An exciting opportunity is available for a student placement at Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, based in Jersey, working on the red-billed chough reintroduction project. This project, which began in 2013, is one of many within the Birds On The Edge project run in collaboration with the National Trust for Jersey and States of Jersey Department of the Environment.
Two placements are available, starting on 1st September 2016. Durrell houses a captive collection of choughs at the Wildlife Park, while the reintroduction project is based at an off-site aviary near Sorel Point. Juvenile choughs bred in captivity are being released to the north coast of Jersey. All birds are intensively monitored and managed post-release. The student placement will assist the Field Manager in carrying out these activities. Students will spend six months with the project from September to March or March to September, with the remaining six months spent working with Durrell’s Bird Department.
Choughs have been absent from the Channel Islands for nearly a century and with the UK population in serious decline this is an exciting opportunity to help restore an enigmatic species. You can read about the placement programme here and if you would like to apply, please contact email@example.com for further information and an application form. The closing date is 11th July 2016.
The Department of the Environment team are looking for two individuals to take leading roles in the Jersey iBats monitoring programme this summer. They are in Year 6 of an ongoing programme designed to monitor the diversity and abundance of Jersey’s bats. Further detail of the iBats programme can be found here
iBats is a car-based monitoring project that records bats on a series of 11 car-driven transects in July, repeated again in August. Transects are driven at a constant 15mph for up to 80 minutes after sunset on a predefined route and require patience and a strict adherence to the survey protocol. The monitoring needs both a driver and a navigator and uses mobile phone navigation technology and bat detectors connected to a sound recorder. Bat calls are audible live in the car as transect is driven. Monitoring requires transects be driven in good weather conditions only.
When: Five or six evenings per volunteer in July and five or six evenings per volunteer in August. Transects start 30mins after sunset, require an hour and 20 mins driving which is followed by uploading GPS and bat call data. Survey event may take three hrs from start to finish.
Volunteers must have a current driving licence, a Windows computer and broadband access, good technological competence and spare time in the evenings. The total time commitment for this entire study is 22 evenings throughout the summer survey period. Each evening takes between 2-3 hours from collecting the assistant, driving the transect and managing the data. This work offers a unique and unusual insight into Jersey wildlife. Full training and support will be given. If you are interested or would like more information, please contact David Tipping on telephone 441625 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Channel Islands Bat Conference 2016, Frances Le Sueur Centre, St Ouen, Jersey
The Jersey Bat Group cordially invites you to Jersey for the 2nd Channel Islands Bat Conference to be held on the 29th and 30th October 2016 at the Frances Le Sueur Centre, St Ouen, Jersey.
The general aim of the Channel Islands Bat Conference is to give Government bodies, NGOs, environmental managers and relevant individuals the opportunity to discuss the status of bats within the islands and wider landscape. The CI Bat Conference 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.
The 2016 CI Bat Conference comprises of three objectives, for delegates to:
Present a range of bat-related topics relevant to their organisation and island
Discuss current or future island projects which effectively link ecological research with environmental management or conservation
Discuss topics from the wider world of bat work.
Delegates are encouraged to present on research related to the objectives via talk or poster formats. Talks will normally be 20 minutes long, with five minutes for questions unless longer time is requested by presenters. Presenters are requested to submit a title and abstract (maximum of 500 words) to the JBG by 1st October.
If you would like to attend the Channel Islands Bat Conference 2016 please visit the Jersey Bat group website and fill out the application form here or contact Ani Binet on email@example.com to discuss and submit your presentation ideas.
Easter may have been early this year, but our chough eggs waited until April was in full swing to make an appearance. The first sign of egg-laying at the Wildlife Park was on 12th April when the nest cameras revealed an egg in Iseult’s nest. Within a week she had finished laying and started incubating.
Iseult’s eggs – view from the nest camera monitor. Photo by Hester Whitehead.
Choughs normally lay around five eggs in captivity with the female starting incubation when the third egg is laid. Issy appeared to be quite restless at first, leaving the nest whenever she was disturbed. As the aviary is on show to the public the decision was made to cordon off the footpath which runs alongside the nest site. This seemed to work well and Issy continued incubating.
The public footpath was blocked to prevent disturbance to the nest whilst Isuelt was incubating. Photo by Liz Corry.
Egg-laying for the other two breeding pairs in the Park was not as straightforward. Both pairs took a long time to progress from a few twigs in their nest-box to a fully lined chough nest. Then it was a matter of waiting for the first egg. It turned out to be a very long wait to the point we had almost given up expecting anything. Seventeen days after Issy laid her first egg Gwinny and Mrs D started laying their own.
Denzel and Mrs D have very little experience in breeding and this is their first time together. Everything appeared ok when Mrs D laid her first egg. Then keepers had a moment of doubt when they checked the nest cameras. “I’m sure there was an egg there before?”, “Is that an egg or a bit of wool?”, “It’s ok its still there”, “Wait, has the egg gone again?” Checking back over the camera footage we realised that what was hoped to be lighting issues and camera trickery was actually Denzel carefully removing the egg from the nest and Mrs D laying her second egg. He did the same thing to the second egg in the evening when staff had gone home. The remaining eggs were rescued before he had chance to act and given to Gianna to foster incubate.
A slightly different scenario played out next door in Gwinny and Lucifer‘s nest-box. This time it was not just the eggs in danger. Gwinny and Lucifer have had clutches for the past two seasons. There have been issues with each clutch and eggs being tampered with. Staff usually have to rescue to artificially incubate. CeCe being the result of last year’s rescue efforts. We were quite prepared for the same to happen this year. What we were not prepared for was Lucifer‘s reaction to the first egg. As can been seen in the video below he became extremely aggressive to the point where Gwinny was in danger.
Staff reacted quickly and re-housed Lucifer away from the breeding aviaries. There was the slight risk that Gwinny may abandon egg-laying due to the disturbance and not her ‘partner’ not being around. The risk to Gwinny by leaving him in the aviary far outweighed this and our actions were justified as she continued to lay over the next few days and has incubated consistently since then.
Staff rescued the first egg as planned and gave it to Gianna to foster-incubate along with Mrs D‘s two rescued eggs. Gwinny went on to lay three more eggs which were left with her to incubate as she was sitting so well.
Gianna has shown that she has learnt from her experience as a first time mother last year and is even more attentive to her nest this year. As with last year she was given a dummy egg to stimulate egg-laying. This seemed to work and a few days later she produced her own, followed by two more. This is quite interesting as last year her first egg was her only egg. Gianna will be used for foster-incubating and foster-rearing. We are not 100% confident in her ability to look after hatching eggs so any fertile eggs she has will be transferred to an incubator in the Bird Department and subsequent chicks hand-reared for the crucial first few days before returning to Gianna.
Gianna will hopefully help out again by foster rearing this year. Photo by Liz Corry.
Over in Cornwall our partners at Paradise Park appear to be having an easier time with their five breeding pairs. You can watch live footage from their nest cameras by clicking here. Potentially one or more of the chicks you will see on camera will be joining the flock out at Sorel later on this year.Update from Sorel
It was a little harder to determine when the choughs at Sorel started egg-laying. There was a period towards the end of the nest-building stage when the males started displaying to their partners and several mating attempts were observed. Green in particular liked to show off by spreading his wings to full extent and parading around Black. Or any other female that happened to be in sight.
Green showing off the size of his wings to his partner (on the right) on the roof of the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.
Dingle joined in with collecting wool for his nest with Red. This is really promising behaviour and progress from last season when he partnered up for the first time. He has also been observed taking nesting material from the quarry in the form of lagging around pipes. Very resourceful. A recent roost check showed that the pair have switched from roosting at the aviary to roosting in the quarry. A sure sign they now feel invested in their nest and want to keep a close eye on it.
Dingle collecting nesting material from outside the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.
We determined that the females had started incubating eggs by observing behaviour before and after the supplementary feeds at the aviary. Black was the first no-show of the three incubating females. As it is only the females who incubate the eggs they try not to leave the nest too often. When they need to leave, they need to know ‘abandoning’ their eggs is worthwhile. The choughs know when to expect food at the aviary because staff stick to set times. Sometimes, however, staff are delayed so instead of taking the risk of flying to the aviary to find there are no food dishes out Black waits for Green to return with the supplementary diet, thereby letting her know staff have put the food dishes in the aviary. After a minute or two discussing the tardiness of the keepers and what’s on today’s menu, the pair will then head over to the aviary, quickly feed, and return on a full stomach to continue incubating the eggs. Mauve and Red followed suit so now all that remains is to continue observing behaviour and count down the days to the expected hatch dates.
We still have the young pairs feeding and preening each other but not yet ready to nest. A new pairing we noticed this month was that of Lee and Caûvette. It will be interesting to see if this relationship continues throughout the year. Caûvette was hand-reared. Any nesting attempt by her will be followed with great enthusiasm not just by the chough team, but by other reintroduction projects around the world.
Lee and Cauvette, a hand-reared female, have paired up. Too young for this year’s breeding season but promising for next year. Photo by Bea Denton.
The other new pairings appear to be going well. Q and his female Noir can be seen below taking part in a spot of mutual preening after lunch.
Q and Noir have bonded over the past couple of months. Photo by Bea Denton.
Q invites Noir to return the favour and preen him. Photo by Bea Denton.
We had one piece of information this month which helped add solid facts to our breeding records, but also brought with it upsetting news. Early morning on the 4th April and email came in from quarryman Kevin Le Herissier that said “have a bit of good news and a bit of bad news”. I might have then stolen his thunder by suggesting the good news was the discovery of a chough nest.
Dingle and Red’s nest before Red starting laying. Chough nests are protected in the UK and cannot be photographed or approached without a licence. Photo by Liz Corry
What could not have been predicted was the bit that came next. The bad news.
Kevin had been working in the asphalt plant that morning and suddenly heard a group of choughs alarm-calling outside. He noticed several birds looking very distressed, hopping around on the ground, shouting at something. When he got closer he realised that in amongst the cacophony of choughs there was a chough head! No body, no feathers, just a head. We arrived on site shortly after the phone call and after a little detective work we found, at various sites, a piece of wing, intestines, and tail feathers with a radio transmitter attached. From this and her absence at the aviary feeds we knew the deceased was Ormer one of the 2015 chicks from Paradise Park.
Ormer was found dead in the quarry this month potentially predated by great black-backed gulls. Photo by Liz Corry.
Whilst not wanting to sound uncaring, quarry and bird staff breathed a sigh of relief. It was not one of the breeding females and it was not Dusty the wild chick. A loss nonetheless though. I presented the remains to a somewhat perplexed vet team to try to gather as much information as possible from a post mortem examination. Blunt trauma fracture on the skull and descriptions from quarry staff suggest that Ormer and the others had had a run-in with the gulls who also nest in the quarry. Great black-backed gulls are notorious for their aggressiveness and predatory behaviour and were seen nearby (a number of pairs nest in the quarry alongside the more numerous herring gulls) and were considered responsible.
We have observed choughs chase off gulls (normally, or always, herring gulls) simply so they could play on the rocks the gulls were sitting on. Some may use the term ‘bullying’, but we like to think of it as being over-confident. Unfortunately this time around Ormer met with an even more confident species.
Another impressive sunset as staff carry out a roost check. Photo by Bea Denton.
It takes a special kind of fish diet to feed a growing Atlantic puffin. A chick can eat more than 2,000 fish before leaving the nest, and they all need to have the perfect size, shape, and fat content. This report from the USA range of the Atlantic puffin is very relevant to this species on our side of the Atlantic.
Each summer off the coast of Maine (USA), scientists with Audubon’s Project Puffin document the finicky diets of pufflings, tracking the species, quantity, and size of the fish that the parents deliver to their young. They also weigh and measure the fuzzy nestlings and track their hatching, fledging, and survival rates. This type of long-term data is scarce for this species, says Steve Kress, director of Project Puffin—yet it’s integral for connecting puffin survival rates to the effects of climate change and commercial fisheries.
Now, a new study by Kress and co-authors, published last week in FACETS, forges that link by showing that pufflings’ diets are changing fast. Using data that dates back to 1993, the experts calculated that post-fledging survival rates have declined by an average of 2.5 percent per year, and that the chicks’ body condition has declined as well. The reason, Kress says, is a less-than-ideal menu, caused by climate change and pressures from fisheries.
How are the chicks’ diets changing?
Puffins are particularly sensitive to changes in local fish populations because they return to the same island burrows year after year; most end up raising their own chicks at the same sites where they hatched. Parents generally gather fish and crustaceans for their pufflings within a 12-mile radius of the nest. Little is known about what the adults eat, since they feed at sea, so the young provide a window into the relationship between fish and puffins. “I think of them as little fishing fleets going out every day . . . to see what they can catch, and then they come back with the catch of the day,” Kress says.
The most frequent catch recorded between 2005 and 2014 was white hake, followed by Atlantic herring, but fewer of these fish were seen over time. On the other hand, the proportion of butterfish, haddock, and redfish increased in the birds’ diets—none of these species were present during the earlier years of the study.
This changing menu is important because puffin chicks are very particular about their meals. They can only fit smaller, narrower fish – like white hake (a species not seen in European waters) – into their beaks and often have trouble swallowing larger, oval-shaped species like butterfish (another species not seen in Europe where snake pipefish represent a similar problem). And since puffin parents don’t tear up the fish for their young (unlike some other birds), the babies have to swallow their food whole. In 2012, Audubon’s Puffin Cam documented Petey the chick starving to death after his parents brought him butterfish that were impossible for him to eat.
What’s causing these shifts?
It seems that climate change is disrupting the pufflings’ diets—and the entire marine food web—by heating up the ocean and reducing the abundance of plankton that fish need to eat. White hake and Atlantic herring thrive in colder waters, as there tends to be more plankton there. That means schools are moving northward and deeper, where puffin parents may not be able to reach them. Plankton and fish populations are also affected by climate-driven increases in precipitation and ice melt, which alter water clarity and salinity.
Additionally, on the two islands where the scientists studied the chicks, hatching success and fledging rates declined significantly from 2010 to 2013, with the two worst years corresponding to unusually warm ocean temperatures. They rebounded in 2014 following a winter with colder water. This type of “ocean heat wave” is expected to become more frequent due to climate change, so the low hatching and fledging rates could be a preview of how puffins respond to warmer seas.
Humans may also be playing a direct role in the chicks’ hardships, specifically through mismanagement of commercial fisheries. It’s a double bind for the young, inexperienced birds, Kress says. “The puffin [fledgling] is headed off into a warmer sea affected by climate, which is less productive, and it’s also headed into a sea that’s being heavily fished by commercial fisheries.” For example, most of Maine’s herring—a puffling favourite—is snapped up for lobster bait. It’s possible that the new, more heat-tolerant species could meet the chicks’ dietary needs, but it’s still up in the air whether the timing of their migrations will match the puffins’ breeding season.
Kress emphasizes that there is hope for protecting Atlantic puffins in the future. But people need to look at the bigger picture. Tightening up restrictions on commercial fisheries, limiting carbon emissions, and protecting the birds’ wintering grounds will be essential in the years ahead. “You can protect the islands, as we are and as we must,” Kress says, “but if the fish are not protected and the habitat is not protected, then the work on the islands is not sufficient.”
The full report Recent changes in the diet and survival of Atlantic puffin chicks in the face of climate change and commercial fishing in midcoast Maine, USA can be downloadedhere
I can’t quite believe that this is the last task before you volunteers take a well-deserved summer break!
Join the National Trust Rangers at Hamptonne meadow on Sunday to undertake wet meadow restoration management. The flora in the meadow has responded well to management since the Trust acquired it in 2011. That said, hemlock water dropwort is still abundant. This native plant is invasive in many of Jersey’s wet meadows, especially those that have suffered from a lack of management in the past. This task will entail walking through the meadow and selectively cutting and removing hemlock water dropwort in order to speed up the restoration of the meadow to a favourable condition.
A note of caution, as hemlock water dropwort is the most toxic plant in Britain please ensure that you wear long-sleeved clothing regardless of the weather. The roots are the most toxic part of the plant so we will only be handling the stems and leaves. We will provide protective gloves as well as hand washing facilities and ask that all attendees kindly use them.