By Liz Corry
The choughs in Jersey have had an extremely busy month. There is so much to tell that we have had to break up the report into two parts to save it becoming a Tolstoy-esque report of epic proportions. This first instalment will highlight what has been happening out at Sorel with the free-living group. This will be followed with an update from the choughs in the Wildlife Park whose offspring will hopefully join the flock out on the north coast this summer.
We are very proud to announce that the three nesting pairs in the quarry gained a status promotion this month to ‘breeding’ pairs. We suspected the females had started incubating towards the end of April because they were only leaving their respective nest sites maybe two or three times a day to feed. The rest of the time their partners were providing the food. With a suspected (hatching) due date of Friday 13th we were naturally anxious to see what would happen.
Green and his partner Black are a new pairing this year. Green is a proven breeder having reared the wild chick last year with his previous partner Blue. After her mystery disappearance at the start of the year he quickly paired with Black.
The pair re-used Blue’s old nest. Considering that this was where the wild chick hatched in 2015 we felt fairly confident it would be successful. The exact location of the nest makes it difficult to see inside so we do not know how many eggs she laid.
A week after the due date we went to check on their progress. We attempted to look in the nest using cutting edge modern technology….a video camera gaffer taped to a fishing rod. Disappointingly size does matter. We were an inch short of reaching the centre of the nest.
However, we did hear a chick, possibly two chicks, begging from the nest and the metaphorical bottle of champagne was cracked open.
Our second pairing White and Mauve failed to rear any chicks last year. White is slightly more mature this year and more focused. Regular and prompt visits to the nest ensured that Mauve was well looked after. When we checked their nest we found two healthy looking chicks and two eggs. Sadly those two eggs should have hatched by that stage. That didn’t stop us uncorking metaphorical bottle number 2 in celebration of the two chicks. This now meant we had two confirmed breeding pairs.
The third pair, Dingle, our hand-reared chick from 2014, and Red were an unknown quantity. Red has never had much luck with the boys and tried desperately to breed last year during her brief five-day fling with Green. As a hand-reared bird no one knew how Dingle would take to parenting. Luckily we had our mole on the inside, Kevin Le Herissier, keeping a cautious watch on the pair. He had no choice really. They nested in his building down in the quarry. Yet again the choughs had chosen a warm, dry, fully operational building to nest in. Rather considerate of them to also choose a site easily accessible.
Under guidance, Kevin checked the nest on several occasions so we were able to know that the pair laid a clutch of four eggs. Red started incubating a few days after Black which meant she had a less ominous due date of Sunday 15th May. We left them undisturbed until 20th May when a check confirmed she had two chicks. No sign of the other two eggs. This was amazing news for the team and a proud moment for everyone involved (and cue metaphorical bottle number 3).
Three metaphorical bottles of champagne in one day seemed a little excessive. Especially considering these chicks were only 5-7 days old and had another 35-37 days to get through before fledging. At three-weeks old the nest sites will be revisited to fit leg rings to the chicks and take DNA samples for sexing. By this stage any surviving chicks should make it to fledge. Fingers crossed there will be four to six wild fledglings by the end of June.
In other news…
In the very first week we were concerned over the health of White. He had been sneezing on and off for a couple of weeks. It was difficult to know at first whether this was just due to all the nesting activity in the rock dust at the quarry buildings or an illness. A faecal sample tested positive for Syngamus (gapeworm) so White was caught up in the aviary, medicated, and let straight back out. The sneezing stopped almost immediately and he has not shown any other signs of illness for the rest of the month.
The non-breeding birds
The other non-breeding choughs had a relatively quiet month making the most of having no responsibilities and just playing, bonding, and foraging around Sorel and the quarry. As can be seen in this video:
Or so they would have us believe. The birds started moulting in May which meant the tracking devices starting dropping off one by one. As far as myself and the student were aware, the choughs were always around for the twice-daily feeds and, therefore, always at Sorel. Thanks to a few reports from the public we know that was not the case. There were confirmed sightings of small groups over at Devil’s Hole, Grève de Lecq and Grosnez. We have also had intriguing reports of one or two flying around St Saviour’s parish. Both reports on the same day.
Jersey National Park
There was a strange sighting of a chough at the north end of St Ouen’s Bay hanging out with a puffin at the start of May. There is photographic evidence. Unfortunately for the people involved there is also video evidence.
Caûvette the chough (aka Bea the student) and The National Trust’s puffin made cameos at the launch of the Jersey National Park hosted by Jersey Pearl on 3rd May. The park extends over an area of approximately 30 miles (48km) of Jersey’s coastline including Les Ecréhous, Les Minquiers and Pierres De Lecq or Paternosters.
The real Caûvette and the other choughs at Sorel feature in the launch video using a 360 degree camera.
Dung is fun!
We had another visit in May from the Dung beetle UK Mapping Project team (DUMP) based at Oxford University’s Natural History Museum. Darren Mann, Ceri Watkins, and Sally-Ann Spence returned to Jersey to study the island’s beetle fauna more closely after last year’s surprise find of the rare Aphodius affinis beetle. This time round they enlisted the help of Simon Robson, one of Jersey’s top entomologists, and quite literally delved into the island’s dung.
They were amazed at the wide diversity of dung beetle species present on the tiny island, but alarmed at the lack of abundance. It most likely reflects the quality of habitat and the agricultural practices of modern day Jersey. The addition of sheep at Sorel is the only reason why certain species of beetle are present there. They only feed and, therefore, breakdown and dispose of sheep faeces. Birds On The Edge will feature a report of their visit in the next couple of weeks. Sign up for regular updates to discover why #DungIsFun.