Corncrakes on the Nene Washes

Last Thursday I was invited to help with the corncrake re-introduction project on the Nene Washes in Cambridgeshire. The project is run by the RSPB in partnership with Whipsnape Zoo, Pensthorpe Conservation Trust and Natural England. Corncrakes went extinct in England during the middle part of the 20th century having previously been a common feature of lowland hay meadows. Today in the UK they only survive in the Western Isles and parts of Northern Ireland.

In 2003 RSPB began a project to re-introduce corncrakes to the Nene Washes.

Corncrake drive
The purpose of the work on Thursday was to ‘drive’ one of the washes in an attempt to catch some corncrakes so that they could be ringed. This involves creating a line of people who drag a rope across the wash whilst making a lot of noise!

Corncrake netting
Mid way down the field is an zig-zag net fence which contains a four traps where the driven corncrakes can be caught

Tractor flush
We also used an mp3 player and speaker which produced the sound of a tractor which apparently encourages the birds to flee – it was very very loud. Corncrakes tend to scuttle through the long grass towards the traps opposed to taking to the air and flying away. Wet ditches delineate the edges of the washes and the corncrake don’t cross these either.

Sneezewort
The Nene Washes consist of hay meadows and fen communities – here is a patch of sneezewort.

CorncrakeUnfortunately despite carrying out 2 drives we didn’t catch or see any corncrakes – in previous years many birds have been caught and ringed – here is one from 2015 (courtesy of Steve Brayshaw). Earlier in the season between 18-21 singing males were recorded.

Cattle egrets
Despite no seeing any corncrakes we were lucky enough to see 5 common cranes, a number of marsh harriers, a couple of hobby, a wood sandpiper and a couple of  cattle egret.

Cattle egretThe yellow bill and the dark legs  tell us it is a juvenile

A good day out helping with an important project – thanks to the RSPB corncrake team and Charlie Kitchin the reserve manager who showed us around.

One thought on “Corncrakes on the Nene Washes

  1. Pingback: Contrasting the fortunes of red kites and corncrakes – A Dartmoor and Devon blog

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