Christmas is coming and The Birds of Guernsey is now on sale

Short-eared owl. Pleinmont, Torteval, Guernsey. From The Birds of Guernseybirds-of-guernsey

 

The Birds of Guernsey by Tony Bisson, Roy Carré and Mike Cunningham went on sale on 21st October selling 1,000 copies very quickly. A further 1,500 copies were ordered to ensure that there would be enough stocks leading up to Christmas.

Tony Bisson has been recording birds since the 1950’s and has produced a printed list approximately every 13 years. Mike and Roy were looking for an outlet for their extraordinary photographs, taken within the Bailiwick, and so managed to talk Tony into helping them produce this book as they felt sure the list of recorded sightings would provide a more scientific and authoritative publication.

Tony became interested in Guernsey’s birdlife as a teenager back in the 1950s little knowing then that it would become a lifetime passion. His first A List of the Birds of Guernsey was published In 1976 and updated versions were published in 1989 and 2002. He hopes that this latest comprehensive list of the Island’s birds will be a useful source of information for people who already enjoy this wonderful hobby and perhaps more importantly stimulate an interest in others to become involved.

Swallows. Pleinmont, Torteval, Guernsey. From The Birds of GuernseyTony believes that, as human activity in the island intensifies, it is essential that more of us become aware of the detrimental effect it has on our birds and do our utmost to protect them and their precarious environment. It is important that we as birdwatchers and photographers set a good example to others in this respect and it is, therefore, considered appropriate to include a code of conduct for birdwatchers and photographers in this book.

This new book’s list, a revision and update of the 2002 list, includes records to 30th September 2015. It has relied heavily on the ornithological reports published in the Société Guernesiaise’s annual Transactions by Mark Lawlor (2002–2014). Further information came from Guernsey Birds, the invaluable website maintained by Phil Atkinson, Mark Lawlor and Jamie Hooper, on behalf of the Ornithological Section of La Société.

Kingfisher. Rue des Bergers, Castel, Guernsey. From The Birds of GuernseyThe book lists species recorded in the geographical area of Guernsey, including Lihou, Herm, Jethou and the associated islets, rocks and waters. The status of each of the species has been indicated with reference to the main island of Guernsey unless stated otherwise in the text. All species which have been recorded in an apparently natural state, plus species which although introduced or escaped have developed a self-sustaining population, are included (exceptions are red-legged and grey partridge as there is doubt they have ever had self-supporting populations). A total of 322 species are listed, although 91 have been noted on ten or fewer occasions and are considered vagrants. There are currently probably 73 breeding species in Guernsey and at least 104 species have been recorded as breeding at one time or another.

Atlantic puffin. Herm. From The Birds of GuernseyThe Birds of Guernsey is illustrated with 175 stunning colour photographs, all taken locally by Roy and Mike. Jersey readers will be pleased to be reminded what snowy owl and desert wheatear look like!

The new book is now available at selective outlets at a price of £12.50. The authors are hoping to raise a substantial sum of money for bird conservancy projects and you can help maximise this by purchasing your copy direct from one of them rather than through the retail outlets. All enquiries should initially be directed to Mike (details can be found here).

Snow bunting, Fort Doyle, Vale, Guernsey. From The Birds of Guernsey

How are the birds doing on Jersey’s north coast?

DSC_0045The latest Annual Bulletin of the Société Jersiaise includes a paper on the current status of the birds of Jersey’s north coast with details of trends in their populations over 30 years, 1985-2014.

The north coast of Jersey is one of the most important areas for birds on the Island and will be included in the Jersey Coastal National Park. The cliffs have traditionally held large numbers of breeding seabirds including iconic species like the Atlantic puffin and raptors like the peregrine. A wide variety of vegetation types on the upper slopes of the cliffs and marginal, mixed farmland on the cliff tops have been strongholds for many songbirds including stonechat, meadow pipit and linnet, birds typical of Jersey’s coastline and now found only rarely elsewhere on the Island. Jersey’s now extinct yellowhammer population was previously restricted to the north coast.

In recent years, however, changes in agricultural practices locally, notably the abandonment of many marginal cliff-top fields and encroachment by bracken, threats of widespread development and increase in leisure activities have led to growing concern for the Island’s coastline. Long-term monitoring of the bird populations is a powerful tool, showing in part what is happening to Jersey’s wildlife at the start of the 21st Century.

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Survey methods

Jersey’s north coast cliff path runs from L’Étacq to Rozel. The majority of the path (typically from L’Étacq to Les Platons) was walked west to east on one day each year (typically during June) by Glyn Young and others. All birds of every species except herring and lesser black-backed gulls seen or heard at any distance either side of the path were recorded. The two gull species were not counted because, nesting on the cliffs, they are present at all times and difficult to count with this method. These gulls are, however, included in other Island-wide surveys.

There are many variables inherent in this methodology (date, weather on the day, onset or delay in spring etc. and even exact finishing point); however, the spread of 30 years data will exhibit robust trends in populations despite this.

Results

A total of 87 bird species were recorded. While the number of species seen each year stays similar (at around 50 each year), the overall number of individual birds seen each year shows an alarming downward trend.

Total numbers of birds recorded on Jersey's north coast 1985-2014

Total numbers of birds recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Gains and losses

The fluidity of the north coast’s bird fauna can be seen by changes in the species composition since 1985. Species recorded in at least 10 consecutive years from 1985 and not seen for more than five years until 2014 can be considered lost. Species that were first recorded since 1985 and seen in more than five consecutive years up to 2014 are considered gains.

Bird species lost and gained on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Bird species lost and gained on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Peregrine juveniles 2008. Photo by Mick DrydenThe species gained (three diurnal raptors and a corvid) are typically those that have been persecuted, if not in Jersey, certainly elsewhere, and that have seen increases in continental and UK populations following statutory protection. In contrast the losses (three songbirds and a dove) are species likely to have declined through a more varied and often unclear combination of causes within and outside of Jersey including widespread habitat modification and loss, especially in farmland and marginal land, and global climate change. This is of concern as whereas simply protection may have helped restore populations of some, often high profile, species, we are seeing serious declines of formerly common species despite ongoing protection.

Seabirds

Total number of shags recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of shags recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Total number of Atlantic puffins recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of Atlantic puffins recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Jersey has nine breeding seabird species, of which seven nest on the north coast. Of these, six are threatened with extinction locally (see our Red List here). The north coast population of shag was described as very stable in 1996. It has proved quite the opposite since then with the causes of this decline not yet determined. In contrast, perhaps, the situation with Atlantic puffin was more expected with a longer history of decline. The razorbill, in contrast, remains scarce but may be relatively stable with less than 10 pairs. The great black-backed gull population fluctuates annually but is stable or increasing slightly while the colonisation by fulmar (it first nested in Jersey in 1974) appears to have ended: the 75-100 pairs reported in 1996 have not increased or spread from the north coast.

Diurnal raptors

Total number of raptor species (dark grey) and individual raptors (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of raptor species (dark grey) and individual raptors (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Total number of peregrines recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of peregrines recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Numbers of diurnal raptors (here two unrelated groups, hawks and falcons) recorded on the north coast have increased dramatically since 1985. Only kestrel was recorded in 1985 with occasional sparrowhawk (now resident) and migratory hobby adding to the figures in the next few years. Peregrine was first recorded in 1994 but has been seen annually since it returned to Jersey to breed in 2000 after an absence of 42 years. Marsh harrier and common buzzard were first recorded in 2006 and 2012 respectively four and five years after each species was first recorded nesting in Jersey. The kestrel is the only raptor to have been recorded in every year of the survey and, while numbers recorded each year have fluctuated (from five to 22), the population appears fairly stable.

Pigeons and dove

Total number of (feral) rock dove (black), stock dove (hatched) and wood pigeon (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of (feral) rock dove (black), stock dove (hatched) and wood pigeon (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Pigeons and doves (columbids)recorded on the north coast, have shown varied fortunes over the period of study. While only the feral population of rock dove (there are both naturalised, breeding, birds and those possibly still involved in a human activity (‘racing pigeons’) present) can be considered truly cliff nesters, the closely related stock dove and wood pigeon were recorded both on the cliffs and in the cliff-top fields. Two smaller species, the doves, turtle dove and collared dove, are birds of farmland, the latter typically in close association with human dwellings.

Total number of collared dove (black) and turtle dove (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of collared dove (black) and turtle dove (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Rock dove appears to have a stable, although fluctuating, population whereas each of the other species has declined. Wood pigeon and stock dove are very common in other areas of the Island, seeming, in recent years, to simply shun the cliffs. Stock dove was considered (in 1996) to nest widely on the cliffs but now does so only rarely. While the decline of the turtle dove throughout Western Europe is mirrored in Jersey (it may now no longer breed on the Island) the decline of collared dove is more interesting. Collared doves are common in urban and sub-urban areas but increasingly scarce in farmland where the return of the predatory sparrowhawk and peregrine may have influenced their habitat choice. Similarly, the reduction in stock dove on the cliffs may have followed the return of the columbid-feeding peregrine, the doves choosing to nest inland in safer sites.

Collared dove. Photo by Mick Dryden

Songbirds

Total number of meadow pipit (black) and linnet (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of meadow pipit (black) and linnet (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Total number of stonechat recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of stonechat recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Meadow pipit and linnet are birds of the coast in Jersey, preferring too relatively undisturbed areas. These two species probably now breed predominantly on the north coast. Although the decline of the linnet is dramatic, the much reduced population does at least appear to have stabilised since 2005. Jersey’s breeding population of meadow pipit is not high but it too does appear fairly stable on the north coast. The stonechat is another species in steep decline locally with no more than five pairs breeding some years. It is likely that the north coast holds the majority of breeding pairs although even here the population fluctuates.

Two further species, starling and house sparrow are worthy of note. These two birds, formerly considered abundant in Jersey, have declined alarmingly on the north coast. Although both these species are often associated with human dwellings, at least when nesting, it is perhaps a sign of the state of the former farmland on the north coast that both species are doing so badly here.

Total number of common starling (black) and house sparrow (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014

Total number of common starling (black) and house sparrow (pale grey) recorded on Jersey’s north coast 1985-2014. From Ann. Bull. Soc. Jersiaise 31 (3): 493-499.

Starling. Photo by Mick Dryden

Discussion

It is very clear even from this single annual survey that the bird populations on Jersey’s north coast are not faring well. It is clear too that some species and some groups of species are faring particularly badly while some others are apparently stable or even increasing. Although the causes of the declines are not clear and complex, the rise of raptor numbers shows the benefit of widescale, targeted, species-based conservation initiatives while the decline of seabirds and those species dependent on farmland and marginal land shows larger, possibly even global, concerns that will be much harder to redress. Birds On The Edge aims to restore Jersey’s declining coastland birds and return those species now locally extinct.

I am very grateful to Roger Long and the Société Jersiaise for allowing use of the graphs in this piece.

December volunteer activity

Pont Marquet woodland. Photo by Department of the EnvironmentSunday 13th December 2015 – Pont Marquet Country Park, St Brelade – 10:30 – 13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

To get you all into the mood for Christmas, and build up an appetite for all that naughty festive food ……… this month we are going to do some woodland management!

This month we’ll be digging up and dealing with exotic seedlings that threaten the important woodland at Pont Marquet.

The details Numerous pesky seedling sycamores are sneaking their way into the wood as well as some exotic species, a legacy of the days when the park was managed more as an ornamental garden than a country park. Our job is to dig them out to allow the trees that are better for wildlife to flourish, so do come equipped with (preferably) a spade or a saw, if you have one!

Please contact Julia at j.meldrum@gov.je or Jon at jonparkes@nationaltrust.je or phone Julia on 441600 or Jon on 483193 before you go just in case anything changes.

The site  Pont Marquet Country Park is located in St Brelade east of Quennevais. The park is managed by Transport and Technical Services and provides an important corridor habitat alongside the Railway Walk with woodland, a pond and grassland. The park is home to a myriad of wildlife including red squirrels, orchids and toads.

Parking  We will be meeting at the lower car park on La Rue de Pont Marquet.  On Google maps use this link

In the Phone Book the parking is on Map 7, square 2B. Parking is limited in the area, so we suggest that where possible, people car-share, or come on bicycles or even walk. Alternatively, you could walk from Quennevais which is roughly a 10 minute walk away down the Railway Walk.

The task Clearing bracken, bramble and invasive trees.

Tools needed If you have a spade or saw please bring them with you, and gloves if you have them.

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 (unlikely we know) 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, the wonderful Kim the Kake will supply us with hot drinks and her yummy homemade cakes.

 

Why farms need dung beetles, why choughs need dung beetles, why we all need dung beetles

Aphodius affinis under the microscope.By Sally-Ann Spence FLS FRES

Dung beetles belong to the group of insects called the Scarabaeoidea, which include dung beetles, chafer and stag beetles. There are just over one hundred species in the UK, of which over half are dung beetles. The National Recording Scheme for Scarabaeiodea has existed for many years, and has mostly been a data collection point and identification support to the recording community. As part of the on-going Species Status Project by Natural England in collaboration with Buglife, a review of the scarce and threatened dung beetles and chafers is currently in progress (to be published next year). This project highlighted the lack of modern records for many rare species and areas of the UK that were severely under recorded. This prompted us, Darren Mann (Head of Life Collections at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History), Steve Lane, Ceri Watkins and myself (Sally-Ann Spence) to go out look for beetles in under-recorded areas and to re-survey sites where rare species were previously known. Together we set up the Dung beetle UK Mapping Project – affectionately abbreviated to DUMP and drawn attention to our project using the Twitter hashtags #dungathon and #dungisfun.

In addition to the fieldwork, we are examining museum collections to extract data for the historic distribution of species. We have put out a call to the beetle recording community, and data mined Irecord and Ispot. All of this data is building better distribution maps, informing habitat preferences and providing other ecological data for the UK dung beetle species. The end result will be a dataset of dung beetle information, including identification, distribution maps, ecology and species conservation status. This will be made available via The British Beetles website and will include an on-line recording system using Irecord.

Why we all need dung beetles

Dung beetles are considered key Ecosystem Service Providers within the livestock sector. They deliver many benefits to farmers including increased soil nutrients and general nutrient recycling. They improve the soil structure by increasing aeration and drainage which in turn increases rain water filtration through the soil which also leads to a reduced run-off of rainfall – research is also looking at their pasture reseeding capabilities, abilities to reduce anaerobic processes and decrease methane formation. We know the process of pasture reseeding can have detrimental effects on soil erosion too.

They reduce pest flies, gastrointestinal parasites and pasture fouling by carrying fly egg and larval eating mites with them as well as consuming the dung the maggots live in themselves. Research is on-going into their part in nitrogen and carbon recycling but we know they are incredibly important in keeping pastures green and healthy for livestock especially in the absence of non-organic artificial fertilisers. Our results mapping the dung beetle species in the UK (although the project is in its youth), are already showing an alarming trend in species rarity and even extinction. The three main reasons behind this are considered to be the use of anthelmintics (especially in wormers), soil disturbance and the disappearance of livestock from historic pastures due to a change in farming practices.

We take the opportunity of our survey visits to make farmers/livestock keepers aware of their dung beetles, the latest research, their economic benefits and how they might implement simple workable measures to ensure a healthy dung beetle population. We have received a fantastically positive response from all we have spoken to. Farmers are keen to preserve their dung beetles and we intend to gather more data about species and their population frequencies to enable more research into these incredibly important beetles.

We are at present unfunded (please contact if interested in helping to fund this vital project) so as individuals we are surveying the whole of the UK in our spare time, on family holidays or around other work. It is a huge labour of dung beetle devotion. We are obsessives and dung is a big part of our lives. The project is vast. Different species live in or under different dung in different stages of decomposition on different soils at different altitudes at different times of the year. Dung quality is important too. We have become connoisseurs of fine dung. Not adverse to feeling the texture or giving it a good sniff (you can tell a lot about an animals health by its dung), we will examine it and the soil underneath meticulously for beetles. All data is noted on the spot – the date, GPS location, soil type, weather conditions, temperature, elevation, dung type, pasture quality and time spent in that locality surveying.

Dung beetles in Jersey

Minotaur beetle burrow freshly dug near Devils Hole and the beetle was actively taking sheep dung into it.On a recent trip to Jersey helping a colleague working on the Ice Age Project, I took the opportunity to contact the Roger Long of the Société Jersiaise to trace some historical specimens in their collection that I had become aware of through my research. Never to miss a chance I also managed to survey a few isolated locations and one of which was the area around Devils Hole. It was just awesome to encounter large areas of Minotaur beetle Typhaeus typhoeus burrows. These dung beetles like sheep and rabbit dung on light soils with short turf. The population in this area was extremely good and as it became dark the air hummed with them flying in on sheep dung. They fill their burrows with the dung for their larvae to feed on. The smaller Aphodius sphacelatus and Aphodius prodromus were also represented in good numbers. These Autumn emergence species feed in the dung itself. Excitingly I also found Aphodius affinis in this area. Another small dung beetle that feeds within the dung but is not found in the UK and is considered rare in France. It was also a first record for Jersey.

These dung beetles and their larvae are a vital part of food webs supporting many insectivorous birds and omnivorous mammals. The Minotaur beetles in particular are a important food resource for the choughs (see photo here)  and it was excellent to see the sheep maintaining the right habitat for these beetles by their grazing behaviour and the dung they produced.

We hope to be back in Jersey in May 2016 to complete a whole Island dung beetle survey. This will provide a species list and population density records crucial for further research into Jersey’s precious ecosystems.

You can read about Sally-Ann’s Minibeast Mayhem – Educational Workshops here

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The UK’s Birds of Conservation Concern updated. Mixed news on our birds

Curlew. Photo by Mick DrydenFrom BTO

Pages from BoCC4.pdCommonly referred to as the UK Red List for birds, the fourth review of the status of birds in the UK, Channel Islands and Isle of Man was released this month (see summary here and full report here). This updates the last assessment in 2009. Using standardised criteria, 244 species with breeding, passage or wintering populations in the UK were assessed by experts from a range of bird NGOs and assigned to the Red, Amber or Green lists of conservation concern.

How the lists are decided

The assessment is based on the most up-to-date evidence available and criteria include conservation status at global and European levels and, within the UK: historical decline, Wryneck. Photo by Mick Drydentrends in population and range, rarity, localised distribution and international importance. The lists now exclude three former breeding species, two previously red-listed, now considered to have ceased breeding in the UK (serin, Temminck’s stint and the once widespread wryneck). The only new species assessed by BoCC4, Caspian gull, went onto the Amber list.

The growing Red list

Mistle thrush (2). Photo by Mick DrydenThis update shows that many bird species are increasingly at risk. Nineteen species were red-listed for the first time due to worsening population status, and one species (merlin) was returned to the Red list. In most cases, this is due to evidence from monitoring schemes such as BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) of increasingly severe declines in breeding populations (e.g. for curlew, nightingale, pied flycatcher, whinchat grey wagtail and mistle thrush), surveys of scarce breeders such as dotterel, black redstart and Slavonian grebe, or by seabird monitoring (e.g. kittiwake and shag). Puffin is red-listed due to its global assessment as Vulnerable.

From green to red

Two species moved directly from the Green to Red list: white-fronted goose on account of the non-breeding population decline and long-tailed duck as a consequence of being classified as Globally Threatened. In addition to white-fronted goose, three other species (red-necked grebe, ringed plover and pochard) are red-listed for the first time due to increasingly marked declines in wintering populations, the latter also classified globally as Vulnerable. Woodcock joins the Red List, as a consequence of severe declines in breeding range. These changes increase the Red List to 67 species, more than 25% of all those assessed.

Common pochard. Photo by Mick Dryden

What kinds of birds are in most trouble?

Merlin. Photo by Mick DrydenHow does the Red List break down across habitats? Despite no new additions, farmland birds still have the greatest percentage of species (12 of 26) on the Red List. Lowland wetland species have the smallest proportion: only four of 31.  Five upland birds (curlew, dotterel, grey wagtail, whinchat and merlin) were added, bringing the total for this habitat to 12. Three more woodland birds, woodcock, nightingale and pied flycatcher, were added to the Red list bringing the total of woodland birds to sixteen. With the addition of kittiwake, shag and puffin to the Red list, the number of seabirds on the list has nearly doubled and it now includes four of the UK’s seaducks. House sparrow and black redstart are the only two urban species. The Red List now includes eight globally threatened species, 16 long distance migrants, three of the UK’s four gamebirds and five of the UK’s six larger thrushes.

Silver linings?

There is also some good news. Two previously red-listed species (nightjar and bittern) have shown marked improvements in population status, attributed largely to sustainable forest management and targeted conservation action, have moved to the Amber list. The rapidly spreading red kite is another conservation success story, moving from Amber to Green. Former red-listed species such as stone-curlew and marsh harrier, continue to show modest recovery in numbers and remain amber-listed. Overall, the Amber list has been reduced from 126 in BOCC3 to 96 in BOCC4 as a consequence of both negative changes (moves to the Red list) and positive changes (moves to the Green list). The Green list, now 81, includes a range of common garden species such as blue tit, blackbird, and robin, and saw a net increase of 14 species such as little egret, little grebe, firecrest, woodlark, common whitethroat, wheatear and bearded tit.

A summary of the new list is available here. The full list is available through British Birds here.

Jersey’s own Conservation Status of Jersey’s Birds: Jersey’s bird populations in the 21st Century can be downloaded here

Bittern. Photo by Mick Dryden

 

Chough report: November 2015

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By Liz Corry

November. The time of year the field team finally succumb to the ‘great’ British weather, unpack their thermals, wrap up in woolly garments, and pretty much live in waterproofs round the clock.

Unless it is November 2015. In which case we also need sunglasses, factor 15, and the agility skills of a border collie to be able to escape our woolly confinements when the sun comes out and the wind vanishes.

weather november

There have been days when the team have had to abandon tracking for health and safety reasons. Jersey’s Met Office issued several weather warnings this month with gale force winds reaching above 50mph. Visibility has been poor due to the constant drizzle and mist spreading across from sea to shore. Sorel Point lighthouse might not be as majestic as Corbiere, but it still serves its purpose as an aid for navigation for getting back to our cars! Yet other days have been t-shirt weather (until the sun goes down and hyperthermia sets in). The choughs have been equally unpredictable in their behaviour as a result of the weather leading to four very eventful weeks.

Checking for blockages in Ormer's trachea.

Checking for blockages in Ormer’s trachea.

At the start of the month Ormer showed signs of having a gapeworm infection. Not surprising since Dusty was treated for it the week before.

We caught up Ormer exactly the same way as we did for Dusty and injected him with a wormer. Once again the medication was quick to act and within a day Ormer was his normal self.

With that mini-drama dealt with the team turned their attention to trying to understand why the choughs were spending so much time these days on the west side of Mourier Valley. Watching them endlessly fly around for fun gives you one clue.


They also like to shelter in the Devil’s Hole and look for insects where the soil layer is exposed on the rock face. Anyone familiar with this area will appreciate the leg work needed for the radio-trackers to head down to the hole to pick up a signal only to have to walk back up when the birds switch to the headland minutes later!

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Is there a better bounty of insects to be found at Devils Hole compared to Sorel? After watching Noir feeding on a beetle by a clump of gorse the other day it seems hard to believe the rock face has better to offer. Thanks to Piers Sangan and the Insects of the Channel Islands Facebook Group for identifying Noir‘s choice of snack as being a minotaur beetle (Typhaeus typhoeus).

Noir snacking on a beetle. Photo by Liz Corry

Noir snacking on a beetle. Photo by Liz Corry

The choughs’ jollies on the other side of the valley came to an abrupt halt mid-November when the gales returned and the wind chill factor was Baltic. The birds were struggling to stay grounded and any flight required brute strength and persistence.

One morning whilst the group were over at Devils Hole we noticed Bean and Dusty sat on the rock face not moving whilst everyone was searching for food. At the 11am aviary feed there were twenty-one birds feeding in the aviary. Dusty was missing. Jen returned to Devils Hole to find Dusty sat in the same place looking miserable. We assumed that for whatever reason he didn’t have enough strength to battle the gales across to the aviary with everyone else.

Jen took over a target board and placed it on the headland opposite the rock face. She placed a bowl of food on the target, blew the whistle, and called Dusty to the food. To her surprise he not only responded, but shot up in the air and over to the aviary. This behaviour appeared promising; however he never actually went in to feed and disappeared shortly after…along with Bean. By the afternoon aviary feed Dusty was still missing. Bean materialised in the field next to the aviary and just sat crouched down looking miserable whilst everyone else ate. We tried taking the food closer, but she flew to the nearest rabbit hole and sat in it sheltering from the wind. Bean had made it back into the aviary by roost time but there was no sign of Dusty.

The next day Dusty was spotted back at Devils Hole sat on the cliff face whilst the rest of the group were flying around. Bean was still looking miserable and not eating very much throughout the day. The weather was still horrendous and wasn’t set to change for a few days.

Checking Bean's body condition showed she was quite thin. Photo by Liz Corry

Checking Bean’s body condition showed she was quite thin. Photo by Liz Corry

With Bean’s condition deteriorating we decided to lock her in one section of the aviary so she could have respite from the cold wind and a food bowl all to herself. We knew she had lost weight. It wasn’t until we had her in the hand that it became apparent just how thin she was.

Feacal samples were submitted to the lab. Ultimately all she needed was a bit of TLC and a hearty meal. We increased the amount for food for all the birds as clearly they were having to burn a lot of calories to fly in the wind and stay warm. Once Bean was reunited with the group they stayed close together, including Dusty, and remained on the Sorel side of the valley. Until the next day!

Just as our stress levels were being lowered Lee and Noir went off the radar. This was obviously worrying what with Dusty and Bean’s fiasco and the bad weather continuing. Jen and Nicci tracked a group of choughs flying from the quarry and off west beyond Devils Hole early morning. Whilst trying to work out who was left behind a report came in of a sighting at Les Landes Racecourse again. Jen jumped in the car and went off to investigate.

Les Landes Racecourse backing onto Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.

Les Landes Racecourse backing onto Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.

Typically the group had left the area and disbanded. Eleven choughs had been at Les Landes with nine of those last seen heading off down the west coast over L’Étacq.

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Chough hide and seek. Photo by Liz Corry.

Calmly assuming that the birds would return for their 11am aviary feed as they always do Jen returned to Sorel. They did indeed return, but Lee and Noir were still missing and absent at roost.

A search began the next day covering the areas were the group had been spotted.

Applying artistic license, some of the following photos were taken using filters to emphasise how bad the weather was without risking the camera’s longevity.

The search lasted all morning.

Grosnez

Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry

Grosnez castle. Photo by Liz Corry

The Pinacle southwest of Les Landes Racecourse and north of L’Etacq. Photo by Liz Corry

Not a chough… Dartford warbler at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry

View from Corbiere across St Ouen’s Bay to L’Etacq in the north. Photo by Liz Corry

Not choughs...stonechat at Plemont. Photo by Liz Corry.

Not choughs…stonechat and linnet at Plemont regeneration area. Photo by Liz Corry.

Just before giving up one last place was checked. Edit that. Double checked. From Ronez loop road the radio antennae was directed towards the quarry. The faintest of beeps emitted from the receiver! Cutting a 26 hour story short…Lee and Noir had somehow found themselves in the workshop building at the bottom of the quarry. Where they perched affected whether the signal was being blocked or not. Mixed feelings (from both parties) of confusion, relief, embarrassment, and glee when tracker and choughs were reunited .

Quarry site foreman Kevin trying to figure out why Lee and Noir won’t leave the workshop. Photo by Liz Corry

Lee and Noir in the quarry workshop. Photo by Liz Corry

Trying to find a suitable spot to target feed. Photo by Liz Corry

The only question now was how to get them out. It took a few attempts at target feeding and another night in the building to think about it.

The next morning the weather was the complete opposite; sunny, calm, dry(ish). The rest of the flock decided to spend the day at Ronez, something they haven’t done in a long time. This probably helped as the two in the building could hear them calling. Lee plucked up the courage to leave by 10am.

Noir took a bit more encouragement. This time when I visited her she started wing-begging when I spoke to her and offered food. Yes I talked to her. No I didn’t expect her to talk back, although in her own way she did. Still unsure about flying down and out of the entrance I blew the whistle to attract the other choughs. A very loud White and his partner Mauve flew in from the back entrance and chatted to Noir for a minute before all three left the building and re-joined the flock.

Noir and Lee returning to the aviary with the flock after two nights in the quarry. Photo by Liz Corry.

By the afternoon feed all 22 choughs were back together and eating at the aviary.

And that is how our November came to a close.

What could possibly happen in December?

Jinx

Display aviary at Durrell re-opens. Photo by Liz Corry

Display aviary at Durrell re-opens. Photo by Liz Corry

One thing that did go as planned this month was the move of the choughs at Durrell back into their flocking aviary on display at the park.

The repair work to the netting was completed last month. There is still a bit of DIY to do and it needs a bit of replanting after the digging required for the new structural supports.

The important thing is that the birds are together, as they would be in the wild. They get to have a mental break from the breeding season. And the prima donna Gianna gets to see her public.

Gianna having bathed, preens her feathers. Photo by Liz Corry