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The Life and Possible Demise of Lyster {an English Cuckoo} Part One.

Updated on August 7, 2015

Lyster was two years old when caught.

Lyster courtesy of the BTO.
Lyster courtesy of the BTO. | Source

A brief history

Lyster is an English cuckoo named after Simon Lyster, who chairs the Corporate Responsibility Committee for Essex and Suffolk Water { project sponsors}

Lyster was caught on the morning of 25th of May 2011, in an area on the outskirts of Martham in the heart of the Norfolk Broads {East Anglia England}. The nets were erected at 03.15, and the team were confident of catching a bird as there were at least six known to be in the area. Soon enough they caught a male bird {Lyster}. Lyster was in his second year when caught and he was the third bird to be filled with a satellite tag.


The British Trust for Ornithology { BTO} know that the cuckoo is one of Britain's fastest declining migrant species, and, until recently little was known about the birds movement and habitat once they had left our shores.

in 2011, the BTO attached a satellite tracking device to cuckoos from Norfolk to find out more about their movements, their important stopovers and wintering destinations on the way to Africa. in 2012 this was expanded to include cuckoos that were tagged in Wales and Scotland.

Lysrer was one of the original cuckoos tagged with the satellite tag numbered 62688 and the ring number D.K.68314. So why am I conveying this story to you ?. My website {see profile page} is along with several other individuals and businesses sponsored Lyster, and followed his amazing journey from 2011 until the present day. i would like to share the journeys of Lyster with you here. Our story begins in June 2011.

June 2011

Soon after being caught and tagged, Lyster moved 12km {7.5 miles} south west of the vicinity of Lingwood { Norwich },. he remained in this general area for a week, although he made an excursion of 10km {6miles} to the south east out skirts of Norwich on the first of June, but was back by evening.

8 June--Lyster remained in the Reedham area, on Monday night he roosted in a small wood 1.7km{1mile} north of the village. Lyster had remained in this region, with the exception of another short excursion down the Waveney valley near Haddiscoe.

From the 10th until the 23rd, he remained in the general area making him the last tagged, male cuckoo remaining in the breeding area. On June 27th he was spotted near Hadley Marshes 5km{ 3miles} south west of his last location, where he resided until the beginning of JUly, when he became the last of the {tagged} cuckoos remaining in the UK.

Typical view of the Norfolk Broads England


JULY 2011

On the 5th of July Lyster was back in the Reedham area of Norfolk, however, by the 25th of the month the Tracking Team { known hereafter as the Team} began to have serious concerns about Lyster after an unseasonable bad spell of weather. Thankfully this was a false alarm, as Lyster was not only fine, but was on his way to France during the time period the tag was not transmitting efficiently. When a signal was received it placed him in the Limousin region of central France, approximately 30km south west of Limoges, staying in an area of mixed farmalnd and and woodland. this meant that he had taken the most westerly route out of the UK of any of the cuckoos tagged.

By the 28th Lyster had made his way to Spain and was located in the Castella-la-Mancha region about 150km {95 miles } east of Madrid. this location was a heavily wooded landscape close to the Parque Naturel delAltoTajo, a park with a spectacular geology including mountains and ravines and canyons that provide a wide variety of habitat. His progress revealed that he had omitted the long stop over in southern Europe that the other cuckoos made.

Senegal River map


August 2011

Lyster stayed in this region until August, when on the 9th signals received revealed that he was on the move once more, apparently heading for Gibralter. However, on the 11th { due to confused signals, possibly overhead power cables or magnetic fields} updates were received that placed him close to the Atlantic coast of Morocco, about 20km {12miles} south west of Casablanca. His route appeared to have taken him directly across the Straights of Gibralter. Lyster was second of the cuckoos to take the unexpected south western route into Africa.

By the 27th of August signals revealed conveyed to the Team that Lyster had crossed the Sahara desert and was in northern Senegal, the Team announced also that Lyster's crossing saw all five tagged cuckoos had made the desert crossing safely.

On the morning of the 30th, he had moved over the Senegal River Plain and by 3am was placed 75km away in Mauritania.

September 2011

On the 3rd of September Lyster had moved back southwards to a location on the Senegal River where he settled in an area of reed/paprus swamp and open water. Where he remained until the 12th.

By the 16th a signal showed that he had moved 40km, north west of his previous position towards the border with Mauritania. Lyster remained near Mali for about 15 days.

Burkina Faso



By the 7th Lyster was placed in Burkina Faso. Clement one of the other tagged cuckoos, also stopped in this region back in the middle of August, as he headed east. Lyster remained in this region in the south east corner of Burkina Faso close to the borders with Togin and Benin.

25th, After two weeks in that region Lyster moved to southern Nigeria about 170km south east of Benin City he was 25km east of the River Nigera, about 200km north of the Niger delta.

28th--saw Lyster had decided to leave Nigeria and had traveled along the the western edge of Cameroon, before heading into Gabon and was located in the massive area that is the Congo rain forest. Having stayed for three days in that region the Team received a signal that he had once again moved on and was now in Congo,12km, North west of Ewo.

Common cuckoo in flight


November 2011

On the 3rd of November, Lyster had moved farther south and was now 70km further south east just north of Okoyo near a tributary of the Congo River, making Lyster the second cuckoo to have crossed the equator. However, by the 8th he had back tracked northwards and was once again near Ewo.

Lyster remained in this general area until the end of the month,he was within 80km of Clement. it is interesting that these two cuckoos were tagged within 80km of each other in East Anglia England.

December 2011

17th---Lyster remained in the region of the Congo Rain Forest and for the first time since leaving East Anglia the five tagged cuckoos are now in the same country.

23rd--Lyster is close to Martin and Clement { who came down from Central African Republic a week ago}, on the Teke Plateau, using forest patches in this grassland/mosaic. Despite being the last cuckoo to leave England Lyster was the second {after Kasper} to reach the far south.

The new year--2012

Lyster began his new year in the same location where he saw out the old one. he was content to stay here until February.

February 2012

3rd --The team received a signals that revealed Lyster was on the move 75km{46miles} north east and then a further 46km {29miles}north west. It was revealed that on February the first he was near to Nadzakou { the other four cuckoos, had by this time, moved hundreds of miles north}.

29th--There were once again concerns about Lyster, it had been 13 days since the Team had heard from him. It was thought that he may be under deep cover ' feeding up' which made it difficult to charge the solar panel on his tag.

March and April-2012

5th of March--Lyster once again was discovered to be alive and well, and , the signal received showed that he was in Nigeria, he had moved an incredible 1,940km { 740 miles}, from his last known location and was currently in the Niger Delta.

March 8th-- The team received a series of signals that revealed he was now north of the Digya National Park, around 30km {16miles} south of the cuckoo Kasper.

22nd--the Team announced the sad demise of Clement. They reported that he was alive on the 22nd of February, but the tag temperature reading had dropped and therefore was no longer alive. Lyster remained in Ghana.

27th March--Lyster had made a short journey of 20km {12 miles} into the Digya National Park,which, at that point made him the most easterly of the remaining cuckoos and the only one left in Ghana, where he removed for a total of four weeks.

APRIL -2012

April is the month we expect cuckoos to arrive back in England, however, Lyster seemed content to remain in Africa.

13th--Lyster had been on the move and a signal revealed that Lyster had nearly completed his Sahara crossing. On the 15th Lyster was in Algeria. April 17th, Locations received from Lyster's tag showed that he was now 260km { 160 miles} north east from his previous position and only 80km { 50miles} from the Tunisian border. he appeared to have settled down in a Date plantation. The weather was thought to have been detrimental to movement.

24th Lyster, although still in Algeria, was now near to the coast.

May 2012

Lyster had traveled another amazing mileage in just two days 1,350km { 800miles} and had placed himself in pole position to reach England ahead of the other three tagged birds. A location received on the 27th showed that Lyster was in France about 115km {70 miles} south of Paris. Just two days earlier he was known to be Algeria.


May 2nd-- Lyster was the first tagged cuckoo to make it back to the UK-and the location-just 7km {5miles} from where he was tagged 12 months previously. { I find this fact amazing}. His arrival was greeted by much media attention and he became somewhat of a celebrity.

Lyster-part two Back to Africa?

Our story of is this amazing bird is taken up again in the month of June 2012. He was still in England for the breeding season and on the 5th he was located close to the village of Hempnall in the district of south Norfolk, a movement of 15km {10 miles} from his last known location.

River Chet


June and July

June12th a transmission from Lysters tag shows that he has headed back in the same direction as he came from. He had traveled to the River Chet in an area known as Hadley Floods { A site of special scientific interest}, north east of Loddon. The area consists of shallow lagoons and reed beds which act as a spillway for the River Chet.

June 23rd. Since arriving back in England, Lyster has remained very loyal to the Norfolk broads area. A location received by the Team showed that he was still on the outskirts of Hales, Norfolk 20km { 12miles} from his tagging site. Last year, as we have seen Lyster was the last of the cuckoos to undertake his migration flight, not leaving until the 22nd of July. by the end of June 2012 he was still in England and once again he his the last in England. Two Scottish cuckoos remained in the UK at this point also.

JULY 2012

The team announced that Lyster's second migration had begun.On the afternoon of the 7th, the Team received his last transmission from England. Although the signals were somewhat uncertain as regards there accuracy they pinned him down somewhere in the Champagne-Ardenne region 25km {25miles} north of Troys. North East France.

Vineyard in Ardenne


July continued

15th--Lyster decided not to hang around and continued on wards and the Team received transmissions from the south coast of France,21km { 13miles} south of Montpelier, making him the most southerly cuckoo of all those tagged.

16th, the Team reported that having been close to Montpelier on the 12th Lyster's tag placed him on the Spanish French border 15km { 9miles} east of Andora on the evening of the 14th. Unconfirmed locations suggested that he had continued to migrate and by the end of the night he was 70km {43miles} west south west of there in northern Spain. This confirmed he was taking the same westerly route into Africa as he took last year.

30th--The Team confirm that Lyster was now in Catalonia about 125km {75miles} west of Barcelona. The position suggests this area is a flat irrigated agricultural area, just east of the Town of Lerida, this is approximately 270km, east north east, of Madrid, that he staged in last August before moving on to Morocco.

August 2012

August 3rd---On the afternoon of July 30th Lyster was still transmitting from Catalonia around 130km { 80 miles } west of Barcelona. Around 3am on the morning of August 1st the Team received an unconfirmed position which placed him travelling south over the Balearic sea, and, a matter of hours later, a signal received showed that Lyster had made land in Algeria

This last transmission placed him right on the coast close to Sidi Ghiles, a Town and Commune in Tipaza Province in northern Algeria. The distance travelled was estimated to be 570km { 353 miles} south-south west from his previous position. the locations received did not make it clear whether he had crossed directly from his position in Barcelona or that he had travelled south through Spain to minimise the sea crossing, or had he possibly rest up on one the Balearic Islands.

August 7th-- A series of locations spanning the period from the early hours to mid morning on the 6th, all placed him in the desert of Southern Mauritania. he did not seem to have moved significantly however, he had progressed 570km { 353 miles } south south west from his previous position late on the 3rd.

The Team expected him, at this point of his journey, for Lyster to have continued his migration during the hours of darkness, rather than staying in that location which is far into the desert and there did not appear to be much vegetation in that region. The temperature of his tag did not indicate any cause for concern, it was then a matter of wait and see!

8th---The team received several locations for Lyster and all revealed him to be in the same area of desert in Mauritania that he was in over night on the 5/6th. The fact that he remains in this very barren part of the desert was still causing concern, but the best quality locations received showed that he was moving around. Perhaps he had found a surprisingly reliable source of food in this sparse vegetation area-or was he to weak to move on? Jis tag was due to start transmitting on the 10th.

16th--The Team had received no signal from Lysters tag, so they could not confirm whether Lyster had completed his crossing or he was still in the desert. Although this was worrying Lyster had gone long periods without a signal previously.

20th August--DOES NOT LOOK GOOD FOR LYSTER.----Latest news from the tracking Team is a case of no news may be bad news for Lyster. there has been no transmissions since the 8th., and there is no sign that the satellite tag is charging, and the tag was very low when transmissions ceased. The Team believe he is still in the sparse area of desert where there is thought to be little in the way of food or shelter.

September 2012 Is this Lyster's last month of life?

September 6th--The concerns over Lyster have not diminished as there has been no signal from his tag since August 8th. In fact the Team have concerns over three other cuckoos that have taken a westerly route into Africa. The tags of these cuckoos are showing temperatures related to night and day rather than body temperatures which suggest they have perished.

It is thought that all the cuckoos that have taken the westerly route have had difficulty finding good foraging areas towards the south west?


6th---the latest reports at this date say that there is still no signal from our cuckoo. The wild fires that spread through parts of Spain, a result of chronic drought, may have not affected the birds directly, but they could have destroyed many of their habitats where the birds would normally 'fatten' up before moving on to cross the vast desert.

Lyster took the westerly route as stated, and Catalonia , one of his stopover stages in July were affected by the fire and Lyster was known to have gone to irrigated farmland at that stage instead of using the montane habitat he used last year. Perhaps he failed to 'fatten up' enough to make the full desert crossing.

13th September 2012-- there has been no signals from any of the cuckoos that have taken the westerly route into Africa. The sad fact is they must now all be presumed to have died. It leaves just one cuckoo left alive of the five that were originally tagged in England. This cuckoo took the easterly route and is now alive and well in Chad.

I am going to miss my friend Lyster who I have followed courtesy of the Tracking Team for 15 months. It seems a sad demise for such a spirited bird. I can only pray, that there is a fault with the tag and that somewhere he remains in good health in the rain forests of Congo, but alas,I think it is wishful thinking on my part.

Is this Lyster's last location ?

This barren desert scene could be reminiscent of where Lyster lost his final plight. ?
This barren desert scene could be reminiscent of where Lyster lost his final plight. ? | Source


I hope you have shared with me my admiration for Lyster. One English cuckoo, Welsh and Scottish cuckoos are still active and their journeys can be followed by visiting the BTO website at once on the site click on Tracking Cuckoos to Africa and back.

I would like to express my thanks to the British Trust for Ornithology and to the Tracking Team without whom this hub would not have been possible.

Finally thank you for reading it.


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi Brenda,

      Nice to see you here and for leaving your usual kind and appreciated comments. Best wishes to you.

    • Joy56 profile image


      5 years ago

      wow it is amazing that people go to such lengths to understand about migration, and birds,.... We need to know these things are going on, it warms the heart. Thanks for taking the time to enlighten us.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      agvulpes, Thank you for taking the time to read about this amazing journey of Lyster. Sadly it looks as if Lyster has perished in the desert of Mauritania. I will be sponsoring another cuckoo next spring so hopefully I will have other hubs on the Subject. best wishes to you.

    • agvulpes profile image


      6 years ago from Australia

      What amazes me about these birds is that they seem to know exactly where they are heading. How on earth did Lyster know how to get back 'home' ? That is some tracking device.

      The millions of dollars spent on the tracking device implanted could not track Lyster 24/7 yet he managed to do the job very well by just using his own resources. That is some bird and I admire him greatly and I too hope that he is OK and it is 'your' device that has failed :)

      btw Great Hub it has been a great read and I look forward to the updates.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      alancaster149, you may be absolutely right, however, I think he just ran out of fuel and could not continue with the final crossing. Thank you for taking the time to read and for leaving your comments. Best wishes to you.

      Nettlemere, The BTO have put a lot of effort into this project and other cuckoos are still active and being tracked. It seems that the birds that took the easterly route { France, Italy etc } are fairing much better and have arrived in Africa safely. Their continuing progress can be monitored at the BTO website. Best wishes to you.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      6 years ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      Lyster was probably knackered. We usually take a plane for long-haul flights. He was under 'muscle-power'! (What you might call 'flighty'). Sad end for a bird. It might be he stayed in the area too long and one of the nomads caught him in a net for food along with a few others after watching his movements.

    • Nettlemere profile image


      6 years ago from Burnley, Lancashire, UK

      That was really interesting. Even with the amazing satellite tracking of individual birds we're still a long way from understanding cuckoos and the reason for their demise. It's a fascinating study. I hope they get enough information to safeguard cuckoos before it is too late. Pinned


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