Before I moved to my wee hoose about an hour north of the Loire Valley eleven years ago, I’d never even heard of a hoopoe, let alone seen one.
In my third summer here I remember looking out of the kitchen window up the front garden and seeing two birds, the like of which I’d never seen before. Pinky brown in colour, long thin beak, zebra striped wings with what appeared to be some form of crest on the head.
I’m not a twitcher, but I do like to know what’s pottering around in my garden so my trusty bird recognition book was dusted off and the hoopoe, latin name Upapa Epops came into my world.
Its a bird that generally lives in Africa and southern Europe, so, I was assured, visits to my northern neck of the woods were rare indeed.
When I explained excitedly to some friends back in the UK I was told a tale of how someone once came into an office and explained she’d seen this type of bird on her way to work and three twitchers immediately pinned her against the wall, gave her the Spanish inquisition and left, with their flasks full and beards trimmed, to go and track it down, such is its rarity in northern areas.
Since that first time, eight years ago, I see or hear (a very distinctive call, from where it gets its name) it most summers and I use it as a very unscientific barometer of how good my summer’s going to be. Living in Bretagne its generally accepted that summer’s will be rubbish, but the earlier I see or hear them the better I think its going to be.
I saw my first hoopoe of this year three days ago, it was right outside my kitchen window, crest down but those wings are unmistakeable. I saw it on the day I heard my first cuckoo of the year. This is unheard of (in my large scientific study) there are normally at least two months between the cuckoo and the hoopoe.
This means (a proven fact) that a good summer will be had. Hurrah for the hoopoe.