Counting Jersey’s birds in 2013

Harriet C out counting birds. Photo by Dan Lay2013 was a very busy year for the Farmland bird monitoring team. Whatever the weather, and last year there was plenty of it, we were out counting birds. The ‘Farmland’ title of the project is a little misleading as we count birds at 20 sites across a variety of habitats including true farmland, woodland, heath and sand dune. The project doesn’t include seabirds at sea or on the cliffs or waterbirds on open water – but any that fly over our transects are fair game!

Yellow-browed warbler. Photo by Mick DrydenIn 2013, 486 record sheets were filled out by our team of 13 volunteer recorders. Since the project started in 2005 we have filled out 2,517 sheets. That’s a lot of birds to put into the data base. We’ve now seen 161 species, one more since the last posting in June, with yellow-browed warbler the most recent addition (recorded at Durrell and Le Saie) this autumn.

Why do we record all these birds?

Consistent, systematic, long-term bird monitoring like this can tell us a lot about what is happening with our local bird populations. This is very important information when planning conservation strategies and updating protection laws or establishing protected sites. The red list of Jersey’s birds (available here) was based on long-term projects like this. Monitoring can show us too seasonality of birds (how many there are through the year) like the common whitethroat (below) but it can also show us alarming trends in their status over the years like the unfortunate greenfinch. It can, of course, also show us those birds that are actually doing pretty well like the great tit.

Common whitethroat FBS results

Common whitethroat. Results from farmland bird survey 2005-2013


Greenfinch FBS results

Greenfinch. Results from farmland bird survey 2005-2013

Greenfinch FBS results

Greenfinch. Results from farmland bird survey 2005-2013

What were the team’s highlights in 2013?

The team were asked what their personal highlights were. Sally and the National Trust team told Birds On The Edge that, “whilst hundreds of birds have been seen and counted, including kingfishers, marsh harriers, peregrines, stonechats and goldcrests, the sighting that stands out the most has to be when we found long-eared owl chicks, sitting in a tree in Fern Valley.

Long-eared owl chick in Fern Valley. Photo by Jonny Parkes“It was a lovely, sunny, still morning; we had almost finished the transect, and it had been rather quiet, not many birds had been seen, probably because sunrise was a little earlier than our start time. Jonny ‘Hawk-eye’ Parkes spotted them first, sitting quietly on the spindly branches on an alder tree, four pairs of  big, glowing, orange eyes looking at us, looking at them. We were transfixed, they were so beautiful to see, very fluffy and cute, with big saucer shaped eyes, and they were as interested in us as we were of them.

“None of us had seen real live, wild owl chicks before, so it was really hard to drag ourselves away, we had to finish the transect after all, and report our sightings to anyone and everyone that would listen”!

Cris also wrote: “I enjoy these (two) transects as they happen to go right through a bit of land that is the focus of my work – habitat restoration to save Jersey’s endangered birds. Walking the transects allows me to witness how the restoration management is being implemented and how it’s slowly changing the landscape and improving the habitats for the wildlife community. Hopefully, in time, the data from the transects will show an increase on bird numbers and diversity that will reflect those habitat improvements. The second best thing about this transects is that, on a good day, I get to record all five resident raptors in Jersey: kestrel, sparrowhawk, buzzard, peregrine falcon and marsh harrier”.

Harriet (W) was more than happy too with her year. In November she found not one but two cirl buntings on the Noirmont transect! Harriet (C) found a common quail and Glyn’s highlight was getting two bitterns together on a transect!Cirl buntings at Noirmont. Photo by Mick Dryden

Richard Perchard 1-2014. Photo by Sally DalmanRichard retires

Very sadly, one of our stalwart counters, Richard, has had to retire from the programme. Richard covered two transects on the east of the Island and was lucky enough to have breeding cirl buntings, firecrests and buzzards on his patch. We will all miss Richard very much but we do know that we’ll still see him as he’ll continue to feed the cirl buntings to make sure that they are getting enough food throughout the year.

Like to join us?

With Richard’s retirement we are looking for new volunteer recorders. As you can see, it’s always fun and we need someone who can commit themselves to doing their transect once in each fortnight (you can chose which day and we can bring on a sub for holidays and other absences). No transect is much more than one kilometre in length and they are all easy to walk. It is, of course, important to be able to identify our common birds both by sight and , often more importantly, by sound but don’t worry about those rarities if you aren’t certain about Richard’s pipits or honey-buzzards. Rarities may just the icing on the cake for us observers and you’ll learn about them as you go! We will show you the routes and help with bird identification. If you are interested please reply through this web page.

Chough report: December 2013

New recruits from left to right Yellow, Cerise, and White-L inspecting the release hatches in the poly-tunnel. Photo by Liz CorryBy Liz Corry

New arrivals

New choughs arriving at Durrell’s Vet Department for health checks. Photo by Alison HalesThree new choughs arrived in Jersey on 2nd December thanks to our friends at Paradise Park. Alison Hales, Director of Paradise Park, and her husband Ray, drove the new birds from Hayle in Cornwall and onto the ferry at Weymouth. Keepers had to move the choughs into their export crates the evening before their departure, and then they were driven off before the crack of dawn to make the ferry. On arrival in Jersey they went straight to Durrell’s Vet A newly arrived chough gets its checkup. Photo by Liz CorryDepartment for routine health screening then on to Sorel. The choughs entered a thirty-day quarantine period and remained separated from the original five birds for the first three weeks.

These new recruits are two chicks from the 2013 breeding season and an older male juvenile. Having more males in the group will hopefully boost breeding opportunities in the forthcoming years. They have certainly settled in well, coming down for food and going straight on the weighing scales.

When the choughs arrived in Jersey they were treated as a precaution for gapeworm with ivermectin. This needed to be repeated after 14 days so on the 17th they were caught up by the vet. The new birds’ body weights were recorded at the time and it was clear that they had been gaining weight since being in the aviary. This is a good sign since the stress of the import would have reduced their weights and the cold weather at Sorel would cause the birds to burn more calories. They are obviously feeding well!

All eight choughs have integrated well although there is still a pecking order to be established. Photo by Liz CorryThe two groups in the aviary were mixed on the 20th and despite a few expected scuffles everyone seemed harmonious. There has certainly been solidarity throughout the gales and downpours with the birds sheltering together. However, towards the end of the month a fight between two of the choughs was witnessed in which one bird was pinned to the ground by the other. Fights like these are common in the wild when arguing over territory and females. They can often lead to quite serious, sometimes fatal, injuries. This particular fight started over food and, in a confined space such as the aviary, it isn’t unexpected when there are new males establishing their roles within a group.

The new recruits have been given colour rings and accordingly they have been named ‘Yellow’, ‘Cerise’, and ‘White-L’ (not to be confused with sadly deceased ‘White’). At a later date they will be fitted with radio transmitters in order to follow their movements in the wild.

Nest Box Cameras

Ray Hales installing a new Sony camera in a chough nest box. Photo by Alison HalesWith the VIP cargo uncrated and settled in, Alison and Ray turned their attentions to the captive collection at Durrell. They stayed in Jersey for a few days to help set up nest cameras for the 2014 breeding season. They kindly donated equipment and spent time training staff in how to use the software.

Expectations are high this year with both keepers and choughs now experienced in how to get nests, eggs, and chicks. Efforts now, as always, will be to increase the chicks’ chances of survival to post-fledging. With improved image quality and chough-proofed cameras so they stay in place, keepers will be able to see when they need to intervene to help the chick. For example a chick gasping in the nest can be a sign of gapeworm infection or overheating. Keepers will be looking out for this and treating to prevent conditions worsening.

Footage from the cameras will not be live to the public, but edited clips can be posted through this website.

Surprising benefits of species restoration  

As always, this project is not just about restoring Jersey’s chough population. Some additional benefits take a lot of time and planning. The grazing sheep restoring the coastal grassland areas at Sorel may seem low maintenance, but as Aaron le Couteur will tell you it is the complete opposite. The rams are kept off-site to avoid ‘encounters’ with the public during the breeding season: their horns are much larger than the females and juveniles out on the cliffs and can get them into a lot of trouble. On Boxing Day three broke free from their field so Aaron had to move them to a secure field. The aviary field was the ideal surrogate home whilst the fencing was repaired.

Temporary home for three delinquent rams at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry The new additions in ‘their’ field provided welcome enrichment/amusement for the choughs, although their antics started to put the integrity of the aviary fencing to the test. Fortunately the fencing in the original field was fixed before the choughs’ fence gave way and the rams have now been moved back.

Housing the choughs at Sorel has also benefitted a somewhat unexpected character. For several months now a young kestrel has been spotted hanging out at the aviary. The height of the poly-tunnel gives the kestrel a good viewpoint over the surrounding fields to plan it’s next meal. More recently the kestrel has been spotted inside the external chough roost-boxes no doubt sheltering from the stormy weather. The shelter of the aviary also attracts small rodents which have may have caught the eye, and talons, of the kestrel.

We will be keeping a close look at the situation. Kestrels do not pose any threats to choughs and, in the wild, choughs will often roost near to kestrels as they act as a deterrent to other competitors and/or threats. The concern will be more for the kestrel and whether it decides to set up a permanent home/nest at the aviary.The kestrel making use of the external chough shelters on the release aviary. Photo by Liz Corry



Rise and shine for the Early Bird Survey!

Robin. Photo by Tony Paintin

9th – 12th January 2014

From the BTO.

Winter is not an easy time for birds. They need extra energy to keep warm, especially during long winter nights. To cope with this, they lay down extra fat reserves, though small birds quite often only lay down enough for a single night. Longer nights not only affect the amount of energy a bird uses, they also reduce the amount of time that birds can feed in. Birds, therefore, have to make the most of the daylight hours to replenish their energy reserves before it gets dark.

The 2004 BTO Shortest Day Survey, run in association with BBC Radio 4, investigated the patterns behind birds arriving at garden bird feeders first thing on a winter’s morning. Building on observations from the Shortest Day Survey, the Early Bird Survey will investigate what effect, if any, light and heat pollution have on the feeding patterns of birds during a cold winter’s morning.

Blackcap. Photo by Mick DrydenYour help is needed to work out how light pollution affects the foraging behaviour of garden birds.

The Early Bird Survey will be taking place on Thursday 9th January. It’s a simple survey that requires you to get up before sunrise (which you’ll have noticed is still quite late!), note the birds arriving at your garden feeding station and enter them online.

Once you enter your results, you’ll get immediate feedback about how your garden compares to those of other observers!

If you are free to do it tomorrow, please download the instructions today as we will also be collecting data on artificial light sources and overnight temperatures.

Find out more, including how to take part here.

Can’t do the 9th?
Don’t worry! We know that some people will be busy so we’re happy to accept observations up to (and including) Sunday 12th.

Please contact local bird recorder Tony Paintin if you are interested in further BTO surveys

The Countryside Enhancement Scheme and Birds On The edge

Jersey N Coast, Plemont Autumn 2013

By Christian Marcos

The Countryside Enhancement Scheme (CES) is an environmental improvement scheme open to all Jersey landowners, land managers, businesses, charities, schools, States departments and others. The scheme is funded by the States of Jersey and offers financial incentives that support and reward environmental initiatives through voluntary management agreements designed to look after Jersey’s countryside. This includes enhancement of wildlife, landscapes, historic features and natural resources (soils and water), as well as providing new opportunities for public access.

Last year, the Countryside Enhancement Scheme funded a project to clear large amounts of bracken from publicly administered land on the slopes west and east of Plémont in order to improve the condition and species diversity of these coastal habitats. A total of 17,151m² (9.5 verges or 4.3 acres) of bracken scrub has been cleared on this occasion.

In the past these steep slopes would have been managed by grazing animals, and by harvesting bracken and gorse for animal bedding and fuel respectively, giving opportunity for short, species-rich grassland and wild flowers to flourish. Today the only grazing which takes place is done by rabbits, which unfortunately is not enough to stop the gradual encroachment of gorse scrub and bracken.

The aim is to return the slopes to their former ecologically diverse coastal heathland habitat, encouraging fire-tolerant shrub vegetation such as heathers Calluna vulgaris and Erica cinerea, gorse Ulex gallii and broom Cytisus scoparius.

The project compliments Birds On The Edge objectives in conserving maritime heath, cliff and slope habitats which are listed as valuable key habitats in the Jersey Biodiversity Strategy (2000).

Access to manage the slopes is difficult due to their being so steep and being isolated from any close parking and other infrastructure. It is planned that a number of ‘holes’ be created in the coastal scrub with a more diverse vegetation within. The long term intention is to re-establish grazing to these slopes with the livestock foraging between these holes and ultimately linking them, creating habitat corridors. The first step is to create areas which can be grazed and which will supply a sufficient amount of fodder to sustain the livestock.

The contractor successfully cut the bracken scrub to ground level and then rolled it into piles of mulch at the bottom of the slopes. The team will return to the site in early June (2014) to treat any bracken regrowth with the fern specific herbicide Asulox.