Chough report: June 2012

Captive breeding at Durrell

There has been nothing to note since the loss of the chick. Both pairs seem very disinterested now.

Captive breeding at Paradise Park

All three parent-reared chicks survived to fledging age. Hopefully, these will be brought over to Durrell in the autumn to be used in the trial release.

Display flock at Durrell

On the 30th June morning routine B6977 (Wt-R ♀) was found entangled in wire zoo-mesh on top of the catch-up cage. There were two large holes, one of which she had got stuck in. It is not known when, or how, the holes first appeared, but it is likely that the choughs made them bigger by pecking at the metal. They are very inquisitive birds and are attracted to shiny objects. The bird was cut free and examined for any injuries but she appeared fine and was released straight back into the aviary to avoid further stress. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a weight for her but her body condition looked good: not too thin or too fat.


Non-Native Species in Britain

Press release from the British Trust for Ornithology

Pheasant. Photo by Mick DrydenA major new report on the establishment and spread of non-native species in Britain was published this week. Many of the Britain’s most abundant birds and mammals are included among nearly 2,000 non-native species currently established, and the number of new arrivals has increased dramatically over the last 50 years. The report has found that there has been a dramatic increase over time in the number of non-native species arriving in Britain. Of nearly 2,000 non-native species known to be established, over 600 species have arrived in the six decades since 1950, and 125 since 2000. This list is dominated by higher plants (1,377) with insects as the next most numerous group (278 species). Most of the established non-native species originate from continental Europe but the proportion of new species coming from Asia and North America is increasing.

As a highly visible and relatively well-monitored group, bird species comprise a significant proportion of the database but although well over 300 non-native species are regularly observed in the wild, only 15 are considered established (i.e. with self-sustaining breeding populations). Several species are among the recent arrivals in the UK (e.g. ring-necked parakeet) and work is continuing to eradicate others (e.g. ruddy duck).

Hottentot fig at La Corbiere. Photo by Henry GlynnAlthough the majority of non-native species are not considered invasive those that are can cause major ecological or socio-economic impacts if they establish themselves in the wider countryside. Invasive non-native species are considered to be one of the five major threats to biodiversity, estimated to cost the UK economy £1.7 billion every year. Overall about 15% of the species established in Britain are considered to have a negative impact. The research team looked at how to enhance the ability to detect and report non-native species, creating a new database of nearly 4,000 species within the GB Non-Native Species Information Portal (GB-NNSIP). Data on all of the species can be accessed through the portal’s website.

An integral part of the GB-NNSIP is a rapid-reporting system whereby particularly important new arrivals can be immediately notified to the relevant bodies. One such species, the Asian hornet, is not yet present in Great Britain but scientists believe could arrive soon, potentially having a serious impact on honey bees and other pollinators on which it preys. Anyone that suspects they have seen this species is encouraged to send in a photograph through the GB-NNSIP’s online recording website ‘Recording Invasive Species Counts’ which can also be used to report sightings of 19 other key species including water primrose, American bullfrog, carpet sea-squirt, tree of heaven, and American skunk-cabbage. 

In relation to birds, John Marchant of BTO said, “Climate change might easily make Britain more suitable for a wide range of non-native species, like sacred Ibis, currently thriving in southern Europe. Escapes and breeding of such species might be the beginnings of the next burgeoning new populations. To integrate non-native species recording more completely, we have ensured that all non-natives are fully recordable for BTO surveys.”

Details of the findings are contained within the report: Non-Native Species in Great Britain: establishment, detection and reporting to inform effective decision making. NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, 110 pp. The report can be downloaded

Sacred ibis (in its native Africa). Photo by Mick DrydenNOTE. Although the report and the Species Information Portal do not include the Channel Islands both are very good guides to what is already happening and what is likely to happen in the future in the islands. Sacred ibis has already been recorded in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney!

Irish choughs invade Cornwall

Press release from University of Aberdeen released on 2nd July 2012 

Red-billed chough. Photo by Andrew Kelly www.akellyphoto.comThe red-billed chough stands proud on the Cornish coat of arms but the species became extinct in the Duchy in 1947, denuding Cornwall of one of its most charismatic birds and cultural symbols.

That was until three choughs of unknown origin appeared in Cornwall in 2001 and founded a new breeding population, restoring the ‘Cornish chough’ to its historic home and causing great excitement among birdwatchers and conservationists alike.

But where did the three pioneer choughs come from?

Until now, they were speculated to have travelled from chough populations in south Wales or Brittany.

But now some clever genetic detective work has suggested that the Cornish pioneers came from even further afield – Ireland.

Researchers collected moulted feathers that were naturally dropped by the Cornish choughs, and by choughs in other populations across Europe.

Scientists from the University of Aberdeen then extracted DNA from the feather tips, and compared the DNA sequences of the new Cornish choughs with those of choughs living elsewhere.

By far the best match to the Cornish choughs was the Irish choughs, suggesting an unexpected Celtic origin for the new Cornish birds.

Dr Jane Reid, Royal Society University Research Fellow at the University, said: “We would never have known the origin of the new Cornish choughs without the DNA analysis – we didn’t guess that they would have come from Ireland.”

Claire Mucklow, of the RSPB, added: ‘We assumed those intrepid colonists would have come from closer populations, how wonderful that they have turned out to be Irish! The return of choughs to Cornwall has been very significant, not just in terms of conservation but in terms of Cornwall’s cultural heritage.”

The new Cornish chough population is now going from strength to strength; five pairs bred successfully in 2012.  The future success of the population is being ensured by conservation organisations and farmers who are working to provide suitable habitat, and by volunteers who provide round-the-clock surveillance of nests.

With recent sightings of Welsh choughs in north Devon, there is potential for a merging of Celtic chough diversity in southwest England, which researchers say can only be positive for the future prospects of this enigmatic species.

Sunset Concerts 2012

Sunset Concert 30 June 2012. Photo by Andrew TerryAs the sun set over St Ouen’s west coast this year, the awful summer weather held off just long enough for the crowds to enjoy the National Trust for Jersey’s annual Sunset Concerts at the natural amphitheatre at Grantez. This year two bands performed shows with Giles Robson and the Dirty Aces on the Friday (29th June) and the Jamaican Skatroniks, a nine-piece Ska Reggae Jazz group, on the Saturday. The two evenings were enjoyed by 1,500 and 2,600 people and once again, money raised by the event will go toward the Jersey Sunset Concert 30 June 2012. Photo by Andrew TerryCoastline campaign and Birds on the Edge for the construction of the chough’s release cave on the north coast.