Friday, 23 June 2017

Cornish Choughs

My evening walk along the cliff path is rewarded with this year’s first sighting of choughs with young. Three adults with a couple of distinctly smaller juveniles still with yellow bills, paint a lovely picture on the grassy slopes covered with thrift and rockroses. The young are not long out of the nest and fly only weakly, preferring to sit on the cliffs waiting to be fed.

Choughs were absent from these cliffs for more than a century, but returned to breed about 30 years ago, occupying the exact same nesting caves vacated so long ago. We now have about half a dozen productive pairs each year, which with offspring, congregate in late summer to form a roving flock sometimes up to 20 strong. There are nests under the cliffs either side of me, and it’s not clear which one this family is from. In the first week or so after fledging, they’ll stay close to the nest site, and if the other nest succeeds, will eventually mix, providing an even better spectacle in the weeks ahead. ‘Our’ choughs have been ringed over the last few years, and I can just make out colour rings on the legs of one of the adults. Some of the birds we see on Gower originate from Pembrokeshire, and a few find their way back, and some Gower-ringed birds cross the Bristol Channel to Devon and Cornwall.

Chough is the county bird of Cornwall, and was also absent there for more than a century. Long and protracted discussions took place as to whether they should be reintroduced, and in 1999 the decision was finally taken to go ahead. The choughs knew better, promptly reintroducing themselves the year before the project was due to start, and are now doing well there as well.

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