As we have mentioned many of the chough pairs this year are either first time young ones, or where one bird has come in to join a widow or widower at a particular site. Out of the twelve pairs we have been watching only two of the pairs are the same as last year, so very much a new order this season.
Yesterday was the day that Tony Cross made his annual trip down from mid Wales to colour ring the chough chicks here in Cornwall. A day we all look forward to with a mix of excitement and apprehension. This was to be Tony’s last time with us because other work pressures in the breeding season, number of pairs to get round and the logistics make it more and more challenging each year for him. We were joined by Mark Grantham of the West Cornwall Ringing Group, who is going to take over the mantle from the Chough Master himself, Mark came along to take part in the ringing and learn the ropes, literally and metaphorically, as much rope was involved during the day.
We had no idea really what to expect of all these new pairs as it’s impossible to see into any of the nests. We were planning on checking seven of the nests the other three being too early to have chicks.
First off we went through the fog to a new site – after some scouting by Tony and Mark it was decided it would probably take too long as we needed to make the most of Tony’s time with us so we left that pair to surprise us in a few weeks.
Next to a site where the long standing pair had disappeared over winter. Their cave has been taken by a new two year old pair. Sadly Tony found the nest had been pulled apart, most likely in frustration by the birds themselves, as often happens with young first timers as they go through the motions. On checking some records just in from Wales at sites in Glamorgan, it’s a regular happening. Still, they have many years ahead of them to get it right.
Again give time pressures we passed on a known very tricky site where three chicks fledged unringed last season – high hopes for them in a couple of weeks at fledging time.
Next to a site where one chick was fledged last year, this season three! Then off to a nearby site where there are usually two young- and yes there were two again, a very consistent pair. Onwards to a site where ravens predated the brood last year, happier times for 2016 as the stinky cave rewarded an adventurous Mr Grantham with four bonnie four week old chufflets.
Lastly to a much loved site where a widow chough attracted a new one year old mate. It would have been a first if they had managed to pull it out of the bag given the male’s age, but we had a sneaking hope they had, as the female had been sitting for the usual incubation period. Not to be this time for them, another practice run but some good bonding and great to know this site has some continuity – it was very special to one of our volunteers Keith who passed away late last year.
So, mixed fortunes, three sites with nine fine looking young between them safely tucked back into their nests, two unknowns, and two could do betters. There are still three nests left, but we are not expecting much from them this season, time will tell.
Driving back late evening Tony said he was quite emotional but a bit relieved – he loved his trips down to Kernow, but will not miss the strenuous ropework and aches and pains, he has enough of all that with his work in Wales! We very much appreciate and thank him for all his support over the years, our knowledge of the choughs in Cornwall is all based on his ringing work.
Three chicks at three weeks old
Three of a brood of four – four weeks old
Tony’s 15th year with us and this one is probably the 140th Cornish chick he has ringed