Thursday, 10 July 2014

Scottish Odyssey 2014 ~ The Crex-Crex of the Corncrake

"... a summer noise among the meadow hay…" 
John Clare

Corncrake making its 'Crex- crex' song. Photo credit: © David Gill 2014

I have a new 'lifer' on my bird list. David and I were on Skye two weeks ago, watching Corncrakes!

Yes, we actually saw two Corncrakes, one in flight and the other some distance away from the first in long vegetation. These birds have been given Red conservation status by the RSPB. They were far more prevalent in the past before updated agricultural practices began to interfere with the Corncrake habitats. You can read about the legal protection of this species here.

Many folk in the islands off the west coast of Scotland will have heard the distinctive 'crex-crex' sound, but few will have seen these shy birds in recent years. After our Skye sightings we kept a sharp eye open on Iona, but failed to spot any more. We knew they were close by as several males were calling loudly.

We sent this iPad audio recording of a male Corncrake, with David's photo, to the RSPB, along with details of the Corncrakes we saw and heard ... It may take a few seconds to load on this page.

Photo and audio credit: © David Gill 2014, used with permission

Corncrakes are fascinating birds. Unlike most members of their bird family - the Coots, Water Rails and Moorhens - they rarely inhabit wetland landscapes, preferring meadows with long grass and wild flowers and fields in which the crops have reached a decent height for cover.

Each winter the birds migrate to the grassy plains of sub-Saharan Africa and each spring they make the long journey to the islands off the west coast of Scotland.

My photo ... you can see how hidden the Corncrake was. Photo shot with zoom lens.

Male Corncrake singing. Photo credit: © David Gill 2014

Deep in the foliage ...

... with one eye peeping out. Photo credit: © David Gill 2014

Corncrakes breed in their first year, with the female incubating the clutch of about ten eggs while the male moves on to mate with another partner. I was given the impression that the Corncrake is a bird who loves to skulk away from the limelight, so I was not surprised to discover that nests are laid low on the ground in the middle of areas covered by vegetation.

The Corncrake is also known as the Landrail. You might like to read this RSPB blog post by Mark Avery - and the rest of John Clare's poem, The Landrail, which features in it ...

Recommended reading
  • Corncrakes by Rhys Green and Heather Riley (Scottish Natural Heritage, 2005 edition)

Website suggestions


eileeninmd said...

Looks like a cool bird. Congrats on your lifer. Awesome photos.. Happy weekend!

Crafty Green Poet said...

wow those are impressive photos! The corncrake is such an elusive bird, even in the plaves where it's still found. We've heard them in the Wstern Isles but never seen them.

A long time ago (a couple of centuries?) they were found in Edinburgh

Lucy Corrander Now in Halifax! said...

Imagine having a voice so much like a creaking door. 'Corncrake' is a lovely word. 'Landrail' is too - but it gives a different impression.

Jim said...

Congratulations on the lifer Caroline.
I'm quite jealous, as I have not managed to see a Corncrake yet.
Maybe I'll get the chance on next years Scotland visit.