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                                                                                        And so it began,

The hunt for the elusive one

Crex Crex Crex Ceex Crex Crex Crex Crex

crexcrexNot many have ever heard the corncrake, let alone seen one. Younger generations some of whom never heard of the corncrake, may not get the opportunity to, unless the awareness of their existence is heightened.

Sarah a good friend from England with roots firmly grounded in Mayo contacted us to se if we were interested in joining her in the hunt.

The excitement was building for two weeks before the adventure began. We searched the net for information, viewing the birds and listening to their call, we were not going to mistake it for any other. Last year 162 pairs were recorded throughout Donegal, West Connaught, and the Shannon Callows. Due to ongoing management work numbers are increasing in Inishbofin and other areas. We know that six pairs were heard calling in Inishbofin last year. This years flooding of the Shannon's banks will not be good for declining numbers. So Inishbofin was the obvious destination for us.


We spoke about the corncrake to all who would listen, most never heard one, a shepherd just outside Kenmare Co. Kerrry told me that while he had not heard one for years, in times gone by, the call of the corncrake used to keep the family awake with the male's crek-crek tireless call throughout the night. The Corncrake (Crex Crex)likes to nest in meadows or long grass and with the increasing use of cutting machines to make hay and silage, the small bird (30cm high) was out run. Farmers were, and are still offered a grant to leave the cutting till late summer and to cut from the center of the field out, to allow the birds time to run to safety.


Recording of the corncrake


The Corncrake migrates to Africa in September and comes to Ireland and England in May. It is a shy bird and as it runs through the long grass is seldom seen. It has sandy brown plumage with chestnut on it's wings and dangles his legs in flight.


The day approaches and Sarah arrived into Kerry airport on Sunday night. We began the adventure with an overnight stop in Kenmare close by the waters of Killary harbour. The tigin (camper van) is just the ticket when we're on the move. It can sleep five and fits into a small space. We drank wine, talked Corncrake talk, and played cards. We taught Sarah Switch , she taught us Cheat ( Jimmy lost as he over cheated). It was a getting to know you time as it was a first meeting for myself and Sarah. It was a good fun night with lots of laugh's and wet seaweed in my side of the bed ( don't ask!!!!). Next morning Monday we set off for Cleggan to catch the 11am ferry to Inishbofin. We rang ahead a few days previous to enquire if Molly could travel with us as she is such a big part of our everyday magic

So all four aboard for the island. The crew of six were very friendly and welcomed us, especially Molly on board. They told of a swim race to Inishbofin each year (8miles). A local lad held the title until a young girl came from Africa and beat his record by knots. He experienced a lot of cajoling by the locals. Last year he came back and reclaimed his title as he had spent the year in training.The ferry also brings supply's to the island so vans were on the pier off loading their contents ( milk bread etc.) Inishbofin is situated off the coast of west Connemara. It is 5.5km long and 3km at it's widest point. It has been inhabited as far back as 8000-4000 bc.


The rain was beating down as we set sail with our tent and wet gear. Jimmy promised sunshine on the island, and sure enough as the island came into sight the rain passed and the sun appeared. The ruins of the old prison barracks lies lonely in the harbour. It was used to imprison priests from all over Ireland. The story goes that some of Cromwell's men chained a Bishop to a rock at low tide and left him there to drown as the water rose. Bishop's rock still lies at the mouth of the harbour.




Along the road we came across check point charlie, not sure if we would be allowed pass as the eye was on us..Passports in order we moved on Next stop Doonmore hotel (Murray's)where we had a beautiful dinner served with a genuine welcome.







Full now we set off for the west side of the island as it is the uninhabited side. We found the perfect spot (Royal Oak Cove) with good shelter and access to the sea down a steep cliffside. We explored this side of the Island where the bunny's played in the afternoon sun, safe in the knowledge that Mr. Fox hasn't yet made the 8ml swim. Sheep grazed every inch of grass so the Corncrake would have no hiding place here. Later in the afternoon in Cloonan's grocery and post office, an islander said that only yesterday he had heard two calling birds on the east end . After taking some sun and a quick dip in the cooool Atlantic waters we decided to move the tent east as we are aware that after dark is a good time to hear them call. By now we have covered most of the island


Just as we set the tent up beside St.Colman's cemetary, the rain returned so we settled for the night. Our two man tent was perfect for all including Molly who was having her first night under canvas. We slept through the rain and next day not knowing the time (no phones no watches) we packed up to search for the elusive one. It rained so heavy that we did not expect to achieve our goal, but after just a short walk we stopped in our tracks in disbelief!!! Crex Crex were we hearing things? even Molly seemed to hear Crex Crex. As we moved closer, hearts beating faster, excitement in our voices, there it was again... Crex Crex. Louder and closer this time. The call so near now but the grass so long that we could not see him. Then we heard a second one calling but more distant, Crex Crex. We had binoculars, camera, mini disk recorder at the ready, if you click the link you can hear him call through the beating rain.


What a feeling.... it was like the arrival of Santa, the surfacing of Fungi as we waded through the water near Dingle '96, seeing Moose for the first time, walking on a frozen lake, it's the wow factor....

Now it's time for food . Again to Murray's this time the welcome from Alice even for Molly who sat soaked in the corner was second to none.We dried off in front of the open fire, ate our dinner and listened to the beautiful voice of Andrew Murray on his CD, Hell and High Water which we are currently trying to track down a copy of, ( it was sold out on the island).

"We will be back"



t was time to leave, we were full of Corncrake excitement as we arrived back to Cleggan pier and the little Tigin. Later it was time to create three corncrakes of our own, so some painting fun ensued.

Next day it was time to release one of the rare multicoloured Crex back to the wilds of Brighton. Sorry to see her fly away but happy in the knowing that new adventures are awaiting just around the corner.

Crex! Crex! Crex In Search of the Corncrake

It was a wet mid-May mornin

When we took off from Cleggin Pier

Hoping to hear a small brown bird shout


Him having travelled in from deepest Africa

To make our acquaintance on the isle of Inishbofin.


We searched him on the west side

We searched him on the east

We dreamt him in our wind blown dreams

Nothing but a blackbird, and a magpie gave a squawking cry

Then - just as we were to turn back in the thick drop downing rain -

There he was! - or so he wasn't

Being invisible in the long lush flower scattered grass -

But not to our ears as crex crex crex (61 times)

He boldly proclaimed and we stood transfixed

Arrived pilgrims, oblivious to rain.

Sarah Frances Duffy

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