A great place to see Corn Crake

Since the first successful breeding of Corn Crakes five years ago on the RSPB Nene Washes, within sight of the outer fringes of Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, local birders have been torn as whether to ‘tick ‘the singing males or not. The conclusion most Cambs birders (and many outside the county) have naturally reached is “who cares”?

After all, the repetitive, scratchy, mechanical, annoying sound of a finger nail rubbed over a comb time and again in endless pairs, is one of the great sounds of the British countryside.

And a evening stroll in May along the Nene Way from Eldernell (east of the village of Coates on the A605) gives you a great chance of hearing this sore-throated virtuoso of the rasp, the anti-lullaby of the Hebrides, in the heart of England. In fact, if you are lucky will hear several, as the success of the repeated releases on the RSPB reserve has meant that when the totals were totted up in 2010, there were some 21 territories in the area. Concentrate your listening to the north of the bank, where the main territory of the RSPB Nene Washes lies.

Evening is already a great time to be out and about in the area, as this is a hotspot for lowland breeding waders, and there should be drumming Snipe, lapping Lapwings and tottering Black-tailed Godwits and Redshanks in display flight. Also, Barn Owls hunt along the banks and nest in nearby barns, and if last year is anything to go by, Cranes may be breeding in the area.

There may also be hunting Kestrels and Hobbies, and singing warblers, including Lesser Whitethroat in the hedges. The bushes near the barns at the car park and near the small lake called Eldernell Pit are a refuge for Tree Sparrows in the area.

Your chances of actually seeing a Corn Crake are minimal, though, as they are amazingly elusive. Even if a bird is singing in the weeds on the near side of the channel called Morton’s Leam, it is almost guaranteed to be invisible. Never make any attempt to see one, except distant scanning, though, as disturbance is the last thing this rare breeding bird needs.

To reach Eldernell, head east out of Whittlesey on the A605 and just east of the village of Coates, turn left along Eldernell Lane and drive about half a mile to reach the car-park (do not pass over the bridge onto the farm land beyond). Pass through the stile and head west for the best chance of hearing Corn Crakes.

Corn Crake on the Nene Washes. By Mike Weedon.