A needle in a haystack

Cranes back on the Somerset Levels

Cranes back on the Somerset Levels

Our success rate of finding cranes on the Somerset Levels has not been great.

In fairness we have seen one… and that was a cardboard cut-out decoy.

So when we heard of Peter’s wish to take his wife out birdwatching to try and see cranes in the wild, we had to lay our cards on the table and say that the chances were not great. You see, Pam is one of the volunteers from WWT Slimbridge who over the years has been helping to foster and raise young crane chicks as part of their reintroduction programme.

So as a birthday surprise her husband Peter booked a Somerset Birdwatching Holiday to try and see ‘Pam’s cranes’ in their new home of Somerset.

No pressure then…

It is well documented that the main breeding site for the cranes is on the RSPB West Sedgemoor reserve which because of the sensitivity of the project is not accessible (not even for Pam). http://www.thegreatcraneproject.org.uk/

There have been other regular sightings around the southern Levels of non-breeding youngsters, which frankly can pop up almost anywhere. We had been given tip-off of a spot where they had recently been seen, and on a recce in advance of Pam’s visit sadly they were nowhere to be seen - perhaps due to the very hot weather we thought they may move around a bit more.

Not put off,  when Pam and Peter arrived we had a great morning introduction to the birds of Somerset on the Avalon Marshes complex - egrets galore, marsh harriers, one bittern and several hobbies.

Needing refreshment we headed to our favourite hostelry south of the Poldens, The King Alfred Inn at Burrowbridge  http://kingalfredinn.com/

Suitably refreshed we headed off in search of cranes.

Well, it can’t be that hard…they are really big birds, aren’t they?

I looked across a huge landscape and thought to myself, this is a needle in a haystack job, you could hide a double-decker bus in this terrain, let alone a handful of cranes.

Our plan was to scan the landscape….well, you never know….in for a penny…

At our first scanning spot, a slightly raised area giving views out over a vast area, apart from a few swallows and some dancing butterflies, nothing was stirring in the bright sunshine. Flies buzzed, and the air shimmered.

Then something caught my eye. A plump grey bird on top of a large manure pile. What’s that? I thought to myself… it’s not a peregrine is it? can’t be… right size … right colours…right shape. Through the shimmering heat haze, my telescope quickly confirmed my possible peregrine falcon was indeed a definite wood pigeon. But wait…. What’s this?

Just beyond the manure pile.

“Bloody hell – I’ve got them!”

As I fine-tuned the focus ring of my telescope a shape of long-legged cranes appeared in the long grass.

“I’ve got them, I’ve got them, I gone and got them.” dancing a small celebratory jig, and punching the air.

“Pam, quick…come and see your cranes”

I could hardly contain my excitement.

What were the chances of that?

Fuke? Luck? or dedication and honed skill?

Whatever, Pam was delighted.

We had terrific views of up to twelve birds, some with white rings on their legs.

They were quietly feeding, and fluttering around showing off their huge wings.

It was another great day out with Somerset Birdwatching Holidays.

Graeme Mitchell