The 12th Great Garden Bird Watch takes place this weekend, Saturday 2nd and Sunday 3rd February
Islanders are urged to become involved in monitoring bird life in the Island. The event is coordinated by Action for Wildlife Jersey in conjunction with the Jersey Evening Post (JEP) and all data received will be passed on to La Société Jersiaise to add to their records and included in BIRDS ON THE EDGE bird monitoring analyses. Data from past years’ surveys were included in the 2011 assessment of our birds that became the Island’s first bird redlist The Conservation Status of Jersey’s Birds which can be downloaded here.
How to enter the survey
Watch the birds in your garden for any period between
8 am and 11 am on either the Saturday or the Sunday. Note the highest number of each species of bird that you see together at one time during that period – not the total number which enter your garden over the period of the watch. Survey forms and a handy identification guide will be published in the JEP on Thursday the 31st.
Completed forms can be posted in or delivered to the JEP or there is a convenient form for submitting records on line here.
Two populations of an animal which thrives on two UK islands are to be removed. These are populations of invasive brown rats which are accused of threatening the future of several species of locally rare seabirds.
The human inhabitants on one of the islands, St Agnes, have been consulted and they have given a unanimous go-ahead for the rat clearance on their remote homeland and the neighbouring isle of Gugh.
The Scillonian archipelago plays host to breeding populations of 14 seabird species (approximately 20,000 birds) but for years one of the major threats to the mainly ground-nesting birds has been rat predation of eggs and chicks. England’s only colony of storm petrels is said to be at risk from the rats, as is the local population of Manx shearwaters – for which the UK has a global responsibility.
The project aims to protect and restore the seabird population on the islands, which declined by almost a quarter between 1983 and 2006. Such birds are far outnumbered today by the brown rats which, according to a feasibility study, have a total Scillonian population of more than 34,500. Around 3,100 rats reside on St Agnes and Gugh, which happen to be close to the seabird breeding isle of Annet.
Julie Love, of the Isles of Scilly Trust said that “the feasibility study showed that rats can swim across from St Agnes and Gugh to Annet,”, “they eat both the eggs and the fledglings – in fact rats are even known to eat the rare Scilly shrew.”
David Mawer, the Isles of Scilly Trust senior conservation warden, added: “Seabirds already attract visitors to Scilly, and this project and the clever use of technology can reveal more of their fascinating lives, whilst leaving the seabirds free from unwanted disturbance.”
The rat-removal operation will take place in winter months and use special bait stations to prevent poisoning of non-target species.
Tony Whitehead, of the RSPB which is involved in the project, said “It is worth bearing in mind that it’s ten years this year since we removed rats from Lundy – with a resultant increase in seabird numbers. The Manx shearwater numbers there are now up by 250%”.
“This is part of a global push to restore island seabird populations from the teeth of invasive species,” he added.
Read more on the Isles of Scilly Seabird Recovery Project read here and details on the rat eradication here
For a detailed account of the rat eradication programme on Lundy Island dowload Conservation Evidence paper here
The current cold spell in north-west Europe will have been accompanied by the usual media activity in many places. Much of the news generated will focus on the regular “why weren’t we better prepared” headlines. One group, however, that know exactly what to do when snow comes in the area are the many thousands of birds that winter in the region. While resident birds not used to such cold weather might have to make do, those species that have come from further north are quick to up and move until they find something more suitable. The most obvious places for these versatile wanderers to head for are the coast and offshore islands that are usually much milder than inland areas. And so, with the snowfall on Friday, Jersey welcomed many thousands of new arrivals.
The usual clue to a cold-weather migration of this sort is the presence of lapwings on verges and every small field. While big flocks might develop in areas like the fields around St Ouen’s Pond, lapwings may happily feed alone in much smaller areas. The 2-300 lapwings on the Island on Thursday had been joined by possibly over a thousand more by Friday. Several small flocks of golden plovers came in with the lapwings – these two birds often join together in winter.
The other abundant and obvious visitors are the thrushes. There were already plenty of wintering redwings on the Island but on Friday morning they were joined by many thousands more that had arrived across the parishes in fields and gardens alike. New blackbirds and song thrushes had arrived too and were obvious as they tried to feed on the roadside at first light. Fieldfares, a bird formerly more common in the Jersey winter when winters were much colder than now, had also come in but only in smaller numbers so far. Interestingly, there are many less waterbird arrivals like ducks and grebes suggesting that so far it is only snow on the fields moving the wanderers and not the kind of cold temperatures that freeze ducks out of their ponds.
Today we reached a significant milestone when the 2,000th data sheet was input into the Farmland Bird Monitoring database. The first sheet, from Crabbé, was filled out on 1st April 2005 when we made 45 records involving 100 birds of 15 species. The 2,000th sheet, from Les Creux on 19th January, detailed 144 records of 729 birds from 25 species – an event greatly helped by the arrival of heavy snow. At the beginning of this long-term survey there were only five sites being monitored but that has now increased to 18 transects at 16 sites covering farmland, parkland, woodland, heath and unimproved grassland. To date 160 bird species have been recorded including six escapes (three living wild), two feral and two introduced species. The species total includes two identifiable subspecies of white wagtail (most records go under just the one catchall race!) and two yellow wagtails. We have so far input over 80,000 records detailing 200,000 birds!
The data collected in this survey is not suitable to estimate the size of our bird populations at any of the individual sites or for an overall Island figure. This form of consistent data collection does, however, provide a fantastic tool for seeing how our birds are faring both within a year and from year to year.
Each fortnight, 21km of transects are walked once whatever the weather. To date, 24 observers have contributed records with a core of around 10 real diehards who laugh off the horizontal rain and the attention of the many dogs we seem to meet on each transect. The real benefit to a scheme like this will only begin to be seen several years after the start as long term trends in our bird populations become apparent. While some transects have now been counted for nearly eight years others have come in to the project much more recently. The database will allow us to look at population trends at single sites or at combinations of sites. Obviously the biggest benefit will come from the biggest size of dataset and at the moment that is the set that comprises of the five original sites (Les Landes, Crabbé, Les Creux, Les Blanche Banques and Noirmont). In the future we will be able to run off graphs like that here for linnet from a combined dataset of maybe 16 sites. The greatest value of this project is in highlighting the status of our Island’s birds, of the environment in which they live and in planning for the future.
So, with this project…..
What are the most recorded species? Blackbird, robin, wren and great tit seem to be seen most regularly but possibly chaffinch is the most recorded overall;
What is the rarest? Luckily for the recorders several of the rarest birds recorded in Jersey have turned up on a transect during a count including solitary and buff-breasted sandpipers. Fan-tailed warbler and firecrest were first found nesting on a transect and the returning cirl buntings were found on one too;
And favourites? Each of the counters has their own favourites but the occurrence of bearded tits in St Ouen’s Bay and the possibility in season of migratory yellow wagtails, wryneck and ring ouzel are always highlights. However, little can beat finding a bittern or a long-eared owl stood on a transect staring at the observer!
And the least favourite? Well, surely there are none but some can be a bit tricky at times to pick out as they skulk or when their songs resemble others -dunnocks and garden warblers stand out here (or are too high-pitched for ageing recorders like me);
And the saddest? The loss of yellowhammer and steady declines in stonechat and skylark numbers are perhaps most poignant;
And the next species? Well, there are some obvious candidates but surely it will be red-billed chough!
Gianna was caught up for x-rays on the 18thafter a long course of anti-inflammatory drugs (Metacam) had made little improvement on her condition. The x-ray showed a fracture in one of her digits on the left foot that had tried to heal unsuccessfully. This explained the large amount of swelling that had developed around the digit. The vets applied a bandage to the foot designed to provide pressure relief on the joint and encourage her to use the foot. To prevent the muscles and tendons becoming locked up in one position the bandage will be changed weekly and alternate between having the foot in a flat position and a gripping position. Gianna was put back on a course of Metacam given in waxmoth larvae and kept in the shut off cage until treatment has finished.
Progress of the release aviary
As expected with any project there have been the inevitable delays. Gale-force winds and rain stopped play on couple of days, but Trevor and his team have continued to battle away. The polytunnel hoops are in place as are the framework for the shed. Various holidays this month meant that work stopped on the 15th and will resume in the first week of January. Durrell’s Bird Department staff visited the site on the 4th to see the build and offer moral support to Trevor and Jason in the form of gingerbread. I think it did the trick, except now they are placing orders!
The Farmland Bird Monitoring project has been further enlarged to include two new woodland sites. The new sites, at Rozel Manor and La Poudretterie (du Scez) near La Saie in St Martin increase the number of woodlands monitored to five with St Catherine’s Woods, Fern Valley and St Peter’s Valley. They also increase the overall project to 18 transects at 16 sites, each to be visited once every two weeks throughout the year. The two new transects are 843 and 1,543 metres long respectively.
The two new sites are both privately owned and monitoring is done with the kind permission of the owners. Birds recorded will be entered into the project database but will also be used for woodland management trials aimed for 2014 as part of a joint project by the Department of the Environment and Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust.
Early visits to the two new sites have found that all the expected birds are present including great spotted woodpecker, goldcrest, short-toed treecreeper and common buzzard. The real excitement, however, might be more in seeing which species are there during the breeding season.
2013 is shaping up to be a special year for Northern Ireland’s only breeding pair of chough. The pair spent this Christmas at home, a first for the country’s rarest breeding bird.
In 2012, for the first time, the chough bred on the RSPB’s Rathlin Nature Reserve where the RSPB are managing a large area of land for chough and where the birds can be seen feeding throughout the year. In previous years the birds have left the Island around late October and disappeared from the north coast until February when they return to prepare for a new breeding season.
Chough outside of Northern Ireland usually spend the winter roosting on or near their nest site. However, in the past the Rathlin birds seem to have fancied a change of scenery and despite the best efforts of the RSPB, their location in winter has remained a mystery.
The RSPB think the young from the previous two years are spending winter apart from the parent birds, on grounds somewhere on the north coast.
Michael McLaughlin, RSPB Agri Environment Officer commented, ‘The reason the birds are staying this late in the year is most likely due to the great work of several dedicated landowners on the north coast who take on targeted chough habitat management.’ This type of specific land management is carried out with the help of RSPB advisors, through DARD (Dept of Agriculture and Rural Development) Agri Environment Schemes and gives a lifeline to some of Northern Ireland’s rarest species, including the chough.
In the summer and winter chough are most often seen at Rathlin on land managed for them under the scheme, which provides excellent feeding and entices them to spend the whole year at home instead of moving away for the winter. The RSPB’s reserve on Rathlin is perfect for these birds, the reserve is also extremely important for other species including corncrake, breeding seabirds, plants and the illusive hare.
BIRDS ON THE EDGE hopes that 2013 will be a very productive year for our coastland and its declining birds. So, let’s start the year with some good news about our rather precarious cirl bunting population.
Mick Dryden visited the single cirl bunting site on the morning of 2nd January. The male was in full song as Mick arrived, in the tree above the feeder, and sang for ten minutes. The female was calling low down and may have been near the feeder. The male then flew off high, over the houses, heading south towards the Club House, so was, presumably, checking the site was secure! They have made it into 2013. There was a grey and white cat in the new gorse area in front of the feeder. Mick reports that he “made it feel unwelcome”!