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November 6, 2023

Little Crake at Linford

On November 6th, local photographer Ken Sargent posted a photo on social media of a bird he’d seen at Linford that day. 

The photos were accompanied by the quote ‘I think I know what this is, but I don’t want to say.’ 

The photo showed what was undoubtedly an immature Little Crake!

Very early next morning, a handful of hardy birders waited expectantly in the hide at Linford. The darkness was replaced by a dull dawn light, which was accompanied by the sights and sounds of birds waking up and going about their business for another day.

After about half an hour, the almost unbelievable occurred –the Little Crake showed up! Swimming from the reedbed to the left of the hide, it then performed admirably for nearly an hour. In fact, the views of this super little bird almost stretched credulity. It was picking its way through the reeds right in front of the hide and occasionally swimming between favoured feeding areas.

Little Crake wading over flattened reeds
Photo By Mike Haberfield

Thoughts then swung from joy at the fact that there was a Little Crake in Bucks, to concerns on how to organise what would undoubtedly be a major twitch. Linford is a small reserve, open to permit holders only, and would have to cope with hundreds of visiting birders.

However, with help from Milton Keynes Parks Trust (who manage the reserve) and a monumental effort from local birders who volunteered to help, crowd arrangements were put in place.

The Little Crake continued to show well until the 11th, but it became more elusive during the later days. Some birders ended up waiting several hours for a sighting. The suspicion was that falling water levels at the reserve meant that the bird could spend more time hidden in the thick reedbed on the bund, instead of using the fragmented marginal reedbed closer to the hide. 

However, many birders struck lucky and were able to enjoy fabulous, close-up views as the bird often fed mere yards away from them.

Little Crake swimming in the water amongst reeds
Photo By Mike Haberfield

Little Crakes breed in the marshes and wetlands of Eastern Europe. They are roughly annual visitors to the UK, averaging one or two per year, at most. There have been several late autumn records, although one in November is rather late. The likely probability is that this bird originated in Eastern Europe. 

But there’s another possibility, more remote but more appealing. For the last couple of years, one or two singing males have been heard in the East Anglian fens. At the very least, at least one male has been on territory for a prolonged period during the summer of 2023. Could this bird be UK bred? It’s possible, but sadly we’ll never know. 

A fantastic sum of nearly £4000 was raised from the twitch. Many birders paid the one-time entry fee which was set up for non-permit holders. And many visiting birders bought annual permits to the reserve. The best news is that all the money will go towards conservation work on the reserve.

As expected, this fabulous Bucks first inspired a lot of blog content.You can read a few examples by clicking on the links below.

Rob Hill

The Standlake Birder

Peter Law

Little Crake wading amongst reeds
Photo By Rob Hill
Little Crake in front of the reed bed
Photo By Jason Chalk
Little Crake in front of a reed bed
Photo By Jason Chalk
Little Crake amongst reeds
Photo By Paul Gibbs
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