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Crakes, Rails and Cranes

Updated: Feb 19, 2023

Water Rail Rallus aquaticus

There is little definitive evidence of a change in the status of this species, writers in the 1800s describe the species as being very common in Cornwall, it seems likely that the loss of wetland habitat in agricultural landscapes has adversely affected this species.


It remains fairly common, especially in winter at Loe Pool and Gunwalloe Marsh. Less common elsewhere, but regular in winter in wetter areas with good vegetation cover such as heathland streams. Occurs in a wider range of habitats, but more sporadically during migration.


Breeding may occur sporadically. In most summers it is absent from its favoured sites during the breeding season, but whether this is partly indicative of observer coverage and its habit of staying silent during the breeding season is less certain. In 2003-2005 one or two were reported regularly on Loe Pool and in 1984 and 1996 breeding was suspected at this site. On 8th May 1994 a pair with two chicks was seen at Croft Pascoe Pool.

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Water Rail on the Lizard. The small squares indicate present in the breeding season and possibly breeding.


Corncrake Crex crex [BoCC5: Red]

This species was undoubtedly far more with 18th and 19th century writers describe it as widely distributed and common in suitable habitat throughout Cornwall. On the Lizard it is rare, though a a few historic records are indicative of breeding. For example one at Mannacan was in breeding habitat on 12th Aug 1950 and up to 4 were seen at the same location in Aug-Sep 1951. Two families were also recorded just outside of the Lizard in Breage parish in 1951. Birds were also calling from breeding habitat near Helston in Jun 1968 and from a hay meadow near Bonython on 2nd Jun 1998.


All other records of singles and probably refer to migrant birds: near the Lizard look-out on 25th Apr 1941, at Lower Predannack Cliff on 4th Oct 1982, Hayle Kimbro on 2nd Nov 1988 (B Cave), St. Keverne on 1st Oct 1991, Little Treleaver on 20th Sep 2014 (J Foster) and Caerthillian on 2nd Sep 2018 (L Ozsanlav-Harris).


Spotted Crake Porzana porzana [BoCC5: Amber]

Historically, this species was much more common in Cornwall than currently, with regiular sightings, normally of birds that had been shot, However, there is no specific mention of the Lizard except by Clark (1906) who notes it as being a regular autumn and winter visitor to the snipe marshes throughout Cornwall except on the Lizard.


On the Lizard there are just 9 records:


1949: 5th Feb (Loe Pool)*

1975: 25th Aug (Poldhu).

1982: 9th-10th Sep (Trelan, near St. Keverne).

1989: 5th Sep (location unspecified).

1991: 17th Sep (Poldhu).

1995: 6th-7th Aug (Bray's Cot), 13th Aug-24th Sep (Loe Pool) and 19th Sep (Hayle Kimbro).

2014: 22nd Oct (Loe Pool).


Also a possible at Windmill Farm on 4th Oct 2013.


*The 1949 record is interesting as it is the only winter record. The observer, A. G. Parsons, was undoubtedly Cornwall's best birder of the era, but he only obtained brief views and while describing some diagnostic features was characteristically circumspect about the bird's identity. However, older reports of it being quite common in Cornwall during winter lend credence to his record.


(Little Crake Zapornia parva)

Possible at Windmill Farm 20th May 2019


Moorhen Gallinula chloropus [BoCC5: Amber]

James 1808 describes the moorhen as quite scarce in Cornwall, but all writers since have referred to it as common. On the Lizard it is a common breeder, especially around Loe Pool and Helston Boating Lake, but occurs in most other water bodies, even small ponds on farmland which are quite numerous on the Lizard, and one or two sometimes also occur in the slower-flowing sections of the streams that cross heathland on Lizard downs.

Historic (1982) breeding distribution of Moorhen on the Lizard. Large squares indicate confirmed breeding and medium-sized squares probable breeding.


Coot Fulica atra

Common breeder at Loe Pool and Helston Boating Lake. Has bred at Hayle Kimbro on occasion. Rare in south Lizard area with only daytime record being of 2 at Grade Marsh on 15th-16th May 2008, though occasional sound recorded as a nocturnal migrant. The ornithologist James Rodd refers to a boy shooting Coot on a pool on Lizard Downs, perhaps Hayle Kimbro, when he accidentally shot a Collared Pratincole. The highest count is of 300 at Loe Pool on 27th Oct 1965, though numbers currently are substantially lower.

Juvenile Coot at Helston Boating Lake. Ilya Maclean


Crane Grus grus [BoCC5: Amber]

Rare with just 7 confirmed records involving 12 birds. All records are given (singles unless otherwise stated):


1987: 8th Jan-13th Mar (near Newton-in-St Martin).

2002: 8th-10th Oct (Predannack / Kynance area).

2004: 8th-11th May (Grade Marsh then more widely), 18th Oct (Lizard area).

2010: 22nd Oct (Lizard Village & Grade Ruan).

2011: 14th-23rd Nov (6 in the Grade Area).

2014: 29th Sep (Windmill Farm and Predannack Airfield)

2018: 17th Sep (Loe Pool)


Additionally, a very large heron-like bird, thought to be this species was seen flying high over Penrose on 4th Sep 1949.

The 2014 Common Crane, Tony Blunden

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