Following the remarkable rediscovery of bee orchid in St Ouen’s Bay last year another orchid species thought to have become extinct locally has been rediscovered.
Early spider orchid Ophrys sphegodes was first found in Jersey by Lester-Garland in 1910 and was last seen in 1929. The location of the newly found plant is over a kilometre away from the original location so possibly the seed has blown in from France. Or maybe, since the soil around it had been disturbed, the seeds were brought up and able to germinate. As the name suggests this delightful orchid usually flowers earlier than May, but due to the wet weather this year the season is late. Early spider orchid is rare in England and only seen in a few locations along the south coast. The blue markings on the front of the orchid can vary slightly, but it is these lines that give the ‘spidery’ look, hence the name.
‘It’s an incredibly exciting discovery and all the (National) Trust staff and many Island botanists are thrilled by this find. Finding it was a complete fluke as we were out leading a nature walk at the time. We had taken the kids to an area where we know there are a lot of green lizards and it was during this search that I spotted this rather unusual looking orchid. At first I suspected it might have been a bee orchid, as one was discovered further up the Bay last year, however something about it didn’t look quite right, so I got out the ID books and there it was – this very special early spider orchid’.
A team from The University of Liverpool and the Alderney Wildlife Trust made the first of what will be many visits to Alderney’s seabird colonies on 20th May. The team started the process on Burhou capturing shags, a declining seabird of which Alderney has a significant number. Once caught, each bird will be fitted with a small waterproof GPS data-logger aimed to uncover much about the birds’ lifecycle, their feeding and foraging habits and the potential impacts that marine developments, such as renewable energy installations, may have. It may also throw light onto issues such as fishing practice and marine pollution incidents within the English Channel.
After some intense sessions trying to catch and tag the somewhat elusive shags, the team will move on to tagging the much more accessible but aggressive northern gannets. This will be done with the help of the Channel Island Ringers and other organisations. By monitoring two species at once, one which tends to feed close to its nesting site (the shag) and the other which can travel well over 200km on a single foraging trip (the gannet), it is possible to get a much broader picture of how our breeding birds use Channel Island, French and UK waters to survive. Both bird species fly between roosting and feeding sites and capture their prey by diving into the water column. This means that they could encounter wind turbines while flying above the water and tidal turbines while foraging below.
Each GPS tag will stay on the birds for approximately five (shags) or 10 (gannets) days before the team returns to retrieve them. These tags will not cause the birds any discomfort and will fall off by themselves after a few weeks if not retrieved as planned. The information the tags contain can be downloaded and, it is hoped, contribute to a growing body of information which is forming the basis of a PhD being undertaken by Victoria Warwick-Evans.
A trial project undertaken in 2011 saw 23 GPS data loggers attached to northern gannets breeding on Les Étacs, Alderney. Within six days, 17 of the loggers had been retrieved, revealing the locations of 34 foraging trips. Interestingly individuals seemed to specialise their feeding in different areas with some flying to the south coast of England, some southwards to Jersey and others heading east towards Le Havre on the French coast. Amazingly on one occasion a gannet made a 340km round trip, and several made two trips to the South Coast of England within 72 hours. Preliminary analysis suggests that Alderney’s gannets make longer foraging trips than those breeding at some UK colonies but are comparable to the distances travelled by their closest neighbours breeding on Les Sept Îles, Brittany. Evidence also suggests that there is little overlap between the foraging sites of the gannets from Brittany and those from Alderney: the French gannets tend to stick to the western English Channel whereas Alderney’s appear to feed more towards the eastern end of the Channel.
Victoria from the University of Liverpool says that she is “thrilled to be part of a team studying the intricate foraging behaviours of these impressive seabirds, and excited to have the opportunity to use this data in the development of models in order to predict any effects that offshore developments may have on these seabird populations.”
Tim Morley, Ecologist from the Alderney Wildlife Trust says that “the chance to better understand the life of our seabirds during the breeding season is something that excites us at the AWT, and we are privileged to be working with the University of Liverpool team in this venture. The results will be a key focus of our future conservation efforts amidst growing concern over marine pollutants, fishing practises and the intensity of traffic through the British Channel”.
The project is being run by The University of Liverpool, funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Alderney Commission for Renewable Energy (ACRE), with the support of the Alderney Wildlife Trust.
Birds On The Edge and Action for Wildlife held their first spring walk along Jersey’s stunning north coast on Saturday (18th May). Starting near Devil’s Hole and walking east toward Sorel Point, forty people joined us to see how the project has been faring in its first full year. What was most impressive, however, was that we managed to choose the best day of the year so far!
Sally and Cris from the National Trust for Jersey and Liz and Glyn from Durrell were able to show the tour and explain about the sheep grazing programme, the miles of bracken and efforts to reduce its coverage, the causes of local bird declines, the conservation fields and crop rotation, hedge planting and the choughs themselves waiting patiently in their aviary at Sorel.
While the sheep and the choughs put on a good show, wild birds were in rather short supply. That is, of course, why the project is so necessary. One singing meadow pipit and only the occasional overflying linnet highlighted what has happened to birdlife on the Island’s coastlands. Although single raven, kestrel, common buzzard, marsh harrier and even a green lizard were also spotted by the keen-eyed in the group it was obvious on such a fine day that the coast needs more wildlife. Lets hope that future walks, the next will be this autumn, show continuing improvements in bird and lizard numbers as the fields and grassland are restored.
The tour finished back at Devil’s Hole and most participants took the opportunity to further enjoy the sunshine with lunch outdoors at The Priory. On Sunday the rain came back!
Check this website again for details of future walks and see how the project is getting on.
At the start of April the juveniles at Durrell nominated for release were transported to Sorel. Catching them up out of the main display aviary proved a little trickier than first thought!
Having witnessed the breeding pairs being trapped and having vague flashbacks to the year before (if birds indeed do that) the juveniles were apprehensive to say the least. Keeper sat with baited trap and baited breath waiting to catch up four out of the seven birds in the aviary. Day 1 was fruitless. Day 2 saw B6974 and B6978 caught up (technically B6973 was also in the shut-off but evaded capture). Finally – Day 7, albeit with a two day break, saw the last two captured; B6973 and B6977.
All four juveniles had to undergo visual health checks by the vets before moving to Sorel. Three had already been fitted with radio transmitters so this was an opportunity to check attachment and the birds’ feather condition. B6977 was fitted with a radio transmitter and all four had Channel Islands metal rings attached to their right legs. Two of the birds had their existing plastic rings swapped for a different colour to avoid duplication with choughs already at Sorel.
During the catch-up process it was noticed that B6975 had lost her dummy radio transmitter. From previous observations we think the transmitter had fallen off in the past couple of weeks. On examining the bird there was a new feather growing where the transmitter would have been glued on. The adjacent feather, which would have been tied to the antennae, showed signs that the tag, once unstuck, moved down the feather shaft and fell off. This transmitter had been attached for over five months, so it is not a grave concern, but is of interest. The birds with the real transmitters attached will naturally moult within this time period anyway.
When the Durrell birds were moved into Sorel there was a lot of interest from the other, Paradise Park, birds. No aggression was observed just lots of vocalising. This was a positive sign that the two groups would get on once mixed. After a few days living next to each other and adjusting, the hatches between 1A & 1B were opened to allow the groups to mix.
The Durrell birds seemed more interested in their new surroundings than in interacting with the Paradise Park birds. The Durrell male (green) was seen to order around a few individuals at the start, but no one was chased or blocked from getting to food. This may have had a lot to do with them being juveniles and not breeding pairs.
However, we did notice male and female ‘pairings’ even at this early age. Black and Orange from Paradise Park hang out together and Green and Mauve from Durrell do likewise. We have also seen them pick up and carry around twig-like vegetation. One bird has gone a step further and carried material up to the top of a shelter box. A fruitless task since the wind clears anything within seconds, but at least it keeps them occupied!
Durrell vets have visited the aviary on a couple of occasions this month. On the 10th the Paradise Park group had to be caught up to be given Ivermectin injections. They also had blood samples taken whilst in the hand. All juveniles had put on approximately 20g in weight since arriving in Jersey. Weight gain was expected but needs to be monitored if the training is to be successful.
George, the tame adult, had not put on any weight and started to become more of a concern towards the end of the month. He was spending more time lying down even when the keeper was present. It was difficult to know whether he was depressed from being alone (he still hadn’t ventured into the polytunnel with the others) or through a physical illness. When the hatches between 1A and 1B were opened he became a little perkier since he could mix with the Durrell juveniles next door to him. However, as the juveniles became braver and spent more time in the tunnel George was back to being alone again except at feed times or when sheltering from bad weather.
George’s mobility looked to be declining and he was immediately put on a course of an anti-inflammatory drug given to him in his insect feeds. This made a brief improvement until the course finished. On two occasions after that he grazed his toe on the left foot. Fear of infection and further decline in condition meant that George had to be moved back to Durrell to be housed in the Veterinary Centre.
Under anaesthetic, several X-rays were taken and George’s feet were examined. He came to Jersey with bumblefoot on his right foot. This is a bacterial infection and inflammatory reaction affecting feet. George’s rotated left leg means that he will load more on his right and has probably aggravated if not caused this issue. A swab was taken from the site of the bumblefoot. In house Lab analysis identified the bacteria present and George was put on a course of antibiotics as well as the anti-inflammatory medication. Bio-security legislation requires George to undergo a quarantine period whilst with the vets before he can be moved into one of Durrell’s aviaries. He gets a lot more attention in the Vet Centre than at Sorel so his mood quickly improved although his physical condition is still a struggle. We will review his situation once the antibiotics have finished.
The choughs are being trained to fly in and out of the release hatches (within the aviary)on a whistle command and rewarded with food. This is to ensure that during the early stages of the soft-release the birds will come back to the aviary and that they can be safely locked in overnight. They will learn that the aviary is a safe shelter and holds food resources if they struggle to locate any in their first few months exploring the coast. In the long term this should also help with monitoring their condition after release.
To achieve this, the aviary has been designed to let keepers train the choughs to go through an internal set of hatches before attempting the external release hatch. There are large target boards on the food stands and two tables in the polytunnel (kindly donated by Tony Pirozzolo at Café Firefly). Hopefully the birds will start to associate these boards with food and will easily spot them when flying around after their release.
The birds responded well when they had access to the first half of the polytunnel. Whilst still nervous of the keepers they would fly in for food once the keeper had blown the whistle and left. When they were given access to the entire polytunnel they started to become less responsive.
Radio-tracking and behavioural studies
There have been several practice sessions this month on how to radio-track choughs. More importantly, learning how the Jersey landscape affects radio frequencies and discovering the practicalities involved. Initially this involved checking that the transmitters on the birds were working and seeing how far the signal will travel. When feeling a bit more adventurous this progressed to seeing if keepers could track down a live moving target. Durrell staff, with transmitter in hand, kindly volunteered to be ‘choughs’ and hide somewhere between Sorel point and Devil’s Hole. They took the role to heart by belly-crawling through gorse bushes and sitting on cliff tops. Despite all their efforts to deceive the radio-trackers they were all found and pretty quickly. Next test….paragliding volunteers!
Jess Maxwell, a Durrell intern student, is assisting with the field project and undertaking a behavioural study for her degree. Her observations started this month and will continue post-release. These studies involve Jess sitting in a field for two hours each day which is why Jess is very grateful for the recent weather improvements. She is studying the group dynamics to see if they behave the same pre- and post-release and try to assess what is the ideal cohort size for release. Hopefully this work will be replicated with future releases and the data can be used to evaluate the ongoing project.
Choughs at Durrell
With the last of the release birds being moved out of the display aviary we are now left with three birds in there including Gianna. These choughs have been joined by a pair of breeding toads who have decided to spawn in the choughs’ ‘pond’! Keepers have provided the choughs with water bowls to deter them from going near the pond. At the time of writing we now have tadpoles.
Our two breeding pairs of choughs have been very busy off show. Keepers provided nesting material in the appropriate stages; large twigs, heather thatch and finer twigs, wool and horse hair. Both pairs set to work building nests and completed them relatively quickly. Keepers never witnessed any copulation, but on the morning of the 22nd they did see their first egg. Unfortunately this was when Issy got off her nest, walked along the shelf and laid the egg there much to the dismay and confusion of the keeper watching. On inspection of the nest camera it looked like there was an egg in the nest too (although the wool can be deceptive) so the shelf egg could be the second egg not the first. On the 25th, keepers thought they could see three eggs in the nest and by the 26th Issy was sitting tightly on them. If all goes to plan these eggs should hatch towards the end of May.
Keepers are not sure if Arthur and Gwinny are up to anything. We do know that they have a nest. Somehow the camera lens moved position so we do not have a clear view of the nest but from their behaviour it doesn’t appear that Gwinny is sitting on eggs. We don’t want to disturb them so will continue as normal and monitor them as closely as we can.
Keepers have also been kept busy at the display aviary after members of the public reported seeing the choughs “trying to escape”. Being inquisitive birds they investigate everything including broken threads in aviary netting. It wasn’t an escape attempt more a quality assurance test. The height of the aviary makes it very difficult to repair holes in the netting with just a ladder and a good head for heights. Jono le Maistre, tree surgeon, kindly offered his assistance and with harnesses firmly attached climbed the poles to fix the netting.
BIRDS ON THE EDGE launches a trial scheme to help farmland birds through the winter months
By Cris Sellarés
In early 2013 a joint sponsorship granted funds for the purchase of bird-conservation crops to be planted by potato farmers for a trial scheme to provide many Jersey birds with a source of food throughout the coldest months of the year.
Habitat restoration is at the core of BIRDS ON THE EDGE which is working to identify sites of high importance to birds and other wildlife in Jersey and to provide independent advice and support to funding applications that will increase the value to wildlife of these sites. Examples of wildlife-friendly management include hedge-planting and restoration, enhancement of boundaries, planting of insect and bird-conservation crops, bracken clearance and scrub management.
Aims of the trial scheme
To provide a source of winter food for farmland birds in the north coast from 2013, especially for skylarks, buntings, greenfinches, linnets and others;
To test the productivity of two similar bird-conservation crop mixes against a variety of field characteristics such as slope, aspect, geology and boundaries;
To test the responsiveness of local wildlife, especially bird species, to crop type and land characteristics;
To assess the results of the trial in accordance with verbal agreements between each participating farmer and the scheme;
To offer the farmers an economic stimulus to help them to opt for a wildlife-friendly management of their land.
In February 2013, as part of the BIRDS ON THE EDGE management plan, 181 fields were surveyed north of the coast road between Sorel Point and Grève de Lecq.
Of these, 18 fields were found suitable to be tried with bird-conservation crops, through a combination of favourable characteristics such as: good boundaries in the form of hedges, main crop type, distance from the sea cliffs, slope, geology and vicinity to buildings, amongst others.
The Project Officer approached the owners and tenants of these fields to discuss the trial scheme and, over a series of meetings, learned about the management regime of the fields and each farmer’s preference for conservation crops. At the end of the discussions the final number of suitable fields was brought down to 15, representing a combined area of 55 vergées and 24 perches (10ha).
At the same time that the trial scheme was taking shape, a sponsorship opportunity arose in the form of two private donors. The combined donation has allowed the trial scheme to be launched, covering the cost of the bird-conservation crops that will be planted on the 15 chosen fields.
All the owners and tenants of the fields accepted to include them in the trial scheme, which will involve the farmers receiving the crop seeds free of charge and sowing them in the fields once the potatoes have been harvested. The progress of the crop and its utilisation by birds and other wildlife will be monitored throughout the year. All participating farmers further offered to look after the features most suitable for wildlife, in particular to leave the margins or headlands next to the best hedges unploughed.
Thanks to the generosity of the two sponsors the 10 new hectares of land in the trial will join the existing nine hectares of bird-conservation crops that the National Trust for Jersey has managed in the north coast since 2012, instantly doubling the area of land where birds can feed from. We hope that this will help them to survive the winter months and will boost the populations of those bird species locally endangered.