in his breeding grounds in Tregaron in West Wales. Had he returned there this year, he would have completed five whole annual migrations between Tregaron and Central Africa. In each complete migration, he would cover around 10,000 miles. So if he’d made it back this year, he would have flown 50,000 miles on migration flights alone.

Thanks to my small annual sponsorship payments to BTO, their regular updates on cuckoo migrations have made me more aware than ever before of the extraordinary life of our planet. Learning in such extraordinary detail about the movements of that one species has made me ponder the orienteering that all of the planet’s diverse inhabitants must be doing all the time.

Harsh contrast: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Quandary

Saturday, September 17th, 2016

ParrotWhat do you do when you don’t know what to do? Quandaries come in different sorts. One I’ve experienced as a storyteller is when I simply can’t decide what story or theme to choose.

What to choose?

As I began thinking about this week’s posting, various different possibilities began to swirl through my mind. Yet none of them felt quite right. Whether the choice is for my blog or for some performance, I normally like there to be some reason for the stories I choose, some link to things I’ve been doing or thinking about or to something going on in the world about me.  This week, trying to plan what to write about, nothing would settle.

Parrots, I thought. Currently there are four of them in different houses in our street and when they get taken outside for an airing, they create a whole new soundscape. It’s weird. Sometimes they sound like strange metallic devices. Sometimes it feels like you’re in a tropical forest. Thinking about these parrots this morning reminded me of a story. But what was that story? Wasn’t it entitled something like The Parrot and the Tree of Life? Might I not track it down and retell it?

Or what about foxes? Our neighbourhood is full of them. Our gardens are full of them. Not long ago, six fox-cubs were cavorting on our neighbour’s lawn. Often we see one asleep in the sun on the roof of a nearby shed. Thinking about this strange population, so alien and yet now so normal, reminded me of a powerful song about Mr Fox that was composed by my old storytelling friend, John Pole. It’s a very dramatic piece. I used to sing it. Might I not look that out? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Touching base

Saturday, May 7th, 2016

Good news. David is back in Tregaron. Tregaron is a town in West Wales and David is the cuckoo I sponsor, one of the clutch that are being tracked by the BTO (the British Trust for Ornithology). It’s  reassuring that my cuckoo is not only back but busy. Sadly another tracked cuckoo, Vigilamus, also managed to make the 4,500 mile journey back to his previous breeding ground, in his case in Yorkshire, but then almost immediately succumbed to the near-Arctic conditions in that part of the country last week. 

Back to base:P1070361

In getting back to Tregaron this year, David has successfully completed his fourth migration cycle. I think of this with a sense of wonder. It’s one of those stories of nature that are really worth telling: they force you to stop and think about their many implications.

For David will not remain in the UK for long. If all goes well, he will already be back in Africa by the start of August or soon after. There, if he does what he usually does, he’ll spend the winter in the tropical forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Then, next January, he will set out – and cuckoos always fly alone – on his migration back north. It’s a very, very long way, taking him north into West Africa, then across the Sahara desert and over the Mediterranean before heading back through Spain and France to arrive back once more in the UK.

Where is home? (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Flying, falling

Saturday, August 22nd, 2015

No good signals have been received from Chris the Cuckoo since 5 August. At that point, Chris the Cuckoo was crossing the Meditarranean Sea after stopping in the Po Valley area of Italy on his annual migration south to Africa to the Congo.  Four complete migratory cycles of his have been recorded by the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) using the tracking device with which he was fitted. Now it is feared he has died and the probable reason is the severe drought the Po Valley area has been experiencing this summer.  

Falling – poor cuckoo!

P1070575Severe drought is also what’s causing enormous problems for salmon in the Vancouver area of Canada. As we were hearing from a friend there this week, the rivers are going dry and salmon trying to get upriver to reach their breeding places are not going to be able to do so.

For salmon and cuckoos, it’s a sorry tale. Already the Po Valley area drought is thought to have been responsible for the probable deaths of several others of the cuckoos that the BTO has been tracking this year. To discover the difficulties migrating cuckoos are facing is precisely why their tracking programme was devised. Drought, of course, is one of the worst of the problems: it means the feeding places where the cuckoos stop on their journeys cannot provide them with the sustenance they need for their onward flight.

The cuckoos were much on my mind when we went for a walk around the lovely North Pembrokeshire village of Nevern this week. The 6th century saint, Saint Brynach, founded the church in the village and, among the ancient yew trees leading to the church entrance is the famous Bleeding Yew that attracts many visitors. Nearer the entrance is the beautiful Celtic cross which figures in a sad little local legend in which the cuckoo is central.

 On St Brynach’s day each springtime, according to the legend, a service used to be held around that Celtic Cross. Every year, the vicar and the congregation would  gather for the service in front of that Celtic Cross and wait until, as invariably happened, a cuckoo would fly down and settle on top of the cross. At that point, the service could begin. One year, however, the people waited and waited until they were on the point of despair. Just as they were about to give up, a very wind-blown and battered cuckoo arrived and settled briefly on the cross only to fall dead on the ground below it as the service started. 

Flying – lovely swifts! (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A Traveller’s Tale

Saturday, November 15th, 2014

This week I’m taking up the challenge I gave myself last week. What follows is my first try-out of the story I said I’d like to prepare and tell. Please let me know if you think it works. And if it does, please tell me how you would end it.

The story:

WowThe story I want to tell you is about a traveller. The amazing thing about this traveller is that he goes on his travels every single year without fail. Every year, he goes an extremely long way and he always ends up in pretty much the same place. You’d think he might try somewhere else or vary the journey sometimes, visit other countries, see other places. But no, every single year he does the same thing.

So this is what he does. He leaves Britain at about the same time – in early summer in June or July. First, he travels down to the Mediterranean – and that’s not surprising because it’s warmer there than here. Then he crosses the Mediterranean sea and arrives in North Africa, which of course is a very popular place for people going on holiday.

After a short while in North Africa, maybe a week or two, having a bit of relaxation and making sure he’s ready for the next part of his journey, he sets out to cross the Sahara desert. Why he feels obliged to do this is a bit of a mystery. It’s not somewhere you’d want to stop. It’s extremely hot, it’s extremely dry and it’s extremely dusty. But it’s his most direct route and it usually takes him only about three or four days.  (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Cuckoos and Crosswords

Saturday, November 8th, 2014

Fox 2 11.14Wildlife is always interesting. Most mornings these days when I draw the curtains, I see a big, handsome fox on the roof of the shed the other side of our back garden wall. Usually he’s still asleep. When he wakes, he stretches and yawns. Sometimes he then moves onto the tree-platform or storage-shed next door. I suppose he feels safe on these vantage points.

As for cuckoos, I learned a lot more about them last Saturday when I went to a fascinating talk on bird migration by a scientist from BTO (British Trust for Ornithology). Since then, thinking about what I learned has made me conceive a new storytelling idea namely, to devise something I could call The Cuckoo’s StoryAs with the Mabinogion story I told in North Wales a couple of weeks ago, there’s a bit of a back story.

The back story:

Cuckoos were part of my childhood. In our living room, we had an elaborately carved cuckoo clock: the cuckoo would pop out each hour on the hour, much to my delight. Besides, all round my grandparents’ smallholding deep in the countryside near Cilgerran, I’d hear that crazy repetition of the cuckoos’ call throughout the  cuckoo season.

Then a couple of years ago, I was re-introduced to cuckoos by a friend (Hilary, a million thanks!), who told me about a cuckoo-tracking project being run by BTO. I signed up to sponsor a cuckoo. Welsh cuckoos were being included among the birds being fitted with tracking devices. There was even an invitation to suggest names by which the tracked birds could be known. I remember suggesting Taliesin, the name of one of the earliest Welsh poets.

So that’s how I started getting some cuckoo knowledge. In this Blog previously, I’ve mentioned the astonishingly long and (to me) heroic journey that our cuckoos make each year. Not that they’re really OUR cuckoos at all. Each year, they spend only about 6 weeks in the UK. Then they’re off –  across Europe, the Mediterranean and the Sahara and, after a sojourn in West Africa, down through Africa to the Congo. Then after their time in the tropical forests, they’re on their way back to the UK to breed.

New knowledge: (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ What tales!

Saturday, April 12th, 2014

Two stories caught my attention this week. One is about a cuckoo so it’s a story I link with the element of air (hence my photo of sky). The other is about a message in a bottle that was recently fished out of the sea. This links in my mind with the element of water (hence my photo of a sadly rubbish-filled bit of the Thames). Both stories have caused me to ponder, partly because they so stirred my emotions, partly because they are true. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ Focus

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

Performance and how you do it – that’s been a focus of a lot of my thinking and talk this week. For one thing, the Annual Gathering of the SfS (Society for Storytelling) took place last Saturday. I couldn’t be there myself but I heard that performance vs story-sharing was a particular theme of discussion. Not surprising: it goes to the heart of what storytelling is and can be which is a timely and urgent issue in the storytelling world.

For another thing, my husband Paul is currently taking an Advanced Singers’ Performance Course at Morley College. On Tuesday this week, along with other singers from the course, he took part in a lunch-time recital. He sang three songs and, though I say it myself, he was brilliant. He stood well, he engaged his audience and he sang with real feeling and a beautiful tone. Back at the house, before and after, we talked about every aspect. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ A Range of Emotions

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

Pleasing (for me!) 

1. I’ve just heard I’m being nominated for an Astrid Lindgren award. Astrid Lindgren was the wonderful Swedish children’s writer who created Pippi Longstocking. I’m to be nominated in the Storyteller category.

2. On Monday I had a phone call with the editorial consultant whom I’d asked for a professional opinion on A Long Run In Short Shorts, my collection of short personal stories. She said she loves them. She’s urging me to try and find a publisher for them. She says they deserve an audience.

3. On Thursday I learned that a book on storytelling and sustainability to which I’ve contributed a chapter has found a publisher and is to be published next March.

4. I’ve managed to do a whole lot of writing during this week while I’ve been home in Wales.

All very pleasing. Of course, I’m sure there’s no chance at all of me winning the Astrid Lindgren Award. Finding a publisher for my stories is going to be very hard. The only payment for the sustainability book will be one free copy and the writing I’m currently doing is sure to take a whole lot longer before it’s complete.

Never mind. It’s the doing that counts.

And I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the cuckoos. On Thursday , another BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) blog gave news that Chris, the tagged cuckoo about whom I wrote last week, has made it over the Mediterranean.

He’ll probably be back in England any day now – a sign of real Spring. (more…)

Storytelling Starters ~ The Road Home

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

This week I’ve been struck once again by the continuing tale of the cuckoo. The tale is told in serial form in regular blogs from the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology). What enables it to be told at all is the electronic tag. By tracking a small group of selected cuckoos on their annual migrations, these tags are helping scientists to establish what particular difficulties are contributing to the marked decline in cuckoo numbers in Britain. The cuckoo whose tracking I’ve helped support by contributing a small sum of sponsorship money is one that has been called Lloyd. He’s one of the cuckoos from my native Wales.

But it wasn’t Lloyd who became the centre of attention in this week’s BTO blog. It was one of the English tagged cuckoos called Chris.

The Cuckoo’s Tale (more…)