AN UNUSUAL sighting in Athlacca has had local bird watchers reaching for their binoculars.
A crane – one of Europe’s most spectacular birds – which was last seen in Limerick in the year 2000 was spotted by a group of 30 eagle-eyed bird watchers in the countryside between Athlacca and Bruff at the weekend.
As the binoculars and scopes were pointed in the direction of a group of swans, the very large bird, flamingo like, stepped out from behind a hillock and almost caused palpitations amongst the observers.
“There was about 30 whooper swans – the swans with the yellow beak - and we had gone back just to check them out. There was a bit of a hillock and we could see something behind and the next thing this crane stepped out, almost on cue. It was very exciting because they are rare enough here,” explained Maura Turner, secretary, Limerick Branch, Birdwatch Ireland. The crane continued on its mission of feeding and moved ‘elegantly’ around a large area of wetland.
“We think this is a younger one – it wasn’t an adult. It was obviously looking for safety among the swans and it noticed that there would have been food there. They eat probably what the swans eat, grass and worms,” Maura continued.
The crane used to breed in Ireland but it’s understood that it left our shores around 300 years ago.
Last year however, it was seen in some numbers in Munster.
“Just before Christmas there was a programme on the television – John Murphy and Stan Nugent did it of Clare Birdwatch – and it was on disappearing birds. They had a programme on the crane saying it was a disappeared bird in Ireland – it didn’t breed here any more. And then the next day there was an article in the paper saying that cranes had actually been spotted in Cork, so it is rare. There are about 50 - 70 birds in the country at the moment, mainly Cork. So this was a really exciting discovery,” said Maura who lives in Corbally.
Most species of crane - which are highly vocal - are dependent on wetlands and require large areas of open space. Most nest in shallow wetlands.
Some nest in wetlands but move their chicks up onto grasslands to feed before returning to the wetlands at night.