IRBC - Announcements

Little Crake, 2003.


Up to 1960, there were just two records of Little Crake Porzana parva in Ireland, one in March 1854 and the other in November 1903, both 'obtained' and both specimens residing safely in the Natural History Museum, Dublin.


Then, between 1961 and 1977, there were four records of Little Crake (involving five birds) and an additional four records of not specifically identified small crakes (presumed to have been either Little or Baillon’s Crakes P. parva/P. pusilla) all on Cape Clear Island, Co. Cork.  Details of these records are as follows:


Little Crake
1964 Male, 14th April (Irish Bird Report 12:17).
1966 Male, 29th August (Irish Bird Report 14:28).
1968 Male and female, 23rd August to 3rd September (Irish Bird Report 16:25; Cape Clear Bird Observatory Report 9: 37-38).
1977 Male, 21st August (Irish Birds 1:255).


Little/Baillon's Crake
1961 One, Cape Clear Island, 20th March (Sharrock 1973).
1966 One, 4th September; one, 12th September (Sharrock 1973).
1967 One, 4th October (Sharrock 1973).


None has been recorded anywhere in Ireland since.


The temporal pattern and distribution of these records alone might have signalled the need for a review of the evidence, especially if compared with the pattern of records in Britain where most records of Little Crake have occurred in spring and late autumn/winter, with very few in the period August - October (Dymond et al 1989, Evans 1994). Another interesting comparison is that in the same period, 1961 - 1977, Spotted Crake P. porzana was recorded on seven occasions in Ireland as a whole, but only two of these were at comparatively well-watched Cape Clear Island (and one of the Cape birds was only heard, not seen) (Irish Bird Reports 9-25). However, the most obvious clue that some or all of these records should be looked at again lay in Cape Clear Bird Observatory Report No. 9 (1967), where the substantiating evidence for the first two records was published.


With some members of the current IRBC having the advantage of considerable field experience of Little, Baillon's and Spotted Crakes abroad, these records can be assessed from a much more informed perspective than would have been possible at the time. It is immediately apparent from examination of the evidence that the threshold for the acceptance of records of Little Crake at that time was very low. This is, no doubt, a reflection of the limited experience of those assessing the records as well as, perhaps, an inadequate allowance being made on the part of observers and assessors of the pitfalls associated with identifying rare crakes on the basis of poor and/or brief views.


For example, the 1964 record was based on a very brief observation ("under a minute"), by a single observer using binoculars, at an estimated range of 60 yards. Not surprisingly, the account is very sparse on detail and what detail there is does not actually correspond that well with Little Crake.


The next record, in 1966, was based on an even briefer view, of a bird flushed from a small stream and seen in flight for a few seconds before disappearing into reeds, never to be seen again. Even allowing for the difference in standards of record assessment between then and now, it is hard to understand how this record could have ever been considered acceptable.


In fact, none of the entire series of records of Little Crake and Little/Baillon's Crakes at Cape Clear Island in this period comes close to being convincing. Some, clearly, are based on a certain amount of 'creative observation', of the kind that tends to occur when views and/or optical equipment are simply inadequate, and the imagination fills in the gaps. Several accounts mentioned one or more features that indicated that what was actually seen could well have been a Spotted Crake - or even a Sora P. carolina - but that the perceived 'small size' was exaggerated.


Consequently, all records of Little Crake and Little/Baillon's Crake between 1961 and 1977 have now been removed from the Irish List, reducing the total number of Little Crake records for Ireland to the two mentioned at the beginning of this account. In addition, the species moves from Category A of the Irish List to Category B (which contains those species recorded only prior to 1950).


References:

Dymond, N., Fraser, P.A. & Gantlett, S.J.M. 1989. Rare Birds in Britain and Ireland. Poyser.

Evans, L.G.R. 1994. Rare Birds in Britain 1800-1990. Privately published.

Sharrock, J.T.R. (ed). 1973. The Natural History of Cape Clear Island. Poyser.


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