Cirl buntings – good news from Grouville

On Monday we reported on the fire at Grouville Golf Course and the devastating impact it would have had on local wildlife. The focus of the report was Jersey’s only known pair of cirl buntings and what effects the fire in their breeding territory may have had. After the fire the birds were nowhere to be seen and there was justifiably a lot of concern for their wellbeing. Well, today we found out what happened to them! Almost exactly a year to the day after the first Jersey-bred cirl buntings of recent years were found, and rather late in the year again, what appears undoubtedly to be a chick was seen with its father and photographed by Mick Dryden. The female bunting was seen nearby but we don’t know yet whether other chicks were around – visit Jersey Birds for updates.Father and young cirl bunting. 31st July 2013. Photo by Mick Dryden.Father and young cirl bunting. 31st July 2013. Photo by Mick Dryden.


Fire destroys cirl bunting habitat in Grouville

Grouville fire. 24th July 2013. Photo by Richard Perchard

Male cirl bunting before the fire (June 2013). Photo by Romano da Costa the night of Tuesday 23rd July a fire broke out on the edge of the Royal Jersey Golf Course in Grouville. As well as threatening nearby houses and the infrastructure of the golf course, this fire destroyed important parts of the habitat of our one known pair of cirl buntings. The fire was successfully put out by the Fire Service but not before significant damage to wildlife had occurred – besides the cirl buntings there would have been green lizards and slow worms in the area.  Richard Perchard’s photo of the fire damage was taken at the site of one of the buntings’ feeders, luckily Richard had moved this feeder to another spot that the fire avoided a few months ago.

The spell of hot, dry weather in Jersey always brings the threat of furze fires and disappointingly there is suggestion that this fire was the result of vandalism and may have been started by fireworks. A criminal investigation is underway in the hope of discovering the true cause of the fire and, hopefully, bringing any culprits to justice (see report here). The cirl buntings have not yet been re-sighted and we had hoped that they were nesting as last year young were seen in late July.

The 2013 Inter-Island Environment Meeting is announced

Pleinmont Point, Guernsey. Photo by States of GuernseyThe organisers of 2013 Inter-Island Environment Meeting cordially invite you to Guernsey. This year’s event will be hosted by La Société Guernesiase at the Frossard Lecture Theatre in Candie Gardens on 17-18th October. There will also be an optional field trip planned for the Saturday (19th October).

Candie Gardens. Photo by States of GuernseyAt this stage the organisers would like to have some idea of numbers of delegates, topics and numbers of speakers, so if you are interested in attending the meeting or speaking at the meeting please contact the organisers by 31st July (e-mail address at bottom of page).

Talks/presentations are invited from anyone.  At this stage there is no focus on specific topics but they’d like to develop themes along the lines of “Strategies & Cooperation for Action” and “Engaging with the Community to promote Biodiversity”.  Please do not be put off by these titles – a mix of topics from terrestrial to marine as well as general and from as broad a spectrum of the “Environment Community” as possible will be welcome.

Yarrow Broomrape. Photo by Andrew McCutcheonTo help you with your planning the Organising Group for the Meeting has agreed the following:
• Start time on Thursday 17th October 10am (preceded by coffee/registration from 9am)
• Timings for the first day will be10am – 6pm. Lunch: 1-30pm – 3pm.  Refreshment breaks in morning & afternoon
• Timings for the second day will be 9am – 4pm. Lunch 12-30pm – 2pm. Refreshment breaks in morning & afternoon
• There will be optional dinner out on Thursday evening (venue TBA) and an optional bar meal on Friday evening (venue TBA)
• There will be an optional field trip on Saturday 10am – 1pm. Sites to be confirmed.  Optional lunch out afterwards.

A small charge will be levied on all delegates to cover refreshments and lunches for Thursday and Friday (please let the organisers know in advance of any special dietary requirements). The charge has yet to be decided and will depend on the level of any sponsorship – it is anticipated that a fee of no more than £25 per person will be collected at registration.

Delegates are responsible for all their own travel and accommodation arrangements.  For details of travel to Guernsey see e.g. Aurigny, Flybe, Blue Islands or Condor and for accommodation see Visit Guernsey

The event may be limited to a maximum of 70 delegates.  Whilst the organisers are not expecting a “sell out” they reserve the right to turn down bookings to encourage broad representation from the region and beyond (e.g. the Isle of Man and UK etc.). They look forward to hearing from you and to sharing what they hope will be an enjoyable and thought-provoking Inter-Island Environment Meeting!

Please e-mail the Guernsey Biological Records Centre at for more information and to book a place and what will undoubtedly be an exciting event.

Birds On The Edge Farmland Scheme shortlisted for top local conservation award

By Cris Sellarés

Earlier this month BOTE’s Trial Farmland Scheme was entered into Insurance Corporation of the Channel Islands’ 2013 Conservation Awards and, visited by the judging panel, shortlisted for this year’s award.

The judges for the Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards and BOTE Project Officer Cristina Sellarés at the conservation fields in the north coast.The judges’ site visit was organized and BOTE Project Officer, Cristina Sellarés, was able to show the judges the agricultural fields that are being planted with bird conservation crops once the potatoes are harvested. Cris also explained how these important crops will help our local birds survive the winter, whilst not costing the farmer any extra money thanks to the scheme sponsors. Whilst we are sure that this fine example of habitat restoration project that BOTE is promoting within the local community got the judges’ interest, the main prize was awarded to a marine conservation project by another local organization, Jersey Seasearch, which aims to give young people the opportunity to proactively take part in the protection of our local waters.

Congratulations are in order, so well done Jersey Seasearch! And as for us, we’ll carry on with our work, happy in the knowledge that from this humble scheme we are doing our best for the local birds, the coastal habitats and the Island’s community.

Calf of Man: remove rats to restore seabirds

Calf of Man. Photo courtesy of Manx Heritage

The Calf of Man

The Calf of Man is a 250ha island lying only 500m to the south of the Isle of Man (read more here). It was once home to thousands of nesting Manx shearwaters, the burrowing seabirds that got their common name from these islands. However, brown rats (also known locally as ‘longtails’) landed on the island from a shipwreck in the late 1700s. The rats proceeded to wipe out the huge Manx shearwater colony, and since then only a few of these iconic birds have managed to breed on the Calf. During the autumn and winter of 2012-2013, a team from Manx National Heritage, the Manx Wildlife Trust, Manx Birdlife, the Isle of Man Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds worked to eliminate rats from the Calf of Man and make the island safer for all nesting seabirds and encourage the resurgence of the shearwater colony.

Calf of Man. Photo courtesy of Manx HeritageThe small island is dominated by maritime heath, bracken/bluebell and grassland both semi-improved and maritime. Small patches of wet flushes, marshy grassland and rock outcrops all go to form a diverse landscape. Over 340 species of plant have been recorded. Red-billed choughs breed on the sea cliffs and Atlantic puffin once bred on the island but their decline and eventual disappearance are likely to be a result of the rats’ arrival.

The rats and the seabirds

Rats will eat the eggs and chicks of almost all nesting seabirds that they can get to and have been known to kill the adult birds too. There is evidence from all over the world that where rats are present on seabird islands, the seabirds suffer large losses from rat predation. However, not all is lost. There are increasing numbers of programmes to remove rats from seabird islands and there is dramatic evidence of their success even in local waters. Following a rat eradication programme on Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel between 2002 and 2004, monitoring of burrows in 2008 showed an estimated 1,081 pairs of Manx shearwater, an increase of 250% in numbers since 2001.

The Calf project team expects that seabird breeding productivity on the island will start to recover immediately following the eradication. An anti-coagulant bait block, a “first generation anti-coagulant” called Coumatetralyl, was used to kill the rats. This acts by blocking the synthesis of vitamin K and causing internal haemorrhage. The bait was administered in boxes or pipe tunnels to which rats could gain access. Simple blocking devices were needed to discourage entry by young rabbits and birds such as crows.

Poisoned rats typically die below ground in burrows and are unlikely to be eaten by predators such as ravens and gulls. Although secondary poisoning of non-target mammals or birds could not be ruled out, the use of Coumatetralyl was particularly appropriate for environmentally sensitive applications due to its low persistence and low toxicity to birds. A risk assessment was completed for key non-target species on the island particularly for the wood mouse which, although not recorded on the Calf for some time, may still survive. Live traps were maintained in the hope of catching mice for transferral to a safe place and return following the eradication operation. However, no wood mice were found, though the project team suspect that some have survived the rodenticide deployment. Pigmy shrews, an insectivore unlikely to be attracted to the poison bait and Loaghtan sheep were not affected by the poison through careful management of the bait. To the surprise of the team, some young rabbits seemed to be attracted to the chocolate wax blocks used as non-toxic monitoring bait after the eradication phase.

Although also an invasive mammal, rabbits are desirable on the Calf as they provide burrows which shearwaters and (hopefully) puffins can use. Together with Loaghtan sheep, they help keep the grass short which benefits other wildlife such as choughs and low-growing herbaceous plants.

How do you know if eradication has worked?

Following the main eradication phase, chocolate wax-blocks were placed around the Calf, particularly to the coastal fringes where any re-infestation might occur.  It will be necessary to monitor these points into the foreseeable future and certainly for the first two years after eradication in case there are any remaining rats not dealt with during the intensive baiting phase.

Is there a risk of re-invasion?

The project team cannot be sure that rats will not re-colonise the Calf of Man, but they can minimise the risk of a new invasion. Quarantine for all boats and ships that plan to land on the island will need to be enforced and it is hoped that all boat owners who like to frequent the Calf will co-operate fully with all requirements.

Unauthorised landings and shipwrecks will remain a threat but much less so than in the past because of more hygienic conditions on board and tighter controls on landing.

Since rats are able to swim, it is conceivable that they could reach the Calf across the Sound via Kitterland but it is anticipated that the generally strong tidal conditions may reduce this risk.  Monitoring will continue on Kitterland periodically to detect any build up of rat numbers and allow a fast response to eliminate them.

At the time of writing the project team remain cautiously optimistic, despite one suspicious incidence of rat sign which has been dealt with by means of localised intensive baiting.

Do similar situations exist in the Channel Islands?

Yes. Rats may be the main reason that puffins are so rare in Jersey and shearwaters barely survive in Sark. It is probably hundreds of years since a Jersey puffin nested down a proper earth burrow, those that have nested have done so in rock crevices and fissures that the rats can’t reach. Manx shearwaters and storm petrels were probably also widespread here once. Today the Islands’ only real hope for burrowing seabirds is Burhou. This island is rat-free but if any rats ever reached it we could lose all these
puffins. There are plenty of rats on our north coast and while it would be much harder to remove them from areas like Tête des Plémont it is not necessarily impossible. But it would take hard work and a long term commitment and, who knows, maybe Jersey’s puffins could once again be safe and shearwaters once again nest here.

Sincere thanks to Kate Hawkins, Curator: Natural History, Manx National Heritage for helping compile this report.




Chough report: June 2013

Choughs at Sorel aviary, June 2013. Photo by Liz CorryReport by Liz Corry

Choughs at Sorel

Choughs responding to the ‘lunchtime’ whistle call and flying to only the target areas. Photo by Liz CorryAs a result of the birds moulting, an opportunity to release all seven birds has now arisen. This has also meant that there is no longer a need to keep the two ‘non-radio tagged’ birds isolated from the others. When they were remixed, the young pair, Orange and Red, reunited straight away in a mad flurry of preening.

As the days went by it started to become evident that the two pairs in the flock had each claimed an area of the aviary. Neither pair particularly defends this territory, but they do show dominance over food during the training sessions. For example, Green and Mauve will push the others off the tables in the poly-tunnel when food is put down. Yet they will hesitate when flying on command into the ‘shed’ area where Orange and Red have been carrying nesting material.

Choughs responding to the ‘lunchtime’ whistle call and flying to only the target areas. Photo by Liz CorryThis pairing behaviour makes it problematic for the keepers as the birds are not being rewarded for carrying out the correct behaviour, i.e. flying to the target area on whistle. It also means that the scales need to be moved around the aviary in order to try and get body weights on all seven of the birds.

By the end of the month all seven choughs had, through moulting, dropped their radio transmitters. The transmitters have now been sent back to Biotrack in the UK to have new batteries fitted to permit at least six months tracking time after the birds are released.

Choughs at Durrell

The 2013 breeding season has now come to a close as both breeding pairs have started moulting. The pairs will be moved back up to the display aviary next month and mix with the non-breeding birds.Replica chough egg (left) used in clutch manipulation practices compared to the real egg (right). Photo by Liz Corry

The egg recovered from this year’ failed clutch was ‘blown’ by keepers. This is a technique whereby the contents are carefully removed and the shell sterilised using a hyper-dermic needle and syringe. The egg will be kept for educational purposes.

George sunbathing in display aviary. Photo by Liz CorryGianna’s prima donna tendencies shone through this month when keepers moved George into the display aviary. At first Gianna was wary of him and sulked when keepers paid George attention and, since he was still being medicated, this happened quite a bit. George himself was visibly happier to be out of the Vet Centre. He was washing, sunbathing, and flying around all within the first few hours of being in the aviary.

For a while Gianna decided to take the approach of ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’. It seemed the perfect pairing. She then opted very quickly for the ‘beat them’ approach and ferociously attacked George. Thankfully members of the public witnessed this and quickly reported it to a member of staff. The keepers were then able to intervene and separate the two. George was visibly shaken but luckily only suffered some bruising. George, once again on his own, will be moved to one of the breeding aviaries once the pairs have been moved out.

The choughs enjoy a sunny day at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry




Out and about with Arthur the Chough

Arthur awaits the Itex walkers 2013. Photo by Sarah NugentAs we wait patiently for the trial release, and our seven choughs get ready in their north coast aviary, one chough has been seen out and about in Jersey recently. Arthur the Chough recently spent some quality time on our coasts. First he looked in on the 2013 Itex walk on 22nd June. Not a natural walker, Arthur opted for the shorter Lieutenant-Governor’s Walk (a mere 13 miles) encouraging walkers from near Devil’s Hole before flying down to the end of Arthur and the Lt. Governor 2013. Photo by Sarah Nugentthis walk at La Braye in St Ouen’s Bay. This component of the annual walk took walkers, and indeed Arthur, through chough habitat and very close to the aviary. I hope the walkers enjoyed the stunning coastline and considered how it may be further enhanced in the future thanks to Birds On The Edge. The weather, sadly, early in the morning, was actually not too conducive to enjoying the countryside but Arthur was able to cheer up the hardy and even met the Lieutenant-Governor, General Sir John McColl.

Arthur assists Badlabecques at the Sunset Concert 2013. Photo by Sarah NugentArthur made a further guest appearance at the National Trust’s Sunset Concerts on 28th June. On this lovely evening, Arthur helped out during the performance by our friends Badlabecques. As last year’s concert raised the money needed for the release aviary it was only fair that Arthur should be on hand to thank everyone and spread the message about Birds On The Edge and his friends up at Sorel. Arthur was doubly proud to be there to hear Badlabecques sing the project’s ‘own’ song “Ma Bouaîs’sie” for the first time in public.

Arthur will be visiting the Island’s primary schools during the year, he has visited four so far and will be at another this week. He will be in the Wildlife Park for Durrell Days (13-14 July) and is also headlining at Jersey Live this year (31st August-1st September). Look out for Arthur, but please don’t confuse him with other corvids (look here for hints), and carry some cranefly larvae as a handful might make him a friend for life! He now has an egg to look after and carries a lunch box containing ants!

Cornwall’s choughs – the dramas continue

The Lizard female. Photo by Bob Sharples recently relayed dramatic goings on in the lives of Cornwall’s choughs. Well, Cornish Choughs report that there have been further dramas from the Lizard:

“After reporting a few weeks ago that the male of the Lizard pair of choughs had gone, we are sad to say that his mate has also disappeared.  For just over a week the female continued to feed her two chicks with the help of the ‘usurper’ male, but she then vanished and we can only surmise she pined for her lost mate and died.  It is not unheard of for this to happen where there has been such a strong and long bond between two birds. She safely fledged 44 chicks over her lifetime, and some of those birds have gone on to raise families of their own.  Quite an achievement in the bird world and her place in Cornish history alongside her mate is assured.

There is a happier side to this story though as the incoming male is continuing to feed her two chicks.  They are doing well and are due to fledge next week.”

Updated 3rd July. From Cornish Choughs: “After a bewildering breeding season on Southerly Point with the original pioneering pair vanishing, we are pleased to announce their two chicks have fledged!  This has been made possible by the other male chough who continued to feed the young.  Amazing! Chough watcher Paul Gillard made a video of one of the new chough families in West Cornwall”.