Baillon's Crakes on territory in Yorkshire


A surprising sighting of two Baillon's Crakes feeding together on the edge of a small pool on a private marsh in East Yorkshire on 21 June, with one heard singing that evening, led to hundreds of hours of observation over the summer.

With the birds feeding side-by-side and likely female Baillon's Crake calls heard in the area afterwards, it seemed probable that at least one pair was on site.

Two males were heard about 90 m apart on 25 June and both were heard singing intermittently until 17 July, after which the second male was never detected again. Sightings of a lone bird continued in the original area until 29 July.

This Baillon's Crake on the Saltee Islands in Co Wexford was part of the 2012 influx (Ciaran Cronin).

Baillon's Crake has a wide global distribution spread across four continents. Its European distribution is patchy, reflecting a contraction in range since the 1800s, when it even bred regularly in Britain. A recent increase in records includes a memorable influx of 11 males in the summer of 2012.

Spreading the news to the birding community was considered. The RSPB's species protection department advised that news should only be disseminated if an organised viewing scheme could be arranged. Unfortunately, the site manager could not accommodate this and the only alternative viewpoint, a nearby public footpath, did not offer any chance of hearing, let alone seeing, the crakes.

In order to avoid trespass to the site and disturbance to the birds, it became clear that their presence had to be kept quiet.

Further observations to prove breeding could not be made in the key month of August due to an incident at the site which led to all access being withdrawn.

Mark Eaton, Rare Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP) Secretary, said: "The RBBP is supportive of birdwatchers and other members of the public being able to see (or, in the case of secretive crakes, more likely hear) rare breeding birds whenever possible – such as the widely publicised and much enjoyed breeding by Bee-eaters in Norfolk this year. However, this should only be in cases where this can be done without detriment to the birds in question, or indeed other wildlife at the same site.

"Deliberate interference can occur from egg collectors or by those intent on their persecution. Incidental disturbance can also occur from birdwatchers and bird photographers, and this may be a growing problem for the welfare of rare breeding birds. Our guidance on the reporting of rare breeding birds urges birders who are fortunate enough to find rare breeding birds to consider whether sharing news is in the best interest of the birds before doing so.

"This guidance includes a list of species we consider especially vulnerable, and we suggest that no records of these species in circumstances suggestive of breeding or potential breeding are shared in the public domain during the breeding season, unless public viewing has been arranged. Baillon's Crake is on this list, and as the account clearly explains it was clearly not possible to arrange access or satisfactory public viewing at this site. Whilst some may be disappointed at not being able to see or hear these birds, we fully support the decision not to release news of these birds."

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