Another bird which was virtually unexpected in these parts when the classes were launched 12 years ago was the Common Crane. However, as far back as April 2008 we had an encounter with this species at Tophill Low. The Thursday morning group were ensconced in a hide overlooking South Marsh West when a honking sound was heard, and there fairly high in the air were 2 Cranes flying north following the course of the river Hull. My camera was in the car, but Jackie Dawson managed to take a couple of photos before the birds passed beyond our sight.
Common Crane at Watton NR (c) 2014 Tony McLean
Common Crane (c) 2008 Jackie Dawson [Tiny files]
There were rumours at the time that Cranes were once more breeding in Yorkshire and later it was confirmed that they'd been breeding annually in Yorkshire since 2002.
Common Cranes at Tophill (c) 2010 Richard Hampshire
Of course north of Tophill Low is Hutton Cranswick, and Cranswick gets its name from being an ancient site of nesting Cranes! As far as I know our birds didn't land anywhere Cranswick, but continued flying north for some time. One course participant reckoned many years ago that they were nesting in the Scarborough area, but I've never heard any official confirmation that he was correct in this. Since then they have even nested in Scotland!
Cranes over Tophill (c) 2010 Richard Hampshire
Cranes were served up in large numbers at medieval banquets, so must have been fairly numerous at that time, but they probably became extinct as a breeding species during the reign of Elizabeth I. They have a low productivity rate, as they are especially susceptible to land predators like foxes, and disturbance from humans, so any nesting attempts have to be carefully protected.
In the summer of 2010 I was checking out a potential new venue with birders on the same day when we had an amazing encounter with fighting male Adders, when a friend turned round for some reason, and called out and we caught sight of at least 2 cranes flying over the conifers. These were closer than the 2 cranes shown in the Tophill photos.
More recently I was doing a recce at another location with my nephew when we spotted a crane foraging along the edge of a field. Much later he looked back and a crane was flying behind us and headed for a large reedbed to the north of our viewpoint.
Last year Tony McLean managed to capture a wonderful flight photo at the Watton Nature Reserve, which abuts Tophill Low. This photo may be seen at the top of this blog. In the autumn of last year or the year before a Crane took up residence for many weeks at Leven Carrs, so sightings are becoming more regular and prolific.
Next year we will be visiting several places where there is the potential of spotting a Crane, but whether we'll actually be successful won't be known until several months from now. I'm sure we won't see them well enough to obtain a photo as good as Tony's, but hopefully we'll manage a better one than the ones I took on the edge of a field a few years ago.
What is more certain is that the chances of every class observing a crane flying over becomes more likely each year that they manage to breed successfully, and the young birds disperse to locate a new suitable territory.