Tuesday 24 January 2023

A crane with a rubber ring

Cranes started to recolonise the Broads in Norfolk more than 40 years ago, having been absent as breeding bird from the UK for some 400 years. A story and photos about one of those first birds to arrive has just come to light.

Patrick Lee emailed me (Chris Durdin) in January 2023. “I was given The Norfolk Cranes' Story (at) Christmas just gone and I greatly enjoyed reading it particularly as it brought back many happy memories. The cover alone brought back so many happy days of sailing Waxham Cut in the 1970s and 1980s.”

Crane with a rubber ring attached to its beak (Patrick Lee, 1979).

The main reason that Patrick wrote was that he knew about a bird mentioned in the book from first-hand experience, from the winter of 1979/80. This was very much the early days: cranes first attempted to nest at Horsey in 1981, and the first bird that fledged successfully was in 1982.

This is how John Buxton and I recorded it:

Cranes stay at Horsey, but don’t breed

Farmer Michael Kittle had captured a fourth crane at Irstead Hall on 7th October 1979, an exhausted adult. It had either nylon or a rubber object tangled round its bill – I didn’t see it myself, and accounts vary. Hilary Scott records that it was kept ‘in a wildfowl refuge with­out restriction until spring 1980’, this probably accounting for the fourth bird that joined the original three from 21st March 1980, then present in the Horsey area for at least 11 days to the 31st March.

… and this is the additional information from Patrick Lee:

“I was interested to see your reference to the Irstead crane with a rubber ring on its beak. We first saw this crane on the wet meadows adjoining How Hill marshes. Bob Smithson who was our Head Marshman kept an eye on it until it was finally captured on Irstead Hall Farm and the offending ring removed. The identity of the object was never confirmed but I think it was highly likely to have been part of a milking machine cup, however it also seems to have too small a diameter to have been this. The main thing is that the bird survived the ordeal of having it impaled for a few days.

“I enclose two picture attachments which may interest you, one of the offending article in place and the other with it removed. It is possible to see the mark on the beak where it was stuck.

Crane showing the mark on its beak where the object was stuck (Patrick Lee, 1979).

John Buxton’s notes make it clear that the bird with a rubber ring at Irstead was in addition to the cranes at Horsey. Another crane fits the general pattern of additional migrant birds in the area from time to time. There is no record of a bird at Horsey showing the same mark on its beak, though it would be easy to overlook. 

The full story of the natural return of cranes to the UK is in The Norfolk Cranes’ Story book. See www.norfolkcranes.co.uk for how to buy a copy.

 Chris Durdin

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