Big thank you from

Could the corncrake really be making a comeback?

by Paul Cormacain

IS it not quite amazing that certain folk keep referring back to the' good old days', and talk about the numbers of corncrakes in and around Belfast, and other population centres Before the Ml was built, there were many corncrakes in the Bog Meadows. In all directions around Belfast the birds were common. When we first moved to Finaghy we used to be able to hear corncrakes from our back garden. How times have changed.

Moving north from Belfast, this year a corncrake was heard on Rathlin Island. It happened on 19th May, in the evening, in the northern part of the island.

Unfortunately, I have no more records of this bird there. Did it stay around for long? It was a male calling for a mate, and the possibility exists that a lady came along quickly and the two became a pair.

On the other hand, if there were no lady corncrakes on the island, the male may have given up and headed towards the south for the coming winter. A possibility exists that it moved west, where a healthy population of corncrakes exits on some of the islands during the summer. Anyone out there know more?

Living in the past again, my brother went a courting in Fermanagh many moons ago. In those days there were many corncrakes in Fermanagh, for he told me about them and I also went to hear for myself.

Now the corncrake population in Fermanagh has crashed, and I have no reports from that county for a number of years. So for Northern Ireland this year there is only a single report of a corncrake, on Rathlin.

Moving west of Fermanagh, there have been a few unconfined reports of corncrakes near Dunfanaghy in Donegal this year. Even further west we have good news, for a change. On Tory Island, off the north coast, a large number of calling males were heard. Thirty two of them were there! Enough research was done to ensure this figure is accurate. It points out that Tory is the single most important corncrake breeding spot on the island of Ireland.

If you go north east from there, the trend is even more hopeful. On the islands on the west of Scotland there are reports of increasing numbers of corncrakes. The question is asked, does the increasing Scottish corncrake population on the islands help the Irish island population? Or is it the other way around? Do they just complement each other?

On another Donegall island, Innis Bo Finne, the corncrake is also doing well. Last year nine males were calling, optimistically expecting females. This year the optimism is expanding, and there were 14 males calling. Does it seem that the Scottish and Irish islands which are sparsely inhabited are the best type of land for the corncrakes? Does this perhaps show us the way to the future?

But then let us move south further into the republic and look at the situation there. The Shannon Callows is internationally renowned as a corncrake breeding area, but numbers have been going down in latter years. Some experts were of the opinion that the Callows birds would not increase in numbers. The fact is that the number of calling males was 22 last year, and this year there was no change. Again there were 22 birds.

This is not good, but on the other hand it is not bad either. You could be super optimistic and say that the decline in Shannon Callows numbers has been arrested. Off County Mayo there is a Clare Island. There have been no corncrakes on this island for a quarter of a century, but this year the bird made a dramatic return. This is good news, or is it perhaps a flash in the pan? Time will tell.

The corncrake is now globally endangered. We must take hope from a calling bird on Rathlin, an increase in Scottish islands birds, and the increasing popularity of some Donegal islands.

We all have our bit to do in encouraging the Scottish and Irish authorities to help the corncrake, give it a welcome and a good home when it comes north in the summer. One of these years the birds will like it so much here that they will spread to the outskirts of our cities and towns. Or am I getting carried away by my own optimism?

Coming Events

Sunday 10th October - A practical volunteer event, search for seeds at Glenarm with the Wildlife Trust, phone Malachy on 4483 0282

Saturday 16th October - RSPB Members' Day at the Greenmount Campus. Talk to the RSPB for more information.

Tuesday 19th October - The Clotworthy Lecture will be held in Clotworthy Arts Centre in Antrim, concentrating on the plants in Crathes Castle garden, with the head gardener, at 730pm.

Monday 25th October - James Orr will talk on Satellite Tracking of Irish Brent, at Lisburn RSPB meeting at Friends' School, at 7.30.

Saturday 30th October - The RSPB initiate a bird feeding frenzy in Feed the Birds Day. Talk to the RSPB on 90491547.

The Lisburn RSPB is having an outing to Strangford Lough and Castle Espie, sounds great, details from David on 4062 6125.

Ulster Star