Little Visits: The Wonders of Choughness

We had ventured to Ballart for a family shindig. Normally such events would see us travelling to the family acres, but this was a special time and the shorter trip was appreciated.
Being in Ballarat meant we were both keen to see if we could find the Great Crested Grebes on the lake. Sort of a busman’s holiday.

On the first evening we were to meet with some of the family for an informal dinner and I decided that a quick trip to the lake area before leaving for the main event would be useful in gaining an understanding of the the light around the lake. On pain of death, I left the cameras behind as being late to the aforementioned dinner would release the Wrath of Khan.

So I quicky drove past and gained a lay of the land (or light in the case) as I passed by the area known locally as “Fairyland”, I saw what appeared to be an unusual Raven running across the grass. On second glance I exclaimed, “Chough”. That was enough for me to park iAmGrey and go and have a looksee. Sure enough it was a White-winged Chough.
Now Chough are very much communal birds, a flock is at least 7-8 birds and often more. They need that many birds to make a succesful nesting season. They are also known to abduct birds from other flocks to increase their numbers. They build a communal nest, each one bringing its supply of mud for the process. Once the eggs are laid, they also take it in turns at sitting. If there is an order of who gets to sit I’ve never figured it out, nor I suspect have they. I’ve seen three or four of them hold long meetings around the nest discussing whose turn it is to sit. The same with food. They will all bring back about the same time and like a conveyor belt each move up the branch to provide the young with their tasty morsel. Again arguements seem to be the order of the day, as they try to convince the young that theirs is the prettiest and therefore the most succulent of offerings.

So I expected to find a family of Choughs around the lake. But.

After a few minutes my score was—One Chough.

The following morning saw us both arrived armed with cameras and keen to look for Grebes.
We had the good fortune to bump into a local who seemed to know a bit about the birds in the area and was happy to share with us. After a bit of information about the Kookaburra that couldn’t Kooka call, and that the Grebes had moved out to the reeds further in the lake, I asked about the Chough.

It seems that “Charlie the White-winged Chough” (Charlie as it could be either male or female) had turned up about two years ago and had stayed. The conjecture was that Charlie had a damaged wing and couldn’t fly and that the flock had moved on leaving Charlie to its own devices and fate. Young Choughs are gormless and it might have been separated from the family group and somehow they moved away, or perhaps it was frightened by some event and was unable to locate the family. I’ve seen them caught up in downed branch leaves and need an adult to help free them. Also, Charlie didn’t call out at all while we were there so that adds another level of complexity to the tale.
Charlie might have sulked in the corner for a little bit, but was soon seen moving about in the parklands sharing the space with the Swamphens and Coots and humans and their dogs and small children.

We didn’t see Charlie again that morning but as we had dipped out on the Grebes as well, we were back in the gorgeous evening light to have another attempt. This time, Charlie was in residence and we watched and photographed as it moved about over the picnic areas helping itself to various insects buried among the garden mulch. It must also be noted that while Charlie did not fly it very quickly scampered from one location to another and seemed to take a particular dislike to Swamphens. With much raising of wings and aggressive stance. The swamphens invariably gave it space.

We were domile in a unit across from the lake so the following morning were back again for a brief period. The beauty of the early morning still air was a highlight of the day. Our grandson was going to take us on a tour of several of his favourite birding spots and we took the opportunity to again look for the Grebes. This time we did spot several. Way, way out there among the far flung reeds and so not much photo possibility.
“Look,” cried EE, “the Chough just flew into the tree in the lake.” And

Sure enough there was Charlie, out in a tree in the water, where the Fairyland area enters the lake proper.
So, it seems that flying is a skill that Charlie has. Now, is Charlie good at it? Well… Choughs are not exactley the greatest aeronauts so it would be hard to say if Charlie has diminished skills, but the tree is a fair way out in the water, and as its swimming skills are negligible, flying seems to work.

A couple of visiting lasses were discussing the id of some Little Pied Cormorants, and I offered some ideas, and also showed them the White-winged Chough. A quick check on Uncle Google and they were happy to confirm I was right—It was a White-winged Chough, but where was the white on the wings? Good question. And I explained that white is only shown in flight, and right on cue, Charlie took off flew down the Fairyland waterway and landed about 400m down in the garden area.
White-wings and all.

Choughness is so very complicated , and hard to explain, and I’ve long ago abandoned trying to understand these birds, but as long time readers will know, I have a real affinity for these amazing birds and was thrilled to have a new chapter to add to my limited store of knowledge.
Thanks Charlie.

Charlie looks like it is ‘carrying’ a wing, but I think it might just be a Chough thing
The lefthand side wing seems quite normal.
What are you doing out there on a tree in the Lake?
Hopping from one branch to another seems easy enough
There is always time for a spot of feather cleaning
A few missing feathers but that shouldn’t be a bother. It might just be moulting in for a winter season wardrobe
Time to Go
And across the lake and down to the picnic area for a morning snack
Seeming out of character, but confident among the carpark and traffic.
Scampering along the running track with the early morning jogging crowds, Charlie is quite comfortable
While others hurry by, Charlie can stop for a quick refreshment break.
Arriving late at the picnic table.

Swamphens beware. Charlie means business

13 thoughts on “Little Visits: The Wonders of Choughness

  1. A fascinating series of images and discussion of Charlie. Interesting that s/he is one up.That is unusual!
    Might have to find an excuse to wander up the highway to visit the rels!
    I should have popped down to Sneydes this morning, would have had a great view of the Roulettes and the C 130!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, I wish it had been better publicised as I’d have rearranged my day and gone down there as the view would have been quite special.
      Charlie is so very interesting and it doesn’t seem to be bothered by humans or their dogs, children or parties. It is not feeding that I could determine from scraps but seemed to be able to work over the mulch around the trees. It had moved to the tree in the lake so that it could pick insects from the reeds. Strange, but then so Chough


    1. Hello Eleanor, If it has survived so long on its own, I wonder if it would find it difficult to fit into a new family. On the other hand, they are so communal and always on the look out to build the size of the family group, perhaps it would just pick up whereever it had left off.
      The bird is completely oblivious to humans being around and just carries on in its own world.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Clare, thanks for stopping by. They are wonderful birds and always a treat to see them working as a family. This one is pretty much unique in the Chough world i’d think. After two years, it is very relaxed and doesn’t seem to mind its own company. With that I an indetify. 🙂


  2. I love your story telling, David and the photos of Charlie are adorable. Too bad you haven’t been able to see the grebes but, as you know ,“there’s always another time”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Adam, it was a bit of fun working out a running commentary on the action
      Don’t despair we did have a session with the Grebes on the last morning So all not lost.


  3. We saw so many Chough and Apostlebird clans while on our roadtrip, they were in the most desert like places making their little sounds and busily moving through the bush. Charley like all choughs are quite unique and comical in their community activities. My studies on this bird have given me a great appreciation for the complexity of community and the different pressures that govern its operation. We never see them here this side of the ranges, but always enjoy sighting them. When on walks with family members, and I ask what these birds are, and rely ‘crows’, they become quite excited and suddenly launch their phone camera when I tell them they are Choughs, a bird they do not know they it lives in their area. This shows how we can easily miss detail, which birding helps to cure. Charley seems to be doing well, it is amazing that you have been able to track him. Interesting that it really does not matter if it is male or female they all share the same duties in the clan, and even compete to serve, as they all have their community purpose at heart to breed and survive. Great crisp photos David as always, I always am unhappy with mine, as the black is difficult to get crisp, as is the white in Cockies. I always love to egt them flying and have a shot at the white wings. Have a restful weekend my friend.


    1. Hello Ashley,
      Thanks for the extra details. They are such intruiging birds. I guess because they appear together and seem to always engaged in their communal activities that it invites closer study.
      Tracking it down wasn’t too hard as it was quite casual about its work through the large lawns and beds around the busiest part of the lake.
      As you say they almost compete to accomplish various tasks. I’ve seen them at nest argue for quite a few minutes about whose sitting on the nest turn it is. The delightful oboe like call is carries so well through the scrub and is always my giveaway that they area in the area. Charley however didn’t call while we were there. Perhaps because no one would answer.
      There is not much clever photography going on here other than trying to work with the best light and being able to get quite close to keep the best details.
      The dynamic range of digital has gotten so much better over the years so we are now much more able to deal with black and white details.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Love a bird with character and so well defined in your words and images. Perhaps s/he has realised the wonderful world of the introverts. I would happily join but the rules of the anti social social club are against such things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. G’day, Yes the consitution of for the Anti-Social Club would be broken if there was more than one member.
      I guess we work with so many birds that seem to be happy on their own. Choughs are quite the opposite and need the strength of numbers. This one seems quite comfortable. Perhaps like caged birds it has settled into an acceptance of its lot in life.


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