Watchers words

We asked Chough Watch volunteers to send us in a few words and thoughts to describe how they got involved and why, and also what they enjoy (or not) about their volunteering.

First off, this is from Judith.

This was my first year helping with the ‘chough watch’ although I’ve been passionate about them since their return to Cornwall. The experience has been very intense, focussing on just one spot and seeing how it changes from spring to summer, noticing the flowers and the other birds, like the nesting stonechats. Watching chough behaviour up close is fascinating. Seeing how the adult pair’s routine changes: busy in the morning, with worryingly long gaps between visits to the nest in the afternoon. Seeing their fast, precise dive into the nesting site, seeing how fussily the male cleans his beak, and seeing the two adults preening each other.

And the biggest moment of all, arriving at 8am on the morning the choughlets had fledged and seeing them ‘bouldered’ just above me – a term for how they hop from rock to rock as they get used to flying.“One was particularly nervous about her next flight and teetered for several minutes on the rock before launching. Over the next few days I watched them take longer flights and watched them learn to forage. Within a week they were good to go. The vast majority of walkers were very considerate about the birds and many were very interested to learn more about them and their return to Cornwall. ‘I’ve heard about them but I never dreamed I’d see one’, was just one comment, and it’s a real buzz to be able to answer their questions, show them the choughs and tell them about the brood and the ringing.

Choughs are becoming part of what people love about the coast path. For me, they’re a part of Cornish heritage, and now a walk in the cliffs without hearing and seeing them would not be complete.

And this lovely poem by Denise who came down from our HQ in Sandy, both last year and this year, to spend a few weeks helping us.  

Wonderful choughs

It’s time for sabbatical number two

Where should I go? What should I do?

So many projects need a hand

In many places cross the land.


I’m heading off to Cornwall

To help the red billed chough

To watch over the nest sites

That shouldn’t be too tough!


Now these guys like to make their home

In blowholes, zawn’s and mines

So off I go with flask and bins

And hope the sun will shine.


A watcher’s shift can be quite mixed

But always taking notes

Of sun and rain, birds and seals

Gannets, gulls and boats


The best part is the calling chough

It’s music to our ears

Watched over endless hours

God bless those volunteers.


A detour from the watches

The Minack’s great new play

‘King of the Chough’s’ is here all week

A great success I’d say.


Red bills and legs, black shiny coat

Their ciaow ciaow calling loud

Such lovely charismatic birds

King Arthur would be proud!


It’s such a treat to see these birds

Up close in all their glory

The chough’s are back in Cornwall!

A truly memorable story.


There will be more from the Watchers another time..



200 years ago..

On checking the records this morning  according to Roger Penhallurick’s ‘The Birds of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly’, it’s been two centuries since choughs probably last bred around the Roseland area.

Until yesterday.

This lovely image shows one of the three youngsters that fledged on sunny Sunday 3 July 2016.   That’s one for the history books!


Choughs last seen around here in the 1820s. Thanks to David for watching over these recolonisers

And while talking chough chicks here are some more images from the weekend.

Below, parents being very protective of these two. Gulls, peregrines and crows are a threat to young choughs.  Geoff Rogers

North family group Geoff Rogers

wind beneath my wings Lizard way. Image by Mark Hayhurstwind beneath my wings. Image by Mark Hayhurst


News: new choughlets and a new chough in Cornwall

A lot of new things to tell.

The Lizard brood fledged over the weekend with three youngsters now out, maybe even a fourth if the small chick survived. The female here lost her mate in March half way though nest building and we all thought that was it for 2016.  Happily she quickly found another mate so this is a great result all round.

This morning at the north coast site near Newquay, Watchers got brief views of two chicks as they made their first tentative hops and flaps around their nest cave. This site is inaccessible so we had no idea how many chicks to expect. The weather wasn’t up to first flight conditions with rain and strong winds so the chicks wisely decided to just sit and stare and sleep.  Another astonishing outcome as the male here had been on him lonesome for a few years, well away from the core chough population.  But a passing female happened along at the right time. This female is also unringed.

These unringed birds are interesting.  Here’s why.

The unringed Lizard female is possibly Cornish born (a brood of two on the north coast in 2012 were unringed, one was predated, the other made its way west, so probably to Lizard).

Last year at another inaccessible site near St Just a brood of three fledged and we were confidently able to track them all winter in the same area.  By mid-March there were only two in the area (and still are) – so, did that third bird go towards Lizard or north coast – we assume one or the other.   That accounts for four unringed birds of Cornish origin.  But, there are now five unringed birds (are you keeping up?) meaning a bird from outside Cornwall has joined the breeding population.

This is really important, it not only adds to the gene pool and breeding health of the population, but is a further sign that choughs move around a fair bit between countries. There are no borders in chough world.  We know from DNA tests the original pioneering choughs came from Ireland, another individual that appeared but was found dead on Scilly a few years ago was from Ireland too.  We have had a visit from a colour ringed Breton bird and Welsh choughs hop over to north Devon.  Wonder where our newbie is from, and is it the Lizard male or the Newquay female?….us Watchers can’t agree!

With eight new unringed choughs joining the population it will be near impossible to know what is happening from now on with regard to incoming birds, unless of course they are colour ringed – easy peasy then.

Not quite the end of the breeding season as there is still one brood of three yet to fledge on the south coast. David on watch this morning could hear them so they are likely ‘bouldering’ and waiting on the weather.  Aren’t we all.

A fantastic record breaking year for Cornish choughs

More pairs, a new to Cornwall bird and 23 chicks!

Expect a photo heavy post soon.

Legs eleven

Bingo!  This cute bundle of feathers betwixt parents is chick number eleven to fledge this year. The watchers at this new site knew that chicks ( we are hoping there’s more than one) had left the nest as they could hear their calls echoing in the dark and cavernous zawn as their parents zoomed in and out on feeding missions.

Paul says the youngster was already flying well, this is because it’s had plenty of space to ‘boulder’ (hopping/flapping about from rock to rock to gain strength, stretch wings and practice), unlike some of the broods, which only had a teeny ledge and their first foray outside usually means landing in the bracken, a gorse bush or worse..the sea.

The parents here are two year old birds, which is really quite rare to be breeding successfully at that age.  But they don’t  hold the record on that!  More to come on Cornish choughs ripping up the rule book later…

Edit.  Two chicks seen flying this morning – thanks Robin!

Fully fledged this young birds begins life away from the security of it's nest. Image by Paul Mason

Fully fledged this young bird begins life away from the security of it’s nest. Image by Paul Mason