Chough report: March 2015


March was a bitter-sweet month in the chough project. We start with the sad news of Jean’s mystery disappearance. On a sodden, gale-force Sunday morning when the clock chimes echoed the start of British Summer Time, but nothing else did, only fifteen choughs could be counted at Sorel. Visibility was poor, but the radio tracker was very decisive in telling me that Jean’s signal had vanished. After several hours searching the coastline from Bonne Nuit to Crabbé, two feeds at the aviary without her showing up, and one brief stop in the pub with an open fire to catch some sort of reprieve from the elements, the outlook for Jean was grim.

The radio tracking antennae took a battering in the gales the day Jean went missing. Photo by Liz Corry.

Having said that, I was still quite hopeful. Perhaps the merciless weather had separated her from the group and she was sheltering in a crevice or somewhere blocking the radio signal.

They have experienced wetter days yet rarely a day when they struggle to fly back into the aviary, opting instead to land on the shelving and cautiously side-step through the hatches.

Jean, named after the Parish they all reside in, was the juvenile we treated last year for sudden blindness in one eye (see October 2014 report). Maybe this put her at a disadvantage although for the past six months there has been nothing to suggest this was the case.


Jean at the start of March, pictured here in the centre, waiting her turn for supplementary food.

The search area was extended to include known peregrine hang outs. If she was ‘sheltering’ in a peregrine stomach we should at least find the discarded feathers with transmitter attached still beeping away. Alas the radio receiver just crackled away with white noise.

It is difficult to speculate as to what happened without any clues. The remaining fifteen are behaving as normal (perhaps too normal!) and all appear in good health. Well, at least they were after she went missing.


Jean hanging out with Dingle and the other juveniles shortly before she disappeared. Photo by Liz Corry.

Further news from Sorel

We had a minor scare earlier on the 15th when Blue flew to the aviary with her right leg hanging down. Harriet had noticed her limping slightly the day before, but now she was clearly affected by it. I called the group into the aviary for food and shut the hatches. This was the first time the group has been locked in together overnight since October. No one appeared to object and the next morning Blue was caught up and driven to the Veterinary Centre at Durrell to have x-rays taken.


When we caught her up we noticed she was thin and the scales confirmed she had lost about 20 grams in weight. It was also clear that there was dried blood on her metal leg ring. We drove her to the Vet Centre where she was anaesthetised and checked over. The metal ring was adhered to the leg, so we cleaned it up and then used specialised ring-removing pliers to take the ring off. Underneath the ring the leg looked remarkably good, with a little swelling and some abrasions to the skin. X-rays were taken.

B6974 X-ray

X-ray of a chough, more specifically Blue. The small object that looks a bit like a bullet is actually her identification microchip implanted into the pectoral muscle.

These showed a little bit of bony reaction under where the ring had been but no other causes for the lameness. We took advantage of her being in the Vet Centre to give her a full check over and took blood samples. Whilst anaesthetised she was given both an anti-biotic and an anti-inflammatory drug by injection to reduce the risk of infection and to ease the pain and swelling.

Vet examination of Bue

Blue (adult, female chough) being examined at the Vet Centre by head vet Andrew Routh. Clockwise from top left; she was given a general anaesthetic, then weighed, given injections of antibiotics and an anti-inflammatory, and an antiseptic wound spray was applied to the cut. Photos by Liz Corry.

Once she recovered from the anaesthetic we took her back into the aviary at Sorel. She was locked into one of the back sections so we could continue with her 5-day course of medication given in food. The rest of the birds were given access back outside with the hope that her partner Green would stay close by. The mesh walls allow him to pass food to her and roost almost side by side if he so wished. The thing is, he didn’t!!

The first night Green roosted in his same spot in the quarry. The next day he was hanging around with Red, a lone female who normally roosts with the juveniles. Then came the ultimate insult to Blue, yet outstanding news for the project, Green and Red started showing signs that they wanted to nest. At first activity levels were sporadic: maybe a handful of sightings of a chough carrying a twig over the space of a week. Their breeding instinct had kicked in, but maybe they weren’t too sure what they were supposed to do having never bred before.

P1510954Red has never had much luck when it comes to relationships. She was originally paired with Orange, the male who died in the quarry during the trial release. When White arrived in December 2013 she tried to take him under her wing, so to speak, but that failed.

When we moved the hand-reared chicks into the aviary last summer she would often appear at feed times watching what we were doing very closely. On occasion it looked like she was trying to feed the chicks through the mesh. She seems very broody in her nature and a little bit soft-hearted. Her manoeuvre with Green, whilst quite bold, is understandable at this time of year.

We decided to discharge Blue from the ‘hospital wing’ a little early as she was not taking her medication and clearly not liking being separated. I opened her hatches at the lunchtime feed and spent the afternoon observing her integration back into the group. She more or less went to find Green straight away and of course met Red too. The threesome seemed to be harmonious in flight and stayed together all afternoon. Occasionally the other adults would fly in and join them, but never for long periods. The discord seemed to be when Green and Red landed. Red would see off Blue if she tried to search for food near the pair. It seemed like Blue would need to resign herself to a life without Green.

Green and Red foraging alone along Sorel point. Photo by Liz Corry.

Green and Red foraging alone along Sorel point. Photo by Liz Corry.

Until the next morning, that was, when Green and Blue were flying around together and Red was with the juveniles looking a little sullen. Red roosted back at the aviary and Green and Blue returned to the quarry. Normality resumed. For now anyway.

The other pair with potential to breed this year is White and his partner Mauve. White is now carrying twigs around which is really exciting news.

Green, adult male, flying with a piece of gorse root potentially to use to construct a nest.

None of the pairs have shown much interest in the nest-boxes we put up. Jennifer however did watch the juveniles foraging around one of the sites and spotted Bean investigate inside the nest-box. This is great news for the future as the juveniles are recognising the boxes and will remember that there are sites out there suitable for nesting.


We are not entirely sure what was going through Chickay’s mind when she picked this polystyrene strip off the side of the aviary. We don’t think she knew either!

News from the Wildlife Park

Back at the Wildlife Park the breeding pairs have been busy building their nests. Tristan and Iseult show the most promise now they are back together. They made a perfect nest within a couple of weeks and we now eagerly await eggs. Gwinny is trying to make her nest. However, her young fella seems to object to her choices of twig and removes them. By the end of the month an agreement had been made and the structure of a nest was there.

nest progression SF2 2015

Tristan and Issy’s nest took about two weeks to construct using materials supplied by keepers on a daily basis.

The first clutch of eggs laid by these two pairs will be partially incubated by the females and then removed for keepers to continue and hopefully hand-rear. The pairs should try to lay a second clutch and we will let them rear that clutch. All offspring will become enrolled in the 2015 soft release ‘squadron’ preparing for take-off this summer.


One other chough busily building a nest is Gianna, our foster-mum-in-training. When she was with the Italian vet students who rescued her, she had attempted to make a nest, but wasn’t really given the right set up and was still quite young. We provided her with a nest-box and started her off with some twigs.

Gianna proudly collecting twigs for her nest.

Gianna proudly collecting twigs for her nest. Photo by Liz Corry

I don’t think any of us was prepared for the speed in which Gianna built her nest and for her excitement in doing so. It became very difficult to distinguish whether she was preening my hair or looking for material to line the nest. Normally they use wool or horse hair. I feel like this should be taken as an insult.

Back at Sorel

Other newsworthy events this month include Dingle losing his transmitter in amongst the gorse and the battery on Egg’s transmitter appears to have run out. We expect the other transmitters to wind down in the next month or so before the birds begin their annual moult. Dingle and Egg tend to stick close together, along with the other youngsters. Hopefully we will still be able to keep a close eye on them.

Daniel and companions radio tracking the choughs. Photo by Harriet ClarkDan’s time as a student on the project came to an end this month. It is amazing how time flies when counting sheep and tracking choughs. He moves to Wales next month to monitor osprey nests and hang out with the choughs on Anglesey. We wish him all the best and are in no way jealous that he might get to see osprey chicks up close and personal.

If anyone is wondering how the eclipse affected the choughs this month….it didn’t! However, we did see some stunning scenes around the chough release site this month. Here are just a few examples….

P1510272 (2)




Jersey Woodland Bats Project

Pipistrellus pygmaeus

By Miranda Collett

If you regularly wander around some of the Island’s woodlands, in particular those associated with water, you may see one or two additions to the trees.

The Jersey Bat Group in conjunction with the Collett Trust for Endangered Species has placed 50 bat boxes in local woodlands including Val de la Mare, St Peter’s Valley and (shortly) St Catherine’s Woods.


Thanks to Jersey Water, National Trust for Jersey and the Department of the Environment for authorising us to use their land for our project.

Kent bat boxWe are using these nest boxes as a tool for discovering which species of bats inhabit our woodlands. We will be monitoring the boxes, which are of the Kent box design  with two chambers (see details on the Kent box here), from April to October using non-invasive methods such as the collection of droppings for analysis, detection of echolocation, direct observation and emergence surveys. These boxes have a good record in the UK for bat occupation so we are hoping that some may be in use this spring/summer.

As well as providing additional roosts for our woodland bat species, we hope to expand local knowledge of the status, distribution, ecology and population trends of our woodland bat species through the monitoring of these supplementary roosts.

A full list of Jersey’s bat species can be seen here

This is a 5-year project during which time we will be expanding and diversifying the project to cover more of Jersey’s woodland. Full details of the project can be downloaded here

Pipistrellus pipistrellus (5933130195) by Gilles San Martin from Namur, Belgium - via Wikimedia Commons

Jersey Bat Day 2015 – 25th April

Date: 25th April 2015Jersey Bat Group

Times: 09.30-22.00

Venue: Société Jersiaise, Pier Road, St Helier

The Jersey Bat Day event is a collaboration between the Department of the Environment and the Jersey Bat Group. The themes of this year’s day are ‘Bats and woodlands and bats and sound’.

Bats are an ideal indicator of the health of Jersey’s biodiversity as they are extremely long lived for their tiny size and slow to reproduce. This makes them vulnerable to a wide range of environmental impacts including those from building development which can affect the places they roost. They are also exposed to environmental pollutants both directly and through the food they eat, most local species feed mainly on airborne insects.

Speakers in the morning session will include:Bat 4 VR

Bob Cornes, Bedfordshire Bat Group and Trustee, Bat Conservation Trust

Annika Binet, Jersey Bat Group and Ecologist, Annika Binet Ecology

Nicky Brown, Chair, Jersey Bat Group

In the afternoon and evening there will be site visits:

14.30-16.30 at Val de la Mare to learn about how bats use woodland and the woodland bat box project with Miranda Collett, Jersey Bat Group and Trustee, Collett Trust for Endangered Species and Bob Cornes.

19.30-22.00 there will be a roost emergence survey at a property in Trinity (details to be confirmed at lunch) with Annika Binet and Bob Cornes.

A full programme of the event can be downloaded here

To book a place, please contact Henry Glynn by telephone: 441618 or by email

Eco active

Restoring heather on Jersey’s coastline

Bell heather (2). Photo by Richard PerchardBy Sally Dalman

Are there many more beautiful sights in mid to late summer than that of a hillside covered in flowering heather? Against the backdrop of a blue sky and glorious sunshine, a sea of purples, pinks, and occasional whites, shimmering in the heat, there can be few more perfect sights. The hum of insect activity too can be heard, almost felt, from a distance amid the call of foraging birds.

Heather, whether it be Calluna vulgaris (ling) or Erica cinerea (bell W Gorse and bell heather (2). Photo by Richard Perchardheather), has long played a part in the landscape of Jersey, predominantly of the northern, rockier coastlines, but it can occur in any open landscape, wet and dry. In Jèrriais it is called d’la bruëthe, and has been used as many things through the ages: firelighters; bedding for farmers and their livestock; an orange dye (from the flowers); knife handles (from the roots), and, my personal favourite, it has been used to make beer.

It is also a favourite amongst much of our wildlife. Bees adore it, heather honey is a delicacy; some butterflies rely on it as a food source for their caterpillars; some birds, such as the choughs, like to line their nests with the newer, softer, shoots in spring; grazing livestock and rabbits like to eat those same soft, new shoots.

Heathers are a staple of the heathland flora, much preferring the acidic soils that most plants would struggle in. They flourish in areas where trees have been removed and the grazing of livestock has prevented their regrowth.

IMG_3650One component of the restoration project at Don Paton, Sorel Point, Mourier Valley and Devil’s Hole is the increase of heather in the existing heathland. The overall site had lacked any management for many years, before it was given to The National Trust for Jersey; the soil is too poor for arable farming to be successful, and the area had become overgrown with bracken, gorse, bramble and thick grasses. All of these other plants, of course, play their part in the habitat, but, left to their own devices, they will dominate and swamp any smaller more wildlife-friendly species. The National Trust rangers have worked hard to bring these other plants under control, and encourage those such as heather to gain a foothold.

Once areas had been cleared and more open spaces were created, with grasses growing, ably controlled, munched and fertilised, by the Manx loaghtan sheep, we could pinpoint areas where heather could be re-established.

Seed was collected from Les Landes by the States of Jersey rangers, as there is an abundance of well-established heather there. Les Landes is what we hope Don Paton will look like in a few years’ time, minus the castle and racecourse. After an application of sulphur had been applied to acidify the soils, the seed was scattered at Don Paton.

5Once the heather had started to grow, we realised just how popular it was as a food source for sheep and rabbits alike, and decided that we needed to protect it before it was lost again. When it is well established, gentle nibbling will not be too much of a problem, in fact it will be of benefit, but until that time, a sheep and rabbit-proof shield was required.

A post and wire fence was put up one winter, on a cold, wet, wild grey day (are there any other type of day in a Jersey winter?!), much to the amusement of the sheep, who watched us struggling to bury the wire in the rocky soil. They then thought it was hilarious to jump over the wire just as we packed up for the day. We were not amused.

A second, taller layer of wire was put up, in an attempt to remedy the sheep jumping. They they decided to tangle their horns in it instead, which caused holes to appear. Rabbit sized holes.


A third attempt at protecting the heather, using stronger, taller wire (put up on a much sunnier day!) and at two much smaller sites than the first, has now been put up and, so far, seems to be keeping the animals out. We will be monitoring the areas regularly to ensure that the heather is not being eaten by the woolly jumpers or their bunny mates, at least until it is really well-established (or there is enough for the staff to start making beer!).

How nature contributes to wellbeing

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom Department of Conservation, New Zealand

What do we need for a ‘good life’? At one level, the answer to this question will differ for each person. Yet, we all share a common set of needs that must be met for us to experience wellbeing. Understanding those needs and the crucial contribution of nature’s services in enabling us to meet them is the subject of a new report in the (New Zealand) Department of Conservation’s series of Science & Technical publications.

The report brings together research on wellbeing and research on ecosystem services, focusing on the services that come from ecosystems in New Zealand but widely applicable throughout the world and very appropriate as the Channel Islands look to a ‘greener’ future.

Pyrenees 8-2012 HGYoung (200)There has been an upsurge in research on ecosystem services in the last 20 years, including detailed research and discussion about how to classify and categorise the types of ecosystem services that contribute to wellbeing, and numerous studies attempting to determine the monetary value of various ecosystem services. However, the question of how to categorise and understand the types or aspects of wellbeing that ecosystem services may contribute to has not been explored to anywhere near the same extent. This may be because the impetus for studying ecosystem services has come from ecologists and economists, rather than from social scientists. To date, much of the work has focused on the supply of ecosystem services and the demands for these services, both marketed and non-marketed. However, there has been little focus on what is driving our demand for ecosystem services – a desire for enhanced wellbeing.

What are ecosystem services?

‘Ecosystem services’ can most simply be defined as the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. Ecosystems are widely considered to provide four categories of services: supporting (e.g. nutrient cycling, soil formation and primary production); provisioning (e.g. food, fresh water, wood, fibre and fuel); regulating (e.g. climate regulation, flood and disease regulation, and water purification); and cultural (aesthetic, spiritual, educational and recreational).

What is wellbeing?

IMG_1730Wellbeing can be defined as a good or satisfactory condition of existence; a state characterized by health, happiness, and prosperity. The last 20 years have seen a significant increase in research on wellbeing. Some of this research has focused on happiness, looking at the different contributors to happiness and how its different aspects can be measured. Researchers and governments have been exploring how best to measure whether the wellbeing of a nation is improving.

The conclusion?

The ecosystem services delivered by biodiversity and natural ecosystems contribute in a wide variety of ways to wellbeing. They not only provide many of our basic needs and enhance our safety; they also breathe the fundamental essence into what it means to be a human. Some people appear to be highly aware (either consciously or intuitively) that their own wellbeing is linked to the health of the indigenous biodiversity that delivers so many of these services, and are actively participating in restoration projects around the country. However, many others appear to be unaware of these connections. The ecosystem services concept has proven to be an invaluable tool internationally and in New Zealand for communicating our dependence on ecosystem services, and is leading to improved policy and practice.

We look forward to its increased use, greatly increased research to support its use, and the incorporation of ecosystem services as a key component in engagement across the community and in education at all levels. However, a clearer understanding of the main contributors to wellbeing, and the ways in which our choices can affect both the level of wellbeing and the level of environmental impact, is equally important.

We believe that fostering discussion, research and education on the different components of wellbeing (e.g. what really does make us happy?) will broaden understanding of the many factors that contribute to personal and national wellbeing, including a greater awareness of the irreplaceable contribution of ecosystem services. We will not only improve our own wellbeing and that of supporting ecosystems, but will also enhance the opportunity for our grandchildren and others on the planet to meet their basic needs and enjoy ‘the good life’.

Download the full report The nature of wellbeing: how nature’s ecosystem services contribute to the wellbeing of New Zealand and New Zealanders here


Common birds bring economic vitality to cities

Carrion crow (3). Photo by Mick DrydenFrom

Is it worth having birds in the city? If you live in Seattle or Berlin, the answer is yes, to the tune of £80 million and £47 million a year for each city, respectively.

A new study published in the journal Urban Ecosystems looks at what economic value residents in two comparable cities place on having birds in their gardens and parks. Researchers at the University of Washington and Humboldt State University compared two types of common birds – finches and corvids – in both cities, asking residents how much they would pay to conserve the species and what they spend, if anything, on bird food.

They found that both cities place a “sizeable” value on bird enjoyment, somewhat more so in Seattle. Residents in both cities spend more than the average U.S. adult on bird-supporting activities, suggesting that people from Seattle and Berlin value having birds around their homes and neighbourhoods.

These activities, in turn, also show that birds benefit the local economies as residents invest in food and nesting structures.

American goldfinch. Photo by Mick Dryden

“This paper shows that our interactions with birds actually have a pretty high economic return to the community where you live,” said John Marzluff, one of the paper’s co-authors. “We know that having a liveable, green community that attracts birds also increases the value of homes in that area. This paper shows there’s an economic service birds are providing.”

Researchers say this is the first look at estimating the economic value of enjoying common birds in an urban setting. Previous studies have assessed people’s willingness to pay to see rare or charismatic birds and to pay for conservation of endangered species, but these instances don’t affect most people.

Chaffinch (6). Photo by Mick Dryden“No one has really looked at what people will be willing to pay for these more common species, ones that aren’t necessarily endangered or threatened. We wanted to address that because people living in urban areas don’t encounter endangered species on a daily basis,” said co-author Barbara Clucas.

Clucas in the Seattle area and collaborators in Berlin went door-to-door and surveyed dozens of households in different types of neighbourhoods – urban with apartments, dense suburban, light suburban and rural. The researchers asked specific questions about how residents viewed corvid and songbird species, whether they would pay for conservation of these species and what they spent annually on bird food.

In both Seattle and Berlin, residents’ willingness to pay for bird conservation was higher for finch species than for corvids. Interestingly, some Seattleites said they would pay to actually reduce the crow population in the city, though many also appeared indifferent about crows.

In contrast, Berliners were willing to pay a small amount to increase the city’s crow population, but they had an overall negative reaction to conserving magpies, another corvid species associated by legend with stealing and mischief.

Magpie (3). Photo by Mick Dryden

“There’s a lot of culture that goes along with these birds, and that influences how we view them,” Marzluff said.

The researchers also noted that residents living in the urban core in both cities interacted the least with birds. The more that we as humans feed and house birds, the more variety and density appear around our homes. If that interaction isn’t happening in urban cores, “there’s a greater disconnect between nature and humans in those areas, and that’s where most of the population lives,” Marzluff said.

That interaction is important for human-nature connections that can lead to greater appreciation for the natural world, he added.

Download the full paper How much is that birdie in my backyard? A cross-continental economic valuation of native urban songbirds here

We are swifts – we are in trouble

We Are Swifts - We Are In Trouble_Page_01

As part of the programme to support our threatened population of swifts in the Channel Swift. Photo by Tony LoaringIslands Vic Froome has produced a wonderful booklet on the incredible swift, its life and how we can help it. See how to get a copy at the bottom of this page.

Vic was given permission to make changes to a booklet published originally by Action for Swifts (read the UK 2nd edition here) and make it more appropriate for a Channel Islands audience. Paul Hillion and Melody Press in Guernsey helped in design and printed the booklet. M & S (Guernsey), The Channel Islands Co-operative Society and Ronez funded the costs of production and helped make the booklet available to RSPB Guernsey Group, La Société Guernesiaise, Alderney Wildlife Trust and Birds On The Edge.

The booklet includes information of artificial boxes and ideas for helping swifts find sites to nest.

We Are Swifts - We Are In Trouble_Page_21

We Are Swifts - We Are In Trouble_Page_22

In Guernsey, swifts breed in a variety of ‘typical’ locations like churches and housing. Vic has received sterling support in his campaign to educate about what is happening to swifts and how everyone can help through often simple measures like the provision of boxes where access to holes in buildings has been prevented. It all starts with remembering about the swifts!

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Rather curiously, in Jersey, we only know of swifts nesting in fortifications (castles, towers and a fort), part of the St Helier Harbour walls and fully natural sites on the north coast like Plémont. There are no records of swifts in any houses or churches which seems rather strange. Roderick Dobson (in 1952) reported the same situation (and pretty well the same sites) that we see today. Dobson also reported a decline in swifts at Mont Orgueil because or repairs and pointing to the walls – something the birds are again facing! This year we plan to give the swifts help in the castle by improving nesting opportunities modifying some of the post holes in the walls. We expect to be able to report more on this project soon.


The 28 page booklet will be free to anyone who would like a copy and will be available at several locations around the Islands so please look out for it. However, you can also download a copy here thanks to Melody Press.