The lure of the crake

Last night I met and worked with the font of all knowledge. Corncrake knowledge that is. And of other bird species knowledge too. But we only need to think about corncrakes right now. Professor Rhys Green. The most scientisty scientist that I’ve met so far.

I took him to locations on the Nene Washes reserve where I knew there to be male corncrakes calling from each night.
Equipped with a lure tape (corncrake recording), mist net (a special bird catching net), and dozens of apparatuses that Rhys designs and makes specifically for the job, we managed to catch five male corncrakes.

The aim is to set up the net in-between the crake and the crake recording. The crake hears what he presumes to be another male calling close by within his territory and comes forth to challenge him.
Some take a while to lure. Some are in the net within seconds. Some take their time and creep forward cautiously (under the net). One was sneaky and appeared within a few feet of the tape lure before he responded vocally. And one was extremely angry and continued to call whilst in the net and whilst Rhys untangled him from said net.

All the boys we caught were yearlings and had a silver ring on their legs. The unique reference number on each ring will tell us who each bird is – age, sex, where he’s been (if he’s been caught and recorded previously), where he was released, which zoo bred him, and who his parents were! They were all very probably released here, as part of the reintroduction programme, on RSPB Nene Washes. Since then, they’ve migrated to western Africa, then again mid winter to the Congo, and then back to Cambridgeshire recently. Amazing!

We didn’t last night, but if we caught one with no ring, this would indicate that he was wild born. Catching one of these guys would be an extra bonus because that would signify that the captive bred released females are also doing what they should.

The males are calling for females, who arrive a tad later than the males, saying “here I am, come make baby corncrakes with me!”. Their calling also advertises to other males “this is my territory, go find your own”.

Due to the nature, behaviour and lifestyle of the birds, we can only survey for male corncrakes and make a guestimate of the population from those numbers. That’s what I do on any pleasant weathered night. I locate the calling males, using my ears, and record their exact location using GPS and compass triangulation methods (or just walk to within a metre or two of the bird and take his exact GPS reading. Oh if only they were all that obliging!
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About Olivia N Masi

From art college drop-out, to office space-planner, to back-packer, to air stewardess, to brolly babe, to model agent, to wildlife conservationist. How? I've always believed in jumping at every opportunity that comes my way. This has taken me along some bizarre career paths. None of which I regret. I have been to amazing places and met fascinating people. And having worked in the motor sport industry I've sadly experienced too many beloved friends take one adrenalin step too many. I think of them always. I've hung out with pop-stars, sports personalities, and millionaires. I reached a point when nothing but VIP would do. And then something happened. My pops passed away and I felt the need to reconnect with my Italian side. Whilst in Italy, I learnt to be resourceful, to recycle everything, to listen to the valley, to grow my own veg, to catch and tame feral cats, and to follow my heart. My heart led me to a desire to save this beautiful Earth, and all the wonderful life upon it. And so I read, and then I studied with the Open University. I suddenly found myself accepted on a BSc in Wildlife Conservation, having left school with pitiful qualifications. So here I am. A qualified Wildlife Conservationist. A scientist I suppose. I love nothing more than to listen to birdsong, and watch, learn and photograph wildlife. So here is to me getting the perfect job where I can contribute to saving one of Earth's beautiful species. Do I miss the glamour of the old life? The VIP lifestyle? The petrol-head adrenalin? The buzz of being a successful business owner? Only occasionally. Though it seems more like the distant dreams of a previous life.
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