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Choughed with dung

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Martin Aaron Martin Aaron | 10:22 UK time, Tuesday, 18 May 2010

RSPB Assistant warden, Lisa Morgan has just sent in her May report from Ramsey Island via a passing guillemot:

"Chough are one of our most important breeding birds on Ramsey. With a limited distribution around our west coast, they cling to Celtic shorelines, with up to 300 pairs in Wales, representing three-quarters of the UK population".

"These beautiful birds have glossy blue-black plumage with distinctive bright red bill and legs. We have seven pairs breeding on the island this year, with many more non-breeding birds also in residence".

"Considering the cold winter and the lack of feeding opportunities for chough when the ground is frozen, they have come through in good numbers".

"Many of our pairs are now feeding small chicks. It is rare for us to actually see a chough nest, as they are built way up in the top of our enormous sea caves".
Views from Ramsey Island:

"However, by watching their behaviour we can be sure of which stage of the breeding cycle they are at. Female chough incubate the eggs and will brood small chicks alone".

"The fact that we are now starting to see two birds coming out to collect food, implies chicks in the nest that can thermo-regulate, keeping themselves warm, without Mum's help. Birds bringing out white faecal pellets for disposal are also a dead give away".

"We hope to see young chough out of the nest by early June which is a great time to come and see them".

"Noisy family parties of chough can be encountered all around the reserve. The juveniles beg for food and their dutiful parents oblige with ants, grubs and insect larvae".

Comical choughs in flight. Image by Martin Aaron:

"This all links into some work we have started on the island to look at chough diet. We are particularly interested in one of their favourite crunchy snacks; the dung beetle".

"Ramsey is a working farm and our varying numbers of sheep, red deer, ponies and cattle produce plenty of dung, which is extremely attractive to many different species of beetle".

"This year, the RSPB has initiated a study in collaboration with Oxford University to investigate the abundance and diversity of these insects on the island".

"Initial results are hugely encouraging, with the range of species present and the vast number of beetles they are finding, creating quite a stir among entomologists".

And because you were all expecting a picture of a chough from an RSPB warden, here's a stunning minotaur instead!"

Image of a minotaur beetle by Lisa Morgan:
"Although crawling around on the floor all day looking for beetles may not be everybody's idea of a good day out, these fascinating creatures deserve a second glance".

"For instance the fearsome looking Minotaur Beetle, the male with three horns on its head, is the only 60 dung beetle species in Britain to roll droppings with its hind legs whilst going backwards down its burrow".

"You will come across these insects on Ramsey's footpaths, where the tunnels, dug by the female, look like little mini molehills".
"It's becoming clear that Ramsey is a hugely important site for dung beetle conservation and that in turn bodes well for the continued success of island chough".
"So whether it's birds or beetles that excite you, or if you just want to see the island's spectacular coastal scenery and spring flowers, Ramsey is open daily".

Visit rspb.org.uk/ramseyisland for all the information you need to plan your visit.


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