One of the things that I love about working at a nature reserve is that you never know what is going to turn up.

RSPB Ouse Fen has been on a hot streak this week and I am very pleased to announce that a little crake has been heard on the reserve this week. This member of the rail family, which superficially resembles our resident water rail but is considerably smaller, has never been recorded nesting in Britain. In fact, this is first record of this species in Cambridgeshire since 1864.

This species breeds in several scattered locations in Western Europe. It is more numerous in Eastern Europe and South Eastern Europe. A distribution map for this species can be found here.

If you would like to know what a female little crake looks like here is an image of one that was taken in Lesvos, Greece a couple of years ago:

Image credit: Michael Sveikutis via; 

If you would like more information about identification, this online article from British Birds provides a very useful description of the key identifying features.

It is very important to state at this point that this bird has been identified by call only and it has not been seen. If you would like to listen to recordings of what a female little crake sounds like, please follow this link.

It is also important to note that this species only tends to call at night and you are very unlikely to hear it calling during daylight hours.

If you would like to try to hear the bird, here are the details of where to go and when:

The bird is audible intermittently from 9.30pm onwards but is distant and not visible. The bird has been calling from TL 3764767. RSPB staff and volunteers will be on hand to assist visiting birders but please DO NOT play tapes.

A map of where the bird has been heard from can be found here:

Further access advice

From the RSPB Ouse Fen ‘Reedbed trail’, east of the River Ouse at Brownshill Staunch (Lock), divert onto the public bridleway running between the Lock and Drove No 18, Earith (leading off the B1050). The suggested listening point is approximately half way along the bridleway between Sharp Corner Mere and Trinity Mere at TL37647367. For further access details and a download of the reserve trail guide is available here

  • Ouse Fen has a small public car park with space for 13 cars. It is a 9km (5 mile) round trip to the listening point. There are no local public transport options.
  • A number of small public parking points are available at other locations around the site at similar walking distance. Please park sensitively to avoid nuisance to the local community.
  • All visitors are asked to follow responsible birding advice and to refrain from tape luring.
  • Please note that species that several species that are prone to disturbance from large numbers of people are present on the reserve at this time of year.
  • Visitors must stay on the public bridleway.
  • The reserve lies directly adjacent an active quarry (Needingworth Quarry, Hanson UK). Visitors must not enter the quarry, impede quarry access or quarry operations.
  • Visitors are advised that the public right of way concerned are not comprehensively waymarked and should only be attempted by people competent in reading maps and negotiating open countryside in the dark.

It is also worth familiarising yourself with the RSPB’s guidance on The Birdwatching Code if you haven’t already seen it.

Best of luck if you come listening for the bird and we hope you hear it!