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Baillon's Crake is one of the more unexpected recent additions to our avifauna. Photo: Jason Girvan (
Baillon's Crake is one of the more unexpected recent additions to our avifauna. Photo: Jason Girvan ( image

Baillon's flood in

Posted on: 01 Aug 2012

A national survey for breeding Spotted Crakes has uncovered at least seven singing Baillon's Crakes across England and Wales's nature reserves.

News is emerging that the RSPB and Natural England's follow up to 1999's survey for singing Spotted Crakes - itself a scarce breeding species - has also resulted in uncovering a potentially new British breeding species in Baillon's Crake, at least since a couple of debatable records in the nineteenth century. With only 81 accepted records in Britain so far (though a couple more await consideration by the Rarities Committee), it is usually viewed as a mega rarity by birders. The new information begs the question: have we been overlooking the species' presence in recent years?

It is only in the light of the Spotted Crake survey which took place largely at night, that the singing Baillon's were discovered as they typically sing after 10.30 at night. After the first was heard singing at one of the core Spotted Crake surveying sites, word was quickly put out by the RSPB to its reserve managers across Britain, telling them to be aware of the species and to listen for their calls. Astonishingly, at least eight singing birds were discovered at four sites, along with unconfirmed reports of another. The restriction of these records to the society's own reserves also suggests that others might have been present at other, non-RSPB, reserves.

Suspicions had been raised among birders when a long staying but little observed bird at Malltraih Marsh, Anglesey, had public access withdrawn on 5 June, implying its disappearance or potential status as a breeder; this could well be one of the summering sites once the true facts are known. The unprecedented discovery of a minimum of 21 singing birds in Eelderdiep, Groningen, The Netherlands, and at least 30 nationwide, also raised hopes of an influx to the British Isles. Though details of the sites are currently being withheld, it its rumoured that the singing birds are all north of the Thames, between East Anglia and Wales, and that potential confusion with the calls of Marsh Frog is also unlikely, as most observers are experienced and the records do not overlap with the amphibian species's known range.

It is believed that a long running drought in the Doñana marshes of Spain has caused many Baillon's individuals to move north to find new breeding territories, and the warming of the northern European climate has facilitated this veritable invasion. Baillon's Crake has bred in The Netherlands in recent years, and also has a newly-founded colony of Whiskered Tern in the vicinity. The first record for Latvia on 9 June would also appear to be part of the pioneering Baillon's dispersal.

Low water levels in Iberia appears to be playing havoc with many Mediterranean-region waterbirds. There have been larger numbers of Glossy Ibises wintering and summering in Britain in recent years, and three pairs of Black-winged Stilt have attempted to breed this year. Great Egret had been added to the Anglo-avifauna this spring and Spoonbills have recently colonised Norfolk. birders hopes for a verifiable Greater Flamingo in Britain must have never been higher!

The secretive behaviour, prolonged silence and variability of calls in Baillon's Crake might have meant that the species has been present since the last Dutch invasion in 2005, it has been widely speculated. However, we finally have concrete evidence of yet another addition to our breeding birds, and we can only cross our fingers in the hope that they will return next year.

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