My summer with the choughs


Since the start of my degree, I have always known that I wanted to become a conservation biologist. In early 2014, I realised I needed to gain field-based experience in this area to complement my knowledge. That’s where Durrell came along. Being Jersey born, I had always hoped to work for Durrell in some form so imagine my surprise when I noticed the red-billed chough re-introduction student placement advertisement! It was a dream come true, an entry level project that would allow me to work with Durrell in the field and gain the necessary skills I would need for my later career. Fast forward five months and I have achieved everything I had hoped for, have made new friends (both chough and human) and have even been allowed to name one of the new choughs which is an honour in itself!

P1290337Almost as soon as I had been accepted onto the project, I was thrown into the action. I first met Liz and the eight adult choughs (green, mauve, blue, black, red, cerise, yellow and white) on a sunny but windy Sunday afternoon and only two weeks later I helped with their first release of the season. Standing on the hill now aptly named Mount Dallas by the team in honour of the amount of hours I have spent there tracking choughs from it. I was amazed by the heights the eight birds rose to and the acrobatic displays that they seemed to be able to perform with such ease. Getting them to come back inside the aviary proved to be a problem and by the end of my first full day on the job, one bird had returned home while five were roosting in the nearby quarry and the other two (yellow and cerise) had travelled further afield.

A search of the nearby area for these missing two gave us no clue of their whereabouts so Liz sent myself and Pierre (my fellow student) on countless searches across Jersey armed with our trusty radio receivers and maps taken straight from the phonebook (they are the only ones with all the road names!). Over the next few weeks Pierre and I travelled the length and breadth of the island, both on foot and in my car searching every cliff path and exposed hill we could find, ever hopeful that if we somehow managed to find the missing birds we would be able to return to Durrell as heroes.


Only once did we come close to finding the missing two choughs. It was an uneventful Friday and Liz and I had spent the whole day searching the west of the island with no luck. As dusk approached we decided to end our search at Noirmont Point, only to find that our radio receivers were picking up a signal for one of the birds (cerise). The signal itself was coming from one of the many bays in between Belcroute Bay and Noirmont. Unfortunately, the high tide and the presence of large areas of private land prevented us from searching further. Over the weekend we were able to get slightly closer but then the signal had disappeared never to be heard again. A frustrating end to what was such a hopeful chance.P1290580

Soon a month had come and gone and the arrival of four chicks back at the Wildlife Park soon meant that Pierre, Harriet, Liz and I had more work on our hands! I was lucky enough to have been one of the first staff members to see one of the newly hatched chicks having coincidently arrived back from lunch at the perfect time! I was always extremely busy during this time as I would spend my mornings searching for the missing adults, my lunchtime helping staff feed the chicks and my afternoons helping to release the other six adults. As the chicks grew and our searches for the missing choughs grew more and more desperate, my day soon became re-organised. By early June we were spending most of our time back at Sorel “chick-proofing” the aviary by building countless roost boxes and by laying rat proof mesh under the floor.

The chicks moved into to their new home at Sorel in mid-June, by this time the six adults had established themselves in the surrounding area and only relied on us for food. However, they did still spend a great deal of time at the aviary. This meant that a new stage of my placement could start.


One of the main questions the team had at this time was how the adult choughs would react to the new presence of the chicks at the aviary. To test this, I helped Harriet to develop a series of observations that would allow us to watch both the adults and chicks from a nearby field and witness any interactions that may take place. We decided to try and do three one-hour long observations each day: one in the morning, one over lunch (when both the adults and chicks were fed) and one in the afternoon. These observations have continued over summer and the team are still performing them now. One of the great things about being around the birds for such long periods of time is that you begin to recognise and appreciate their individual personalities. I am still amazed by certain birds’ apparent greediness and it still makes me laugh when I see the chicks playing with pieces of wool.


Choughs arrive from Paradise Park. July 2014. Photo by Liz CorryBy July, the chicks had matured enough to begin their own series of releases and experience the outside world for the first time. Although these birds were only let out a few times they took to the skies in a manner similar to the adults before them; flying high and testing how far they could test their limits. July also brought me a fresh and exciting challenge as Liz and Harriet had to collect six further chicks from Paradise Park in Cornwall, leaving me and the new student Max alone with the birds for the first time. I had spent the weeks prior to this learning how to feed and train the birds correctly but nevertheless I was still terrified when the dates rolled around. In the end, it was far less stressful then I had anticipated and with the help of everyone in the Bird and Conservation Departments I managed to go three days without harming a single chough!

Looking back so much has changed since I first started this placement. I have learnt so much in my brief time with the choughs and I have really enjoyed every minute of my time with both the choughs and the team from Durrell. If anyone were to ask me if I would do this placement again I would not hesitate to agree and sign up again.

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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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

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.


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.


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.

Dingle, Bean, Chickay and Caûvette take to the skies: the first soft-release of hand-reared chough chicks

Dingle Bean Chickay and CauvetteBy Liz Corry In July’s monthly report we revealed that Durrell’s hand-reared chicks had taken to the skies for the first time. A first for the birds and the project as no chough this young has been released into the wild for a re-introduction project before. Summing up what happened over the twelve days of releases into a couple of paragraphs doesn’t really do it justice. So, we thought we should show you in a bit more detail the antics of Dingle and the girls.

chicks on target boards

Chicks learning to land at target sites for food. Photo by Liz Corry.

In the days leading up to the first release the chicks were put through their paces. Making sure they knew where to go when they heard the whistle for food; flying lengths of the aviary at least three times a day; squat jumps and press ups morning and night…Ok not the last bit. In fact the physical aspect of their training would only really be achieved once they were out and being tested by the elements. Flight in the polytunnel has its limitations. What the chicks really needed to focus on was learning how the adults go about day to day living. Watching them respond to the keeper, their foraging techniques, reactions to predators and other potential threats. All behaviours key to survival. Again this does have its limitations when you are confined to an aviary. But with the adults regularly visiting the aviary they had plenty of opportunity to pick up the basics.

Adults landing at aviary. Notice the missing tail feathers due to their annual moult. Photo by Liz Corry.

Adults landing at aviary. Notice the missing tail feathers due to their annual moult. Photo by Liz Corry.

The problem we faced was that the chicks became so obsessed with the adults that when the adults were not at the aviary the chicks would just take naps in the roost boxes and not want to train with us. To add to our exasperation we wanted to release the chicks when the adults were not around, i.e. when they were in the quarry. We wanted the chicks to learn how to go in and out of the aviary at their own pace. More importantly, we didn’t want the adults around when it was time to shut the chicks in.

Chicks observing the adults eating mealworms at a training session. Photo by Liz Corry.

Chicks observing the adults eating mealworms at a training session. Photo by Liz Corry.

They would either create a distraction or end up getting locked in with the chicks. So on the day of the first release we waited for the adults to head to the quarry, opened the hatches, and waited. And waited… The chicks had disappeared into their favourite roost box just inches from the hatches. A change of tactic was clearly needed after twenty minutes of no activity. We called the chicks down for a meagre amount of insects at the other end of the aviary. The idea being they would emerge, become active and then see the hatches open and start exploring. This worked and it didn’t take too long for one of them to go outside. With baited breath we clung to every heartbeat wondering what would happen. How high would they fly? How far would they go? Who would they meet? We didn’t account for Dingle hopping down to the floor and taking a bath in the adult’s water tray! Obviously very content.

The chicks are joined by some of the adults at the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

Inevitably the adults returned to the aviary before we were ready to call the chicks back inside. The youngsters showed a lot more excitement than the adults whose single focus was food. That motivation kept everyone close to the aviary. The adults perched on the aviary looking on as the chicks would occasionally launch themselves from the netting and whizz around the aviary. When it came time to close the hatches the adults were inside on the whistle before the chicks. Likewise as we approached to close the hatches the adults were the first out. Knowing full well closure meant no evening playtime in the quarry, they were not willing to stay. The chicks on the other hand continued eating oblivious to what was occurring. The adults stayed nearby so when the whistle was blown to reward the group with their favourite treat they flew in and landed back on the aviary. Their calm obedience was a testament to how well they have adapted to the wild. It was definitely one of the most rewarding days for everyone on the chough team. The next day was pretty much the same. The only exception being the arrival of the peregrine family minutes after the hatches were opened. They had been a common feature of Sorel in the preceding days. The young peregrines saw the adult choughs as target practice. They would swoop down and chase the birds. Unlike the neighbouring crows and magpies, the choughs would always stick together flying in formation. I think this helped as no chough could be picked out as an easy target. The choughs could also play the ace card of returning to the aviary and fading into the background of the black shelves and netting. The chicks first ‘encounter’ in the wild with the peregrines involved them staring up from the external shelves observing the commotion above. After opening the hatches the chicks were still inside when I heard distant chough calls from behind the aviary. On the horizon the image of five dots very quickly formed into five choughs flying with determination towards the aviary. Scanning the skies for the sixth chough revealed two interweaving shapes approaching from inland, one a chough, the second definitely a peregrine. Through grit and determination (and a bit of cockiness when she retaliated) she made it back to the aviary unscathed along with the other five who had landed sometime before. The chicks by this point had already flown back inside into the farthest depths of the aviary. We locked them in half of the tunnel and allowed the adults in the other half for respite until the peregrine left. On another occasion two juvenile peregrines chased the group flying no more than 20ft above my head whilst sat by the open hatches. That event, as you can imagine was a blur at the time. And after! Even the frantic camera clicking pointing in hope at the sky didn’t do it justice.

Peregrine attack at release aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

One of several peregrine attacks at the release aviary. The choughs took shelter in the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

It wasn’t always that easy to get the chicks back inside the aviary. Bean’s behaviour on the fifth night of releasing was a prime example. To be fair to her, the afternoon had been quite challenging. Minutes after the hatches had opened the choughs were being harassed by a peregrine so the chicks were locked back in until it left (I realise at some point there will be losses due to predation, but not at the aviary, not on my watch!). Then when they were allowed out again the wind picked up. For a species that nests in sea caves and lives near the cliffs a bit of wind should not be a problem. However, for a soft release, a cross wind or worse, one that propels them towards a small opening in a wooden frame, can be challenging if they haven’t mastered all the tricks of flight. It wasn’t just Bean having difficulties that day.

Bean sat on the netting trying to figure out how to get back inside. Photo by Liz Corry

Bean sat on the netting trying to figure out how to get back inside. Photo by Liz Corry

Then again my sympathies diminished after one of many failed attempts to coax her back inside. I had walked them down from the sheds to the hatches by talking nicely and waving insects in their faces. Hand-reared chicks are very compliant that way. When they saw the hatches they started to hop inside one by one heading for the food dishes. All except Bean who stumbled at the last hurdle. All she had to do was cross from one shelf to the other a few inches away. Max had even put up a perch that morning to bridge the gap. She stared at me, stared at the gap, then flew back to the other end of the aviary and sat above the other three chicks feeding below.

Staff wait patiently for Bean to make her way back inside the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

Staff wait patiently for Bean to make her way back inside the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

In this situation the protocol is to shut in the birds you can, lock them into one section, and hope they will act as a lure to encourage the straggler(s) in. There comes a point when the chough left outside no longer cares about food and just worries about where it will roost for the night. That’s when we have to set aside the training methods and just sit guarding them patiently until they find their way back. Bean herself seemed relatively calm. She spent time preening and sitting next to the other chicks (well just above them to be specific). She did explore the roof and fly back and forth trying to find a way in. She even sat in the external roost boxes once or twice. Never once did she go to the hatches. As the sun sank below the cliff tops she was visibly more agitated and starting darting away from the aviary calling to the others. She finally settled, not in the external roost boxes, but out on the netting just next to the roost box the chicks were sleeping in. We left her just before 10pm and I returned at 5.30am before the sun was up, to find her in exactly the same spot.

Bean warming up after a night out alone. Photo by Liz Corry

Bean warming up after a night out alone. Photo by Liz Corry

Much to my relief she was alive although very sleepy. To be fair the other three had not really woken up either. I was worried that the night out and stress of yesterday had taken its toll. Luckily all she needed was a soak in the sun. As it started to rise above the hill she moved to an external roost box and sat preening in the full sun. Soon she had made her own way back inside and by 6.38 am she was  reunited with the others. The soft release continued for a further four nights. The chicks spent their time outside foraging with the adults in amongst the sheep, exploring the cliff tops and playing on the air currents. They have certainly explored further than the adults ever did at this stage in the soft release process. It is a really positive sign for things yet to come.

Chicks and adults flying free. Photo by Liz Corry

Chicks and adults flying free. Photo by Liz Corry

We had to put the releases on hold whilst we went to collect six new birds from Paradise Park. After which point all the aviary birds would be in quarantine lockdown for thirty days minimum. You can imagine the tension then on the last night before our departure when we let the chicks out at 3pm. Stress levels, already above average,  peaked when the adults decided it was time to head back to the quarry and the chicks followed. In flight there was an obvious split between the two groups as the chicks lagged behind. From our view point we think they made it as far as the car park. From their position they would have been able to see the quarry. Whether it was the moving cars, the site of the quarry, or general lethargy the chicks changed their minds turned around and flew straight back to the aviary. I don’t think any of us could have predicted how well this round of soft releases has gone. Let’s hope the next phase with the parent-reared chicks will be just as successful.

Where have all the sheep gone? – Bracken control on the north coast

20140817_094111Recent visitors to Sorel and Devil’s Hole may have been puzzled by the disappearance of the resident sheep. Don’t worry they are still there. They have been moved into the field with the chough chicks and will be locked in there whilst bracken control measures are carried out.

20140817_085056Work commenced on the 11th August and will continue until 8th September. Control measures will include the use of herbicides on the land surrounding Mourier Valley. For this reason we are asking pet owners to keep their pets on a lead and keep to designated foot paths for their own safety during this time.


Herbicide treatment specific to fern species such as bracken targets the rhizome (underground roots) and accumulates in both active and dormant buds where it effects a lethal action. It frequently produces a very good reduction in fronds in the year after spraying, but does require multiple applications to be effective in the long term. To find out more about bracken and the control measures we use click here. For any questions regarding the current work being carried out around Mourier Valley please call 07797 740202.

From what we can see the sheep have not taken too badly to their confinement. The grass is getting shorter by the second and the birds are reaping the benefits.


Jersey launches birdwatching and photography code

Cetti's warbler. Photo by Mick DrydenWith the increasing appreciation of the Island’s birdlife come new responsibilities. Social media further shares immediate opportunities to broadcast sightings and other information on our birds. It has considered, therefore, appropriate to put together a guide with simple steps on how to enjoy birdwatching and bird photography in a way that’s safe for oneself, others and the birds and habitats we are so admiring

This new code has been inspired from similar guidelines produced by the BTO, RSPB, and other birding and bird conservation organizations in the world. It has been created through a series of consultations between by Birds On The Edge and members of the Ornithology Section of the Société Jersiaise.

So, please consider what is best for the birds at all times. But please, always enjoy  your birds! The new code can be downloaded here.

The States of Jersey Department of the Environment also have guidelines for visiting the Island’s SSI’s and these can be downloaded here.