Cranes breed again at Yorkshire reserve

IT has been a closely guarded secret for seven years.

But this week Natural England decided to go public and reveal that a pair of common cranes has successfully raised young on its huge Humberhead Peatlands reserve in South Yorkshire.

This year they successfully hatched two young but have lost one of them in the past few days, a repeat performance of 2006 when they also hatched two young, one of which was successfully fledged.

The pair were first seen on the reserve in 2001 and have returned every spring since then, although it is still not known where they go in the winter. Eggs have been laid and young hatched in other years but they have failed due to predation, mainly by foxes.

The common crane is one of the largest European birds with a wingspan that can reach 7ft 8in and a loud bugling call. The adults have a grey body and black white and red markings on the head and body.

Four hundred years ago they were widespread across Britain, and were on the menu for the inauguration banquet for George Neville when he became Archbishop of York in 1465 when 204 of them were listed among the items consumed.

They must also have been a familiar sight on the vast area of bogs and marsh which made up the royal hunting ground of Hatfield Chase, part of the present Humberhead reserve. But overhunting and the theft of their eggs started their decline, and the draining of Hatfield Chase by Cornelius Vermuyden in 1629 and similar projects throughout Britain led to their total disappearance, along with the spoonbill, bittern and many other marshland birds.

Common cranes began their return in 1979 when two were seen near Hickling Broad in Norfolk. A breeding absence of 400 years ended in 1982 when a single youngster was fledged.

Numbers of the cranes, which remain in Norfolk all year, have now increased to between 25 and 35 individuals and last year a pair were found nesting at Lakenheath Fen Nature Reserve in Suffolk.

There is now a project underway to boost numbers still further with a reintroduction scheme using young birds hatched from crane eggs brought from Germany at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust's reserve at Slimbridge, Gloucestershire.

The young birds are due to be released into the wild next year. Hopefully cranes will continue to return to South Yorkshire each spring and become well established

on the reserve's network of shallow wetlands combined with inaccessible nesting sites.

Their breeding success on the reserve follows that of white-spotted bluethroats two pairs of which bred on Thorne Moors in 1996.

Another rare visitor to the region, a juvenile black stork, which arrived at Cawood, near Selby, on Tuesday after roosting the previous evening near Escrick and has remained, the first viewable black stork in Yorkshire since June 1976 when one was present near Stokesley.

This latest arrival is likely to be the bird also seen recently in County Durham and Northumberland.

The first autumn migrants are being seen, among them willow warblers, whinchats and pied and spotted flycatchers.

Two black-necked grebes, an adult and juvenile, were seen at Potteric Carr, near Doncaster, and three little egrets have been present including one ringed as a nestling at Terrington St Clement in Norfolk.

A glossy ibis continues to be seen in the Lower Aire Valley, moving at times to Astley Lake, New Swillington Ings.

Wader walks are being organised to Yorkshire Water's Tophill Low reserve in East Yorkshire, the first on September 7 starting from the visitor centre. The walks, which are ideal for beginners, are also aimed at introducing more people to the reserve. Ring 01377 270690 for details.