Corncrakes return . . .
It’s the time of the year again when the Corncrakes have returned to Ireland from their wintering grounds in southeastern Africa and the NPWS Corncrake Conservation Project gets up and running again. The project will carry out a census to count all the calling male Corncrakes in the known hotspots in Donegal and West Connaught and offer grants to farmers for late cutting and Corncrake-friendly mowing via the Corncrake Grant Scheme.
This year, the fieldwork in Co. Donegal will be carried out by BirdWatch Ireland. Daniel Moloney is asking anyone who hears a Corncrake in the county to contact him on 085-7398411085-7398411 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible, as early detection of their breeding sites is vitally important. The male Corncrake has a very distinctive loud “Krek Krek” call which can be heard during the day but usually becomes continuous around dusk and will continue throughout the night until dawn.
A calling male Corncrake
(Photo: Colum Clarke)
The male Corncrake does all of this calling and can be heard from early April onwards, with the first bird recorded in Donegal this year on the 21st of April on Inishbofin Island. This is his way of advertising his presence to females and of keeping other males away from his patch. These birds like to stay well hidden in tall vegetation which can be in short supply early in the year, so they will often be heard calling in 'early cover' such as nettles or flag iris, which are tall enough in spring to conceal them. When the grass begins to grow the birds then often move into the meadow. A shy elusive bird, the Corncrake nests on the ground and will have two broods with the first hatching in June and the second towards the end of July and in to August.
The nest is well concealed in tall vegetation with the female doing all the work of incubating and raising the young. She will lay between 8-12 brownish-cream eggs patterned with brown spots that hatch after 2-3 weeks. Chicks are unable to fly until 5 weeks old which means that female Corncrakes and flightless chicks can be present in fields from May until September.
Where meadows are cut early for silage, this is a real problem, as nests and young can be destroyed during the first cut, which is why early detection is important. The Corncrake Grant Scheme offers grants to farmers in return for delayed cutting and all the meadows that are actively farmed within 250 metres of a calling male Corncrake are eligible. The delayed mowing gives these birds a chance to nest twice and for the chicks to grow large enough to escape from danger. Centre-out mowing is part of the Grant Scheme, and means starting to cut from the middle of the field and working outwards. Research into this process has shown that many more chicks will survive if the field is cut this way.
Fieldworkers over the years have been working closely with farmers to ensure the survival of this critically endangered bird and with the hope of this ongoing partnership, Co. Donegal can still be one of the best places in the country to hear the elusive Corncrake.
(Photo: Colum Clarke)
Heritage Council Supports Corncrake Conservation
At the BirdWatch Ireland Reserve at Termoncarragh and on Tory Island in County Donegal, the Heritage Council has been funding a programme of habitat management work to improve habitat for Corncrakes since 2009. This has mostly been through the creation of new areas of early cover and on Tory in particular, numbers of calling males in East Town increased from a just a single pair in 2010 to seven pairs this year. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Heritage Council for this important work.