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Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Pensthorpe Corncrake

A 300-mile round trip in search of, and yes, there it was, the Norfolk corncrake, John Clare’s landrail:

How sweet and pleasant grows the way
Through summer time again
While Landrails call from day to day
Amid the grass and grain

We hear it in the weeding time
When knee deep waves the corn
We hear it in the summers prime
Through meadows night and morn

And now I hear it in the grass
That grows as sweet again
And let a minutes notice pass
And now tis in the grain

Tis like a fancy everywhere
A sort of living doubt
We know tis something but it ne’er
Will blab the secret out...

The ones I saw were captive specimens, granted (‘doing bird’ perhaps, as captives), and part of the Pensthorpe Reserve breeding programme which has seen a few dozen birds released into the Nene Washes in the last few years; but still, I was enraptured to see such mythically elusive creatures, beloved of poets from Clare to MacNeice and Conor O’Callaghan. There’s always Leach’s petrel and the stone curlew, I suppose, if I find myself short of a new avian fetish object, but, what a pleasure. And then to visit John Clare’s grave too! Despite his hounding unto death with the label ‘peasant poet’, a quick walk down the road to the hardly-poky cottage he used to live in should dispel any lingering illusions on that score. But, ah, that corncrake.

Yet accident will often meet
The nest within its way
And weeders when they weed the wheat
Discover where they lay

And mowers on the meadow lea
Chance on their noisy guest
And wonder what the bird can be
That lays without a nest

In simple holes that birds will rake
When dusting on the ground
They drop their eggs of curious make
Deep blotched and nearly round

A mystery still to men and boys
Who know not where they lay
And guess it but a summer noise
Among the meadow hay

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