Friday 17 January 2020

'The biggest bloody herons'

It’s 40 years since cranes returned to the Broads in Norfolk having been absent as breeding bird from the UK for some 400 years. Chris Durdin, co-author of The Norfolk Cranes’ Story, tells their story. 

This is part 1 of four blogs. The full story is in The Norfolk Cranes’ Story book, which recently came out in paperback. See for how to buy a copy.

“The biggest bloody herons.” That was the farmer’s description of two birds on the marshes at Horsey in September 1979. At the other end of the phone was John Buxton from Horsey Hall, who the excited farmer had phoned.

John guessed they were cranes, not least as it wasn’t the first time they’d been seen, as migrants, in the Horsey area. But this time it was different; these birds decided to stay.

The first three cranes - a scan from a slide by John Buxton. Note how here they are feeding on arable.

The two cranes were seen in the Hickling-Horsey area from 13th September 1979 and a third bird joined them during October. They stayed all winter, sometimes feeding in potato fields. In early April they left, but returned two and half weeks later, perhaps deterred by the long flight across the North Sea to Scandinavia.  

Two cranes, acting as a pair, then stayed all summer but didn’t breed. The first nesting attempt was in 1981 when two eggs were laid and one chick hatched but didn’t survive.

The first successful nesting came in the following year, 1982, when the first crane fledged in the UK for some 400 hundred years.

The original pair of cranes at Horsey (John Buxton)

Fast forward to 2020, and there are around 10 pairs of cranes in the Broads and more than 30 pairs in the UK, including the reintroduced birds at the ‘Great Crane Project’ in Somerset and separate recolonisations in the Fens and in Scotland.

To be continued.

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