Friday, 20 July 2012

Life is worthwhile

After a few days of not feeling on top form I finally woke at 1.45 this morning feeling really bright and breezy.  Notwithstanding which I was still feeling a bit frustrated that I had messed GB about with regard to dinner plans a couple of times this week and had generally been anti-social and not got things done that I had hoped to do.  But all frustrations disappeared completely when I opened the front door and went outside.  It being the Hebrides it was still light enough to see the jetty and the beach and the far headland despite the fairly dense cloud cover.  The wind had died down and in the calm one could hear the sound of the waves falling onto the beach, the piping of Oystercatchers and the high pitched call of a seabird I couldn’t identify.

These alone might have been enough to have made all seem right with the world but then I heard, from a field across the valley, the sound of the Corncrake.

 Picture from RSPB site

To me there is no sound more evocative of the wilds of the Outer Hebrides than the creaking ‘crek, crex’ of the Corncrake.  This is a bird which at one time my mother could hear from her bedroom window in the house in Liverpool where she was brought up. Over the years changed agricultural practices have driven it away and the only places it can still be found in the UK are the most remote parts of Western Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The Corn Crake's breeding habitat is grassland, particularly hayfields, and it uses similar environments on the wintering grounds – which in our case are in Africa. Although it is extremely secretive and hard to see its call carries for miles and has ensured that the Corncrake has been noted in literature, and garnered a range of local and dialect names.

Although numbers have declined steeply in western Europe, this bird is classed as being of Least Concern on the IUCN Red List because of its huge range and large, apparently stable, populations in Russia and Kazakhstan.

 Photo from Wikipedia

Its loud and distinctive call makes it comparatively easy to count and the RSPB reckon there are 1145 calling males in the UK.  I can hear one of them by just leaving my computer and stepping outside.  How wonderful is that.  Yes, life is worthwhile.


  1. Wow, I would be thrilled to hear that bird. Going now to look it up and see if I can hear it on a bird website. Enjoy your time there, sounds like you are!

  2. Glad to hear you are feeling better! And I am sure GB does not hold your messing up his dinner plans and being anti-social against you, nothing of it was your choice, was it!

    Your description of stepping outside at that time of night is very atmospheric, and that's just a short paragraph. If your novel is like that, it will be an immensely great read.

  3. What a thrill to hear the rare corncrake and at such a magical time. The 'smallest' of things can lift one's spirit.

  4. Despite having being able to hear Corncrakes for nearly 40 years I have never yet managed to see one. As for meals: my evening eating habits are so haphazard it really doesn't matter. I only eat 'to order' when people are coming to dinner or people are visiting.

  5. After reading your post I checked the sound of the corncrake. It would be wonderful to hear it in real life. I never have. It does however sound like someone screwing up a wooden screw. Which in itself is a highly distinctive sound, isn't it?

    I am glad you're feeling better!

  6. I have been on the island for just over 7 years so I cannot match GB's long search for that bird but I too have been looking for it - everytime I walk down to the shore. I can hear it alright but never see it. I have come to the conclusion that it really does not exist - a bit like the Loch Ness Monster - and you think you can hear it but it must be imagination!! See - it has driven me mad!

  7. I'm going to have to trawl around to find a website with bird sounds (I know I've found it before) because now I'm very curious about this bird.
    I'm glad you're feeling better today!

  8. What a wonderful post!

    I've never seen or heard a corn crake. I don't think we have them in North America.

    The fact that it stays light so long is one of the attractions of the north in summer. In Alberta, the light lasts until ten or eleven PM, and even in the summer on special nights you can see the northern lights. Of course they are much brighter and more impressive in the winter, when the ground is covered with snow, but in summer you usually don't need a parka!!

  9. Not so long ago (perhaps a few months) I watched a Swedish television nature programme where they were looking (and listening) for this bird. Learned from that that it's a real tease and extremely hard to catch sight of, even when it can be heard. I think they finally got a glimpse but only very briefly.

  10. Such a wonderful place to be I imagine. So glad you began to feel better and are now able to enjoy your visit.


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