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Bird of the Month, the Corncrake

Regulars | By John McEwen

'The corncrake’s Latin name, Crex crex, echoes the rasping and insistent call of the males by day'

The corncrake’s Latin name, Crex crex, echoes the rasping and insistent call of the males by day and especially night, most regularly in May and June. ‘It’s like this,’ my host primed me in Ayrshire 45 years ago, and he dragged his thumb along a comb. That June night, goaded by the call – a common reaction, I subsequently learned – I rose from my bed and followed it to its source in the valley. The nearer it seemed, the more baffling its location, until I was standing in an echo-chamber. I could have been surrounded by corncrakes. I returned to bed in the dawn confounded. And still they hear the craiking sound And still they wonder why It surely can’t be underground Nor is it in the sky John Clare, from ‘Landrail’ (a traditional name for the corncrake) It is by the voice we know them. They skulk in...

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