It may have been the glorious 12th in August, the traditional start of the grouse season but Senior Ecologist Danny Thomas CEcol was not out on the grouse moors but driving fields closer to home; assisting with the RSPB corncrake project in Cambridgeshire.
The RSPB implemented a reintroduction project of corncrake in England at their Nene Washes reserve near Peterborough in response to the re-establishment of corncrake in England being identified as a priority action in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan.
The project forms part of the ‘Action for Birds in England’ programme, a partnership between Natural England and RSPB, which takes conservation action for the country’s most threatened bird species. Captive bred corncrake reared at Whipsnade Zoo and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust have been released annually since 2003, returning and breeding successfully each year from 2004 having navigated to Africa for the winter. Each spring the reserve is surveyed for calling birds and, in late summer, a team from the RSPB assisted by volunteers attempt to round up some of the birds to mark them with an individually numbered metal leg ring. As a bird ringer, Danny was invited by RSPB project coordinator Hannah Ward to assist with the roundup of birds. The fields are driven in a similar fashion to pheasant or grouse drives but much slower and more carefully as corncrake are very secretive, tending to hide and skulk in the long grass instead of being ‘flushed’. Birds are driven towards a small fence leading into wire traps set at the end. Unfortunately, despite the good weather and the efforts of the team of volunteers they failed to add to the tally for the season although did inadvertently catch a young water vole and a very angry weasel. Regardless of the lack of success on this visit it hasn’t put Danny off and he will be out next season to assist with the project again.