The cuckoo is back from its winter sojourn in Africa. I heard  the distinctive call on 30 March from lower down our valley while I was pruning an olive tree. The bird is very punctual; it always seems to arrive in Tuscany in the last days of March. Compared with 5 or 6 years ago the number of cuckoos has gone down. Sometimes we used to hear 3 or 4 calling at the same time, and occasionally we would actually see one in flight mobbed by smaller birds, making it very clear that  the bird was not a welcome visitor.

Four years ago I had an unusual and direct experience of the bird. One morning a friend came to me and said, ‘There’s a dead pigeon in front of the laundry door’. I went and, to my amazement, found not a pigeon but a dead cuckoo! It had evidentally crashed into the door (or into the kitchen window above it) and broken its neck.

As if this was not enough, the next day a second cuckoo flew into another door, a glass one this time. I picked it up and was relieved to find that it was only stunned. After being placed gently on a table it flew away, so I was left thinking that  I may be one of the very few people to have held both a live and a dead cuckoo in his hands in consecutive mornings!

A few days ago I heard the gentle call of a collared dove and the drilling of a woodpecker. The martins should be here soon, so these are all positive notes to counter these dark and troubling times.