Hitting the road in search of choughs
by Paul Cormacain 01/08/2003
SOME years ago we saw the choughs nesting on the north coast, and it was not too long after that time that the bird went into decline there.
This is a bird which has had a varied history of survival. As an example, it used to be very common In south-west England, at least, yet nowadays there is not a chough to be seen in England.
Scotland has a few birds, mostly on a few islands off the west coast. The Isle of Man is well stocked with choughs, and the west coast of Wales has some, with others living inland in Wales, which is a somewhat rare occurrence.
There used to be choughs along the north coast, and a quite recent book shows a very healthy population there. Last year there were none east of Donegal, but this year there are breeding choughs back in Antrim, and perhaps in Rathlin Island.
Choughs live along the Irish south coast, the west coast, and there are some in north Donegall. So we' travelled along the north coast, headed into Donegall, and travelled south along the west coast.
We went as far as Cruit Island, and it was on this island that we saw some rare sights. On the golf course we saw some guy called O'Donnell I do not know what his handicap is, but, judging from his grand mansion, money is not a handicap. Neither is his singing a handicap.
As well as golfers there were choughs. We moved around the island, and must have seen about a dozen small flocks of the bird. Well, we might have seen the same flock once or twice, but it was most certainly not the same flock that we sighted in different parts of the island.
In Antrim, the farmers have been very good in ensuring that a suitable habitat for choughs is in place. This is doubtless a big factor in the return of the chough to Antrim, and the farmers are to be commended. Now that we have a return of the chough, and we seem to have got everything right, perhaps we can now get them to thrive and spread.
Some of the east Antrim sea cliffs always seemed to me as being suitable chough territory. Perhaps the move south will start next year, and who knows, the chough may end up in the perfect habitat of the Gobbins.
Choughs are wonderful fliers. I have seen them give spectacular displays, where they seemed to love the up-draughts, and made the most of them. If a wind comes along the sea, hits a cliff, it can only go up, and that is where the choughs take advantage of the draught.
They soar effortlessly in the up-draught. They swoop from ledge to ledge. I have seen them on their backs, which I always thought was spectacular. Then they would close their wings and dive, and this means they can achieve a great speed. They have to make sure that they come out of their dives before they hit the ground or sea.
Choughs nest in sea caves, or in holes in sea cliffs, or on ledges. As mentioned about Wales, they sometimes breed inland. They usually have three to six eggs per pair, which you would think is a viable number of eggs to ensure the survival of the species.
It seems pretty certain that is it was us, collectively, who changed the environment, making our coasts a hostile home for choughs, and thus we would be responsible for a decrease in chough numbers. Now, thanks to re-education, concern about the environment, approval of the state and the whole-hearted help of farmers, we seem to be having a possible chough revival.
Sundays to August 31: Coney Island Boat Trips, contact Lough Neagh Discovery Centre for more details, phone 028 3832 2205.
Saturday 2 to Sunday, August 3: You are invited to go whale watching at Whitehead and Portrush, by Wildlife Trust, Seawatch Foundation, and Irish Whale and Dolphin group, contact 028 7082 5834.
Sunday, August 3 If you want to go searching for purple hairstreak in Tyrone, contact Trevor Boyd of Butterfly Conservation, 028 9185 2276
Monday 4 to Friday 8, Monday 11 to Friday. August 15: Oxford Island is hosting Children's Wildlife Hour on these days from 14:30 to 15:50, sounds like a brilliant idea. Phone 028 3832 2205 for further information.