Ever since I learnt that choughs have returned to Cornwall after decades of absence, I’ve wanted to see some. But a chough spotting expedition down to the Lizard earlier this year was unsuccessful (at least with regards to seeing choughs). A recent visit to my parents gave me another opportunity to spot the emblematic corvids.
Having learnt from the previous unsuccessful attempt to see choughs, we decided to get some expert advice. Dr C and I drove to the Lizard, and after a quick pasty, sought the advice of one of the National Trust volunteers who were pointing out wildlife of interest to visitors. It wasn’t what I was hoping to hear. September isn’t an easy time to spot choughs, as the youngsters have fledged and moved away, and the adults, no longer tied to the nest, can move further afield and are harder to predict. Apparently, if we came in April or May we would be virtually guaranteed a sighting, but not at this time of year… Still, they sometimes feed near Kynance Cove, a few miles around the coast, so if we walked in that direction, we might get lucky.
So that’s what we did, following the coast path. A kestrel put on a good display for us, repeatedly hovering in mid-air, then plunging to the grass, only to return to the air empty clawed. After perhaps a mile or so a pair of corvids flew past, dark against the blue sky. It was worth checking out, and a look through the binoculars revealed the bright red legs and curved red beaks that make choughs so recognisable among British corvids. After very little walking, watching or waiting we had seen our first choughs! It felt like we hadn’t yet earnt it that day – some wildlife spotting is hard work, but this was easy. We watched the choughs til they glided over the brow of the hill, then continued our stroll since it was a pleasant day.
On our stroll back towards the Lizard point, we got an even better view of the choughs – a pair were feeding right on the path maybe 50 metres in front of us. They seemed unperturbed by the walkers approaching from the other direction, and merely moved a few metres off the path when the walkers got right up to them. A perfect photo opportunity, but I had been lazy and not taken my camera on the walk, so I’m afraid I have no pictures of choughs to show you. The best I can manage is this panoramic shot of the coast that I took using my phone.
It was wonderful to see such splendid birds at close quarters (I’m a corvid fan anyway, but choughs win the beauty competition among British corvids in my opinion). And it’s particularly exciting to see a conservation good news story in real life, particularly one that is so closely linked to the history and culture of the place where we saw it. It was a successful start to our holiday, and boded well for our other wild adventures.