Corncrake Numbers Sustained This year’s BirdWatch Ireland census of Corncrakes shows numbers have held up following recent increases in the West and Donegal, and while flooding badly affected birds in the Shannon Callows, nationally the population of this endangered species is being sustained. 162 calling male Corncrakes were recorded this year, exactly the same number as last year, with a minimum of 36 in the West, one up on the number found in 2005. There were 108 in North Donegal, up from 104 last year, including 22 on Tory, and 17 in the Callows, down from 23 in 2005 following the flooding this May. Just one Corncrake breeding territory was found outside the three core areas, in Co Kerry. In the West, the first Corncrake of the season was heard very early, in mid April, at Accony, near Louisburgh. The first chicks were reported seen by Pat Gilboy at Annagh, on the Mullet, at the beginning of July, in fields where two male Corncrakes were heard calling. At Blacksod there were 4 calling birds heard between Surgeview and Fallmore, as well as one bird heard in early June on Inishkea South, immediately offshore. Birds were also confirmed on uninhabited and ungrazed islands in Sligo Bay and Galway Bay. The highlight of the Corncrake season in the West was the first Corncrake heard in 15 years on Inishturk, Co Mayo, where one called for a week, and a pair were reported seen, in mid July. Six calling birds were found on each of the Connemara islands of Inishbofin and Inishturbot, and 3 on Omey Island, plus 3 on the adjacent mainland between Cleggan and Claddaghduff. The last one in the West was heard in mid-August at Inishbofin’s East End, where earlier in the season 4 birds could be heard calling against each other over the same few fields beside Rusheen harbour. One of the most interesting records of the season was of a male Corncrake with a damaged voice, which returned to a regular haunt where Corncrakes have been heard for the last 5 years, in the fields of John Tiernan at Doughmakeon, Louisburgh. Making a sound as if it had a whistle caught in its throat, this one could only be identified as a Corncrake by its location – the exact same spot as in previous years, and by the distinctive rhythm of its attempted call – it squeaked rather than rasped. First heard in mid May, towards early June its voice deteriorated to the point where the second half of its call began to sound like a balloon deflating. It was this highly distinctive and unusual call which enabled this bird to be identified again when, having not been heard at Doughmakeon for a week, it was heard at Fallmore, some 45 kms (30 miles) north, in mid June. The movements of this individual show that some Corncrakes can move considerable distances over the course of a season, although most others are known to stay in the same few fields all summer. As in recent years, all of the country’s Corncrakes, excepting the ones on the Shannon, were found within less than two miles of the coast. This is not because they are coastal birds, but because they now only survive at the very margins. In the Callows, the wet weather in May proved disastrous for Corncrakes, all of which were pushed to higher ground as the river levels rose, and then fell silent entirely as even those spots became inundated. Many were not heard at all for the remainder of the season. The floods were not only bad for Corncrakes. All of the nesting waders – Curlew, Redshank, Snipe and Lapwing – had their nests destroyed by the rising waters. Unlike the Corncrake, which usually nests twice during the summer months, waders only nest once, so these birds, which have already suffered steep declines, failed to breed at all this year. The conservation grants offered to farmers to protect Corncrake nesting territories once again proved popular, with 103 landowners or mowing contractors signing-up for the scheme in the West alone. Nevertheless, some breeding attempts were disrupted. The first silage of the season with a Corncrake in it was mown at Cabragh, near Easky, on June 3rd, and other fields, where two calling birds were nesting, were mown on June 8th at Accony and Aghany, South Mayo. Approximately 250 hectares (620 acres) was entered in to the Corncrake grant scheme this year in Sligo, Mayo and Connemara, for Corncrake-friendly mowing and the delaying of mowing or grazing until August 1st or later. The scheme, funded by the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) of the Dept of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, will be continued in the West next year, when it is hoped farmers will also be able to avail of Corncrake habitat management measures through the new REPS 4, or for farmers not in REPS, the new NPW Farm Plan Scheme, which will offer 5 year agreements in selected areas.
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