A chough on St Martin’s, Isles of Scilly yesterday (30th October) was only the third seen in the islands since 1950. The arrival was quickly reported by Rare Bird Alert and it’s movements can be followed here and on the website of The Isles of Scilly Bird Group. St Martin’s is the northernmost of the larger Scilly Isles and approximately 45km south of Cornwall. Not ringed, this chough is unlikely to have come from the Cornwall population and the strong north-westerly winds on Tuesday may suggest an Irish origin.
The chough was seen again later on Tuesday at Peninnis Head on St Mary’s where it has been feeding in the fields. The visitor seemed more settled today despite the attentions of the local carrion crows and a threatening peregrine. Interestingly, Cornish Choughs report several other exciting sightings this week including birds at Porth Island, Newquay, over the weekend and on Lundy Island yesterday. Both Cornwall and Jersey are hoping the Scilly bird will make a move to our respective areas!
On 11th October all parties involved in trying to help secure the cirl bunting’s tenuous grip in Jersey and encourage it to spread met at Howard Davis Farm to discuss a strategy for the coming winter and next breeding season. Representatives of the Société Jersiaise Ornithology Section, National Trust for Jersey, Durrell, Grouville Tenants, Royal Jersey Golf Club in Grouville and Department of the Environment were present. Cirl bunting expert, Cath Jeffs from the RSPB, supplied advice via e-mail in advance of the meeting.
Summary of issues discussed
A brief summary of the history of the cirl bunting in Jersey was given including surveys from as far back as 1992 undertaken by the RSPB and Mick Dryden on behalf of the Société Jersiaise. In 1992, 21 singing males had been recorded primarily in three areas: Grouville Golf Course (GGC); La Moye Golf Course; St Brelade area (including St Brelade Bay and Pont Marquet). A steady decline continued from the 1992 survey until 2000 when no birds were seen. There were occasional sightings and reports until 2011 when cirl buntings were found on GGC on the bird monitoring transect that runs across it. Speculation as to why there has been a reduction in cirl bunting numbers has focussed on a combination of factors: they have never exhibited a strong breeding success in Jersey; there have been continued changes in agricultural practices resulting in a loss of winter habitat and feed availability; predation from sparrowhawks, cats and rats.
Discussions at the meeting were essentially focussed on four main areas:
The existing breeding habitat of the cirl buntings on GGC;
The monitoring and supplementary feeding of the birds on the GGC;
The winter feeding habitat of the birds;
The possibilities for cirl bunting conservation across other localities in Jersey.
1. The existing breeding habitat of the cirl buntings on GGC
Current and proposed management of the non playing areas at GGC was outlined including the holm oak removal and gorse coppicing regime. Currently the Royal Jersey are working to a six year rotational plan to cover the whole course and are employing a combination of cutting smaller pockets and larger areas as well as replanting gorse where appropriate. There has also been a general reduction in the cutting regime of the rough across the course which was even more strictly applied around the current bird feeder sites. Grassland management regimes that are in place are designed to reduce the nitrogen load and promote finer fescue grasses. A consequence, however, of not managing the rough as intensively and also the rotational gorse coppicing and holm oak clearance has been an increase in the bracken stand which needs to be addressed.
In discussing the management currently being undertaken a number of initiatives being implemented to further enhance the marginal areas of the course and, hopefully, opportunities for cirl bunting and other birds were outlined. These ranged from keeping golf buggies out of the rough across the course and managing access for public and dog walkers in areas. It was also decided to relocate one of the existing bird feeders and to install a number of additional feeders in an area where forthcoming habitat management work is programmed.
2. The monitoring and supplementary feeding of the birds on the GGC
The discussion about existing feeders focused on:
Whether supplementary feeding should continue;
Should there be a change in feed according to season, breeding and conditions;
Should existing feeders be retained in place or moved.
Significant thanks were extended to Richard Perchard who has been monitoring the use of feeding stations, sterilising trays and topping up the food through 2011-2012. Birds have been fed the same seed mix throughout. The poor early season (in 2012) weather conditions meant that there was limited availability of grasshoppers (particularly) and there was discussion over the use of mealworms. It was decided that mealworms would be used at the start of the next (2013) breeding season if weather conditions were poor. It was further noted that the availability of grasshoppers would play an important role in the success of rearing young and it may be more beneficial not to leave grass uncut throughout the whole growing season as grasshoppers tended to become less abundant as vegetation became too long or rough. It was decided that supplementary feeding would continue year round for the time being and also to include a couple of extra feeders to be put out on the course.
Discussion about changing the location of feeding stations was prompted by the current use patterns, the threat posed by disturbance and the possibility of predation of the birds. The risk from predation is ever present and sparrowhawks undoubtedly pose a threat and feeders may need to be placed in suitably protective habitat like hedgerows to provide maximum cover when the birds are at their most vulnerable. Cats are also present at the GGC site and may be a serious threat as they undoubtedly are to green lizards and slow worms at the site. Rats and their control were also discussed.
3. The over wintering feeding habitat of the birds
The discussion at the meeting echoed the comments by Cath Jeffs on the importance in providing suitable winter feeding habitat if the programme to increase cirl bunting numbers was to be successful (there would obviously be additional benefit for other farmland bird species). Evidence suggests that cirl buntings favour good hedgerow habitat and associated stubble fields resulting particularly from growing cereals. Suggestions for increasing opportunities of this kind of habitat included looking at Grouville Marsh and surrounding land as well as a more in-depth study to identify marginal / low intensity arable farmland within a 2km radius of the cirl bunting nesting site (2km thought to be the average foraging extent for cirl buntings).
It was confirmed that the golf course cirls cross the road to the hay meadow and beyond on Grouville Marsh. This meadow is cut annually Oct/Nov and that this will remain the case thus providing an undoubted seed source. There is also an amount of spring barley currently down in arable land (subsequently used for potatoes) within 2km of the GGC and it will be useful to identify these landowners/tenant farmers to understand their rotational plan and how it could be of benefit as potential food sources for farmland birds.
It may be possible for these landowners/tenants to receive financial support, in the form of grant aid through the Countryside Enhancement Scheme (CES), to cultivate cereal crops and provide overwintering feed sources. In addition the targeted improvement of hedgerows could also be supported through financial support from the CES.
4. The possibilities for cirl bunting conservation across other localities in Jersey.
The historic locations of cirl bunting sightings suggest that a more targeted assessment for creating potential winter habitat, that includes feed availability, is undoubtedly worthwhile. At the very least it will provide benefit to a number of farmland birds and raise the profile of this area of conservation.
This could include influencing management at Pont Marquet, continuing ongoing discussions with La Moye Golf Course and identifying opportunities on land owned by the States of Jersey.
The provisional agenda shows how wide-ranging this year’s meeting will be:
Day 1 Session 1 0945 In Memory – Charles David and Margaret Long will be remembered 1000 • Conservation Grazing (Julia Henney)
• The use of pigs in bracken clearance (Sarah Lewington)
• Alderney Conservation Grazing Project Update
• Invertebrates in Conservation Planning 1020
• Developments on the state of Jersey’s butterflies’ 2013-14; a project focused
on using butterflies as environmental indicators, including looking for changes
in land management regimes especially countryside stewardship (Nina Cornish)
• Land Management for Insects in the Channel Islands (David Wedd)
Session 2 1130
• Convention on Biodiversity – a Workshop for Small Territories held in Guernsey
Oct 2012 (Andrew McCutcheon) 1255
• BIRDS ON THE EDGE: an update on the launch of the project to restore
Jersey’s coastlands and return the red-billed chough to the Channel Islands (Glyn Young and Liz Corry)
• Plémont Update – major land acquisition in the Channel Islands (Jon Horn)
• Seabird Season 2012 update (Paul Veron)
Session 3 Marine surveys, the standardisation of data handling and sharing of resources between the islands 1400
• Update on marine monitoring – the need for standardization of marine survey
methodology, data effort and shared resourcing within the islands (Greg Morel)
• UK Marine Monitoring Assessment Strategy (UKMMAS) – an update from the JNCC (joint cetacean protocol – marine renewable industry – data use guide)
• The Channel Marine Bird Observatory – developments following the
conclusions of the meeting held in Caen on 7/9/12. (What are the shared
species of interest between CI and France? What are the protocols for
consideration, the sites of concern, how do we share data, and who does
what?) (Karine Dedieu)
Session 4 1545 • Marine Strategic Planning; developing Ramsar Strategy to serve a purpose
(Alderney Wildlife Trust)
• Progress with Marine Protected Areas and Marine Habitat Mapping in the Isle of
Man (Fiona Gell)
• Overview of cetacean, seal & basking shark monitoring for the Isle of Man (Eleanor Stone)
• “FAME” (Future of the Atlantic Marine Environment) – a review to date (Helen
Booker) 1700 End of day wind up discussion
0700-0830 Morning bird-walk
All day: Workshops • Conservation Management in practice
• Invertebrates and invasives in conservation management (includes site visit)
• Marine Monitoring techniques
• Environmental Impact Assessment practices
A new paper published this week reports that the rate of bird extinctions is accelerating at an alarming rate. Global patterns and drivers of avian extinctions at the species and subspecies level, published in PLoS One is free to download and reveals that 279 bird species and subspecies from across the globe have become extinct in the last 500 years. The study shows that species extinctions peaked in the early 20th century, then fell until the mid-20th century, and have subsequently accelerated.
“Until this study it had been hoped the rate of extinction was slowing”, said lead author Dr Judit Szabo. “Historically most extinctions have occurred on islands, particularly those in the Pacific, but most of the really susceptible species are long gone.”
The study shows that the destruction of native habitat for agriculture is currently the main cause of extinctions. Unsustainable hunting and the introduction of alien species, such as cats and rats, have been the main causes of extinctions in the past.
“Humans are directly or indirectly responsible for this loss”, Dr Szabo said.
The world’s nations had agreed through the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) to slow biodiversity loss by 2010, and having failed to reach this goal, the target has now been adjusted to 2020.
Report co-author Dr Stuart Butchart, BirdLife International’s Global Research Coordinator, said many species survive only because of conservation interventions. “This list would have been much longer were it not for the work being done around the world to stop extinctions. But we need to scale up our efforts substantially to avoid further human-induced extinctions”, said Dr Butchart. “Our analysis provides the most detailed picture to date of recent extinctions and will help us identify strategies to tackle the loss of biodiversity and halt future human-induced extinctions. The Conference of the Parties of the CBD in Hyderabad, India will need some firm action to achieve its target of achieving this by 2020.”
In Jersey we have seen the loss from our island of several bird species over the last 20-30 years. While none of these birds are in imminent threat of global extinction, each loss represents the slow but steady crumbling away of their ranges and populations. BIRDS ON THE EDGE hopes to help prevent the disappearance of further birds and return some to our Island.
Regis reports that in August and September this year there have been 2-3 red-billed choughs visiting the vicinity of the Station and Brittany’s Sept Îles Reserve. With 50+ pairs of choughs breeding in Brittany, the species’ nearest stronghold is Ile Ouessant (Ushant), the island at the western end of the Brest Peninsula.
These sightings are not the first as in recent years there have been several choughs recorded in the reserve and in the vicinity of the Île Grande station:
• 1-2 birds were seen at the LPO Station between 18th October and 6th December 1987;
• 1 bird seen at the LPO Station 31st October and 2nd November 1994;
• 1 bird seen in August 1997 on Île Rouzic (the island of the Sept Îles with the gannet colony);
• 3 birds seen between the 8th and 20th August 2005 (one bird had been ringed on Ouessant in May of the same year and was back on Ouessant two months later);
• 7 birds were seen at the LPO Station on 3rd October 2007 and 2 on the 17th October; • 2-3 birds seen regularly between the 20th August and the 17th of September 2012.
Interestingly there have been sightings of choughs even further north including birds at Cap Fréhel, Calais and even a juvenile at the Antifer nature reserve (Seine Maritime).
These records from l’Île Grande and the Sept Îles Reserve on Bittany’s north coast well show how much these birds may roam along the coast to the south of Jersey.