Listen for corncrake on Arran

Most unusually the bird in the open on a wall. Photo Tony Church

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Bird Notes by Jim Cassels

The first report in 12 years of corncrake calling on Arran has been made.

Corncrake is a summer visitor, breeding in Europe and Asia as far east as Western China, migrating to Africa for the northern hemisphere’s winter.

On Arran by the 1980s, this once familiar farmland bird, with its distinctive rasping call, was in decline. The decline continued.

In the 1980s, corncrake was reported each year except 1980. Often there was just a single bird calling but in 1983 three or four birds were reported.

In the 1990s, there were reports of a single bird calling in 1990, 1993 and 1997. In the 2000s, again single records in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Interestingly, the last three were all from the same location.

The last report was one bird calling by Port na Lochan from May 7 to 9 2008 – then silence. The bird had perhaps moved to its remaining heart lands in the Inner and Outer Hebrides.

This year on May 13 an email was received: ‘This month in the early morning whilst I have been checking lambs between roughly five o’clock and seven o’clock I have heard a bird calling from a rashy field. I was not 100 per cent sure it was a corncrake but after watching Landward a few minutes ago it definitely is.’

This is the time of year to listen out for this summer visitor and early in the morning or late in the day are good times to do this.

The systematic name for corncrake is vrex crex , reflecting the male’s krek krek call. This You Tube link is of the male corncrake calling – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ibUsXObZhEg. The sound can carry a long distance. It is repetitive and unique.

Corncrake is mainly found in grassland used to produce hay, particularly moist traditional farmland with limited cutting or fertiliser use. Grassland which is not mown or grazed becomes too matted to be suitable for nesting but crops such as cereals, clover or potatoes may be used.

After breeding, adults move to taller vegetation such as reed, iris or nettles to moult, returning to the hay and silage meadows for the second brood.

Although males often sing in intensively managed grass or cereal crops, successful breeding is uncommon and nests in field margins or nearby fallow ground are more likely to succeed.

If you hear corncrake calling on Arran, I would appreciate it if you would take a moment to let me know ‘where and when’.

Enjoy your birding and keep safe.

Please send any bird notes with ‘what, when, where’ to me at Kilpatrick Kennels, Kilpatrick, Blackwaterfoot, KA27 8EY, or email me at jim@arranbirding.co.uk. I look forward to hearing from you. For more information on birding on Arran purchase the Arran Bird Report, The First 40 Years which includes the annual report for 2019 and visit this website www.arranbirding.co.uk

Typical corncrake, just a head sticking out calling. Photograph: Angela Cassels. NO_B22bird01

Most unusually the bird in the open on a wall. Photograph: Tony Church NO_b22bird02