Isle of Wight is ‘Go’!

dramaticflight

Now that we have the Red-billed chough (Pyrrhocorax pyrrhocorax) back in Cornwall and, therefore England – something that’s been dear to my heart all my life, certainly since I started working with them in the 1970s. They took up a good five years of my life in the eighties, as anyone who knows me knows.  The results of all that work can be seen in my thesis here https://chough.org/research-papers

So it was great to be involved in someone else’s project for once and view it from a more dispassionate angle.  This is part of what I wrote to Steve Jones – indefatigable and a huge source of knowledge about the island’s wildlife – after I visited last week and was shown  lots of key sites.  His energy and imagination will I’m sure achieve results.  

Dear Steve,
Thank you very much for taking the time to show Sam and myself round many potential Chough sites on the island on Tuesday. It was an exciting, if very hot, visit which we both thoroughly enjoyed.

The experience far exceeded my expectations. I was not prepared for such a varied and extensive range of different highly suitable habitats.

Despite the fact that it was high tourist season, with increased numbers due to ‘staycation’, large areas we visited were devoid of human (and dog) presence. In contrast, the invertebrate populations were more dense than anything I’ve seen on the mainland recently, so prey resources are well catered for – the richness of bird life, resident and visiting the island on migration, supports this view – nesting sites similarly.

There is ample short-grazed / naturally exposed sward available with plenty of mosaics and earth exposures of different kinds with good areas of varied wild cliffscape and inaccessible coves and beaches; the quality of geology and botany is extensive and rich. In short, I was deeply struck by the extent and variability of suitable Chough habitat; it was difficult to think of anything which was lacking! 

Considering the island is (surprisingly!) large, all compass points and aspects are available viz a viz shelter, breeding, feeding, and exposure (including east for early morning solar irradiation).  There is generally sympathetic stewardship with the National Trust being principal, and also wealthy independent landowners keen on chough re-establishment. The entire island contains within its ca.150 sq mi (380 km2) and coastline of approximately 70 miles (113km) a surfeit of extensive fine habitats.

We talked quite a lot about suitable sites for the location of captive-breeding/soft release sites, and you showed me a few possible places. 

I can only send my the very best in your endeavours and just wish the birds were available now for you to progress quickly. To sum up briefly, I have no doubt the island, as it is, can support a viable Chough population. 

Thank you once again for the expert guidance you gave us and your kind hospitality.

[NB. The Chough is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem, in other words, if it can support this top species it can support everything else ‘beneath’ it (in food chain terms).]

The Robin I wrote about last time is still with us but now in perfect adult plumage; I still find it hard to believe that a totally wild animal can, after all we throw at wildlife, be so trusting.

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Bird in the hand

So I get to pondering why some birds are born tame. Why some show little or  no fear of our towering human presences, while others, from the same brood, behave like normal wild animals and avoid close contact at all costs. Perhaps they are the sensible ones.

Perhaps, the Robin – emblem of countless Christmas cards – more than any other species has been spared human cruelty and persecution: gardeners enjoy their close association and naturalists love their winter song (on account of the fact they hold territories through the year). Those are some of the reasons, but why this particular individual?

 

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Slightly blurry photo taken with one hand!

Straight from the nest, she was confiding and tame, on the ground round our feet, soon coming to the hand for food. Slightly wary at first but now she comes and demands it, as though I’m her natural parent (anything less like is difficult to imagine).

When she lands confidently, her tiny claws pressing into my flesh, I know I’m in direct contact with a life form which has come down through millennia despite all the vicissitudes of climate, predators, man and habitat change.

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This confiding little creature enlivens and enchants. I just hope that losing her fear of man, does not dull her reflexes, because there are plenty of other dangers: cats always a danger here. And Sparrowhawks need to feed too.