The joy of Crex

It’s been a busy few weeks here in Shetland, and I’ve some orchid-related good news to share. More of which in due course… but for now, the first instalment from a week-long wildlife tour I led at the start of June.

Amongst all the usual Shetland goodies – seals of both species, several Otters, assorted breeding seabirds and waders, and a good botanical haul – one species stood out for me. Quite literally, as it happened… There’s been a lonely male Corncrake holding territory in the south mainland for some weeks now, and it’s hard not to anthropomorphise this poor lad.

150530 Corncrake FBCorncrakes were once a relatively common breeding bird here in Shetland – back in the days when hay was the animal fodder crop of choice, and not the more convenient but much less Corncrake-friendly mowed silage. Some of the older folk recall being kept awake at night by the birds’ incessant rasping, buzzy call. I like the onomatopoeic Latin name for them, Crex crex… The popular analogy is that the call sounds a bit like someone running their fingernail down the teeth of a plastic comb, and that’s a fairly accurate description. But for the volume… Corncrakes are loud!

This particular bird has held a small pocket of territory in the south mainland and has been calling away incessantly day and night. You’d have to assume, in the absence of regular migrant Corncrakes here these days – they no longer breed annually here – that he’s not been having much joy. He’s a lonely Corncrake…

He’s also proven a showy one – normally these birds are pretty secretive, but this male has had moments of real showmanship when he’s stood unabashed in the open and let rip with that super call. I shared a brilliant hour in his company with a visiting photographer – sat just a few feet away from him while he sang, if that’s the right word, his heart out.

This week there’s another male singing elsewhere in the south mainland beside a friend’s house. Another lonely Corncrake’s looking for love in Shetland. Good luck, fella… and I hope you don’t keep my friend awake at night for weeks. That might mean you’ve found a mate, and that in Shetland would be a rare and good thing.

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