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Friday, July 14, 2006

The Shannon Callows

The Corncrake Crex crex is globally endangered. In the British Isles its remaining strongholds are the western isles of Scotland and the north-west coast of Ireland. In central Ireland there is a small remnant population of perhaps 20 pairs surviving in the Shannon Callows. A "callow" is part of the winter flood area of the River Shannon which form wet meadows in summer and a good habitat for breeding Corncrakes. The main reason for the sharp decline in Corncrakes is modernisation of farming methods, especially the use of machinery to cut hay.

David looks out over his study site in the Shannon Callows

Friend, colleague and Maalie Courtier David Watson is employed by Birdwatch Ireland to participate in their Corncrake Conservation Project . His role is not only to survey and pinpoint Corncrakes on territory, but to persuade farmers to sign up to a "Corncrake-friendly" mowing regime, leaving mowing as late as possible, retaining margins around the field and mowing from the centre out. These provisions allow young Corncrakes an escape route during mowing and more details are found here.

I arrived by Ryanair from Liverpool to Shannon on 6th July and was met by David and taken to Banagher, in the heart of the Shannon Callows area. Without delay we set off for a known Corncrake territory and sure enough it wasn't long before we heard the onomatopoeic rasping "crex crex" call coming from the meadow. But they are nearly impossible to see on account of their secretiveness.

During the week we able to visit a number of other sites in the district. The Burren is a unique area of limestone supporting a huge diversity of plant and insect life. We were fortunate to see a Grayling butterfly there.

Looking for interesting plants among the clints and grykes of the Burren limestone pavements

The spectacular Cliffs of Moher had a number of breeding seabirds including Fulmar, Guillemot, Razorbill and Kittiwake, with Choughs, Peregrine and Gannet and Manx Shearwater out to sea.

Viewing breeding seabirds on the the spectacular Cliffs of Moher

A trip into the Slieve Bloom Mountains on a gorgeous sunny afternoon found us a Dipper on the Silver River at Cadamstown, celebrated with a cool pint of Guinness at a pub overlooking the river.

On two occasions I was priveliged to accompany local bird-ringers Kevin Collins and Alex Copland in ringing trips where a range of passerine species (including Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Blackcap, Treecreeper and Coal Tit) were examined in the hand.

With time running out towards the end of my week, we decided to visit the Callows once more at dusk. As we edged towards a singing Grasshopper Warbler, a Corncrake began its rasping call only feet away from us. Astonishingly, the bird broke cover and flew a short distance and we were able to glimpse this rare and mysterious secretive bird.

The Old Fort Restaurant at Shannonbridge
On the final evening Dave and I treated ourselves to a splendid meal in the Old Fort Restaurant at Shannon Bridge followed by refreshment at S. Lyons pub in Banagher. Walking home at midnight in calm clear weather, we heard the call of a final Corncrake way over on the callows – a fitting conclusion to my trip.

A total of 92 bird species were recorded:
01. Rook; 02. Black-headed Gull; 03. Starling; 04. Hooded Crow; 05. Jackdaw; 06. Woodpigeon; 07. Swallow; 08. Greenfinch; 09. House
Sparrow; 10. Mute Swan; 11. Swift; 12. Greylag Goose; 13. Grey Heron; 14. Sand Martin; 15. Grey Wagtail; 16. Pied Wagtail; 17. Magpie; 18. Starling; 19. Chaffinch; 20. Lesser Black-backed Gull; 21. Mistle Thrush; 23. Chiffchaff; 24. Wren; 25. Song Thrush; 26. Spotted Flycatcher; 27. Blue Tit; 28. Great Tit; 29. Goldfinch; 30. Sparrowhawk; 31. Collared Dove; 32. House Martin; 33. Stock Dove; 34. Meadow Pipit; 35. Whinchat; 36. Robin; 37. Blackbird; 38. Sedge Warbler; 39. Reed Bunting; 40. Bullfinch; 41. Skylark; 42. Linnet; 43. Redpoll; 44. Willow Warbler; 45. Goldcrest; 46. Mallard; 47. Stonechat; 48. Shelduck; 49. Herring Gull; 50. Cormorant; 51. Common Gull; 52. Sandwich Tern; 53. Wheatear; 54. Curlew; 55. Great Black-backed Gull; 56. Shag; 57. Guillemot; 58. Gannet; 59. Manx Shearwater; 60. Kittiwake; 61. Fulmar; 62. Razorbill; 63. Puffin; 64. Raven; 65. Chough; 66. Peregrine; 67. Dunnock; 68. Long-tailed Tit; 69. Common Tern; 70. Little Grebe; 71. Blackcap; 72. Great Crested Grebe; 73. Moorhen; 74. Coot; 75. Tree Pipit; 76. Yellowhammer; 77. Snipe; 78. Pheasant; 79. Water Rail; 80. Kestrel; 81. Coal Tit; 82. Treecreeper; 83. Grasshopper Warbler; 84. Marsh
Harrier; 85. Corncrake; 86. Whitethroat; 87. Redshank; 88. Lapwing; 89. Dipper; 90. Barn Owl; 91. Kingfisher; 92. Long-eared Owl.