Chough report: August 2014

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.

2 thoughts on “Chough report: August 2014

  1. Thrilled to see 10 choughs flying over La Moye Golf course today 29th October at 11.30. Almost made the mediocre golf worthwhile! The distinctive call caught my attention, not heard it away from Sorel headland before.

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