Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Choughs and other Crows - Wales Part Three

The last time we visited south west Wales was just after we became engaged in August 1982. Thirty two years on, almost to the week, we looked forward to seeing some of the birds that were the highlight of that distant holiday.

On that previous holiday we preceded the Red Kite introductions, so they were much more of a challenge to find and they didn’t feature. However, one of the other Welsh stars, the Chough, gave us some excellent views.

This time we saw Choughs at six different locations including, on our last morning, passing the camp site as we packed our tent.

My beloved’s birthday occurred mid holiday and, our telephoto lens having broken, her present was a Nikon L830 with a 30+ magnification. She managed a remarkable short of a Chough that was preening and which shows no sign of red beak or red legs.

As would be expected for a bird that pairs for life, we always saw at least two Choughs together. We saw one group of four and one of five. Family groups I suspect.

Just as Red Kites have a far carrying and distinctive call, so it is for Choughs. Everything about them is exuberant. Their buoyant, often playful flight is very distinctive. Their call, from which they get their name (doesn’t sound much like “chough” to me) reminds me a bit of a high pitched ecstatic Jackdaw. As with most birds, the complexity and variety within the call defines accurate description.

From suitable cliff top vantage points it’s relatively easy to get good views of Choughs, if you choose the right mix of habitat. They like to feed on short turf, probing with that impressive curved red beak.

Apart from Hooded Crow, which would be a huge surprise in Wales, we saw all of the native crows.

Large mixed flocks of Rooks and Jackdaws enjoyed the spoils of the harvest, as farmers made the most of the sunshine that we enjoyed to cut the corn and bale the straw. On very fine days there were tractors and harvesters working from dawn and into the night.

Views of Jays were confined to fleeting glimpses as they flitted through the trees. Carrion Crows were most prominent in sharing the cliff tops and nearby fields with the Choughs.

Thirty years ago, when we lived in Lincolnshire, Magpies were beginning to recover from long term persecution. There’s an old joke about the attitude of Lincolnshire land owners that says “If it grows, dig it up. If it moves, shoot it”. Magpies were everywhere in Wales; even on the beach.

Ravens, the giants of the crow family, were evident at most of the coastal sites and, as we were camping only about a mile from the sea, they regularly flew over the camp site. Usually, before we saw the Ravens, we heard their deep and slightly comical “Cronk”.

Just like their much daintier relations the Choughs, Ravens are very entertaining in flight. In spite of their bulk they’re very athletic, climbing and dropping, rolling and, most impressive of all, turning upside down and even flying upside down for short distances.

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