Chough report: December 2015

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Radio-tracking took an interesting turn this month. Photo by Liz Corry

For the past two months some of the choughs have been making infrequent visits to Crabbé in the morning and the odd trip further west to Les Landes. In December they decided that breakfast at Crabbé would become part of their daily routine. More specifically they were finding breakfast at the shooting range! Highly entertaining for the radio-tracking team as you can imagine: and certainly not featured in the project’s risk assessment!

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The rifle range at Crabbé is perfect foraging habitat for choughs (as long as they avoid the targets). Photo by Liz Corry.

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The short grass at the gun range and low level of disturbance provides perfect habitat for insects the choughs love to eat. Photo by Liz Corry.

The choughs also love to fly up and down Les Vaux de Lecq next to the gun range. The narrow valley running up from Grève de Lecq beach has an interesting effect on the prevailing winds.

The top of the hill at Le Câtel de Lecq hill provides a perfect look out point for when the choughs start flying around the cliffs at Rouge Nez. It is also another site were the Manx Loaghtan sheep are kept to manage the land. Possibly another reason why the choughs are attracted to this end of the Island, showing further the importance of these sheep.

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View from the top of Le Câtel de Lecq looking inland towards Les Vaux de Lecq. Photo by Liz Corry.

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Manx Loaghtan sheep at Câtel surprised to see a radio-tracker first thing in the morning. Photo by Liz Corry.

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Rouge Nez and Petit Grève taken from Câtel. Photo by Liz Corry

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The victorious moment that staff beat the choughs to Crabbé and watched a group of 14 fly in from Devil’s Hole. Photo by Liz Corry.

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Which way will they go next? Photo by Liz Corry

We are all wondering where is next on the chough’s travel itinerary? Please keep sending in your reports of sightings as the birds are always trying to outsmart us!

End of year catch-up

At the start of December Noirmont (or Noir for short) was sporting a slightly longer bill than the rest of the flock. The bill on a chough is constantly growing much like our nails. Mechanical wear whilst feeding, preening, pecking etc., generally mediates the growth rate so you wouldn’t notice. For some reason Noir’s was not being worn down at a sufficient rate and was very noticeable.

Noir’s overgrown bill. Photo by Liz Corry.

The upper mandible had started to cross over with the lower which reduced her ability to forage for wild insects and will have limited her food intake. The simple solution was to catch her up and give her a quick trim as you can see in the video below

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The flexible part of Noir’s transmitter antennae mysteriously snapped off. Photo by Liz Corry.

Whilst we had Noir in the hand we took a look at her radio transmitter. Somehow the flexible antennae, visible in flight, had broken off the day before.

We thought a closer look might shed some light on how this had happened. It didn’t.

We thought the manufacturers might know. They didn’t.

It will remain a mystery. All that matters is that she is ok and the transmitter is still working.

Noir wasn’t the only bird we caught up that day. Since we had the group locked in to catch Noir we took the opportunity to look at a few others we had on our ‘watch list’.

Lee also had transmitter issues…he had lost it!

First thing on 7th December his radio signal had been beeping away from the direction of the aviary suggesting he was having breakfast over there. Except he wasn’t. Lee was over at Crabbé frolicking around with his friends. Was he trying to evade us on purpose like some sort of rebellious teenager?

The transmitter was found in the aviary in a known roosting-spot. It was still attached to the central tail feather which is glued to the body of the transmitter. At the end of October we noticed that Lee‘s central tail feather had twisted round almost 90 degrees perpendicular to the other eleven tail feathers.

The tip of Lee’s dropped feather, with transmitter still attached, shows a new feather starting to grow in. Photo by Liz Corry

Regardless of the reason, the weight of the transmitter on the feather more than likely played a part in the feather eventually coming out.

Closer examination showed that a new feather had started growing through at the base a few weeks prior to the transmitter dropping.

We are still following Lee’s movements it just means a little more groundwork for us. In flight you can see the gap in his tail feathers. On the ground we have to wait until we can see his leg rings which isn’t always easy depending on the terrain.

Lee at Les Vaux de Lecq clearly showing his identifying leg rings but missing his tail-mounted transmitter. Photo by Liz Corry.

Ormer, Dusty, and Bean were caught up to check on how they are progressing after their treatment for nematodes and general malaise. They all seemed ok and we were able to get accurate body weights from them; all relatively reasonable considering the time of year.

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Chough in a bag; obtaining a body weight for Ormer. Photo by Liz Corry

Blue was given a replacement blue leg ring for the one she lost in summer. Photo by Liz Corry.

Last on the list of things to do whilst all 22 choughs were locked inside was to replace the plastic leg ring Blue lost in summer.

She has been quite busy over the last few months being a new mum. We didn’t want to interfere before and she has been easy to identify through her behaviour.

Lessons learnt this month

After several roost-checks we now know that twenty of the choughs roost at the aviary each night. White and Mauve prefer to have a bit of privacy and remain faithful to their roost-site down in the quarry.

Mental note for next year: don’t place the Christmas wreath directly underneath an external roost box!

Christmas wreath at the chough aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

Christmas wreath at the chough aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

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The choughs inspect the Christmas tree but refuse to perch on it. Photo by Liz Corry

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The Christmas tree does get used – by a local kestrel. Photo by Liz Corry

In an attempt to get into the spirit of the festive period the aviary was adorned with the Christmas wreath (above), gold pine cones for enrichment treats, and a tree! Budget was tight so an actual Christmas tree was out of the question. Bear in mind the inquisitive nature of corvids we had to think about choking hazards and non-toxic materials so fake snow and tinsel was ruled out. We kept it au naturel with the hope of getting a festive Christmas card out of it. The weather was against us, as it was with most activities this month, which meant background options were limited to light rain or heavy rain. We also blamed the weather for tipping the tree over. Until we spotted the local kestrel perched on top!

Christmas Day itself was no different from any other day. Staff handed out a Christmas dinner of mealworms and boiled egg to the choughs. It might not sound like your typical family Christmas meal, but I’m sure a few of you out there will relate to the chaos that followed around the dinner table.

And in other news…

Part of our job involves keeping a daily diary about the birds’ health and activities as we do with all the animals we look after at Durrell. Daily reports, which can include medical records, genetic history, and biological data, are submitted to a global database to help improve species management and breeding programmes. Picture then, if you will, the  expression of our animal records administrator as she transcribes the following from the keeper:

Wednesday 9th December. A few of the choughs were seen warily following a grey heron walking down the aviary field, but were scared away when it turned round to face them.”

Sun beginning to set over the release aviary on the last day of 2015. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sun beginning to set over the release aviary on the last day of 2015. Photo by Liz Corry.

With 2015 at an end and Birds On The Edge experiencing another successful year we would like to take the opportunity to thank all the staff and supporters who have worked on all the projects this year. Without you none of this would happen.

7 thoughts on “Chough report: December 2015

  1. Delighted to report that participants on the National Trust’s annual New Year’s Day Walk at Sorel were treated to some excellent aerial displays by some 20 free–flying choughs – what one might call the ‘icing on the corvids Christmas cake’.
    Thank you ‘team’ (and the choughs), for helping to make it such a memorable ramble.

  2. Thanks to the core chough team for making this amazing project so successful in 2015. Here’s to even greater triumphs in 2016!

  3. Thanks for a very informative update with the brilliant photos and videos. Congrats on a very successful 2015 and best wishes for 2016.

  4. Such a special treat to see them overhead at Greve de Lecq when on their aerial explorations. We will continue to report sightings as and when we see and hear them. Keith P

  5. Fabulous work everyone! Over here we’re all “choughed” to bits at the way this is going – and Tanith is really excited about the prospect of helping out this summer. Fantastic stuff.

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