A Seabird Tragedy playing out on Channel Island beaches

Alderney Wildlife TrustFrom Alderney Wildlife Trust

The Alderney Wildlife Trust (AWT) and its patron Miranda Krestovnikoff are calling for a pan-Channel Island effort to increase monitoring and protection of the Channel Islands’ seabirds, in the aftermath of potentially the largest seabird disaster in recent years.

Dead seabirds collected in Jersey on 16th February 2014. Photo by Tim RansomEurope’s seabirds face a losing battle this winter after back-to-back storms hit over-wintering birds off the western coast of Europe. The resultant massive loss of life is described as a ‘seabird wreck’ and has hit birds as they prepare to return to their breeding grounds. Given the timing of the wreck there is an increasing likelihood that birds from Channel Island colonies, many of which have been experiencing population declines and breeding failures in recent years, will be caught up in this latest disaster.

On Tuesday the French LPO released estimated figures for the Bay of Biscay, Brittany and Normandy of 11,000 birds dead or receiving treatment, of which 8,000 were thought to be puffins. Whilst French beaches were the first to be hit, the Normand-Breton coast and the Channel Islands have also experienced distressing signs of the ‘wreck’ (read more here). Jersey reports well over 400 and Alderney is at 44 dead birds, all recovered from the beaches in the last 10 and 8 days respectively. In Alderney the average reported number of dead seabirds recorded per annum is just 12, yet 15 birds were recorded in one day last week over only 200m of coastline, and not a single bird has as yet been found injured but still alive.

Speculation is rife as to why puffins have been so badly hit. However, as the puffin moulting season, when the birds are unable to fly, may well have coincided with the highpoint in the recent storms, this may well be a factor. Yet one fact is clear, given the time of year and the scale of the wreck birds from the Channel Islands and British breeding populations will be affected by this disaster, either killed directly or so malnourished that they struggle to breed successfully this year.

Monitoring of the impacts continues in all three main islands, with the States of Jersey and Guernsey accepting sightings reports of dead birds and the GSPCA and JSPCA responding to the increased number of exhausted survivors also present on those islands. A call on Wednesday for an island wide survey of Guernsey beaches on Saturday 22nd, organized by the Guernsey Environment Department, with support from La Société Guernesiaise ornithology section, RSPB Guernsey and GSPCA following that undertaken last weekend in Jersey, has led to an immediate and passionate response. The results of this survey will be compiled and will be added to those collated by surveyors from the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and the National Trust for Jersey and the Alderney Wildlife Trust to give the Channel Islands a much clearer understanding of the impacts of the wreck. This pan-Channel Island response to the wreck is a good example of how government bodies, NGOs and volunteers can come together to respond to wildlife emergencies. Further links are also being established to share information and knowledge with UK and French bodies including the Groupe Ornithologique Normand (GONm).

But the AWT is urging islanders to recognise that this disaster will not be over when the bodies stop washing up on the beach. This is the 3rd major wreck to have occurred which has impacted British seabird populations (two natural causes and one caused by PIB discharge). Seabirds are of great value to the Channel Islands, not only as an integral part of their ecosystems or as creatures of extraordinary grace and beauty, but also because they play an important role in the islands’ natural image. In 2013 the States of Alderney, in conjunction with the Alderney Wildlife Trust and Leeds Metropolitan University, undertook research into the value of environmental tourism to the island’s economy and this identified an estimated annual value of around £2.5 million.

As a result of these concerns, and given the growing number of ‘unusual’ weather events impacting the islands and their wildlife, the Alderney Wildlife Trust is – asking Channel Island governments and conservationists to support a pan-island effort to assess the status of its iconic seabirds.

The AWT is also asking for public support for the conservation and welfare organisations across the islands which are responding to the hugely increased pressures caused by the wreck. Volunteers and staff are daily faced with the task of nursing the increasing number of injured birds from the wreck, whilst dozens more face the grind of recovering the bodies of the dead birds and attempting to ensure information such as the origin, age (were the birds from breeding colonies), sex and health of the birds is recorded. Yet there is very little additional resources to assist in this work.

Going further Roland Gauvain, AWT Manager said:

‘We’re asking members of the public who really appreciate the need for the Channel Islands to respond together to the growing threat, to offer their support directly. You can offer your support by either by making a donation or by offering your time and effort  at  http://www.alderneywildlife.org/node/3662, or telephone 01481 822935’ 

Miranda Krestovnikoff – AWT Patron (President RSPB) said:

‘The incredible dedication of volunteers and staff of NGOs and Government from across the Channel Islands in their response to this natural crisis, is one of the reasons I have developed such an affinity with the islands. You love and value your wildlife and this is vital in the changing world we find ourselves in. Your massive effort clearly demonstrates what can be achieved by working together as islands.

Therefore, it is vitally important that the you do not allow joint effort cease once the bodies of birds finally stop appearing your  beaches; this event is unusual but there is a clear and increasing trend on ‘record’ weather events which is changing the nature of the British Isles. 

The ‘Channel Islands’ can and must pull together to protect your seabird populations, one of the your most vital natural resources, so that future generations of islanders and visitors can take pleasure from their puffins, shags and many other stunning birds.’

Channel Island Contacts


Alderney Wildlife Trust  – Roland Gauvain (Trust Manager) manager@alderneywildlife.org /  +44 (0) 1481 822935


States of Guernsey Environment Department – Janice Dockerill (Environment Services Officer; Communications) env@gov.gg / Tel.  +44 (0) 1481 717026


Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust –  Glyn Young (Conservation Biologist) Glyn.Young@durrell.org /  Tel: +44 (0)1534 860000
Department of the Environment – John Pinel  j.pinel@gov.je Tel. 00 44 (0)1534 441634

Alderney puffin in better days. Photo by Paul Marshall

Chough report: January 2014

The new choughs have integrated well with the original five at Sorel. Photo by Liz CorryBy Liz Corry

News update from Sorel

The quarantine period enforced when the new birds arrived came to an end in the New Year. The new group had already been mixed with the original five by this point. A potential new pairing seems to be emerging from the mix: the four year old male, Yellow, and Red who lost her partner in the quarry, have been spending a lot of time together.

Behavioural observations have been hampered due to the horrendous weather deterring the researcher from sitting in an exposed field for any periods of time. However, they have been able to glean information about relationships within the group and interesting behaviours. The established pair, Green and Mauve, have been observed caching food from the others. Although, in a confined space like the aviary, housing intelligent birds like the chough, nothing stays hidden for long!

The gale-force winds, hail, and driving rain have also meant that it has been almost impossible to monitor the birds’ body weights each day. The electronic scales do not fare well in these conditions, not to mention the choughs themselves who are blown about. Weights that have been obtained suggest the birds are all healthy and in good condition.

Student Melissa Gaskell analysing chough faecal samples. Photo by Liz CorryThis is reassuring, especially when a few of the choughs have tested positive for gapeworm. The new youngster, WhiteR, was sneezing quite a lot towards the end of the month. He was caught up and locked into section 1B of the shed area. Faecal samples were collected over three days from him with a separate set collected from the group. Over these few days at least two others were sneezing but not as frequently.

Whilst both samples tested positive for parasites the birds did not need to receive treatment. They showed no serious clinical signs such as severe weight loss. WhiteR was mixed back with the group straight away.

Preparing for the breeding season

The flocking aviary at Durrell currently houses seven adult choughs. Three pairings have formed over winter as can clearly be seen here. Photo by Liz CorryThis year Durrell’s breeding programme has an added bonus. Two juveniles, on loan from Paradise Park since 2011, are now of breeding age and have partnered up…but not with each other. Much like an episode from a TV soap the existing pairings have disbanded and three ‘new’ breeding pairs have been formed.

Tristan feeding his new partner as part of their courtship display. Photo by Liz CorryTristan ‘divorced’ Issy and moved in with the young female (‘Black’). Arthur seized his opportunity and ditched Gwinny to return to his first love Issy. Not to be left out Gwinny took the young male (‘Mauve’) under her wing, so to speak.

Whilst this dramatisation might be a little embellished, behavioural observations have shown the pairings to be accurate. Mutual preening is a sign of courtship between choughs and both Arthur warns off others from coming near his partner, Issy. Photo by Liz CorryTristan and Black and Arthur and Issy have demonstrated this within their pairs. Tristan has also been feeding Black. This is really positive news as this behaviour is typical of nesting pairs. Gwinny and Mauve have not been observed preening but they do spend the majority of their time together.

In order to maximise our chances of success this year the breeding aviaries at Durrell were set up earlier than normal. In the wild, nest-building usually starts around March. We want the new pairs to be in their own aviaries by the beginning of February.

Off show breeding aviaries being prepared for the 2014 season. Photo by Liz CorryThe breeding aviaries have been scrubbed clean, given fresh substrate and new ‘furniture’. Logs, rocks, and paving slabs have been added to attract insects, especially ants, and add a bit of structure to the otherwise minimalist aviaries. Each nest-box has been disinfected and new nesting material will be provided once the birds are moved in.

In order to accommodate the extra pair the flocking aviary will be converted to a breeding aviary. A camera will be fitted in the nest box so staff can see live images without disturbing the nest.

Continuation of the soft-release trial

The choughs have been kept locked in the aviary over the winter months whilst the weather is unsuitable for releasing. They have also stayed confined to the aviary as half the group are without radio transmitters and could not be monitored easily once flying free. These four are the new arrivals and Mauve who lost her transmitter during her last outing in the wild. Biotrack are once again supplying the equipment which should take four to five weeks to build.

Seabird wreck in the Channel Islands

Seabirds in St Ouen's Bay 14-2-2014. Photo br Cris SellaresThe last two weeks have been marked by a run of storms in the Atlantic that have brought very high winds and seemingly endless rainfall. At first we worried about the weather’s impacts on the land with widescale flooding in southern England. How would landbirds find enough food if the ground became saturated and the rain prevented them from foraging. Even our garden birds were suffering.

At the same time our coasts were being battered with high winds and huge waves. As defences were being breached, seawater was coming inland and would impact on plant communities and eventually their associated birds. Then, last week we started to see exactly what the storms were also doing to our seabird populations. North-west Europe has many millions of seabirds and the majority of these winter out in the Atlantic. We could only guess what it must be like out there for small birds that need to be able to dive for fish in roaring seas and winds up to 100 mph.

Puffin. Jersey, Feb 2014. Photo by Lisa ClynesWell, our worst guesses began to come true when dead seabirds started to turn up on beaches from the Bay of Biscay and Brittany to Cornwall last week. The predominantly south-west winds have put the victims on our islands’ southern and western beaches. In the last week we have seen over 75 dead birds in Jersey including shags, kittiwakes and auks. The presence of many dead puffins has, perhaps, caused the most upset. Local puffin populations are both popular and highly threatened and, while the origins of the victims is not really known (to date one bird is known to be of Welsh origin), it brings home just how vulnerable our local birds are. It might now only take one big storm to exterminate them.

Alderney Wildlife Trust are co-ordinating attempts to record the numbers of birds that are being found in the Islands. Sadly it seems most are being found in Jersey. The Jersey Wildlife Facebook group are posting records as people find birds. Cris Sellarés is organising a systematic count on Sunday (16th February) in the afternoon and will check all the beaches. If you’d like to join you can make contact through the Facebook group.

After Sunday’s count please continue to look for birds The important things to do are to record the species, location and date and then try to dispose of the body (this prevents the same bird being counted several times) – bury it on the beach above the high tide line or bag it and bin it. Look for any rings or tags etc. though. Please wear gloves if you do pick up a bird and always wash your hands thoroughly later. You can then report your finds through the Facebook group or directly to Birds On The Edge and they will be passed on.

North Coast Breeding Bird Survey: 2013 Results

Stonechat 2-2014. Photo by Paul Marshall

By Cris Sellarés

As you may remember, the North Coast Breeding Bird Survey was started in 2013 running from the late spring until the end of September. Its aim was to determine the number and location of breeding pairs of species of conservation interest. The list of target species comprised of kestrel, peregrine falcon, jackdaw, raven, skylark, common whitethroat, Dartford warbler, stonechat, meadow pipit and linnet.NCBBS map. Cris Sellares

For this purpose BOTE gathered information from ongoing schemes such as the Farmland Bird Monitoring Scheme and the BTO’s Breeding Bird Survey squares, and filled in gaps by surveying areas with no existing coverage.

With the exception of Les Landes (SSI), which encompasses an extensive area of suitable habitat, the survey was restricted to a narrow strip along the coast. Most observations were taken from the coastal path; information was recorded regarding territories and behaviour such as singing, territorial displays, nest-building and food delivery to the nests.


The results of the survey did paint a worrying picture for some of our farmland birds such as the stonechat and meadow pipit as fewer were found than was hoped for. The location of their territories was consistent with a combination of the right habitats for nesting and foraging, be it a cliff side, a hedge, an open field or a grassy boundary, yet it was hoped that their breeding success would be higher, especially as some pairs did not seem to succeed in their breeding attempts.

It was no surprise that most breeding territories were found within Les Landes SSI, which holds the largest expanse of maritime heathland in Jersey and has been under conservation management for over a decade. Not only is Les Landes the present stronghold for stonechat and meadow pipit, it is also the last site within this area where skylark bred until recently. Other species of interest to BOTE such as yellowhammer have been absent from the area for many years and, as expected, none were found during the survey. Whilst farmland birds seemed to cluster in particular areas, territories of cliff-nesters (kestrel, peregrine, jackdaw and raven) were relatively well spaced from each other.

So how did the species fare?

Eurasian kestrel: 6 pairs

Eurasian Kestrel. Photo by Mick DrydenMost of the six kestrel pairs found in Area 1 are likely to be cliff-nesters. The kestrel is categorised as amber (decline by more than 25% but less than 50%) on Jersey’s bird redlist Conservation Status of Jersey’s Birds 2011 (read here) due to its low numbers, which have, however, remained stable over the last decade. 2013 was a difficult year for kestrels that breed in nestboxes and similar problems may have occurred for those nesting in cliffs.

Peregrine falcon: 2 pairs

Over he last decade the number of breeding pairs in Jersey has seemingly reached a plateau at 5-6 pairs. The two breeding territories found in Area 1 are consistent with data from 2011 and 2012 collected by the Société Jersiaise’s Bird Section.

Jackdaw: 1 pair (unconfirmed)

The Jackdaw has green status on the redlist as numbers have locally been increasing over the last few years. The territory located, albeit with unconfirmed breeding success, could be the first of others in this area if the expansion of the species continues.

Jackdaw in Jersey. Photo by Tim Ransom.

Raven: 1 pair

The raven population in Jersey appears to have remained stable at around five breeding pairs over the last decade with only small fluctuations in the number. This species is, however, given amber status because the population is very small and, therefore, vulnerable. The single breeding pair found reflects this species’ preference for very large territories.

Skylark: 0 pairs

Skylark is red listed (severe population decline in the Jersey population of more than 50% over 20 years) and there are no data on breeding attempts in the area since 2010 and the species is losing ground at the only other known breeding sites in Jersey (Les Blanches Banques and the Airport). The annual skylark survey conducted at the Airport since 2006 shows a steady decline in the number of singing males and in overall numbers.

Common whitethroat: 5 pairs

There are no previous data on this species for this area; however, the five pairs located were less than was initially expected.

Dartford warbler: 5 pairs

This species is not considered threatened in Jersey and was green listed in 2011. The population typically fluctuates between 40-45 singing males but can drop after a very cold winter. An Island-wide breeding survey in 2012 detected 13 breeding pairs in the survey area, but only five of these were found in the 2013 survey with another three pairs whose breeding success could not be confirmed. This species is a good community indicator through its dependence on mature heathland and gorse habitats.

Common stonechat: 1 pair

The overall decline of this red listed species in Jersey in recent years has been alarming, having dropped from five pairs in 2011to three known pairs (two of them at Les Landes) in 2013. Of these only one succeeded in breeding.

Meadow pipit. Photo by Paul MarshallMeadow pipit: 6 pairs

Meadow pipit is on the Jersey amber list and the six pairs located in the survey area was perhaps less than was expected.

Linnet: 7 pairs

This species is amber listed in Jersey and, whilst there are no previous breeding data for it in the area, the seven pairs located were also less than expected.

Concluding remarks

The available data suggest that the number of breeding pairs of the surveyed species is not increasing in the survey area, with the exception of perhaps only jackdaw. Skylark has disappeared from the area and stonechat may soon do likewise while Dartford warbler, meadow pipit and linnet might be decreasing. The trend in kestrel, peregrine falcon and raven are not so clear.

Birds On The Edge hopes to repeat this survey over the next few years and to expand the survey area towards the west coast of Jersey. Only long-term monitoring can provide a reliable picture on population trends and can help steer habitat conservation efforts.

The Jersey Great Garden Bird Watch 8th & 9th February 2014

Long-tailed tits. Photo courtesy of National Trust for Jersey

The 13th Great Garden Bird Watch takes place this weekend, Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th February

Blackbird. Photo by Mick DrydenThe annual Action for Wildlife and Jersey Evening Post (JEP) Great Garden Bird Watch takes place this coming weekend. Islanders are once again encouraged to watch the birds in their garden for any period between 8 am and 11 am on either the Saturday or the Sunday.

Data from past surveys were included in the 2011 assessment of our birds that became the Island’s first bird redlist The Conservation Status of Jersey’s Birds which can be downloaded here.

Blackbird. GBS 2002-2013

Greenfinch. Photo by Regis PerdriatAnalysis of sightings from the previous 12 years makes it very obvious that not all our favourite garden birds are faring so well. While blackbird, our most recorded bird, is both common and holding its own, the greenfinch population has suffered a disastrous crash in numbers. The decline in garden greenfinches is consistent with overall reductions in their numbers in NW Europe (see report here). Data shown by the survey are very important in highlighting what is happening in our environment and, while not covering the whole countryside, do bring home to everyone wider concerns. Just think, if the birds are dying out in our gardens where we feed and protect them, what is happening out there in the rest of the world.

How to enter the survey

Watch the birds in your garden for any period between 8 am and 11 am on either the Saturday or the Sunday. Counters should note the highest number of each species of bird that are see together at one time during that period – not the total number which enter your garden over the period of the watch.

Survey forms and a handy identification guide will be published in the JEP on Thursday the 6th and all data received will be passed on to La Société Jersiaise to add to their records and included in Birds On The Edge bird monitoring analyses.

Completed forms can be posted in or delivered to the JEP. You can also send in your records online through the JEP here from the weekend.

Jersey’s choughs get their own video

Choughs at Ronez Point. August 2013. Photo by Colin StevensonWhen the first choughs arrived at the Durrell Wildlife Park in 2011, a very inspired person (Mike Stentiford) suggested that the project collect video footage of every aspect of this programme as we went along. That way we would have footage of everything we did and could use it in the future for educational purposes or for making our own film.

Annette Lowe at Sorel. August 2013. Photo by Colin StevensonMike then went on to recommend the wonderful Annette Lowe who had helped him with some previous filming. We  in turn are very grateful that Annette said yes when we approached her, and further agreed to come and film us in all weather and whatever we did through the year, however mundane it must have seemed sometimes. Annette also  agreed to volunteer her services and to hide in hedges whenever necessary.

When the choughs were shut in the release aviary for the winter, Annette thought that she had perhaps reached the end of this particular part of the programme. There is now plenty of footage of past activities available for use in future productions and, as a reflection on this work, Annette has kindly put together a short (13 minutes) video on the project to date. Sit back and watch this summary of everyone’s hard work and join us all in looking forward to the next phase. Oh, and hope for some good weather!