Last year, during a trip to The Netherlands, we speculated that Baillon’s Crake was being overlooked in the UK, both as a migrant and breeding bird. With fortuitous timing, a national Spotted Crake survey has been undertaken this year and surveyors were asked to listen out for Baillon’s Crake. And one was found! A rapid e-mail to reserve managers to raise awareness of the possibility of Baillon’s resulted in at least 7 singing males at 3 sites across England and Wales, with a possible 2 more at 2 further sites. Crakey!
So is Baillon’s Crake a scarce migrant and rare breeder in the UK rather than a vagrant? Probably, but it is likely that the drought conditions in the Donana region of Spain earlier this year will have prompted more birds to move north looking for favourable conditions. The drought appears to have affected a range of species. We have seen influxes of Glossy Ibis and Black-winged Stilts, as well as Baillon's Crakes, and impacts on the movements of other birds, such as Spoonbills. At least 3 pairs of stilts have attempted to breed in the UK as predicted in an earlier blog. The Netherlands is also having a good year for Baillon's Crakes with at least 30 singing males. However, 2005 was also good in The Netherlands yet failed to produce a record in the UK. Were they overlooked?
Baillon’s Crakes can breed in small areas of suitable habitat; wet, low, tussocky but often open vegetation such as flooded sedges, rushes and grasses. They also seem to like the edges of pools if this year’s birds are anything to go on. Calls are poorly understood. Although the best known is the short Garganey-like rattle of the male, at least 4 different calls have been heard from birds this year. However, calls can be hard to hear in many conditions and they may not call that often! Singing birds appear to be best heard between 22.30 and midnight at least, and with birds in The Netherlands known to arrive late, they may be singing well into July. How many of this year’s birds will return next year?
Typical Baillon's habitat in The Netherlands (Ruud van Beusekom)