Urban development and modern farming methods have played no small part in their decline. I live in the largest town in County Donegal and used to hear the distinctive call of the corncrake every spring until "progress" took away the large fielded site they favoured here. Their sound is very distinctive and described very well on birdwatchireland.ie "The kerrx-kerrx sound of the corncrake has been compared with two cheese-graters rubbed together, producing a sound so monotonous as to qualify the bird as the world's worst singer.".
I have never heard the sound a corncrake makes described like that before but having just gone to the drawer and taken out two graters and rubbed them together, I can confirm that is exactly what they sound like!
Every year I would ring the telephone given for anyone hearing a corncrake so those who kept such records could know where and when the caller heard their first corncrake of the year. (You can hear a corncrake on a link at the end of this post).
In rural areas farmers are asked to mow their fields from the centre of the field out to the edges, a small thing to do as far as the work involved is concerned but a massive help in preserving the small number of corncrakes we have. Mowing from the inside out means that nesting corncrakes and their chicks hear the noise and have time to run to safety, altered as they are by the noise. (Thanks to our commentators below (Ben Quinn and Daniel Mugan for pointing out my previous error in this paragraph).
The corncrake in Ireland has now had the intelligence to move their habitat to places where the landscape makes it nigh on impossible for machinery to get near. I have been lucky enough to sight a corncrake on Tory Island off the coast of Donegal and another island, Owey, where I was lucky enough to not only see it but manage to take an albeit very blurry photograph.
So given my interest in the corncrake and my love of photography, you can imagine how envious I was of a fellow photographer who hails from Malin Head in Inishowen, Ireland's most northerly point, Ronan McLaughlin, when I saw the stunning photographs he had taken of them!
When I said to Ronan about the photos (all taken at Malin Head) and how jealous I was that he managed to get these photos he told me "Patience and camoflague is key to success. Corncrakes by their nature are very secretive. But given time etc every now and again a bird will pop out for what can be a split second view." Patience? That's me out then. Here are the photos and a link to a video of the corncrake and the sound it makes also done by Ronan. Click on the photos below to enlarge.