I hope that you have all had a wonderful summer? The shortening days, falling leaves and fruit laden hedgerows, there is no missing those autumnal signs and it can only mean one thing……… the return of the Jersey Conservation Volunteers!
For the first task of the season, we will be assisting Rob from the Jersey grass snake project in collecting in some of the reptile survey materials that are laid out on the dunes. Currently there are around 1,000 of these sheets out across the Island which have been out since March, all of which need collecting in before the winter – a mammoth task.
We will be helping to clear them from the dunes and once collected in the sheets will be checked off to make sure we don’t miss any.
There is a really good chance of spotting various mammal, reptile and invertebrate species under the sheets as we collect them in (possibly even a grass snake), so keep your eyes peeled, and your camera handy.
So, whether you are a seasoned volunteer or this is your first time, Jersey Conservation Volunteers very much look forward to seeing you there!
The site Les Blanches Banques SSI (sand dunes), St Brelade.
Parking Please meet at La Carriere car park. On Google maps you can see this here or if you’re using the phone book the parking is on Map 6, towards the bottom of square I4, off La Route de la Pulente.
The task Collecting reptile survey material out across the dunes.
Tools needed Wheelbarrows and sack trucks will be provided to help transport the materials, but feel free to bring your own if you have space in your vehicle. It is recommended to wear gloves for handling the materials, particularly as the metal sheets may have sharp edges and corners (although they have all been filed down).
Clothing needed Appropriate clothing including sturdy footwear and long trousers is recommended due to the terrain and vegetation in some areas. Be prepared for any weather conditions as we will go ahead regardless! Waterproofs, thermals or sun screen (fingers crossed) may all be useful.
Children All are welcome, young or old. Children under 16 must be supervised by a parent or guardian during the task.
Finally, and some would say most importantly, we welcome back Kim the Kake who will supply us with hot drinks and her yummy homemade cakes.
The DNA sexing results for this year’s chough chicks hatched in Jersey finally arrived this week. Less contentious than the recent Labour leadership election and just as tense as any Jeremy Kyle show, we have had to wait several weeks for the samples to be processed before receiving that long anticipated email.
Durrell use MDS (Pty) Ltd, a molecular diagnostics laboratory, for finding out the gender of birds that cannot be distinguished simply by plumage colouration or size alone. This is essential information for a successful captive breeding programme. You don’t want to have to wait several years before finding out Mr and Mrs ‘critically endangered Tweety pie’ are not producing any chicks because they are actually Mr and Mr. It happens.
With the red-billed chough it has been shown that it is possible to identify sexes based on morphometric measurements, namely leg (tarsus) length and body weight. There can, however, be a fair amount of overlap leading to uncertainty. We took measurements when the chicks were just over three weeks old and had already formed our own opinions within the team. We just needed to wait for genetic proof.
We can now reveal that Dusty, the first chough chick to be born in the wild in Jersey in over 100 years is…a boy! This is great news for the Jersey population as it means that in the next few years the potential number of breeding pairs will increase. This year we had two pairs attempt to breed. In a few years time when Dusty matures we could be looking at eight pairs.
CeCe the female hand-reared chick in July 2015 before she returned to the wildlife park. Photo by Liz Corry.
We are also pleased to announce that CeCe, our hand-reared chick, is indeed female as we had suspected. She is far too sweet and innocent to be anything else. Unlike Dusty who seems to be turning into a bit of a bully.
You can find out more about their progress in the upcoming September report.
Aim and objectives: The general aim of the IIEM is give Government bodies, NGOs, environmental managers and relevant individuals the opportunity to discuss the status of the island’s environments.
The 2015 IIEM comprises of three objectives, for delegates to:
present a range of environmental topics relevant to their organisation and island. This can include environmental tourism and public outreach programmes.
discuss current or future island projects which effectively link ecological research with environmental management. This is due to the AWT aiming to develop existing and new projects which effectively link ecology research with management practices on island and beyond.
discuss the potential for joint field-based ecological training across the Channel Islands.
Intended audience: The IIEM is relevant to ecological, conservation, environmental management bodies (government/NGO) and individuals from the Channel Islands and other regions, such as the Isle of Man and UK.
For further details on the event please contact Dr Mel Broadhurst at firstname.lastname@example.org
Travel: Travelling to Alderney can be either through air or boat travel. AWT are currently sourcing travel discounts from Guernsey and Jersey, and if you are interested in coming but cost is the defining issue, please contact Mel Broadhurst and we’ll do our best to distribute support to help with transport where possible.
From the UK, Aurigny Air Services fly direct from Southampton. Flights from other UK/French airports require transfer via Guernsey.
From the Channel Islands, Aurigny Air Services fly to Alderney from Guernsey and from Jersey via Guernsey.
From France and inter-island, the private service called Ma Compagnie are available for charter.
Scheduled sea links to Alderney available from Guernsey:
Grace, a 2014 parent-reared chough, disappeared on the 18th August 2015. Photo by Liz Corry.
On 18th August one of the 2014 parent-reared choughs did not show up for the supplementary feeds. Grace, so-called because of how choughs manoeuvre in the air, had been around the day before feeding with the others. The group have been exploring different areas of Sorel recently and we hoped she had just split off and become preoccupied. It soon became clear that Grace was no longer with the group. We have not seen or heard from her since the evening of the 17th.
The weather had not been particularly bad at that stage and she had not appeared unwell or underweight. We have not had any reports of choughs being seen elsewhere on the Island in the last two weeks. Our assumption is that she has unfortunately died for reasons we will most likely never know.
Drinking from the water dispensers for the sheep at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry taken using a digiscope.
This means that of the twenty birds we have released since 2013 we still have fourteen choughs living at liberty around Sorel. The wild born chick brings the flock size to fifteen.
This exemplifies why we need to release several groups of choughs over the years rather than do a one-off release and hope for the best.
The short video clip below gives you an insight of what the choughs were getting up to at the start of August before Grace disappeared. Dusty the wild born chick, learnt to be more independent by the end of the month and, therefore, less whingey.
Preparing the parent-reared chicks for release
The free-living choughs arrive to greet the parent-reared chicks who have now completed their quarantine period. Photo by Liz Corry.
The eight chicks which arrived from Paradise Park in July completed their quarantine period on the 17th of this month. They were given access to the entire aviary which meant the free-living birds were locked out. They need this space in order to build up their flight muscles and practice flying through hatches on command. They also get to see more of the surrounding environment and orientate themselves to some extent in preparation for the first day of release.
The radio-transmitters arrived from Biotrack Ltd on the 24th. High winds and non-stop rain at Sorel delayed fitting the transmitters until the 28th. This in turn postponed the release which we had hoped to start as close to quarantine ending as possible.
Vet nurse, Mel Frost, injects one of the sick choughs with a wormer. Photo by Liz Corry.
During the same week, to further delay their release, certain individuals within the group started sneezing. Soon two of the males were open-mouthed breathing at rest. Not a good sign.
We decided to blanket treat the group (that is, every bird in the group whether sneezing or not) and inject Ivermectin whilst we had each bird in the hand to fit transmitters. They will need catching for a second dose in a couple of weeks.
We aim to give the parent-reared chicks access into the wild once they are healthier.
Our hand-reared chick heads home.
It was inevitable that our hand-reared chick, CeCe, would return to the Wildlife Park and did so last week after two months living in the release aviary at Sorel.
The other chicks had accepted her as part of the group. Since fledging in the aviary she had become a skilled flyer and very adept at probing for insects (then burying them out of sight of the others); however, her level of tameness around people always raised concerns.
There had been a change in her behaviour from mid-August whereby she was more apprehensive around staff. When the group reacted to anything she would follow. We started to think she might be ok when released. If a peregrine was to attack the group when they eventually fly free she would take cues from the group and avoid attack. As with any other social bird she would stick with the group when they looked for shelter from the elements and find a safe roost site if they choose not to use the aviary.
CeCe, the hand-reared chick demonstrating why she will not be released into the wild. Photo by Liz Corry.
However, our main concern was whether she would fly to members of the public and beg for food as she does with staff who hand-reared her. Whilst I am sure the majority of the public would love this experience there was potential for her to come to harm through her naivety. We enrolled a couple of willing volunteers and put it to the test inside the aviary. CeCe was horribly conflicted. She begged but kept her distance. Although the look of conflict on her face suggested that she would soon change her mind if there was no clear threat.
Her destiny had been determined. She would return to the Wildlife Park to be an ambassador for the restoration project. Once she has completed her quarantine requirements she will join the Durrell flock in the display aviary.
Durrell’s army take up the challenge of the display aviary
The display aviary at the Wildlife Park now has new netting and brand new uprights to create a better flying area for the choughs. The building work has meant that the walls desperately needed rendering, a new coat of paint and the inside needed re-landscaping. A lot of jobs which could drag out the completion date and force the birds to stay isolated in their breeding aviaries even longer.
Durrell’s army of staff and volunteers took up the call to arms on Friday 28th August. Scrapers, paint brushes, and rollers aloft they went into battle. Or at least that’s what any passer-by would have thought considering the amount of paint that ended up on people as opposed to wall! That being said the team managed to achieve a great deal in two hours.
Staff and volunteers and Durrell help with the display aviary renovations. Photo by Jonathan Stark.
In this case sitting down on the job is permitted. Photo y Liz Corry.
Andrew Terry, Head of Field Programmes, got involved. We had a limited number of ladders so his height played an advantage. Photo by Liz Corry.
Team work. Durrell’s Head Vet Andrew Routh and his wife Sorn, renovating the catch up cage. Several requests by Sorn to lock him in were denied. Photo by Liz Corry.
Senior bird keeper, Hester Whitehead, eventually realised that the other keepers’ refusal to paint without left-handed paint rollers was not legit. Photo by Liz Corry.
‘Sea fog at Sorel’ by Alex Roberts. Otherwise known as applying sealant paint. Photo by Liz Corry.
We started after work at 6pm and continued until the sun had set and the paint tins were empty. Café Firefly kindly provided nourishment in the form of Thai green curry (much to the bemusement of people arriving to collect their takeaway orders). And the choughs provided baked goods!
We could not finish everything. A second coat of paint is needed and for the sake of the ibis trying to sleep next door we could not carry on later into the evening. The jobs that could be ticked off the list have meant we can bring forward the completion date. The choughs will be eternally grateful to all those who volunteered their time that evening.
Moving to (grazed) pastures new
Harriet Clark, field assistant and trainee bird ringer, bade farewell to the choughs and Jersey at the end of August. Harriet has been with Durrell on and off for the last five years as student, then keeper, and for the last 16 months as our field assistant. She has been there for all of the 2014 releases, helped hand-rear Chickay, Bean, Caûvette, Dingle, and CeCe, and assisted Gianna in foster-rearing Special K who sadly never made it to Sorel.
Harriet inspecting a chough nest box. Photo by Liz Corry.
Harriet radio-tracking the group released in April 2014. Photo by Liz Corry.
Part-time shepherd. All lamb cuddling carried out under license. Photo by Liz Corry.
There have been highs and there have been some very low, lows. Harriet has persevered throughout and showed incredible professionalism and dedication. Then again she is also probably the only person I know who would go up a metal ladder in a thunderstorm to secure a hole in the aviary preventing the birds escaping. In theory of course. This never actually happened because she never told me!
I’m sure all of you who have had the pleasure of working with Harriet will join me in thanking her for hard work over the years.
We wish Harriet all the best as she takes on a Masters in Conservation and Resource Management at the University of Liverpool.
Seabirds are eating ‘astronomical’ amounts of marine debris they mistake for food such as fish eggs or other healthy material. The biggest problem areas are in the Pacific, Australia and New Zealand but local populations are not immune to this threat.
Full scale of plastic in the world’s oceans revealed for first time
As many as nine out of 10 of the world’s seabirds are likely to have pieces of plastic in their guts, the new study estimates. An Australian team of scientists who have studied birds and marine debris found that far more seabirds were affected than the previous estimate of 29%.
She said the problem with plastics in the ocean was increasing as the world made more of it. “In the next 11 years we will make as much plastic as has been made since industrial plastic production began in the 1950s.”
Birds mistook plastic bits for fish eggs so “they think they’re getting a proper meal but they’re really getting a plastic meal”, Hardesty said.
Some species of albatross and shearwaters seem to be the most prone to eating plastic pieces. This video is not for the faint-hearted and includes some distressing scenes.
Hardesty combined computer simulations of garbage and the birds, as well as their eating habits, to see where the worst problems are. She found the biggest problem was not where there was the most garbage, such as the infamous patch in the central north Pacific Ocean.
Instead it was in areas with the greatest number of different species, especially in the southern hemisphere near Australia and New Zealand. Areas around North America and Europe were better off, she said. By reducing plastic pellets Europe was seeing less of it in one key bird, the northern fulmar (see assessment of fulmars in local waters here).
Local gannets show that plastic in the sea is not just collected for food. High numbers of the nests on Alderney’s colonies include material such as net strings collected from the sea surface. The gannets must think that its attractive but many young and adult birds die each year, caught at their own nests (see report from Canada here) .
Drowning in plastic
We’ve all heard stories of islands of floating rubbish in the middle of the oceans, but it’s the trillions of barely visible microscopic fragments that are set to be the world’s next ecological emergency. Hardesty said she had seen an entire glowstick and three balloons in a single short-tailed shearwater.
“I have seen everything from cigarette lighters … to bottle caps to model cars. I’ve found toys,” Hardesty said.
And it is only likely to get worse. By 2050, 99% of seabirds will have plastic in them, Hardesty’s computer model forecasts.
Read the new PNAS paper Threat of plastic pollution to seabirds is global, pervasive, and increasinghere
Read the New review of the effects of plastic litter on marine wildlife and other relevant articles from Wageningen UR (University & Research Centre) here