25 April 2013

Corncrake Whitesands, St Davids Hd

A gloomy, misty morning and the 25th April didn't promise much but it was an opportunity to see if the Western Subalpine Warbler and the Woodchat Shrike were still there - they were. However before getting out onto the headland I followed a Wheatear in an area of scattered brambles, grass and rushes, managed for shooting. As I scanned with bins I noticed another bird at the edge of rank grass along a fenceline about 100 metres away. I was stunned when 'Corncrake' sprung immediately to mind. I made myself be sensible and think through other options. It's brown with darker even lines lengthwise along body (just brown at that distance - grey not visible) so not a Moorhen and not bobbing tail like Moorhen or Water Rail. Tail is stubby, and just looks brown too. Bill is definitely short, sort of triangular. Definitely not a Water Rail then, though similar slender long-necked shape at times. Spotted Crake? Only if an autumn juvenile, the only spring bird I've seen was bright, and the way it's moving is quite different. A juvenile seen two years ago on Tresco, at a distance, was brown in just the same way but methodically moving and feeding quite differently. In the end it just came back to Corncrake again. 

The best bit was that the bird moved along, feeding in the edge of the longer grass for what seemed quite a while. It was completely unaware of me and feeding naturally. The way it behaved was very distinctive and I suspect rarely seen, since it's not mentioned anywhere in the usual books I have access to. The bird would peck at something a couple of times, presumably flies or something on grass stems, then scuttle along a few feet, neck out and giving a strong impression of a rodent as it did so. Then stop, peck at something and off for a little neck-out sprint again. I watched this several times until it was into the longer vegetation and not seen again. It didn't call and this fact and the subdued plumage make me suspect it was a female.

I recall watching an adult and a young bird running/scuttling in a similar way along a pathway in grass, away from me about three years ago, in the Hebrides. That, however was an alarmed or alert bird so not quite the same. Other times I've stood within feet of a calling Corncrake and not been able to see it so I feel quite privileged.

Later view of site, minus Corncrake

Corncrake is a WRP bird, Pembs records since 2000 follow:

Ramsey 21st September 2001 (SA,RS)
Granston 13th Sept 2002(SDSB)
Skomer 27th Sept 2002 (JGB)
Skomer 21st September 2003 (?)
Skomer 29th September 2008 (DB)
Whitesands, St Davids Hd 25th April 2013 (MYP)


  1. Truly a stunning find Mike. Let the good times roll! I enjoyed your account of its behaviour and I dearly hope that one day I'll experience it for myself.

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