A challenging year for Cornish Choughs

After a successful 2016, with a fantastic number of pairs and fledging chicks, 2017 has been ‘challenging’ for the Cornish choughs.   An unfortunate combination of some breeding adults lost, young inexperienced pairs and predation, has meant the number of breeding chicks and fledging pairs have been lower than hoped. We have also seen low productivity due to a cool spring when eggs are laid and needing to be kept warm and a very dry period, affecting access to their food supplies.

Choughs also known as ‘digger’ birds, use their long red bills to dig in the ground for invertebrates but would struggle in hard dry ground to do this. Their next source of food would be via the invertebrates found amongst cow pats which proves how important in these times of climate uncertainty, grazing cattle on the coastal fringes is vital for choughs.

Six pairs were successful and most nests have fledged now. 14 chicks in total is still a pretty amazing result, although everyone involved in supporting chough conservation in Cornwall is aware that the population is not at a sustainable level yet and there is work to do to keep them safe and secure.  We estimate that there are approximately 30 adult birds currently across Cornwall.

Volunteers from RSPB and National Trust have spent hundreds of hours protecting and monitoring nests, those lucky to see the young fledging have been rewarded by glimpses of parents feeding their chicks and first tentative flights.

This is a great time to see good numbers of choughs in the skies as the family groups are now flocking together and are venturing further as they explore the Cornish coast.

If you see any of Cornwall's choughs in the wild, please let us know via cornishchoughs@rspb.org.uk

Photo by Barry Batchelor courtesy of the National Trust.

The choughlets are here!

I have been delayed posting this news for reasons to follow but what I want to start with is that we are pleased to let you know that five wild chough pairs have successfully fledged thirteen chicks to add to Cornwall's chough population.   These are pairs from the Lizard to St Ives:

To that reason that has delayed us in writing the news of fledging....

...We are still waiting for one nest!  However, it is an unvisited nest site where the male disappeared at some point during the breeding season but the female is coming and going to the nest as if she is feeding chicks.  We have learnt that choughs will still go through the motion of each breeding stage and have no chicks to show for it.  We are hoping this female surprises us but we are still waiting and watching...

When we know for sure about this nest, we will post again the full breeding season ups and downs in more details.

Thanks to (in order) Dave Flumm, Paul Mason, Geoff Rogers and Sarah Measham for the above photos.

UPDATE:  Well...a few hours later a young choughlet said hello to the outside world. She did it! Some point in the middle of May after she had finished incubating, she lost her partner and gained a new one - maybe in a week!  A one year old male has done his best to bond with her and is now a step dad!

Total is now at 14 choughlets.

Thanks to Geoff Rogers for the above photo.

PLEASE:  If you see a young chough, give them space.  They are at a very vulnerable stage where they are learning about dangers and how to fly and feed.

Celebrating Cornwall’s specialty species – choughs and seals!

By Sue Sayer, Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust
(Republished From West Briton)

The annual Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) conference was held last weekend. Themed as ‘Working in Partnership for Nature’, inspiring talks were followed by field trips. Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust (CSGRT) partnered with National Trust’s Cat Lee and Nicola Shanks from RSPB Chough Watch to deliver a field trip around Lizard’s Southerly Point looking for Cornwall’s specialty species – choughs and seals. Embedded in Cornish culture, it is obvious why choughs are a Cornish speciality – but why grey seals?

As a globally rare species, grey seals are protected by the Bern Convention, the Conservation of Seals Act and in Sites of Special Scientific Interest legislation. Whilst the UK has 38% of the world’s population of grey seals, there are surprisingly fewer grey seals in the UK than red squirrels, so we are incredibly lucky to have them on our doorstep and people travel from all over the world to get a glimpse!

If we want people to protect other rare species such as African Elephants for us then we need to protect grey seals for the rest of society and future generations. This is the role of CSGRT and its huge number of amazing volunteer citizen scientists who routinely survey their local stretch of the southwest coastline all year round for years. CSGRT is an evidence based conservation charity using research findings to inform policy and management by giving seals a voice.

This is exemplified by our Lizard team who we visited for the field trip. Alec and Enid Farr and Terry Thirlaway joined in 2014 and survey seals here every single day, all year round. Similar to the rest of Cornwall, seal numbers here appear to be stable despite healthy pup numbers suggesting that survival rates are low and mortality from anthropogenic impacts is high – which is worrying. It seems that the highest rate of entanglement for any phocid seal species anywhere in the world is taking its toll, combined with high disturbance rates and ongoing effects of marine pollution.

CSGRT have their work cut out to get their key messages out to protect grey seals: Admire from a respectful distance; always leave seals as you find them; never feed wild seals; never return beached seals to the sea; pick up all looped items from beaches and only eat sustainable, local line caught fish and potted shellfish. If you are concerned, call our partner organisation British Divers Marine Life Rescue (01825 765546) as they will assess and rescue injured seals for Cornish Seal Sanctuary rehabilitation and always report your seal sightings to sue@cornwallsealgroup.co.uk to add to our body of knowledge about our Cornish specialty marine species.

Photo by Alec Farr.

Spring is here

That's right! The birds are busy and no more so than the wild red-billed choughs of Cornwall.

As we head towards the breeding season, we know that there are approximately twenty four choughs spread out along the Cornish coast from the south east to the north.

Unfortunately, over winter it looked like the population had lost two breeding pairs with a chough from each one vanishing. That was made more sad by one of those pairs being an established pair who have raised a good number of chicks since 2011.  In fact, last year they had four chicks fledge the nest and all four are still alive having made it through their first winter which is a happy but sadly a rare occurance in the chough world.

Now for the happy news! At the beginning of the year, we were looking at four established breeding pairs with the possibility of a new pair but all of a sudden we are watching nine pairs!  That's right, NINE pairs!

That is the highest number since the chough recolonised in Cornwall in 2001.

They may not all breed this year but we are watching them all and will let you know how they get on.