Chough report: September 2015

P1620147By Liz Corry

At the start of September the eight captive-reared chicks were released into Jersey. After their thirty-day quarantine and pre-release training they were finally ready to join the rest of the flock. As with the previous chicks released into Jersey we have named them alphabetically with a nod to their new home. We have four males and four females to introduce to the group. Kevin, named after Ronez’s site foreman who looked after Dusty in the quarry, Lee (Durrell), and (St) Mary are the eldest of the group, albeit only by a week or two. Noir, Ormer, and Pyrrho are three girls from the same clutch, and Q and Ronez are the youngest brothers. Each bird has its own colour ring and a radio transmitter attached to their tail feathers so we can monitor them closely after release.

The method for this release had to be tweaked to account for the fact we had  almost twice as many choughs living outside of the aviary. Attempting to call back and lock-in eight specific individuals from a group of twenty-three each night would be a practical nightmare (and most likely cause nervous breakdowns amongst staff). This time we simply let them out on the first night then planned to follow them like hawks, so to speak, and call them back for food as and when. We relied on the social intelligence of the choughs knowing that the outside group would act as mentors and, hopefully, ‘anchor’ the new birds to the aviary site.

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‘Egg’ trying to demonstrate her social intelligence. Photo by Liz Corry

The hatches opened on the 7th and, in what now appears to be modus operandi for chick releases, the eight birds stayed firmly in the aviary. Eventually when the outside group were called down for food at the aviary, the newbies flew out to meet them, eat, and cause general pandemonium once they realised they were no longer confined to the aviary.

They also had several distractions to contend with in the form of low-flying light aircraft, a helicopter, and paragliders. Definitely a good day for flying then!

P1610975Over the course of the evening the newbies explored the sky above Sorel and the cliff tops. All bar Mary and Q who decided for personal reasons that observing from inside the aviary was a far better option. The other six carried on flying around past sunset clearly trying to decide on a suitable roosting spot on the cliffs instead of the aviary.

P1620023The next morning they were still out along the cliffs, very rarely going inland. Q had decided to leave the aviary but got ‘lost’ in doing so. He was probing one of the farmers’ fields at Sorel by himself, calling loudly and not getting any response from the other choughs.

P1620089Even Mary, 200m away in the aviary was ignoring him or maybe petrified into silence now she was the last bird remaining in the aviary. Mary made her way out by midday and joined Q, who had now joined the adult flock, and suddenly 23 choughs were swirling around the cliff tops.

P1620077The newbies still avoided the aviary even at feed times. On the second night they moved towards Sorel Point to find a better roost spot.

View of sunset from the second roost site. Two choughs are visible on the rocks in the bottom left corner. Photo by Liz Corry

Over the course of the next five days the newbies kept using this roost site, but one-by-one they returned during the day to join the others at the aviary. P1620458

P1620269 P1620371All except Q and Ronez who for reasons known only to themselves decided the quarry looked a much better place to hangout in. They didn’t, however, hangout with the other choughs who use the quarry. Instead they went to the rock-face in the south-east corner and stayed there. P1630193

We managed to catapult food onto the quarry ledges. We had to battle with the wind. Sometimes it was calm but at other times you were fighting with the wind to merely stay upright.

P1630201P1630166Sadly for the youngest chough, Ronez, our efforts, and his, to stay alive on the ledges did not pay off. On the evening of the 13th both he and Q were left probing away near the fenceline at the Ronez loop road. The next morning there was only one chough visible. Ronez’s radio signal was loud and clear suggesting he was close by and not moving.

The unstable nature of the rock face prevents access to the site. He may well have been predated if he roosted on the ground. Feral ferrets have been seen by quarry staff and this particular area is very accessible to a predator who takes little heed about Health and Safety regulations. Just as likely he could have become weak without means of getting out and starved. Either way there was nothing we could do further and it is, sadly, part of the course.P1630313Q left the quarry shortly after that and rejoined the other choughs. They now roost in the aviary and return for food provided by staff. They are very good at probing for insects as well and have been spending their mornings at Devil’s Hole on the other side of the valley to Sorel.P1630103P1620181We have even had a report of a group of eight birds at Les Landes Racecourse. We know from photographs that two of the eight were juveniles from 2014. These birds flew to Les Landes last October to explore but didn’t spend much time there. It will be interesting to see where they decide to go this year.

Les Landes 27-9-2015. Photo by Romano da Costa (2)

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We can only follow the young, newly released and naïve, choughs as they discover their new surroundings and learn to survive in the wild because they have tail-mounted radio transmitters. Each of these transmitters has to be bought and, unfortunately, doesn’t have a very long life. If the birds don’t lose their transmitter the battery will run out. We are lucky to ever find the old transmitters and anyway we are only able to change the battery once before the transmitter can not be further modified. So, we need a lot of transmitters, and this is a big area of our annual budget and this year we are extremely grateful to Action for Wildlife Jersey for funding our 2015 transmitter needs. In fact, the funds so generously provided, also allowed us to buy a new electronic balance to weigh the birds up at Sorel and check on their health.

A VIP visitor to Sorel

On 30th September we were proud to introduce leading author and journalist Simon Barnes to the chough flock. Simon, author of such notable books as How To Be A Bad Birdwatcher and Birdwatching with Your Eyes Closed (see the full list of Simon’s books here) was in Jersey for the 2015 Jersey Festival of Words and took time out to see the Sorel birds and hear about Birds On The Edge and the work being done to restore our habitats and give local birds a chance to survive.

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Small mammal survey Jersey 2014

Vole in box 20141114_082151In order to comply with its environmental responsibilities under legally binding agreements, the Department of the Environment last year carried out a survey of small mammal species on the Island to understand changes or threats to populations and to protect them from further loss.

Millet's shrew in Jersey (2). Photo by Gregory GuidaThe Department last carried out a similar survey 16 years ago and wanted to find out what changes have occurred since then. In 2014 the Department commissioned Natural Solutions Ltd. to carry out a survey of small mammals in Jersey and to prepare a detailed assessment of the changes that have occurred in population densities since an initial survey carried out in 1998.

The results of the latest survey, compiled by Denise McGowan and Professor John Gurnell, were published recently.

This new report looks at population numbers, densities and biomass over different seasons and habitats, with the aim of finding out more about the changes that have occurred over the 16 year period.

Small mammals matter because they play a vital role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem in Jersey, as keystone prey species for our large predators including birds of prey and snakes. They are indicators of habitat quality and help shape our environment.

Elms dist row

Four small mammal species were surveyed at 22 sites in nine different habitats across the Island:

  • Wood mouse Apodemus sylvaticus
  • Jersey bank vole Myodes glareolus caesarius
  • Lesser white-toothed shrew Crocidura suaveolens
  • Millet’s shrew Sorex coronatus

Lesser white-toothed shrew. Photo by Tim RansomThe vole is a unique Jersey sub-species and, in the British Isles, the lesser white-toothed shrew is only found in Jersey, Sark and the Isles of Scilly and Millet’s (or French) shrew only in Jersey. The vole and the two shrew species are protected under the Conservation of Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2000 and Jersey is committed through its legislation and international conventions to monitor and protect them.

Results indicate that since 1998, wood mice have continued to be widespread; the Jersey bank vole has followed a similar pattern but appeared to favour heathlands, hedgerows, woodlands and undisturbed grasslands.

The data for shrew species was more difficult to compare across the two surveys due to a low capture rate and a patchy distribution across sites, seasons and years.

Further work is required to determine what could be affecting the shrews’ distribution and population numbers in Jersey.

Download the full report here

Blackcaps migration strategy influenced by garden bird feeding

Blackcap. Photo by Mick DrydenFrom Birdguides

New research by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has revealed that bird food provided in our gardens has helped blackcaps to rapidly evolve a successful new migration route. This is the first time that garden bird feeding has been shown to affect large-scale bird distributions.

Blackcap. Photo by Mick DrydenHistorically, the migratory blackcap was only a breeding summer visitor to the British Isles. However, over the last 60 years there have been surprising changes in the species’ migration behaviour, with birds from central Europe visiting our gardens in winter, rather than heading to their usual wintering grounds in southern Spain. The reasons why the British Isles have become great for blackcaps were previously unclear, but now scientists have been able to uncover some answers, using the extensive data on garden birds and feeders collected by thousands of volunteer birdwatchers for the BTO’s weekly Garden BirdWatch survey.

The new study, published in the international journal Global Change Biology, has revealed that blackcaps are becoming increasingly associated with garden bird feeding over time, and that supplementary foods, particularly fats and sunflower hearts, are affecting their national distribution in winter. The findings also indicate that changes in the British winter climate have been important in shaping the evolution of this new migration behaviour.

Blackcap (female). Photo by Mick Dryden

Dr Kate Plummer, BTO Research Ecologist and lead author of the paper, said: “This is the first scientific evidence that supplementary foods provided in gardens can influence the evolution of wild birds, so the findings are extremely important.

“It’s been suspected for a long time that blackcaps started coming to Britain in winter to take advantage of the bird food being provided in gardens. However, it’s only now that we have actually found concrete evidence to support this, thanks to the efforts of citizen scientists.”

Kate Risely, BTO Garden BirdWatch Organiser, added: “The thousands of people who send us information on the birds and bird food in their gardens can be very proud of the part they have played in this research. It is only by collecting regular records of birds that we can find out how our activities are affecting them.”

As the global environment rapidly changes due to human activities, it is becoming increasingly important that we understand if, and how, species are able to respond. These findings indicate that some species, like blackcap, may be more resilient to environmental change than we previously assumed.

The research is set to continue with an investigation into how garden bird feeding has affected goldfinch numbers, and over the winter the BTO will be calling for observations from people who feed goldfinches in their gardens.

In Jersey, our own Garden Bird Watch results have shown increasing numbers of blackcaps in the Island’s gardens. Interestingly, and supporting the new study, our own monitoring shows that the blackcaps that spend the spring and summer in our woodlands all but disappear over winter while they are easy to find in gardens over this period.

Blackcap. Garden Bird Watch 2002-2015

Blackcap. Jersey Garden Bird Watch 2002-2015

Read the abstract of the full paper Is supplementary feeding in gardens a driver of evolutionary change in a migratory bird species? here

Islanders help boost Jersey’s grazing restoration project

P1630692By Liz Corry

They say the grass is always greener on the other side. Well now the sheep at Sorel can find out first-hand.

Ecoscape and the Back to Work scheme at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry

Thanks to the skill and hard work of the guys on the Back to Work scheme and Ecoscape, the sheep now have access to extra grazing land at Sorel.

A fence has been erected around the field adjacent to the chough release-aviary allowing for the shepherd to improve the management of his flock. It is a relatively small area, but it will make a huge difference.

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P1620359 P1620334Once the fence was up and tools cleared away, the shepherds then had the seemingly mammoth task of herding the sheep from the cliffs and picking out which sheep would go in the new site. Luckily for them Mist the sheep dog, made the job a lot easier.

Aaron the shepherd stood at the top of the ridge calls to Mist, his dog, below to push the sheep up the ridge and onto the headland. Photo by Liz Corry

The shepherding team showing off their skills. Photo by Liz Corry.

Up until the beginning of the 20th Century, the coastal headlands were an important part of the rural economy. Cattle, ponies and sheep would have grazed upon these areas and gorse and bracken would have been collected for fuel and bedding respectively. The disappearance of such practices allowed bracken and scrub to encroach, in turn leading to the disappearance of many coastal and heathland species. The red-billed chough is a prime example of such a species relying on the sheep to improve habitat as well as providing their wool for nest building.

P1630835 P1630837The Back to Work scheme, set up by the Social Security Department and Department of the Environment, helps unemployed people in Jersey to gain skills and experience to attain permanent employment while carrying out dedicated projects enhancing Jersey’s biodiversity.

Ecoscape, a local contractor with a wealth of environmental experience, provide guidance and training to participants on the scheme. Its hard work at times, but the skills acquired and sense of achievement with the end result can be very rewarding.

A video produced by ALC gives you an insight into what was involved over the five days the team worked at Sorel. You can also view it via Ecoscape’s Facebook page.

October volunteer activity

Rob Ward _ snake with radio tag

Sunday 4th October 2015 – Les Blanches Banques SSI, St Brelade – 10:30 – 13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

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!

The details

Green lizard basking on one of the survey materials. Photo by Rob WardFor 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 results are in!

Congratulations, it's a....?

Congratulations, it’s a….? Photo by Liz Corry

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.

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.

Inter-Island Environment Meeting – Alderney, October 2015

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AWT 2015

 

 

 

The organisers of this year’s Inter-Island Environment Meeting (IIEM) cordially invite you to Alderney. This year’s event will be hosted by the States of Alderney (SoA) and the Alderney Wildlife Trust (AWT) and held 1st – 2nd October 2015.

Insurance Corporation logoOnce again the IIEM is generously supported by Insurance Corporation.

Location: Ann French Room, The States of Alderney, Island Hall, Alderney.

Theme: Mind the Gap: The importance of ecological research and its use as a mechanism for environmental management within the Islands.

Key Note Speaker: Aubrey Manning, OBE, FRSE, FIBiol, distinguished English zoologist, broadcaster and President of the British Wildlife Trusts from 2005-2010.

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.

Les Etac GannetryIntended 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 marine@alderneywildlife.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.

Air travel:

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.

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Boat travel:

Scheduled sea links to Alderney available from Guernsey:

From Guernsey, Bumblebee Boat Cruises offers regular crossings between Guernsey and Alderney.

Scheduled sea links to Alderney available from France:

Lady Maris II offers crossings to and from Cherbourg every Wednesday and Saturday, and every Thursday to and from Guernsey, Sark and Herm. Bookings with Alderney Gift Box.

ALDERNEY FROM THE SEA

Accommodation: There are a variety of accommodation on Alderney, including hotels, guest houses and a campsite. For further information please see Visit Alderney’s website for details.

Reduced accommodation costs is available with some hotels and guest houses, please contact Mel Broadhurst for further information.

For further details of the event and booking visit AWT here

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Chough report: August 2015

By Liz Corry

Mystery disappearance

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.

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

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.

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.

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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, BeanCaûvette, 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.

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.

Up to 90% of the world’s seabirds have plastic in their guts

Albatrosses. Photo by Mick DrydenFrom The Guardian

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

Over five trillion pieces of plastic are floating in our oceans says a comprehensive study of plastic pollution around the world published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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%.

“It’s pretty astronomical,” said study co-author Denise Hardesty, a senior research scientist at Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

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.

CNN Report

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) .

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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 increasing here

Read the New review of the effects of plastic litter on marine wildlife and other relevant articles from Wageningen UR (University & Research Centre) here

PhD Studentship available in ‘The Restoration of an extinct Kentish icon: Feasibility of reintroducing the chough to Kent’

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Location: Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent
Scholarship amount: University fees for a UK/EU student and annual stipend for three years
Hours: Full time
Deadline for applications: 25th August 2015

Description: The science of reintroducing species back into the wild has evolved into a distinct branch of conservation biology in its own right. Indeed, reintroduction biology is now embraced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as a fundamental tool for species recovery and ecosystem management. The Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) at the University of Kent has been working at the forefront of species conservation and reintroduction biology with partners around the world for over two decades. An opportunity has now arisen to apply this experience and expertise locally, with an analysis of the feasibility of bringing back the iconic red-billed chough to Kent.

The chough population has become highly fragmented with several isolated populations around the coast of Britain in West Wales, Scotland, Isle of Man and a small population in Cornwall. The Chough was once more widespread and formerly occurred as far east as Kent where it became extinct ca. 160 years ago. However the chough still lives on in the coat of arms of Canterbury City and the University of Kent, and in Shakespeare’s King Lear (Act IV, Scene vi Fields near Dover), where the chough is introduced in the description of the Dover Cliffs.

Aims and Objectives:
1. Consultation of local attitudes to a proposed reintroduction: This will use social science methods to gather quantitative and qualitative data on awareness, attitudes, and knowledge of the chough and a potential reintroduction among the wider local community.

2. Habitat suitability and risk analysis: Combine an ecological assessment of potential release sites with an impact and risk assessment of a potential reintroduction. This will require ecological surveys of potential habitats, GIS and species distribution modelling.

3. Population viability analysis: Utilise genetic, environmental and demographic data to determine the minimum population size and optimal population structure for a successful reintroduction.

For further information and details of how to apply click here