Let Nature Sing

Introducing the stars of Let Nature Sing

Adrian Thomas is bowled over by the third star on our Let Nature Sing single, which turns out to be a surprise duet.

A triumphant trumpet

Part way through the Let Nature Sing single, a bird suddenly launches into what sounds like a blast on a bugle or even a trumpeting elephant. If this was an orchestra, you'd definitely say that the brass section had arrived!

A fanfare in the marshes

What a triumphant trumpet, a clarion call. It comes from a bird that vies for the title of Britain’s loudest bird, one that can raise the rafters with each dramatic fanfare. The owner of the impressive set of pipes is the crane, and its dramatic call echoes for a mile or more across our largest areas of open marshland: “BROH-BROW…………BROH-BROW-BROH”.

Duets of love

But here’s the added surprise. What might sound like one bird singing two or three notes is actually a pair doing an impromptu duet. When one bird trumpets, its mate is prompted into instant reply a fraction of a second later, and the first bird may then trumpet again. “Love you”, “Yes, love you too,” "Still love you" is the message their cries convey. What a duo!

The crane in history

This is a sound that once would have reverberated around almost the whole country. The crane ‘lives’ on in so many place names: Cranbrook, Cranford, Cranleigh. It is even thought that 'Tranmere' means 'mere (or lake) of the cranes'. But the sad truth is that, by the 1600s it had been hunted to extinction in the British Isles, for this four-foot-high bird would have made a fine catch for many a banquet. Its demise was also hastened by the drainage of the vast marshlands where it bred.

Hear the crane's call

The future of cranes

Against the odds, three birds turned up in Norfolk in 1979 and stayed, from which a pair then bred. Slowly, ever so slowly, the population has increased. It raised the hope that, even in busy 21st century Britain, there might still be a place for them. The East Anglian population has now spread to places such as RSPB Lakenheath in Suffolk, and may be the source of the birds now breeding in Yorkshire.

Bringing cranes back

There is now also a wonderful reintroduction scheme called the Great Crane Project in Somerset, led by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, the RSPB and Pensthorpe Conservation Trust. Eggs were brought in from Germany during 2010-14, reared, and the young birds released. In 2018, 22 pairs from this scheme bred in the wild, hatching 20 chicks, with breeding in Somerset, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire and South Wales. It gives you an idea of how far and wide these birds are having to travel to find areas of wetland habitat able to support just a pair or two, while any chicks they raise won't be mature enough to breed for four or five years. This is a bird that needs time and space.

Callling out in the wetlands

The dream and ambition is to create more and bigger areas of wetland in the future to give this amazing species a real chance. But at least for now it means you have the opportunity hear them again in our countryside for the first time in centuries. I made my recordings very early one morning at RSPB West Sedgemoor in Somerset. And the brilliant thing about crane calls is that, even thought they are so rare, if they do trumpet and you are within a mile or so of them, you will definitely hear them, they are that loud!

Where to hear a crane

RSPB Loch of Strathbeg (Aberdeenshire); RSPB Lakenheath Fen (Suffolk); RSPB West Sedgemoor (Somerset); WWT Slimbridge (Gloucestershire); Norfolk Wildlife Trust Hickling Broad (Norfolk).

Want to learn more about birdsong?

Adrian’s new book and recordings, The RSPB Guide to Birdsong, was released on 3 April 2019. Please buy through the RSPB shop, where all the profits go to nature conservation.

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