Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Corncrake, Iona, Inner Hebrides 24th May 2011

Ive been on the isle of Iona today in search of Corncrakes which breed on the island. Ive been retracing my footsteps of two years ago when I came here to photograph them with my family. I was unsuccessful due to the abysmal weather conditions back then, which stayed on the island for the 4 days that we spent up here. Very heavy rain accompanied by extremely strong winds ruined the previous trip to Mull, so Ive returned to have a more successful trip.
I arrived on Mull 2 days ago, and hoped to travel over to Iona yesterday, but again, as happened two year back, the storms had arrived and cancelled all the ferries to and from the island.
Whilst waiting in Fionnphorts waiting room yesterday, I met some other East Lancs birders, Glenn and Ian Hodkinson, Mark Jones and Jonathon Slater (Budgie) who were all trying to get over to Iona. They have been good enough to offer me some accommodation whilst on Mull, at Killunaig near Pennyghael which I duly accepted and very thankful for. Last nights 'sleep'?? in the car at Fidden was ruined by the car rocking due to the high winds, rain sounding like golf balls on the roof and the general uncomfortable car seat I was trying to sleep on!
This morning though, we all woke up to some sun!!
Ian, Glenn Budgie and myself, drove down to Fionnphort from our accommodation for the 0830 ferry, and were very happy to see it arrive into the small harbour. The return fare of £4.50 was handed over, and the 10 minute trip was now on.
When we arrived on Iona, we could hear Corncrakes calling from behind the shops, We all headed to where the calls were coming from, but as the irises were so tall, the bird(s) couldn't be located.
We then walked up the Prayer House, as they could be heard up near there, but again, none could be located. We walked back down to the nunnery, past the primary school and headed towards the gardens of Columba Hotel. We could hear one calling from the field to the left.
We got brief views of one calling, but again the grass was very long.

Within minutes another had flown over from the gardens and into the field then disappeared, although it did call for a good time afterwards.
As we had had good, if not brief views, Glenn, Ian and Budgie decided to go sea watching from the North beach area of the island.
I said I would meet them later as I was determined to get a decent photograph of a bird 'in the open'.
I had a walk towards the abbey and the girl on the information desk had seen one walking around the garden near the front wall. I waited, but only got a brief view as it flew over my head back towards the Hotel Columbas back garden.
I walked towards the back expanse of grass behind the garden, when I nearly trod on the bird as it ran through the thistles.
The bird that had been calling previous from the Columba Hotel gardens was still still calling in the distance, so I decided to have a walk round the gardens to hopefully catch up with it.
I'd checked with someone whether I was allowed into the gardens and was told it was open access.
I then set my camera up in the area the Corncrake was calling. The grass was very long and I didn't think I had a chance of it coming out into the open. Time went by and eventually I saw the grass moving. Still no sign. All of a sudden, the bird was close, as the rasping call was very loud. I stayed still hoping not to flush it, when I saw it preening near some rhubarb leaves. Every time it stuck its head under its wing preening, I moved gradually closer until I was close enough to photograph.
The bird hadn't seen me and started calling, I couldn't believe my luck as it stood, called, looked around, called again, all while my shutter was going off.
Eventually it walked off into the long grass and disappeared. I was more than happy to get some images.

I decided I would have a walk round the village and see what other birds were about. Numerous Song Thrushes were busy feeding young, as were Starlings in and out of the old stone walls which surround the village, and a cuckoo called from the over looking fell.
I then walked back to the abbey, and saw another Corncrake (possibly the same bird that gave brief views earlier) fly over to the field once more.
I then walked through the field to the wall of the gardens as the 'photographed' bird, was again calling. I stood patiently by the wall with my camera set up, when the bird called out in the open, giving me more photographic opportunities. It just couldn't get any better.

Eventually, Glenn, Ian and Budgie returned back from sea watching, and we walked back to the harbour to get the ferry back to Mull.
Has to be said, a superb day.