It was one of my Hebridean holiday aspirations to see a corncrake, a secretive little bird, that at one time used to live in our meadow, here in north Derbyshire so Freddy the farmer told me.
Freddy was born around 1920, and farmed from this house until the 1970’s, when during that life time the corncrakes disappeared from our meadow, I don’t know, but I do know that there are now only just over a thousand calling males (and hopefully a similar number of females) in the UK. The birds demise has been a result of changes in farming practice, and the birds reluctance to break cover when the grass is mown, you can guess the rest.
One of the best places to find them is the islands of the Outer Hebrides, where much work is being done to give them the best chance of breeding safely.
One you’ve heard a corncrake, you will know its call forever.
We heard plenty but didn’t see a one. They favour clumps of nettles and long grass. I spent a long time staring at clumps of nettles, knowing the blighters were in there.
They’d lure you in with a call, then fall silent for fifteen minutes or so, then, just as you were starting to think you’d move on they’d give another rasping call.
The best time to see and hear them, is at dusk, or dawn, or just after it has rained. the problem with dusk and dawn in the Outer Hebrides in June, is that dusk is very late and dawn is very early. We heard plenty, especially around four am. I have the badge to prove it.
A calling corncrake is a lullaby I can sleep with.