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.