Chough report: August 2014

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Four of the released choughs taking a break at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry

By Liz Corry

August was a relatively quiet month. Quarantine embargos at the aviary meant that the ten chicks stayed confined to the aviary and the adults gained respite from the hand-reared chicks daily fly-arounds.

Release aviary update.

The six parent-reared chicks have settled in well and are now mixed with Dingle and the girls. There have not been any cases of aggression to worry about. There does still appear to be a subtle separation of groups even when mixed. The behavioural study being carried out by the students shows us that certain birds prefer to hang out with some more than others. A bit like children in a playground, but with less hair pulling.

Glyn testing his Jedi mind skills during a ringing session. Photo by Harriet Clark.

Glyn testing his Jedi mind skills during a ringing session. Photo by Harriet Clark.

The practicalities of conducting such a study have been complicated by the extra choughs. Primary colours are limited so we are left with grey vs. pale blue leg rings and other subtle variations. Add to that the fact that chough chicks rarely sit still for one minute and it makes the task of distinguishing between 10 birds in 60 seconds feel almost impossible. Nevertheless, the students have been persevering
and the data sets are mounting by the day.

We added radio transmitters to the new chicks and swapped their Paradise Park rings for Channel Islands bird ringing scheme ones. After careful consideration we also gave each chick a name from E to J. Adam had the honour of naming the first chick and whilst it is not directly Jersey related we still think ‘Egg‘ is fitting for a chough.

FlieurJèrriais for flower, and Grace were named by Paradise Park staff and we think that their personalities are quite apt for their names.

For chick H it couldn’t really be anything other than Jersey’s patron saint, Helier. Gender aside of course. When it came to chick J we couldn’t ignore gender. We would have loved to have a chough named John, but the femininity is lost. Instead we took the parish of St. John’s Jèrriais name of Jean.

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Egg (red), Flieur (grey), Grace (black), Helier (green) and Jean (white) hoovering up mealworms. Photo by Liz Corry.

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Icho. Photo by Liz Corry

We were pretty stumped when it came to chick I. Until Glyn made reference to one of Jersey’s Conway’s towers 2 km out to sea. The line being “Wouldn’t it be funny if one of the choughs decided to roost in Icho tower?” “No!” came the reply from the radio-tracking team.

Having completed their quarantine period this month the chicks will begin leaving the aviary at the start of September.

Life outside of the aviary

The six adults flying around Sorel continue to return to the aviary at will. They still eagerly fly to the aviary when we blow the whistle for food, but spend more and more time probing the grazed headland.

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Choughs probing the grazed land for insects. Photo by Liz Corry.

Holes in the ground made by chough looking for insects. Photo by Liz Corry.

Holes in the ground made by chough looking for insects. Photo by Liz Corry.

Much to our delight (stroke alarm at the sheer number) we are now seeing evidence of chough activity and how important it is for them to have grazed areas free of bracken.

Next time you are walking the cliff path at Sorel look down for probing holes in the ground and think about how much insect life must be living under your feet…if the choughs haven’t eaten it all that is.

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Pale green flanked by his two females Blue and Mauve. Photo by Liz Corry

The trio of Pale Green and his two females, Mauve and Blue, still spend a lot of time together. He has been seen preening both which suggests he is being a bit of a cad and waiting to see who will be the better choice come breeding season.

At the moment the odds are on Blue, although the geneticists amongst us would prefer a non-sibling pairing.

Whilst some have been showing off their yoga skills Mauve was limping in August. She sustained a mystery injury to her foot which meant she was holding up that leg a lot. It only seemed to give her grief for a few days and a scab that appeared has now dropped off. Fortunately, because the birds return to the aviary and allow staff to get fairly close, we can monitor health issues such as this very easily and make rapid assessments. No intervention was needed this time.

Chough flexibility (left) and inflexibilty with Mauve's injured foot (right). Photo by Liz Corry

Early morning chough yoga (left). Mauve had to give it a miss with her injured foot (right). Photos by Liz Corry

As we reported last month, the choughs are being more adventurous and living on the edge. The cliff edge! Now there is no stopping them and they have been probing right at the bottom. In heavy downpours they have been seen sheltering under ledges which led us to believe they may no longer be using the quarry buildings to roost in. On arrival for our first roost check we were proven wrong. An hour before sunset five adults flew over the car park to the quarry and didn’t emerge until sunrise.

Roost check at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry

The sixth, Red, was still feeding in the fields when we approached. When she stopped feeding she realised the other adults had left. She seemed a bit confused and flew to the nearest choughs she could see, those in the aviary. She took a long time to settle, but eventually roosted at the aviary. Oddities aside, the group of six still prefer to sleep in the quarry  buildings.

Whilst their roost site selection might not be a new thing, their distance from the aviary is. Or should that be elevation since they are now feeding lower down the cliffs. There are three choughs in the photo below. Trust me.

Choughs foraging near sea level. Photo by Liz Corry

Choughs foraging near sea level (there are three in this photo!). Photo by Liz Corry

Feeding time at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry

Feeding time at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry

The sheep, normally present on this bit of headland, were confined to the aviary field in August to allow bracken control treatments to go ahead at Devil’s Hole. Sam and Aaron, the shepherds, have been kept very busy making sure the sheep have enough food and water. We have been kept entertained trying to keep the sheep from busting through the gate to get to the fresh green grass in the aviary. You can read more about the bracken control here.

A VIP visitor from Madagascar

Floriot Randrianarimangason visited the UK and Jersey in August for intensive specialist training in aviculture and captive breeding. Floriot is a member of Durrell’s Madagascar team and runs the pochard captive breeding facility out there. The Madagascar pochard is the world’s rarest duck with only 20-25 known to be living wild.

Floriot Randrianarimangason from Madagascar visited Sorel this month. Photo by Harriet Clark.

Floriot has been to Jersey before; he worked on the ploughshare tortoise project before switching to birds in 2009. He hadn’t visited Sorel before and was keen to learn more about the re-introduction techniques. It is fair to say from the grin on his face he was suitably impressed. Tempting as it was for him, Floriot hasn’t taken any choughs back to Madagascar but he certainly has spread the word about Birds On The Edge and the natural beauty of Jersey.

October volunteer activity – Grass snake egg hunt

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) Photo by Henry Glynn

Sunday 5th October 2014 – La Moye Golf Course, St Brelade – 10:30 – 13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

Dear volunteers,

I hope that you all enjoyed the (mainly) amazing summer we have had and although autumn is on its way at least there is the monthly Jersey Conservation Volunteer tasks to look forward to!

Please find details of the first conservation task of the season below (please note that this is a week earlier than is usual)

The details

Grass snake egg hunt

The site

October volunteer event - La Moye Golf Course parkingLa Moye Golf Course, St Brelade.
Parking: Please park in the gravel car park on the left before the road crosses the golf course (see area circled in blue on map).

The task

As part of ongoing research into the status and conservation of Jersey’s grass snakes, we will be investigating a possible snake egg-laying site at La Moye Golf Course to check for egg shells. The task will require the careful de- and re-construction of large grass and soil heaps in order to search for egg shells, in the hope of confirming snake breeding at the site. There is also a possibility we will come across hatchling snakes, and other animals using the heaps.

Grass snakes are the rarest reptiles in Jersey, and our only native snake species, and so efforts to determine the habitats they are using are extremely important. Currently they appear to be restricted to the west and south-west of the Island, and we have had several sightings in and close to La Moye Golf Course, making it a key study area.

As we will be working on a golf course it is important that anyone attending sticks to the areas designated on the day.

Tools needed

If you have any of the following, please bring along:
Shovels
Garden forks
Buckets
Gardening gloves
Garden sieves

Clothing needed

It may still be sunny so please bring:
Appropriate clothing
Water
Sun cream (weather dependent).

Children All children are welcome but must be supervised by a parent or guardian during the task.

We can’t guarantee sun, but we can guarantee Kim and her amazing cakes to reward your hard work!

Exciting news for the 2014 Inter-Islands Environment Meeting

Common toad. Photo by Kristian BellThis year’s meeting is now only a couple of weeks away on the 9th and 10th October at the Durrell Conservation Academy. We are very excited now to be able to tell everyone that Insurance Corporation has kindly offered to sponsor this year’s event! This means that we will no longer be charging delegates a fee although we will suggest that everyone attending makes a donation to Birds On The Edge which they could chose to go to habitat restoration or to the chough reintroduction project.

Insurance Corporation logo

Insurance Corporation are an apt sponsor as through their Conservation Awards in Jersey and Guernsey and Alderney they have been very supportive of many of the projects that will be discussed at this year’s meetings – including Birds On The Edge!

The programme of speakers and discussion groups is coming together nicely and this year will include:

• Rob Ward – Jersey grass snake and slow worm survey
• Sozos Michaelides – Phylogeography and conservation genetics of the wall lizard
Podarcis muralis on Jersey, Channel Islands
• John Wilkinson -Just why are Jersey toads so special?
• Guernsey seabirds – an update
• Vic Froome – Working Together – saving biodiversity in the Islands
• Cris Sellarés – Filling the gap for our farmland birds
• Liz Corry – Red-billed chough reintroduction
• Kevin McIlwee – Jersey Maerl Beds
• Francis Binney – Rare molluscs of Archirondel pier
• Denise McGowan – Jersey Small Mammal Survey 2014
• Alderney and Guernsey – Ramsar programme
• Julia Henney – La Société Conservation Herd
• Anne Haden – Jersey Rare Plant Register
• The agile frog – Rana dalmatina an update
• Developing community engagement through land management – Alderney
Community Woodland
• Paul Buckley RSPB Update on the State of Nature
• Andrew McCutcheon – Guernsey Biodiversity Strategy
• Coordination of information on major seabird wrecks/pollution incidents
• Paul Buckley – Seabird recovery projects – lessons from Lundy and the Isles of Scilly
• Marine Development – update from each island on emerging pressures and
consequences for management UK, French and Channel Islands developments
• LIVE – an update from AWT/Durrell and the importance of increasing island
involvement in environmental education

On Friday afternoon there will be two optional sessions:

• Option 1: Field visit to chough release project on Jersey’s north coast
• Option 2: Gerald Mannaerts – PANACHE: How to involve Channel Islands in the
Channel’s marine protected areas network.

There may, of course, be some changes to this programme. It wouldn’t be an Inter-Islands if everyone’s flights got in uninterrupted by the weather! We have standby speakers and talks lined up. The full programme will be circulated to everyone before the event and available for download on this site.

We are planning to arrange a dinner for everyone interested on Thursday evening from 19:30 onwards. Please contact Glyn Young as soon as possible to let the organisers know that you are coming to the meeting and if you are interested in attending the Thursday dinner as we need to finalise numbers very soon.P1450252

 

The wanderer returns!

mauve returns

Mauve returns to the flock (right). Photo by Liz Corry

Panic over, Mauve is back. We don’t know where she went but we know she is back safe and well.

As the birds become more familiar with their environment they will start to explore further afield. It is a bit unusual at this stage in the game and year which is why we asked for help.

Thanks to all of you who contacted us about Mauve. At the start of next year the males will begin looking for territories and some of the females will prospect for nest sites. This is when the fun and games will really begin for the radio-tracking team. We are always pleased to hear from members of the public about their chough sightings. For next year’s breeding season these sightings will not just be heart-warming but invaluable to the project and success of Jersey’s red-billed chough.

Thanks once again

Liz Corry

 

Mauve missing! – We need your help

Mauve, female red-billed chough, currently missing from the flock on sixteen. Photo by Liz Corry

Mauve, female red-billed chough, currently missing from the flock on sixteen

We are missing Mauve one of the adults at Sorel. She was last seen yesterday teatime at the aviary with the other fifteen choughs when the keeper called the group back for food. At this morning’s 07:30 check we only had 15 of the 16 choughs at the aviary. They have spent the last week foraging around Sorel and flying high, regularly returning to the aviary. Her absence this morning is therefore unusual.

For those of you living in Jersey please keep an eye (and ear) out for her. She no longer has a radio transmitter attached making the task of finding her trickier for the team. If you think you have spotted her please contact the team on 01534 869059 or email elizabeth.corry@durrell.org.

In the unfortunate event of finding a dead chough please place the body in a clean sealable container or plastic bag and contact the above or Durrell directly as soon as possible. Whilst it would be a blow to the project to lose a bird, we can gain a lot of useful inform from a post mortem.

But lets stay positive for now and assume she has just decided to investigate Jersey’s beautiful coastline.

Thank you for your assistance,

Liz Corry

 

Just how many birds are there in the Channel Islands?

Kestrel and Elizabeth Castle. Photo by Romano da Costa

While the Channel Islands definitely doesn’t rival somewhere like Peru or Kenya for the size of its bird fauna there is still a nice variety to be getting on with. Our Islands are only small and close to the continent so birds may wander over and be gone again the same day. This means too that it’s never easy to say exactly how many species may be present on any one day.

These small islands do, however, have quite a good variety of habitats. So, while the bird fauna may not be large, it can be nicely varied. Even a brief trip out can reward the observer with seabirds, woodland birds and shorebirds within a few minutes. If not all at the same time: in fact there are few spots where you can’t hear oystercatchers or see a gannet off in the distance! You know you’re not far from the sea when the song thrushes and starlings mimic the shorebirds.

So, exactly how many bird species are there? The Working List of Channel Islands Birds has been updated this week and shows that, overall, 369 birds have been recorded. Not each of the islands has seen them all of course so the highest number for just one island is the 326 recorded in Jersey. The list shows where there are some very interesting anomalies – birds that may be very common on one island may be very rare or absent on another.

Jay. Photo by Mick DrydenObserver coverage is often low in parts, and certainly Alderney and Sark could be better covered than they have been at times. Both these islands have a dearth of seabird records that may be through too few birders but Sark’s shortage of shorebirds may be more down to its paucity of beaches. And it’s lack of wetlands. More interesting are the natural variations. Brent geese stick mostly to Jersey, but so too does this bird’s principal food, eelgrass. Harder to explain are the unequal distributions of magpies (effectively absent from Alderney) and jay (a common resident in Jersey and a vagrant elsewhere). Great spotted woodpecker and stock dove are relatively recent colonists to the islands which might explain why they have only a toe hold in Alderney and Guernsey while they are widespread and common in Jersey.

Pallas’s leaf warbler. Photo by Mick DrydenInterestingly, rare visitors too show an unequal distribution. Jersey has never recorded a Pallas’s leaf warbler while Guernsey has had 15. In Guernsey a little bunting would cause a stir whereas in Jersey they are almost annual. Amongst those birds to have avoided Jersey but put in appearances on the northern islands, snowy owl may have caused the most disappointment. Everyone loves a snowy owl!

The Working List is published each year from contributions by each of the islands. Each record has been accepted by the local ornithological committees and contacts of these are included. Please submit your sightings to each island. The list details each species and includes a summary table and, updated annually, one highlight is the taxonomic changes that are included each year. There have, over recent years been some major revisions to taxonomy and to many species’ position in the list. This year is no different – see how long it takes you to see where the falcons went this year. There may be splits too (think carrion/hooded crow or stonechats in recent years) but this year there haven’t been any. One disappointment, however, with the latest list is that the total hasn’t changed since 2012. It will have by the next update though!

As this is all good science, the understanding of avian biogeography, the monitoring of distributional and population changes etc., there can not be anything as unscientific as inter-island rivalry. And of course there isn’t. Although that one extra bird in the Jersey total is looking very vulnerable!

Download the full list here

Little bunting. Photo by Mick Dryden

 

 

Paradise Park send over new recruits for the chough project

Saffron the golden eagle at Paradise Park. Photo by Liz Corry

Saffron the golden eagle at Paradise Park

By Liz Corry

Alas, whilst the sight of a golden eagle in Jersey’s skies would be amazing we are in fact referring to Paradise Park’s chough chicks hatched this year. Saffron, the golden eagle pictured here, is a long standing member of the ‘Eagles of Paradise’ free flying bird show. I don’t think staff would give her up that easily.

However, they did agree to send over six other chicks to help with the restoration efforts in Jersey.

Many of you who have followed our work closely know that Paradise Park, in Hayle, Cornwall, have provided Durrell with our three breeding pairs of choughs and several juveniles over the last five years. All of the choughs currently flying free at Sorel were captive bred at Paradise Park.

Whilst Durrell have been successful in rearing chicks this year there are only four. To increase our chances of success we need more candidates fo release. Paradise Park’s parent-reared chicks are perfect for the role. The lessons they learnt from their parents will hopefully be shared with Durrell’s chicks whilst the two groups are living in the release aviary up at Sorel.

At the end of July, Harriet Clark and myself travelled over to Paradise Park. We spent a day behind the scenes learning more about their captive-breeding programme including meeting the new chicks.

Sarah-Jayne demonstrating can recycling with a kea. Photo by Liz Corry

Sarah-Jayne demonstrating can recycling with the help of a kea. Photo by Liz Corry

We also managed to find time to watch the two free-flying bird shows. The skills the staff demonstrated in the shows have been put to use up at Sorel.

I visited the park in 2011 to learn about animal training for welfare and soft-release purposes. David Woolcock, curator of the Park, has been providing invaluable support to our project ever since.

Parrots and birds of prey are not the only birds participating in their shows. Oggie and Piran are two choughs who love to fly back and forth over the audience whilst staff talk to the public about the perils faced by wild choughs and how conservation efforts are managing to support the population. Jersey gets a mention too!

Oggie and Piran. Photo by Liz Corry

Oggie and Piran. Photo by Liz Corry

When Oggie and Piran aren’t flying around, they hang out in an aviary where they get to interact with the public. They love being preened (tickled to you and I) and actively walk up to the mesh to meet you. They then seem to go into a trance-like state of pure ecstasy.

If they don’t like it they simply walk away.

The breeding facilities are off show to the public as the choughs can be quite sensitive to disturbance during incubation. These aviaries have nest cameras to monitor the parents behaviour and keep a ‘big brother’ eye on the development of the chicks. Each year they broadcast live to their website so the public can also keep a watchful eye. Of course at this time of year the chicks have already fledged and the families moved out of seclusion into flocking aviaries.

Liz, Harriet, and Ray Hales in the flocking aviary. Photo by Alison Hales

Liz, Harriet, and Ray Hales in the flocking aviary. Photo by Alison Hales

Alison Hales, director of Paradise Park, kindly showed us around armed with a bucket and trowel. Why? Well chough chicks love eating ant larvae and eggs. In order to provide enough to feed all the chicks throughout the breeding season staff placed paving slabs around the park in grassy areas. When the temperatures start to rise in spring and summer the slabs heat up becoming attractive to ants. All staff have to do is flip over the slab and dig out what they need with a trowel before dispensing in the aviaries.

Alison Hales shows Harriet how they provide wild insects to the chough chicks. Photo by Liz Corry

Alison Hales shows Harriet how they provide wild insects to the chough chicks. Photo by Liz Corry

Ant eggs are nutritious and deliciou for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

Ant eggs are nutritious and delicious for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

It was quite a sight to see so many choughs in one aviary. And a little bit overwhelming to think we would see the same at Sorel in two days time!

Choughs bred at Paradise Park

Paradise Park’s chough chicks with their parents in the flocking aviary. Photo by Liz Corry

We had planned a visit to track down wild choughs and meet up with the RSPB before heading back to Jersey. You will be able to read about that experience in separate posting. For now, let us explain how we moved six birds 160 miles across land and sea without exerting a single flight feather.

Paradise Park staff caught up and crated the choughs in the morning. David Woolcock then drove them to Perranporth Airport north of Hayle. I say aiport….field is probably more appropriate.

Perranporth airport. Photo by Liz Corry

Perranporth Airport. Photo by Liz Corry

There we all waited patiently for the arrival of ‘Durrell Air’. Captain Colin Stevenson and trusty co-pilot Lee Durrell waved excitedly from the window of the Navajo as it taxied off the runway and came to a halt at gate…erm 1 (and only)?

Lee and Colin very kindly donated their time. Anyone who has dealt with animal transportation will apprecite the cost involved and how minimising stress for the animal is paramount. Our alternative of half a days drive to reach a tempremental ferry service facing another 3-9 hour journey would not be in the best interest of the choughs.

Colin and Lee at the helm. Photo by Liz Corry

Colin and Lee at the helm. Photo by Liz Corry

After a quick cuppa and stretch of the legs we loaded the crates into the cargo hold.

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All ready to leave for Jersey. Photo by Alison Hales

Harriet and I found our seats in business class (also doubled up as cargo hold). Then we had to rearrange a few things so the pilots could squeeze through to the cockpits.

Harriet with the precious cargo. Photo by Liz Corry

Harriet with the precious cargo. Photo by Liz Corry

The birds themselves were relatively settled. Their crates had been secured in place and for the more nervous passenger they were covered over to create a darker, more peacefull environment.

Some just wanted to take in all the sites. Thankfully, fog patches aside, it was a very calm sunny day so the views were amazing and the flight smooth.

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On landing we were met by Adam and Max who helped unload the crates into two vehicles. We drove them straight up to Sorel and completed the rest of the journey on foot.

Adam and Max transfer the crates for the next leg of the journey. Photo by Liz Corry

Adam and Max transfer the crates for the next leg of the journey. Photo by Liz Corry

On arrival we were met by the vet and vet student. The birds needed to have a general health examination before being released into the aviary. Blood samples were taken as standard import requirements and cloacal swabs taken for baterial checks. The chicks were uncrated one at a time because of this and then released into section 1A once they had the all clear from the vet.

Vet Alberto examines chicks before their release into the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry

Vet Alberto examines chicks before their release into the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry

The Durrell hand-reared chicks were very excited by the new arrivals and flew up to meet them. But on seeing the vet and a large syringe they headed back to the other end of the aviary. The two groups of chicks need to be kept separate for the first week whilst we establish if there are any diseases risks, but can then be kept as one group in the aviary to socialise.

As soon as the Paradise Park birds entered the aviary, quarantine restrictions had to be put in place. For a little over four weeks keepers donned latex gloves and blue shoe-protectors everytime they entered the aviary. All waste food and materials were treated as clinical waste (which will explain the sight of Durrell staff hauling a large yellow refuge sac over the cliff tops into their car boot, and driving off).

I am pleased to say quarantine restrictions have now been lifted. The ten chicks (now four months old) are living happily together and are being trained by keepers in preparation for their release.

8 out of 10 choughs. Photo by Liz Corry

8 out of 10 choughs. Photo by Liz Corry

Thanks to all the staff at Paradise Park and to Lee and Colin for their time and assistance. Also thanks to Amy Hall, Durrell’s Registrar, for directing me through the piles of paperwork required for imports/exports.

We look forward to an exciting new chapter and the promise of sixteen choughs flying free this year.