April is the month Cornwall’s Chough Watchers look forward to. Time to get out of the house, abandon any gardening or DIY plans and escape to the cliffs. The Watchers keep the choughs safe as they nest and help keep track of their progress through the breeding season each year. As well as the Lizard’s very own pair, at least twelve other pairs are being monitored around the Cornish coast this spring. Over winter one pair that attempted to breed last year disappeared, but their site has already been adopted. People talk of ‘historic’ nest sites for various species, and it really is true of choughs.
This young pair had their pick of any number of caves and crevices but something draws them to this place; they will be the third resident pair since 2006. Good news for the local Watch team who know the area well. There is another new pair this time at a new to us site, a west coast zawn, one of those steep sided inlets that waves funnel and crash into with such ferocity. I expect they have chosen carefully, hopefully not a nest perched on some perilous small ledge where fledging chicks could fall into a tumbling churning sea – a pair on Anglesey lost their brood each year like that.
Nests made and eggs laid, with the experienced pairs the Watchers will be seeing little of the female choughs over the next couple of weeks as they are sitting tight, coming off the nest only for a few minutes every couple of hours, perhaps a longer break at the start and end of day. During this time the males take up the task of feeding their mates with automaton-like regularity. It is not always so smooth and efficient with the young first-time pairs though. Keeping us all guessing, they can spend weeks deciding on where to nest, but they too slip into a routine in time and although not always successful it’s part of their learning curve.
Three weeks of incubation over, and it’s the end of April, Watchers begin to see a different pattern with more frequent and longer trips out by the females as she makes feeding trips to and fro with her mate. Long weeks of provisioning hungry chicks lie ahead for the choughs, while we Watchers will be speculating on chick numbers. Last year 23, come June we will know for sure how many this time.
Nature notes from the team this week include slow worm, stoat, red deer, bottle-nosed dolphins chasing wrasse and plenty of swallows flying in off the sea – who doesn’t feel a lift on seeing their first swallow.
Published: April 2017
Author: Claire Mucklow (Species and Habitats Officer RSPB Cornwall)