By Liz Corry
4th International Workshop on the Conservation of the Red-billed Chough, Portugal
Glyn Young and I attended the 4th International Workshop on the Conservation of the Red-billed Chough in the second week of October (see earlier announcement here). It was held at the Universidade de Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro, in Villa Real. The conference was well attended with representatives from Wales, Cornwall, Isle of Man, Spain, Portugal, and of course Jersey. Glyn gave a presentation on the Birds On The Edge project and why the chough is being used as the flagship species. Whist I talked about the reintroduction plans and results to date.
All the talks were fairly balanced between field updates since the last, 2010, conference and post graduate research based around genetics and sex determination. There were no major revelations as most of the work has already been published and every population is suffering the same problems….habitat loss and low genetic diversity.
Welsh chough populations face an extra challenge when it comes to habitat loss. They have to deal with continuing erosion of limestone cliffs. Workers here have used artificial nest-boxes for choughs because of this, but have lost one through continued erosion.
Unfortunately with low population numbers, choughs in the UK have very little genetic diversity and most likely already do or will in future suffer from inbreeding. Across Spain their numbers are in the hundreds and thousands yet they are still on the decline. Choughs from Ireland across to Spain share the same genetic makeup and are, therefore, considered the same race (research presented at conference). This opens up the possibilities for sourcing donor stock for our reintroduction and any possible translocation projects in the UK.
However, the different ‘nationalities’ (of choughs) display cultural differences in nest-site selection, roosting, food choice and dispersal. This needs to be taken into consideration when discussing donor stock.
Choughs on mainland Spain are swapping their natural nest and roost sites in the canyons and cliff tops for manmade structures. The research team were very keen to show a photo of choughs roosting on quarry building roof after they had seen the Jersey presentation. Quarries it seems are not an unusual choice for a chough to make. Palm trees, car parks, and a wardrobe in a disused apartment are definitely not what you would expect if you had only seen Cornish choughs.
Field trip: Douro Valley and the International Douro Natural Park
Portugal has only five locations for choughs, mostly in the north. Their main threat is change in land use and, most recently, the introduction of wind turbines (although their true impact is under question).
The workshop delegates were taken around the Douro Valley region, home to vineyards, olive groves, and sweet chestnut (see more here). All of which were traditionally farmed by families but now mass produced by corporates. Of course, as a result, the loss of forest increases the risk of wildfire. As we were driving along we could see at least one hillside ablaze.
I would like to tell you great things about the choughs we saw on the field trip on the last day to visit the birds’ feeding and breeding sites. However, since we spent eight hours on a coach, ended up at the Spanish border (intentionally), and didn’t see a single chough I can’t! If I could use Photoshop I would just to pretend we saw them.
What we saw instead were loads (scientific term) of vultures, falcons, and the odd golden eagle…and Glyn’s ‘lifer’, the azure-winged magpie. In a last ditch attempt our patient hosts took us to a known roost site. Unfortunately the choughs chose a different spot that night!
At least its gives us an excuse to go back! We can’t thank our hosts enough and are proud to join this international chough ‘family’. There are more photos from the workshop and field trip here
Inter-island Environmental Meeting 2013
From Portugal to Guernsey. This year’s inter-island environmental meeting was held in Guernsey at the Société Guernesiase. The theme for this year’s meeting was engaging the community to promote biodiversity and cooperation for action. Glyn Young presented on behalf of BOTE explaining how local volunteers have been involved in habitat management and the chough reintroduction. The talk also highlighted the involvement of Jersey schools and how the children have been engaged.