Thirty pupils from Wooler’s Glendale Middle School have taken part in a pilot project examining the migration and decline in the cuckoo population.
The initiative, under the lead of storyteller Malcolm Green and musician Tim Dalling, lasted two days and included the creative use of music and storytelling.
The pupils and their teacher Jenny Hall began with a field trip to the College Valley, where they studied habitats, listened for cuckoos and took part in a variety of activities which allowed them to tune into the landscape. In pairs, with one partner blindfolded, pupils took it in turns to try to lead their partner through a meadow while humming, the idea of this to show the pupils how birds use their unique call to signal to a partner their location. They also had to pick their partner’s hum from a crowd. Later, pupils sketched a symphony of birdsong while lying in a beautiful copse of trees, full of bluebells, wildflowers and buzzing insects. The group was lucky enough to both see and hear a cuckoo, which had flown closer to investigate the children while they were singing an African song. Interestingly, the group learned that the cuckoo’s song is never heard in Africa where it lives for nine months a year. The second day of the project consisted of a workshop in school debating issues around migration, both human and animal, and the human impact on migratory birds. Pupils watched Malcolm and Tim perform a story about Vigilamus, the radio-tagged cuckoo, whose progress they had been following on the British Trust for Ornithology website. Having successfully flown for three days and nights across the Sahara without a rest; then back across Spain and France, Vigilamus’ return to the UK coincided with the unseasonal snowfall in late April.
Unfortunately, weak and vulnerable after the long journey, Vigilamus wasn’t strong enough to survive the cold conditions and pupils learned that he had perished. It was a moving and sobering reminder of how vulnerable these incredible birds are.