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Call of the corncrake echoes over Rathlin for a fifth year

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Nesting: A corncrake

Nesting: A corncrake

Nesting: A corncrake

Bird lovers on Rathlin Island have been celebrating after the rare corncrake returned for the fifth year in a row.

The distinctive 'crex-crex' call was heard a fortnight earlier than expected by a resident in the Church Bay area last weekend.

Rathlin remains the only place here where the red-listed species has been heard in recent years.

RSPB volunteers have been working for 10 years to make the perfect habitat for the Corncrake in field margins by digging nettles and cutting back scrub.

Corncrakes migrate north from western Africa each summer, making the return journey after mating season in August or September.

RSPB warden Liam McFaul said it was "fantastic news" and added that he was hopeful more than one calling male will be heard this summer.

Last summer two pairs of the ground-nesting birds - or possibly one male with two partners - were recorded on the island for the first time in 30 years.

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"Good weather this year will probably have helped the bird's early return," he said.

"And as there's a good chance that it's the same breeding bird that was in the area last year, it knew exactly where to return to."

Mr McFaul explained Rathlin remained a safe place to attract the birds, with landowners managing their land sympathetically for wildlife.

"We would love to see their numbers increasing now and get a sustainable population, with four or five pairs regularly breeding.

"With two pairs last year and one bird returning so early now, this could be a really significant year for these birds.

"I'd also like to thank all of our volunteers who are so crucial in helping with our corncrake habitat work."

The secretive birds, only a little bigger than blackbirds, can also be found in parts of western Ireland, on Tory island off Co Donegal, and in the Western Isles of Scotland.

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