Date: Saturday 16th November Start: 10.30am Venue: Devil’s Hole Duration: Approximately 2 hours
Join Birds On The Edge and The National Trust for Jersey on a tour of this year’s BOTE achievements as we walk along the north coast path from Devil’s Hole to Sorel Point.
Following up the very successful Spring Walk, now we have a chance to catch up with the project’s latest news and witness the progress made. We will see the grazing herd of Manx Loaghtan sheep, the bracken clearance works and the conservation fields that are in full bloom to feed our local birds throughout the winter. We hope to see the chaffinches, linnets, goldfinches, skylarks and song thrushes amongst other birds feeding in the conservation crops and learn about the findings of the north coast breeding survey that was carried out in the spring.
While we are on the cliffs we will look out for the choughs and learn how the programme to return these stunning birds to the Island is progressing. We can see the release aviary and get the latest update.
The walk will last approximately two hours, on undulating terrain, so good shoes are required and a degree of fitness. Bring weatherproof clothing and drinks as, you never know, it might be warm! There will be a pub on hand for lunch later if you choose!
Please meet in the Upper Car Park (above the Priory Inn) at 10.15.
With the second release at the end of August seeing Green and Mauve flying off to the quarry, September turned out to be a very busy month. After two days of living around the north edge of the quarry, the pair started to explore the coastline eastwards. The blanket covering of bracken heading off to Bonne Nuit was probably the reason they decided to turn back almost immediately and look for foraging sites around Ronez Point. Potential sites are limited in that area but thanks to their training in the aviary and the continuous monitoring by staff they were able to find food.
Using a moveable target board, placed in clear view and on ground where the choughs can land, the birds were lured down for mealworms. Very quickly the pair remembered that on hearing a whistle their keeper would be bringing food. By the second day of supplementary feeding the tracking sessions had turned into feeding sessions with the birds appearing like clockwork.
For reasons known only to them, the pair decided to travel west in the afternoon four days after leaving the aviary. They arrived back at the aviary in the late afternoon much to the delight of the rest of the group and the team. The chough pair didn’t need much encouragement to go back inside the aviary. On cue with whistle and food they flew through the open hatches and joined the others.
The next morning Liz was able to get weights from all of the choughs landing on the scales. Green and Mauve had lost a bit of weight from being out but nothing alarming. Naturally they would have burned more calories flying around exploring the quarry and food would be limited compared to that available at the aviary. Providing the birds with supplementary insects whilst out, no doubt kept their body weight at an acceptable level.
Thick fog led to a few days delay until the next release. This was more eventful than the last due to couple of factors out of the team’s control…weather and uninvited ‘visitors’. All seven choughs ventured outside this time and settled quite happily on the ground in front of the aviary probing for insects. Before it was time to call them back, their attention had been diverted to a flock of 30 carrion crows heading inland from the cliff path. The choughs took to the air with great intrigue and circled with the crows for a few minutes. Curiosity satisfied, the crows departed with the choughs heading towards Mourier Valley. Liz tried to call them back but by this stage they were no doubt overwhelmed. In panic the group began to split up with a pair heading over to Devil’s Hole and one bird flying inland towards the farm. All this was being hampered by the onset of a really heavy downpour forcing the birds to find shelter.
By sunset three birds (Green, Mauve, and Red) had returned to the aviary. Interestingly these were the only three that had previous experience of having to find a roost outside of the aviary. An example of learning by trial and error maybe? Visibility in low light and rain meant the remaining four could only be located via their radio signals. Two were thought to be in the adjacent fields to the aviary whilst two others were near the dirt bike track.
Upon returning at 06.00 the next day the four were visually located and then followed throughout the day. Very early on Orange, Black, and Blue met up in the quarry. White was also in the quarry but for some reason keeping separate. By the afternoon all four were together foraging around the south side. Unlike the pair that had previously spent time in the quarry these four roosted outside on the rock face.
In light of previous activity, the plan was to keep the three aviary birds locked in acting as call birds and monitor the four outside under the assumption they would return to the aviary. After six days out there was concern that these birds had different intentions. Attempts were made to supplementary feed, but with location and wind conditions they were not very successful. On the evening of the 12th insects were left out in an area the choughs might naturally forage but had not been seen in before. The team were pleased to see the chough there the next morning so the process was repeated. Unfortunately this week appeared to coincide with the departure of summer. Horizontal winds and rain prevented insects from being thrown into the quarry. This probably also forced the birds to stay in the quarry where they knew they could find shelter.
On the 18th radio trackers were picking up a stationary signal from Orange away from the other three choughs. Bad weather the day before meant that simple visuals on all four birds were not possible in the afternoon. Only two choughs could be seen on the morning of the 18th. The signal from the third implied it was with them, but with lots of hiding places and tall vegetation seeing the colour rings was near impossible. With no change by the afternoon the radio trackers were obviously concerned and approached the management of Ronez Quarry to request permission to search lower levels. Unbeknown to the team, Ronez were trying to contact them at the same time. Sadly workers down on the floor of the quarry had found a recently dead chough and had brought it back up to the offices to return to Durrell.
To the surprise of the team the body recovered was that of White and not Orange. It seems that the movement of White’s signal in the afternoon was a result of her being driven out of the quarry in a company vehicle. The body was taken straight to Durrell’s Veterinary Department where a full post mortem was carried out. The cause of death was recorded as starvation. Although internal parasites were found, it is thought that these were secondary and not the underlying cause of death.
The tracking team was granted permission to enter the quarry under the supervision of Kirsten du Heaume, Operations Manager. Several attempts were made to isolate the signal. The search was hampered by signal bounce from the granite rock and health and safety concerns which prohibited access to certain levels. Kirsten kindly searched a few areas not usually accessed, but with no success. As frustrating as it is, nothing more could be done. The signal location remained unchanged for a week and with no sighting of a third chough, Orange was disappointingly declared deceased.
Blue and Black in the meantime were flying strongly, avoiding the peregrines, and ironically once again taking supplementary feed the day White was found dead. Using a catapult, the insects could be thrown against the wind and reach levels the team could not. The two female choughs settled into a pattern of flying to the supplementary feeding site when called and appeared to not have any reason to leave the quarry.
The release process was restarted on the 23rd with the three in the aviary. If Green and Mauve did return to the quarry they would hopefully meet up with Blue and Black and lead them back to the aviary. Red, now a single female with the loss of Orange, would presumably fly with them in fear of being left behind.
This time, however, the birds didn’t leave the aviary field. They made several short flights from target sites to perching points along the hedgerow erected by the keeper. Having high places to land near the aviary allowed the birds to feel more secure and take time to assess their surroundings. All three returned on call and were locked in the aviary overnight. The next day was very different. The pair exited the aviary within 53 seconds of the hatches being opened, took to the sky and flew straight back to the quarry. Leaving a rather confused Red behind in the aviary.
As the pair flew over Ronez Point an attempt was made to call them down for supplementary feed. Blue and Black flew up from the quarry and took to the challenge readily. Green and Mauve flew over calling, but then headed away and over to Sorel point. After feeding, Blue and Black headed back into the quarry. However, for reasons only known to a chough, Blue decided to continue flying and minutes later landed on the roof of the aviary. After 18 nights of roosting in the quarry and to the delight of Red, Blue spent the night in the aviary.
At the morning’s weigh-in session, Blue was found to be the same weight as when she first left: once again showing the necessity of supplementary feeding if the birds choose to live in the quarry. As Liz was packing away the scales, Green and Mauve landed on the aviary. Like a well-rehearsed routine, the pair walked back into the aviary where they joined the others.
The next release, on the 26th, was somewhat more predictable with the exception of the gunshots coming from the fields inland. Each time a shot was fired the birds would fly up from the ground to a perch and/or shelf. At the same time that the decision was made to call the birds back before they got too upset, the pair decided it was time to leave. They circled the aviary a couple of times before heading straight back to the quarry. Despite their calls being audible to onlookers neither Black nor the pair made an attempt to meet up.
With all the choughs in the aviary, Black has to make new alliances beginning with a friendly game of hide and seek. Photo 1 by Liz Corry
By the end of the month Black had settled into her routine of meeting the team for food and roosting on the quarry face. Green and Mauve happily roost in the quarry buildings, but return to the aviary for food. Blue and Red appear nonplussed by the absence of the others and continue as normal in the aviary.
The number of wild birds in the UK is still falling, despite efforts to protect them by changing farming practices.
Since 2003, there has been a 13% decline in the population of farmland birds. In the five years to the end of 2012, the decline was 8% overall. The decline has slowed, according to the Wild Bird Indicator statistics released by the UK Government, and some species are in better health than they were in the 1970s when data began to be comprehensively collected. However, conservationists are concerned that the drop in numbers is continuing, with a halving of farmland bird numbers in the past 40 years. Woodland birds are down 17%.
Turtle doves have had their lowest level of sightings since records began. Lapwings are down by nearly two thirds since 1970, while corn buntings are down nine-tenths in the same period, and the number of skylarks is down by well over half.
Farmland birds suffer from intensive agriculture, as farmers often remove or drastically cut back the hedges and trees where many of them live, while pesticides can leave them with less prey, and a lack of wild field margins cuts down on habitats.
There are some government-sponsored schemes to encourage farmers to make room for wildlife, for instance by leaving field margins wild, cutting down on pesticide and artificial fertiliser use, and leaving some areas fallow or pasture. There are also strict laws against killing rare birds of prey, but conservationists think these are frequently flouted.
Martin Harper, conservation director at the RSPB, said: “The trend for farmland birds continues to go downwards. The decline has slowed, and wildlife friendly farmers who put conservation measures in place on their land must be congratulated for their hard work. But if we are all going to work together to bring wildlife back to our countryside, then the funding must be there for these measures to continue.”
Under reforms to the common agricultural policy, which were agreed this summer, the UK Government has the ability to divert some of the millions of pounds of funds available – which come ultimately from European taxpayers – to environmental stewardship schemes to reward farmers for good practice.
The UK Government, has still not said how they might allocate the funding, which could go up to 15% of the agricultural subsidies budget. But given the government’s freedom of action under the new rules, much of it could go to farmers based not on their practices but on the amount of land they farm, as other subsidies are.
A decision is expected before the end of the year, and green groups are concerned that the amount devoted to environmental measures will not be enough to halt further declines in wildlife numbers.
The situation in Jersey appears very similar and Birds On The Edge is working with our local farmers to monitor locally endangered birds and enhance the habitats of their farmland via a sponsored trial scheme. Some of the fields in the north coast have been planted with hedges and the fields have been sown with conservation crops that are providing birds with a source of food throughout the winter. The public will hopefully be able to see these fields and the birds feeding on them on the Birds On The Edge Autumn Walk – details to be announced soon.
The full UK report Wild Bird Populations in the UK, 1970 To 2012 can be downloaded in full here
Following action by The Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and RSPCA the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) decided to reclassify Polyisobutelene (PIB), under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), making it illegal to discharge any amount into the sea.
The IMO is stopping ships from discharging PIB at sea after birds covered in the sticky substance were washed up on the Channel coastline. Over 4,000 seabirds washed ashore, dead or dying between February and May, after there were two separate spills. The substance which has been likened to PVA glue in consistency, coats the birds feathers, rendering them unable to fly or maintain core body temperature.
The tragedy, the largest marine pollution incident of its kind in the region since Torrey Canyon, shocked thousands of people. At a meeting of the IMO’s working group on the Evaluation of Safety and Pollution Hazards of Chemicals (ESPH), it was decided to change the classification of high viscosity PIBs and prohibit any discharge at sea from 2014. This will also apply to new “highly-reactive” forms of PIB, which are currently being transported un-assessed.
The recommendation to do this had been made by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) on behalf of the UK Government, following vigorous campaigning by wildlife charities and the public.
This was a decision which was expected to take years and the efforts of all those who lobbied so hard in the Channel Islands should not be forgotten.
Thanks go out to GSPCA, JSPCA, Durrell, La Société Guernesiaise, La Société Jersiaise and the National Trust for Jersey who joined the AWT campaign and all of their Facebook and Twitter followers! The Birds On The Edge report can be read here.
Today’s decision is a real step forward, safeguarding our seas and sealife for future generations.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that our already declining bird populations, threatened by widescale habitat and climate changes, are put under further pressure through the actions of humans. Scientists with Environment Canada have found that human-related activities destroy roughly 269 million birds and 2 million bird nests in Canada each year. Most human-related bird deaths (about 99%) are caused by impacts of feral and pet cats, and collisions with buildings, vehicles, and electricity transmission and distribution lines.
Over the last four years, 20 Canadian scientists conducted extensive analyses that enabled them to release the first-ever estimates of annual direct bird mortality from human-related sources. The results have just been published in a special issue of Avian Conservation and Ecology.
“Because birds are excellent indicators of biodiversity, the newly-released articles from Environment Canada highlight areas where broader biodiversity may be impacted”, said Dr George Finney, President of Bird Studies Canada. “These results provide a crucial first step toward understanding the relative importance of bird mortality factors, and will inform future research directions, conservation actions, and policy decisions.”
Cats appear to kill as many birds as all other sources combined. Feral and pet cats are believed to kill more than 100 million birds per year in Canada. An estimated 60% of those are killed by feral cats. Bird species that nest or feed on or near the ground are especially vulnerable to cat predation.
“We are deeply troubled by the disquieting research published today on the number of birds killed every year in Canada due to human-related activities”, said Ian Davidson, Executive Director of Nature Canada. “Fortunately, there are concrete and sensible ways that people and governments can prevent the needless death of birds, especially now during the migratory season.”
Collisions with electricity transmission and distribution lines have been identified as the second-largest human-caused source of bird mortality in Canada. Between 10-41 million birds per year are killed by collisions with transmission lines; between 160,000 and 800,000 birds are electrocuted by distribution lines; and about 400,000 nests are destroyed annually due to vegetation clearing under powerlines.
Collisions with residential and commercial buildings are the third-highest of the human-related sectors, killing an estimated 16-42 million birds each year – mostly at houses. Following bird-friendly building guidelines can help individuals and building managers reduce the risk to birds. Using commercial products, special glass, or homemade solutions to make windows more visible to birds can reduce daytime collisions. Night-time window collisions can be reduced by leaving lights off in low-rise and high-rise buildings.
An estimated 13.8 million birds are killed annually by colliding with vehicles on Canada’s primary and secondary roads.
There are about 10 billion birds in Canada. The estimated total of 269 million bird deaths per year caused by human-related factors constitutes less than 5% of the overall population. Bird deaths from other causes (such as natural predation, disease, severe weather, or habitat loss) are not reflected in the estimates.
Whilst Canada is undoubtedly a very large country we can still see that the Channel Islands will contribute annually to the global, and un-estimated, man-made, and avoidable, toll of wild birds. We are increasingly beginning to realise how important our islands are too for migratory birds just passing through. How many each year fail to reach their destination through some man-made structure in their path that they don’t see? Or from the house cats and feral cats that are found everywhere in Jersey except on our offshore reefs – and even there birds aren’t safe from man-made problems! And, when thinking of feral cats, is it any wonder why we have so few lizards in some places!
The four remaining birds without transmitters were caught up on the 20th to have new transmitters attached. In the process the other three were also caught to check there were no issues with their new transmitters.
None of the choughs had completed their moult. However, they are at a very advanced stage and therefore fine for a release. It was noted that a knot was loose on a couple of transmitters that had been fitted last month. This was not deemed a huge concern since they are attached in other places including the transmitter being glued to the feather shaft.
This month the National Trust began treating designated areas of bracken with an herbicide as part of their removal programme. Asulox was applied using a hand sprayer. As a safety precaution all the sheep were temporarily removed from the cliffs and housed in the aviary field for four weeks.
The choughs did not seem to mind having new neighbours. In fact it probably provided a novel form of enrichment. The sheep were moved back out before the end of the month.
Soft release underway
The soft release phase began at the end of August (report). The first day went better than imagined with three birds venturing outside. Albeit on the shelving around the aviary. Green (PG) had the honour of taking the maiden flight onto the roof of the aviary and around the tops of the hedges, but didn’t go far. When it came to calling them back after 30 minutes the whole group flew down to the shed end for the food. Green was faced with the dilemma of how to get through roof netting to reach the food. After a quick brainstorming session he remembered where the hatches were and flew back in.
The second night was similar in that three ventured outside this time being a bit more adventurous. When it came time to call them back the three were on the roof of the shed. Eager to get to food two of them worked out straight away where to go. Red (RD), on the other hand, was completely baffled and spent the next two hours trying to figure out how to get in. Her dilemma was twofold: how to get to the food through netting?; how to get to the food without leaving her partner, Orange (OR), who was locked in the shed? She ended up spending the night on the roof. At 6am when keepers returned she was still perplexed. By 9am she had been coaxed inside by giving the birds in the aviary access to the whole polytunnel. As they flew to the end where the hatches are she followed. After a few minutes of letting her familiarise herself with the shelving the aviary birds were shuffled back and the hatches were opened.
As this is a pilot study Red’s experience has provided an opportunity to learn and improve. Roosting boxes have now been added outside the aviary in case a bird repeats her experience. This might also act as another anchor for keeping the birds close to the aviary and reduce the need to search for roost sites further away.
On 6th September things changed and, with the Ronez 2 pair back we had four other birds living in the quarry instead. Now, with four different, and very individual, birds out we had to learn again how to find each one. Several times a day. We managed to get some insects to all four birds by the next weekend but the wind and rain made it impossible to get adequate supplies down onto the ledges (think mealworms flying backwards over your head). On the 18th we became very worried about OR as his signal suggested that he was no longer moving and had been in the same spot for a while. However, very sadly, while trying to pinpoint his exact whereabouts in a difficult area within the quarry, a second bird (WT) was collected freshly dead by Ronez personnel from the floor of the quarry. Gross post mortem results seem to point at starvation. This was very worrying as we were seeing the birds foraging, suggesting that either they can’t find anything suitable to eat or that they are very naïve in their foraging (we do not know how much food is even available as we cannot safely access the foraging sites).
Immediately after the sad discovery of WT we watched the two surviving quarry birds (DB and BK) actively foraging but also flying around well, calling and looking fit and healthy. We accompanied the quarry manager in a further, thorough, attempt to locate OR but although we could get within a few metres it was unsafe to get right into the probable site we were getting a signal from. This meant we had effectively to write off OR as lack of any movement after more than two days could only really mean one thing. Losses like this, while upsetting to all involved, add to our understanding in this project and in fine-tuning the release. We always knew, and were pre-warned by colleagues who have led very successful release projects of this nature, that there would be losses along the way. As you can imagine though, the knowledge that losing some birds was inevitable did little to soften the blow.
DB and BK continued to look good, looked fit and active and must have been getting at least some food. We gained too in confidence that as they settled into a routine we could supplement their food in the quarry more. On the 21st, with an anglers’ catapult, we got insects down to the two choughs where they were and from there on they seemed to remember their training. Within a couple of days the two were hopping over the quarry fence to Ronez Point when called and getting plenty of food, and plenty of attention!
Choughs: birds with their own agenda
Meanwhile, back in the aviary the birds were fine and continuing to respond well to the whistle. We went back to the release plans for these three birds and once again it seems that they themselves are working to their own, well planned, agenda. On the 23rd the three choughs went out and safely came back on call. Then, the following day as the hatches were opened, MV and PG, the Ronez 2, without any hesitation, not even bothering to look around, flew straight to the quarry, passing DB and BK as they went in. They had to have planned that one! That night they once again slept in the conveyor (DB and BK have slept each night on the quarry cliffs).
And………. As if the personal plans of the Ronez 2 weren’t enough to be getting on with, as I returned to the aviary to say goodnight to RD who had decided to stay indoors, DB was there waiting for me! She went straight in and joined RD after 18 nights away! BK, however, spent the night alone in the quarry.
What will they do next?
We woke, worried about how BK was faring alone but she quickly came for food. Back at the aviary, DB weighed herself on the scales and could be seen to be at her normal weight. The Ronez 2 pair flew around a bit, ignored BK, and went back to the aviary and let themselves in. This is pretty well what they were meant to do, to go out, explore, learn about the wild and come back to the aviary for security and food while they adapt to freedom. We just wish they would all do it at the same!
We always knew that there would be setbacks; this is a trial, a pilot study, because no one really knew how captive-reared choughs would adapt to the wild. It is becoming apparent that individual birds all have their own characters and this individuality may be the very key to their survival chances. So, while there have been some very sad and dispiriting days, we will continue with the momentum of this trial. The sight of these beautiful birds, and the interest and excitement being generated by their release, is so very encouraging.
Can things get worse for turtle doves in northern Europe (for example, if you can’t shoot them at home, shoot them on holiday)? Possibly, for the first time anyone knows, none nested in Jersey this year when only 20 years ago they were common in places and their purring was a well-known summer sound. To understand what may be behind this region-wide decline, all aspects of the species’ ecology are being investigated, including the effects of disease. See updates on this beautiful bird through Operation Turtle Dove.
Very little is known about some of the potential problems facing turtle doves on their breeding grounds in Europe, their wintering grounds in Africa and their migration routes. But could disease be an additional problem for this fast-declining bird?
Columbidae (doves and pigeons) appear to be more susceptible to some diseases than other species, and being gregarious, the transmission of disease can easily spread from one bird to another. Trichomoniasis is a disease commonly found in Columbidae and is caused by the Trichomonas gallinae parasite. It is known to be a problem for the endangered Mauritius pink pigeon for example, where it can result in high mortality in young pigeons in the nest. It has recently been found in greenfinches, passed on via infected garden bird feeders, and led to a 35% decline in greenfinch numbers within a year in the UK (see BOTE reports here and here).
The joint study aimed to establish whether the parasite was present in wild turtle doves, as well as in three other related species – collared doves, woodpigeons and stock doves. It also aimed to understand the disease better and find out whether the parasite found in doves and pigeons is the same strain as that killing greenfinches.
The team found the parasite present in all four pigeon and dove species, but turtle doves and collared doves were the most likely to carry the parasite with 86% being infected. This was the first time that the parasite has been confirmed in turtle doves in the UK. Unlike the other Columbidae studied, turtle doves rely on seed food all year and they are a migratory species. Increased agricultural efficiency has reduced the availability of arable weed seeds during the period when turtle doves migrate back to Europe from Africa and it is possible that this food stress makes them more susceptible to disease.
On farms where supplementary food was put out for game birds, more of the doves and pigeons were found to have the parasite. This suggests that in a similar way to the disease being passed between greenfinches on garden feeders, the parasite can be passed between wild birds on farms. This is likely to be due to a food source, whether supplementary feeding or accidental spillages, attracting a lot of birds to the same place, meaning it is easier for the parasite to pass between birds of different species. Of the birds that were shown to have the parasite, hardly any were showing clinical signs of the disease, such as saliva round the beak, so it is unclear what effect, if any, this parasite is actually having.
Four strains of this parasite were identified, but more work is needed to find out whether any of these are identical to the strain killing greenfinches. Overall, as well as providing the first evidence of the extent of infection in turtle doves in the UK, this work also highlights the need to understand the effects and implications of Trichomonas parasites on the host bird.
In order to closely monitor the choughs we need to be able to see as well as possible what they are up to. If, as seems to be the current trend, they chose to live in the quarry then it makes sense to be able to see into this potentially hazardous (to the team, not the birds) and, naturally, secured site. On Wednesday (11th September) the choughs’ kind, and proud, hosts, Ronez (Aggregate Industries), gave us permission to access their viewing platform high above the southern rim of the quarry. For this privilege we will need to don high visibility jackets, helmets and protective glasses. We also undertook appropriate safety training.
On our first visit to the platform, we quickly spotted the four birds on grassy wide ledges directly below us. Everyone at the quarry has taken their chough visitors to heart and have ensured that they are recognised and their safety looked out for. We are particularly thankful to Kirsten Du Heaume, Yvonne le Cornu and Robin Jenkins for their support and interest in the birds.
Shortly after the last update, our two choughs, the Ronez 2, chose to go back to the plan and re-joined the flock in the aviary none the worse for their sojourn in the quarry. After the pair settled, we returned to the plan for slowly releasing the choughs. On the afternoon of 6th September we opened the hatches again. This release started off promising: all the choughs left the aviary within the first three minutes. Green and Mauve (the Ronez 2 pair) were the first to leave as expected and went onto the first target board outside the aviary. The rest quickly followed.
So much for plans
We watched nervously as a flock of crows appeared heading to Mourier Valley. I think the choughs were vocalising before flying up, but all I remember was seeing the crows detour to the aviary and all the choughs take to the sky. There was lots of circling and calling (mostly the choughs). There was no aggression just mutual intrigue. As the crows lost interest and the choughs headed towards Mourier Valley I decided to call them back. It would have meant they only had 15 minutes outside but that was better than losing the group.
Whether the calling scared them or they ignored me, I will never know, but it certainly didn’t change their flight pattern. Once over the valley they turned towards the cliffs and split up. Five were on the cliff path close to the aviary; White somehow became separated and was seen flying inland to the Sorel Point car park. In the meantime Red and Orange had made it over to the other side of Mourier Valley and could be seen probing the ground seemingly content. Green and Mauve returned to the aviary, possibly in response to whistles, or because they knew the lay of the land, and were locked in.
Then, to add to the stress, as rain appeared from the west, Red and Orange flew inland but back towards the aviary. For some reason only Red returned, resuming her previous ‘post-release’ position on top of the shed roof! The rain at this stage became too heavy and the team called a halt to the search and retreated. When the rain stopped and we returned to the aviary, Red was still on the roof and was lured in quicker than last time.
The radio-tracking gear told us that the remaining four had split up. Two by the aviary, one still in the field by the car park and one at the bike track. We were not able to see them as the light had gone by this stage.
Back at first light
Nothing had really changed when we returned at 06.00 on Saturday which, understandably, was worrying with still no choughs in sight. Our immediate concerns were for the two signals by the aviary. To save an agonising, minute by minute, account of the dawn searches, we can say that we found one chough hiding in the low hedgerow close to the aviary alive and well. Well enough to fly off towards the car park. The second bird we picked up down the east side of Sorel Point.
We found White was also hiding in a low hedge in the barley field by the car park. On location she flew off towards the bike track and carried on to the east side of the quarry. So, by 08.00, we had established that all were alive and well and in the quarry and were eventually able to see three of them feeding on a high bank, their calls carrying well on the wind. It took the best part of the day for White to join up with the other three: when they did so, they settled at the top of the quarry on the south-west corner. They roosted there on Saturday night on the bank rather than in a building and stayed in the quarry throughout Sunday.
While we had more rain and strong winds, plus motorbike races, on Sunday the four choughs appeared to settle well in the quarry. And there they have stayed. We can follow their movements thanks to the tracking equipment and are learning to spot their distant activities through binoculars and telescopes. It’s surprising how many shadows, rabbit holes or dark rocks can suddenly look like birds from a distance. And a group of four crows live in the quarry. However, we are becoming very adept at differentiating choughs from crows when they are so far away you can often only barely tell they are birds: our own game of Where’s Wally? Luckily choughs do get up and fly around and call in a way that only choughs can.
Spotted them? If you look closely, they are right in the middle of the picture. If you use Neil’s telescope, however, they look like this!
And, as for the three in the aviary. They seem ok, eating well and responding to the whistle. Red does look a little forlorn by herself – last week she sat on the aviary roof all night rather than be separated from Orange. Now she doesn’t know where he’s gone.