Category Archives: Ray’s Ramblings

Alison & Ray Hales ready for some chough watching

Chough watching trip to Jersey

We (Ali and myself, plus sister Elaine), were a bit late with our Jersey migration this year – but have just returned from a splendid few days catching up with the choughs, sheep, and release team on the island.

The six birds sent from Paradise Park had just completed their quarantine, and were eager to get out on the cliffs with the rest of the flock. They were released on Monday 3rd October – we got there on the evening of the 4th.

Alison & Ray Hales ready for some chough watching

Alison & Ray Hales ready for some chough watching (Elaine Hales)

We were very lucky with the weather, and although we stayed dry, the wind was showing signs of impending winter. We soon got to the cliffs and met up with Liz Corry and team – and, of course, the choughs. The birds are being closely monitored, and all the newly released ones have been fitted with radio transmitters. The aerials could be seen through binoculars and it was clear that all the birds were mixing together well.

Bea and Simon monitoring the choughs with radio tags

Bea and Simon from Durrell monitoring the choughs with radio transmitters (Ali Hales)

The chough is renowned for its incredible flying ability, and the Jersey flock is no exception. The older birds have truly mastered their environment, and the youngsters are picking up the same skills at a phenomenal rate – in fact the new and established birds could only be told apart by their transmitters (or lack of). The birds like nothing more than to dance on the updrafts, and ride the thermals. “Like black handkerchiefs blown by the wind” as Elaine said.

 

The flock of birds can relocate themselves remarkably quickly – one moment they are all feeding close to the aviary – and the next they are several hundred feet up in the air…

Ray & Ali trying to count choughs several hundred feet high

Ray & Ali trying to count choughs several hundred feet up (E Hales)

…and if you have a telephoto lens, they look like this.

A soaring flock of twenty-nine choughs (Ali Hales)

A soaring flock of twenty-nine choughs (Picture Ali Hales)

We didn’t actually get to see all thirty-five choughs at the same time, although we are sure we encountered them all during our stay. We found out that the “teenagers” (as Liz calls the year-old birds) have decided to go exploring – much the same as last year.

They have been seen several kilometres away on Jersey’s racecourse on the north-west tip of the island. They may be scouting for possible nest sites, or they may have found a new food supply. (There is a small herd of cows in a field in the centre of the course – ideal for trampled grass and cow-pats).

The Bracken Bashers

One of the aims of the Birds on the Edge project is to restore the coastal habitat around the island of Jersey, and as such they use a variety of methods. These include volunteer teams cutting gorse down, and bashing down encroaching bracken with tractors.

Using a tractor and "topper" to keep the bracken at bay ( R Hales)

Using a tractor and “topper” to keep the bracken at bay ( R Hales)

There is another dedicated team who are out in all weathers doing their bit for conservation. These are the Manx Loaghtan sheep (Manx Longhorns), and they are doing an impressive job. They have increased their flock even quicker than the choughs, there are now in the region of 200 sheep.

I was lucky enough to have a close encounter with one of the ladies on the cliffs while chough watching – it’s almost like she’s guarding them.

Keep up the good work Sharon – and everyone else!

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The usual thorough monthly report from the Birds on the Edge team for September is here.

Six choughs ready for their longest flight so far

Six More to Jersey

Six young choughs bred at Paradise Park this year have gone to Jersey to be released.

Lee Durrell and Colin Stevenson collected them by plane on August 31st, arriving at Perranporth airfield, near Truro, as they have done in previous years. Lee and Colin were accompanied by Durrell staff Bea Detnon and Jessica Maxwell.

Going by plane saves many hours travelling by ferry, and we are very grateful for Lee and Colin’s help with this. The flight takes just over an hour and means the young choughs will be in the release aviary by the afternoon, after veterinary checks.

Six choughs ready for their longest flight so far

Six choughs ready for their longest flight so far (Pic R Hales)

Chough Re-introduction Field Manager at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Liz Corry, was waiting for the birds to arrive. She has planned for the arrival in advance.

The six choughs bred at Durrell Wildlife Park were released a few weeks ago. These birds are to be mentors for the new arrivals. They have been lured back into the release aviary and the Paradise Park birds will join them.

After a short period of quarantine, the whole group of twelve will be let out together to mix with the larger flock. The six local birds will share invaluable knowledge with the new birds, improving their chances of survival.

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It is incredibly gratifying to see at first hand the young birds we have raised heading off to be released. Just four months ago we were feeding and weighing these youngsters, and now they are off to Big School…

Chough chick being monitored and weighed. May 2016.

Chough chick being monitored and weighed. May 2016. (Pic A Hales)

Chough chick aged 24 days being weighed.

Happy Birthday!

Today is Operation Chough’s Birthday!

Chough Flying into the Sunset. The Lizard 2002. Pic Ray Hales.

Chough flying at sunset. The Lizard 2002. Pic Ray Hales.

We have long admired the Red-billed Chough’s intelligence and beauty – how could we not be inspired to help this magnificent bird and see it flying again over coastlines where it had disappeared?

Mike Reynolds and Robin Hanbury Tenison August 4th 1987

Mike Reynolds and Robin Hanbury Tenison August 4th 1987

The official launch was back in 1987 – not a good time for chough-lovers as the species had died out in Cornwall. But things were about to change…

The natural recolonisation by three birds in 2001 gave us great opportunities to observe the behaviour of wild birds right on our doorstep.

A Breeding Pair of Wild Cornish Choughs, on the Cornish Coast 2016.

A breeding pair of wild Choughs on the Cornish coast 2016. Pic Ray Hales.

In the 1980s we had had some success in breeding choughs here at Paradise Park, but it was just one or two chicks a year, as we learned what they needed. Now we have become somewhat expert and our captive pairs produce around ten chicks each year.

Chough chick aged 24 days being weighed. Ray Hales 2014.

Chough chick aged 24 days being weighed. Ray Hales 2014.

This has enabled us to fulfil our objective on Jersey and with the help of our hard-working partners at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, thirty – yes THIRTY – choughs are now living free on the island after an absence of 100 years. The method used for the Jersey release is a template for further re-establishment to help join up the scattered populations and spread genetic diversity.

Choughs on Jersey going to Roost. Pic Liz Corry.

Choughs on Jersey going to Roost. Pic Liz Corry.

Long live the chough!

Three chough chicks just over 24 hours old

Day Old Chough Chicks

Here is the first picture of the first nest of this year’s chough chicks. (Nest three).

Three chough chicks just over 24 hours old

Three chough chicks just over 24 hours old

We have designed the nest boxes in the breeding aviaries with a small inspection hatch at the back. This allows us to monitor weights, give supplementary feeds, and occasionally medication.

While the birds are distracted by someone, usually Ali, going into the front of the aviary with food, I can use the opportunity to open the hatch to carry out my secret duties. The adult birds tend to hide in a small space on top of the nest box while this is going on.

We get the birds used to these intrusions before any eggs are hatched, by using positive reinforcement. The adult birds associate a person coming into the aviary as a good thing. Person equals food. This makes our disturbances much less stressful for all concerned, except for Ray and Ali.

A rare view of seventeen chough eggs

Seventeen Eggs

The total egg count for our breeding choughs is now up to seventeen.

A rare view of seventeen chough eggs

A rare view of seventeen chough eggs

To mark Her Majesty the Queen’s 90th birthday, our oldest female chough, aged 18, laid our most recent egg. She is a remarkable bird and amazingly spiritedly for such an age. (The chough, not the Queen).

Nest number four continues to “faff”…

According to our calculations, the first eggs in nest three will be hatching in the next two or three days. We will then switch the webcam view to show the new arrivals.

You can see the webcam here.

Seclusion aviary nests showing eleven eggs

Eleven Eggs and Counting…

The breeding choughs at Paradise Park have now increased their total egg count to eleven.

Seclusion aviary nests showing eleven eggs

Seclusion aviary nests showing eleven eggs

Three of the nests are progressing well, with counts of four, three, and four eggs respectively. The female in nest two laid the third egg this morning, and hopefully will add one or two more. We think that the females in nests one and three have now finished, as there have been no new eggs for several days.

The birds in nests four and five are still “faffing about”. This is a technical term used by chough breeders. It means that the birds are still adding (and subtracting) to the nests. Generally, the male will bring material into the nest and a few minutes later the female will take it out again!

However, the choughs in nests four and five were later last year – and they also built “looser” nests, so we are still expecting more eggs to come.

You can see the webcam here.

Seasons Greetings from Operation Chough

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from Operation Chough!

Seasons Greetings from Operation Chough

Seasons Greetings from Operation Chough

We wish for another great year for choughs, more choughs breeding and flying free, and more friends and partners working together to achieve many future generations of our favourite red-billed birds.

(Please note : No choughs or Photoshops were harmed in the making of this image.)

With Best Wishes,

Ray & Alison Hales

Ray Hales and hand-reared chough Ruby (A Hales)

Finished at Last!

Welcome to the new Operation Chough website – a site for all dedicated Pyrrhomaniacs.

Ray Hales and hand-reared chough Ruby (A Hales)

Ray Hales “Pyrrhomaniac” and hand-reared chough Ruby (A Hales)

Pyrrhomaniac

Noun: A person who loves all things related to, or appertaining to, the Red-Billed Chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax).

Defn: “These people are known to spend hours standing out in all weathers on the coast, waiting for the slightest glimpse of their favourite bird. In the breeding season they will sit on the cliffs and get sunstroke while watching over nest sites, or will spend hours collecting ants for the birds they are breeding.

They are also known to show a keen interest in bugs, and places where bugs live. They are not averse to flipping over cow-pats in search of bugs. They have even been found collecting cow-pats in buckets to examine the bug treasure within. They are not to be pitied – they are merely enthralled by this fabulous creature”

I welcome all my fellow Pyrrhomaniacs.