Living Islands: Live. A puffin season on Burhou

Atlantic puffin. Photo by Tom MarshallFrom Living Islands: Live

In March 2013 one hundred and seventy-five pairs of Atlantic puffins will return to the small island of Burhou which is situated two kilometres north-west of Alderney to breed. The seabirds will live and raise their young on the rocky coastline for a few months before they return to sea with their young, in the puffin’s case their ‘puffling’ chicks.

Burhou. Photo Alderney Wildlife TrustTo record this amazing passage of events the Alderney Wildlife Trust and South East Grid for Learning Associates will be using state of the art technology from ITV Channel Television and Sure to enable pupils in schools to follow the story in their classrooms and at home.

A Puffin Season on Burhou is an exciting project offering schools in the South East of England and the Channel Islands the opportunity to bring the fascinating life of the puffin live into their classrooms. Using the charismatic puffin as a focal point, this project Burhou cameras. Photo Alderney Wildlife Trustlinks directly to the Keystage 1 & 2 curriculum, and is an effective way of teaching Science and Literacy skills, and promoting pupil creativity. This website will provide schools with daily 24 hour updates, live streamed video and a range of other excellent features to keeps schools and pupils informed about developments on the island of Burhou.

Teaching & Learning Resources

Atlantic puffins. Photo by Chris BaleTo support the project teachers and pupils will be able to access and download a range of excellent Teaching & Learning resources from the project website. Schools can opt to follow the 12 week project plan or select activities from the project menu. Designed for use with Key Stage 1 and 2 pupils these include:

  • Science activities linked to popular topics including adaptation, life cycles, food      chains, habitats, caring for the young and conservation and protection
  • Daily and weekly mathematical data providing pupils with information about puffin numbers, frequency, location, climate and daily weather reports
  • Literacy activities – including opportunities to work with our project author
  • Geography & History – Information about the relief, climate and history of Alderney
  • Plus Art/Design and ICT activities for pupils of all ages.

Interested in taking part in this exciting science based project?

The project will commence at the start of the Term 5 and run until the end of the first week in July.

Please note, spaces for Channel Island schools are now fully booked. If you would like to be kept informed about the project please contact Living Islands: Live

Puffin wreck in Scotland. Bad weather affects northern UK’s puffins

Atlantic puffin. Photo by Paul MarshallPress release from Alderney Wildlife Trust

The Centre for Ecology & Hydrology has been receiving reports of an Atlantic puffin wreck (multiple unusual deaths) on the east coast of Scotland and the north-east of England.

It appears that, while the exact causes of these deaths are currently unknown, the birds have died of starvation, unable to feed in the recent bad weather and strong easterly winds. This incident is likely to be the biggest ‘wreck’ since 1947 and research will be done this summer to see how it affects the northern colonies of puffins. Numbers of guillemots and razorbills have also been picked up after, presumably, suffering the same fate. The RSPB have added that as we are fast approaching the start of the seabird breeding season, where tens of thousands of seabirds return to their colonies to raise their young, the recent events could have an impact on the success of this year’s puffin breeding season. Puffins are already suffering population declines.

No reports of a puffin wreck have occurred in the lower regions of the species range, and the Channel Islands have not received as much bad weather as the north of the UK.

Although the puffins arrived back on Burhou, Alderney, later this year than last, a good number were recorded by the remote camera (see Living Islands Live). It is unlikely that the wreck will affect Burhou, but in the event that anyone does find any dead puffins washing onto shorelines in the Channel Islands, particularly Alderney, please report them immediately to Thank you.

2013 Breeding Bird Survey Part 1: L’Etacq to Sorel Point

By Cris Sellares


Meadow pipit. Photo by Paul MarshallThis survey aims to establish the number and location of breeding pairs of selected bird species within the BIRDS ON THE EDGE project area i.e. the Island’s coastal land. We will set out to do this in several sections of the coastland and will start with the north-west coast from L’Étacq to Sorel Point. Data collected will not only allow us to map the most important areas on this coast for the focal bird species (see Birds) but can also be used in future studies on population trends.

We cannot expect to look at all possible bird species so will concentrate on the following ones:

  • Linnet
  • Stonechat
  • Skylark
  • Common whitethroat
  • Dartford warbler
  • Meadow pipit
  • Jackdaw
  • Raven
  • Peregrine falcon
  • Kestrel

Le Don Paton. Photo by Mick DrydenWe will also restrict the survey to a narrow strip along the coast as we already know that none of these birds, except the kestrel, nests further than only a few metres almost, inland from the coastal cliff path. The widest area of habitat suitable for these species is at Les Landes as they do not breed in developed or farmed land. It is likely too that a very high proportion of Jersey’s entire breeding population of several of these species is restricted to the north-west coast.


The number and location of the chosen bird species will be established by using information provided through existing ongoing surveys including the Farmland Bird Survey transects at Sorel Pont (two transects), Crabbé and at Les Landes (two transects) and the BTO Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) squares in the area.

The gaps in the study area between the transects and BBS squares will be surveyed by a team of volunteer observers co-ordinated through the Société Jersiaise Ornithology Section. The observers will record the location of breeding pairs and breeding behaviours such as singing, territorial displays, nest-building and food delivery to the nests by direct observation from the coastal path. Each observer will be given maps and a handheld GPS so that they can mark the location of each observation. In many cases more than one visit by different observers might be needed to confirm the location and status of the breeding site.


This quick, easy and enjoyable bird survey will give BIRDS ON THE EDGE invaluable data for producing maps showing the location of each of the most important bird species and numbers that we can compare with repeat surveys over the years. We will also enlarge the survey to cover other stretches of the coast in the next few years.

If anyone is interested in contributing to the survey by spending an hour or two on our beautiful coastline watching the birds please make contact through this website.


First red-billed choughs move to the release aviary

A chough settles in at the release aviary. March 2013. Photo by Liz CorryBIRDS ON THE EDGE is delighted to announce that the first red-billed choughs have been introduced to the temporary aviary at Le Don Paton, near Sorel Point, on Jersey’s north coast. The four birds currently residing in the aviary arrived from Paradise Park, Cornwall, by air (although not under their own power) on Thursday, 14th of March. They were initially taken to Durrell Wildlife Park for medical checks and fitting of transmitters and identifying leg rings. The choughs were accompanied by David Woolcock from Paradise Park who helped settle the birds in.

One of the choughs, George, will not be released, due to a permanently injured leg. George has been introduced in order to help habituate the new arrivals by example, due to his familiarity with people and routines. Choughs are intelligent birds, and it is hoped they will mimic George’s ‘trained’ responses, once they see him obtaining food in return for desired behaviours. George’s training has been modified to accommodate his physical limitations and can be seen on video here with his former keeper, Sarah Jayne Gribben from Paradise Park who got him to the level he is at now.

The release aviary. March 2013. Photo by Liz CorryThe birds were introduced to their temporary accommodation later on Thursday, and are settling in well, despite the wintery conditions in the Island differing slightly from those in Cornwall, which unlike Jersey, saw no snowfall. They are currently held under in-situ quarantine conditions, in accordance with States of Jersey regulations. A further three choughs from Durrell Wildlife Park will be moved to Le Don Paton in around a week. These slightly older birds also came from Paradise Park initially, and have been on display to the public at Durrell for around twelve months.

The project partners, Durrell, National Trust for Jersey and the States of Jersey Department of the Environment, would very much appreciate your cooperation in urging the public not to approach the aviary, or disturb the birds in any way whilst they are acclimatising. The aviary can be seen from public footpaths and National Trust land. Choughs are sensitive birds, susceptible to stress. The current residents are shy and as yet, not orientated with their surroundings. The success and timing of the project is dependent on happy, healthy birds being released in the best possible condition. We would greatly appreciate your understanding on this matter.

BIRDS ON THE EDGE is very grateful to Paradise Park for their continued help with this project and to Waddington Architects for designing the aviary and helping it through the planning process. We remain grateful too to everyone who attended the Sunset Concerts in 2012 and generously provided the funds needed to pay for the aviary. Colin Stevenson, Gregory Guida and the trusty Navajo flew the birds in from Cornwall and even had to clear snow from outside the hangar in Jersey in order to fly out!

British birds may be learning to use invasive wasps as key food source


From PhysOrg

Blue tit. Photo by Regis PerdriatA new study has found that blue tits, great tits and other native birds have learnt to peck away the tips of the galls formed by invading oak gall wasps to eat the juicy larvae inside, which are rich in protein. This helps them survive the crucial early spring period, when other food is scarce.

The new food source could help counteract the effects of climate change, which is causing some birds to lay their eggs too early in the year. The young then hatch before their main food – caterpillars that feed on oak leaves – becomes available. ‘What is exciting is that we’ve shown that the Andricus gall wasps are a really significant food source, and not just an occasional snack,’ says Professor Graham Stone of the University of Edinburgh one of the authors of the study. The tiny alien gall wasps, just 1-2mm long, lay their eggs in the buds of the, also non-native, Turkey oak Quercus cerris, which was introduced to Britain about 300 years ago, in early summer. The larvae produce chemicals that make protective galls grow around them. The oak galls grow over winter and early spring, with each tree carrying many thousands of galls.

This pattern of predation by tits and other birds was strongest at two sites in southern England, where the invasive wasps first arrived. The researchers think that this is because the birds take time to learn to find the larvae. They already eat the larvae of native gall wasps, in galls such as the familiar brown ‘oak apples’ on native oaks. In contrast, the alien galls look quite different and are just 2-3mm long and are hidden inside the buds of the Turkey oak. Birds may also take time to learn which trees have more galls, as some seem to be much more susceptible to gall formation than others.

Turkey oak is widespread and fairly common in Jersey where, as an exotic and potentially invasive tree, it is not necessarily very popular with local conservationists. Several species of Andricus wasps have been recorded in Jersey including A. quercuscalicis the main the species discussed in the study. A review of all gall wasps in Jersey was recently (Autumn 2012) published in Cecidology 27 (2): 81-84.

Read more on the study and download the results free here

Chough report: February 2013

Report from Liz Corry

Captive choughs at Durrell

A chough receives its radio transmitter. Photo by Liz CorryWith the breeding season looming, staff at Durrell have been working hard this month to set up the breeding aviaries and move the birds around accordingly. Gianna was moved out of her off-show holding into the main display aviary. She was kept in the shut-off for two days as a way of re-introducing her to the group. She received a very uneventful welcome: Gwinny was the only one to fly down to her and that was only because she was looking for food.

Preparing the tail feathers for transmitter attachment. Photo by Liz CorryOn the 19th the three juveniles in SF3 were caught up and moved to the display aviary. These three birds will make up half of the release cohort. Before being released into the main flight all three birds were fitted with active radio-transmitters and an incoloy leg ring. The battery life on the radio transmitters is such that it should not run out before the birds moult tail feathers in autumn.

When the three juveniles were released into the main flight the other juveniles paid them a lot of attention. There was a lot of squabbling and defending of roost sites but no real aggression observed. The breeding pairs have stayed together throughout this which is looking positive for the new breeding season.

Tail mounted transmitter. Photo by Liz CorryOnce the juveniles had been moved out of the off show aviaries work could begin to prepare them for the breeding season. Apart from the obvious spring clean a few modifications were needed to improve our chances of a successful breeding season. Plywood has been added to a part of SF3 aviary to ensure a complete visual barrier between the choughs and any disturbance at the back of the aviary. The Orang-utan House kitchen and maintenance area is located behind the aviaries as well as other breeding bird enclosures. Daily disturbance should now be limited.

The nest box in SF2 has been relocated to the other side of the aviary to increase the distance between the two nests. We are not sure how much this influenced last year’s breeding, but the two pairs were very aware of each other and were almost synchronous in nesting behaviour, for example they kicked eggs out of the nest on the same days.

Another major difference compared to last season is in how we house the nest box cameras and what type of camera is used. We have tried to ensure the birds cannot tamper with the position of the lens. We are using different cameras and will not really know how effective they are until the birds are in the enclosure. No pun intended, but we will monitor closely!

Progress of the release aviary

Progress at the release aviary, late February. Photo by Liz CorryThe release aviary is now nearing completion. The major building tasks have been completed and the focus now is on making sure that the release hatches operate smoothly and all the necessary interior fixtures and fittings are in place. Work will begin on signage for the site when the choughs move into the aviary.

There were several visitors to the aviary in February including Mike Stentiford, Professor Carl Jones, Dr Richard Young and Paul Buckley. Each guest was shown around the aviary and went away suitably impressed.Visitors to the aviary, February 2013. Photo by Liz Corry

Other news

On the 10th, Sally Dalman from the National Trust for Jersey volunteered her time to shadow Liz for half a day in the Bird department. Unfortunately she picked a day where it persistently tipped it down with rain. However, it was still beneficial and both parties gained a greater understanding of what each other’s jobs involve.Progress at the release aviary, late February. Photo by Liz Corry

On the 23rd a group of Durrell’s volunteer guides were shown around the chough enclosures and updated on the progress of the release project and BOTE. They will hopefully be able to incorporate this information into their talks at the Wildlife Park and answer any questions posed by the public.

Biannual faecal samples were required from all the birds at Durrell this month; awaiting final results for choughs.



New study finds pesticides leading cause of grassland bird declines

From American Bird Conservancy

Meadow pipit. Photo by Paul Marshall A new study in North America has identified acutely toxic pesticides as the most likely leading cause of the widespread decline in grassland bird numbers in the United States, a finding that challenges the widely-held assumption that loss of habitat is the primary cause of those population declines. Download the study for free here

Although this study focusses on the situation in North America it does state that: Common agricultural birds are in decline, both in Europe and in North America. Evidence from Europe suggests that agricultural intensification and, for some species, the indirect effects of pesticides mediated through a loss of insect food resource is in part responsible (for declines).

The scientific assessment, which looked at data over a 23-year period (1980 to 2003) has just been published. The study looked at five potential causes of grassland bird declines besides lethal pesticide risk: change in cropped pasture such as hay or alfalfa production, farming intensity or the proportion of agricultural land that is actively cropped, herbicide use, overall insecticide use, and change in permanent pasture and rangeland.

Common cuckoo juvenile. Photo by Mick Dryden“What this study suggests is that we need to start paying a lot more attention to the use of pesticides if we want to reverse, halt or simply slow the very significant downward trend in grassland bird populations. Our study put the spotlight on acutely toxic insecticides used in our cropland starting after the Second World War and persisting to this day – albeit at a lower level. The data suggest that loss of birds in agricultural fields is more than an unfortunate consequence of pest control; it may drive bird populations to local extinction,” co-author Pierre Mineau said.

Many grassland bird species have undergone range contractions or population declines in recent decades. In fact, analyses of North American birds indicate that these birds are declining faster than birds from other biomes (a situation mirrored in Europe). Habitat protection has long been considered a central pillar in efforts to stem the decline of grassland bird species.

“We are still concerned about loss of habitat in agriculture, range management, and urban development,” said Cynthia Palmer, manager of the Pesticides Programme at American Bird Conservancy. “This study by no means diminishes the importance of habitat fragmentation and degradation. But it suggests that we also need to rein in the use of lethal pesticides in agriculture, and that we need to be especially careful about any new pesticides we introduce into these ecosystems such as the neonicotinoid insecticides. It reminds us that the poisonings of birds and other wildlife chronicled a half century ago by famed biologist and author Rachel Carson are by no means a thing of the past.”

The study found that lethal pesticides were nearly four times more likely to be associated with population declines than the next most likely contributor, changes in cropped pasture – an important component of habitat loss associated with agricultural lands. The publication says that “…..large quantities of products of very high toxicity to birds have been used for decades despite evidence that poisonings were frequent even when products were applied according to label directions.”

The authors argue that only a small proportion of total cropland needs to be treated with a dangerous pesticide to affect overall bird population trends. Pesticide drift from croplands is also affecting birds that favour the adjoining grasslands.

The study found that declines of grassland birds were much more likely in states with high use of toxic insecticides lethal to birds. The current study relies on pesticide data from the 1980s and early 1990s, a time when organophosphates such as Diazinon and Chlorpyrifos, and carbamates such as Carbofuran and Methomyl, were still largely in vogue. Since that time, a new class of insecticides, the neonicotinoids, have soared to the top of global pesticide markets. Unfortunately, a major toxicological assessment soon to be released by American Bird Conservancy puts to rest any notion that birds and other organisms will fare much better under the new pesticide regime. Neonicotinoids have also been implicated in declines of bees – see the latest RSPB statement on use of these pesticides here