Thursday, 31 May 2012

The Baillon’s – my part in its finding

After a trip to The Netherlands last summer, I drafted a blog about finding Baillon’s Crake in the UK this year.  I never posted it as it seemed a bit extreme.  What do you know?

In The Netherlands, we looked at some sites created for Purple Herons.  Extensive, shallow wetlands that provide good feeding conditions and will slowly colonise with reed and other aquatic vegetation.   Such areas, of course, attract many other species.  In the early stages, Black-necked Grebes and Spoonbills are likely to appear, but of particular interest was the occurrence of Spotted and Baillon’s Crakes in grassy and rushy habitats after initial flooding.  Bailllons Crakes occur across the Netherlands in low numbers but are very easy to miss and are thought to be more numerous than the figures suggest.  Looking at one of the sites with Baillon’s Crake reminded me of the singing bird in 1999 at Grove Ferry in the early stages of the reedbed habitat creation there.   With only four UK breeding records, are we over-looking them?   Could we manage sites like Grove Ferry to attract more crakes?  A tenner says we could.

Anyway, we decided to add Baillon’s Crake to the national Spotted Crake survey this year. Everyone laughed of course.  Now a Baillon’s has been found on a Spotted Crake survey by Ian Hawkins at Malltraeth.  How many more are out there?

Baillon's typically turns up later in spring in The Netherlands than Spotted; from mid-May until the end of July.  They can breed very late in the season, and have been seen with small chicks in mid-August. The males rattling song, somewhat like a cross between a frog and a Garganey, is best heard during quiet, windless nights.  They may call during rather cold nights, when the Marsh Frogs keep quiet, which is a distinct advantage.  They occupy sometimes surprisingly small marshes with a water table of 10-20 cm, with a vegetation of narrow-leaved marsh plants (typically sedges and low rushes).  When they have young, they will give harsh Magpie-like calls like cha-cha-cha-cha but also loud Blackcap-like ‘tek’ calls.

The Dutch Baillon's site we looked at:

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