A family of rare corncrakes were saved from almost certain death after a Donegal farmer spotted them while cutting grass.
The farmer, on the Fanad Peninsula, spotted the clutch of 11 delicate corncrake eggs close to a hedge on his land on June 13th last. He missed wiping out the eggs by inches as he mowed his field.
Members of the Corncrake Life project stepped in and took the rare eggs more than 300km away to Fota Wildlife Park in Cork in a bid to hatch and breed them in captivity. Nine of the eggs survived and were released into the wild earlier this month.
Fota is part of the corncrake project which aims to improve the conservation status of the population that has been in decline across Ireland for decades.
The eggs were placed in an incubation unit at the park. Two of the chicks did not survive as the eggs were slightly damaged. However, staff managed to save and rear nine of the 11 birds, director of Fota Island Wildlife Park Sean McKeown said.
“We knew there was a calling male in the field and members of the corncrake project were monitoring the field. The farmer was being careful when mowing the grass but still only missed the nest by a few inches.
“One had a small hole and another a crack. Unfortunately, those chicks didn’t survive but we managed to save nine of the birds.”
Having been incubated and then hand-fed after hatching for almost six weeks, the birds were fitted with special identification rings and were released into the wild on the Fanad Peninsula on August 1st.
The birds will migrate to west Africa come September and October, and hopefully return to the Fanad Peninsula next March or April.
“If all nine manage to make the return journey then it will almost double the population of corncrakes in that area,” said Mr McKeown said.