Special Moments in Ballyliffin
At the end of March I wrote a blog inspired by an Earnest Jordison who wrote of his experiences of Dublin during the 1916 Easter Rising.
In his small piece, he recounted hearing Corncrakes around the small country villages of Coolock and Killester in north Dublin. At the time, it reminded me that it was almost six years since I’d heard a Corncrake in Ireland. In fact, I was wrong…it was the summer of 2009 when I’d last heard one.
So, I set a new resolution for myself (ourselves, as Hazel was very keen to experience Corncrakes too). It was simple…we would go to Donegal for a few days to hear Corncrakes.
The first offensive
Late in the first week of May we headed off towards the stunningly beautiful Inishowen Peninsula. It really is breathtakingly beautiful…worth a visit if you’ve not been there before. Corncrakes had been heard elsewhere in Donegal and, as we set out, news of two calling birds at the pier at Magheroarty offered real hope of success on Malin Head.
The weather was great as we drifted north into Donegal and our expectations were heightened by the news that up to eight birds were calling on Tory Island. There was no doubt in my mind; we were going to hear and, hopefully, see, a Corncrake. We had all of the sites of the calling birds from last year and we began our vigil.
Lets put it this way…we spent four days and four nights in search of Corncrakes. Not one was heard. We were defeated but not beaten.
The second offensive
So, a second offensive was planned. We once again concentrated our efforts on Inishowen instead of Tory (my stubbornness kicked in as I felt going to Tory was admitting defeat!). We had been informed that a bird had been heard at the small coastal town of Ballyliffin and so we based ourselves there.
Friday, 20th May was a wet and wild day. Torrential rain made it pointless to even try looking for Corncrakes. We tried but we failed.
However, as the evening wore on, the rain eased off and eventually stopped. The wind dropped and it seemed that this was an omen. With renewed energy we traveled along the road beside the grassy fields that led down to beach. All was silent until…’kerrx kerrx' blasted from a nearby field. It was so close that the call almost vibrated into our bones.
We walked very carefully up to the sound and there, standing on a ditch overlooking the road and his field, was a wonderful Corncrake in all his glory. It took our breath away. He sat up on his ditch and threw his voice in all directions. He was no more than three metres from us…and didn’t care.
We stood barely breathing for what seemed an hour until a passing car disturbed these special moments. He flew off the ditch and into the field out of view. We stood for a long time just taking in this special sound.
Later that night we counted at least three Corncrakes calling from the fields at Ballyliffin. We also found just one bird at Malin Head.
Why they are so late coming to Malin is not understood. I can only hope that the birds from last year eventually make it up there.
Inishowen is a beautiful place made all the more spectacular by the sounds of calling Corncrakes. We have already decided that we will be back again.
In the meantime, I wish every single Corncrake that makes it to Ireland a successful breeding season ahead.