All the pictures above were taken from or in our garden.
It's great to hear the corncrakes calling their rasping "crex crex" again (hence their latin name Crex crex). Hopefully our lovely guests staying in June will enjoy seeing them too.
Corncrakes are members of the "Rail" family and can be secretive, enjoying the cover of tall grasses. They tend to nest in open or seni-open habitats and are associated with grassland which is managed for hay production and here in the Outer Hebrides they nest on the machair. Their diet consists of a variety of insects and seeds. The males tend to arrive in mid April and find their spot to start calling for a mate. They are sequentially polygynous, so once they have successfully mated they move away from the nest and start calling for a second female to mate with.
Corncrakes breed across Europe and central Asia as far east as western China. In the UK they can be found in western Scotland and RSPB Balranald is one of the best places to see them. The female incubates and rears the young in a concealed nest in vegetation. She lays an egg a day in early May, up to 8-12 eggs in total. The incubation period is 16 -19 days and they all hatch at once. The young can leave the nest when they are only a few days old and can become independent at only 10-15 days old, at which point the female may have a second brood.
Historically their numbers declined massively due to a loss in habitat, but they are one of the conservation success stories in the UK. Here at RSPB Balranald the sympathetic management of the machair by the local crofters has been crucial to their recovery. This includes delaying the mowing of the machair until after the breeding season.
In 1993 the RSPB estimated that there were only 480 calling males in the UK. By 2008 this had increased to 1,140 calling males. Hopefully the numbers will continue to increase.
Corncrakes remain on the "red list" of birds of high conservation concern and in the UK have schedule 1 legal protection. It is therefore an offence to take, injure or kill a corncrake or to destroy or disturb the nest in the breeding season.
In August and September our Corncrakes will leave and start their migration to sub-saharan Africa via western France. However, for the next month or so we can enjoy waking to the sound of their calls on gorgeous mornings and enjoy seeing them calling to each other and sometimes fighting from the cottage windows.
During Corncrake season, everything takes so much longer to do around the cottage because we are always rushing outside with the camera whenever they show themselves!