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Cornish success story…

Chough and Hen Harrier breed

Remarkably, western Cornwall hosted the first breeding attempts in southern England for many decades for both Chough and Hen Harrier this year.Both breeding attempts were closely monitored, the Chough as part of the recently launch Cornwall Chough Project, involving English Nature, RSPB, the National Trust and DEFRA, and the Hen Harrier as part of English Nature`s Hen Harrier Recovery Project. Considerable help with the both species came from local birdwatchers and volunteers.Three young fledged successfully from the Hen Harrier nest, two of which were fitted with radio-tags and all three with wing-tags. Close monitoring revealed that at least one of the young (a female) died in the nest area several weeks after fledging, just at the point when it was becoming independent of the adults. The fact that it was radio-tagged allowed the carcase to be retrieved and a full post-mortem was carried out. This showed that the bird had a very high parasite burden and was emaciated. The conclusion was that starvation, perhaps exacerbated by the effects of the parasites, was the likely cause of death.Another female fledgling was not seen regularly after fledging and it must have either dispersed very quickly or died. It was not radio-tagged and if it had died within the nest area there was little chance of it being located.The third fledgling, a male, has had more success. It remained in the breeding area for several weeks after becoming independent of the adults but then dispersed and has now been reported from Skomer off south-west Wales. The wing-tags have been read by the warden confirming that it is from the Cornwall nest. It is with a group of 5-6 Hen Harriers that are roosting together on the island. The adult birds are still being seen intermittently in the Cornish breeding area and it is very much hoped that they will stay to make another breeding attempt next year.The Chough pair bred on the Lizard peninsular, following an influx of three birds to the area in early 2001. Three young fledged successfully, all males, and, very encouragingly, both they and the two adults are still in the area. According to Chough experts it is unlikely that the young will leave the area this late in the autumn so it seems that the birds are happy with conditions on the Lizard, and will remain, at least for their first winter. Observations of colour rings fitted to the young birds have shown that they are tending to stick together when foraging but often use different areas to the two adult birds. Because the Chough is such a social species it is hoped (perhaps optimistically!) that any wandering birds moving along the coast in this area will join up with the birds currently present, so increasing the chances that a small breeding population will become established. The Chough is an important bird in Cornwall, being included on the county coat of arms and often referred to locally as the Cornish Chough. Its return as a regular breeding species following an absence of more than 50 years would be welcome indeed. An article on the Chough project in Cornwall is due to be published in British Birds sometime in the New Year.Birdwatchers can help with the monitoring of both the Chough and Hen Harrier by reporting sightings of birds. Any records of Chough in south-west England would be useful and should be reported to the Project Coordinator Claire Mucklow (claire.mucklow@rspb.org.uk)Hen Harriers have been wing-tagged at several sites in northern England as well as in Cornwall. Records from anywhere in England should be forwarded to David Sowter (davidsowter@freenet.co.uk) who coordinates the tagging work or Richard Saunders (richard.saunders@english-nature.org.uk) English Nature`s Hen Harrier Project Coordinator.

Ian Carter
Ornithologist, English Nature

4th July 2014