Jersey cirl buntings – are they nearly back yet?

Cirl in Grouville, Jersey. Photo by Mick Dryden 28-4-2016 (5)

The decline and subsequent disappearance of the cirl bunting in Jersey was one of the catalysts behind the formation of Birds On The Edge. With 17 singing males recorded across the Island in 1997 (by Mick Dryden and Nick Milton) the species appeared extinct locally when the ‘last’ one was seen at Beauport in 2004. Cirl buntings had undergone a longer decline in the UK but conservation efforts, led by the RSPB, were initiated in the late 1990s. Jersey watched the UK work closely, and liaised with the RSPB to see whether there were areas of the work that we could replicate over here (Note BOTE’s Cris Sellarés was part of the UK bunting team – report here).

Cirl in Grouville, Jersey. Photo by Mick Dryden 7-7-2016 (2)We discussed in Jersey the bunting’s decline with the RSPB’s Cath Jeffs, RSPB Cirl Bunting Project Manager, who visited the Island to look at the bird’s former sites and assess possible measures that could be addressed to restore the bunting to its Channel Islands’ home. In June 2011 our hopes (fanciful dreams?) of the species’ return were realised when a male cirl was found at Les Landes Racecourse (by Mick again). Later that month a pair were found in Grouville on one of the BOTE bird monitoring transects (see the BOTE report here). Breeding was confirmed in 2012 when Mick found a chick with the adult pair.

We held a meeting to discuss how best to manage the habitat of the one bunting pair in October 2012 (report here) and were grateful to the Société Jersiaise Ornithology Section, National Trust for Jersey, Durrell, Grouville Tenants, Royal Jersey Golf Club in Grouville, Department of the Environment and Cath Jeffs for their support. Areas discussed included sensitive management of the existing breeding habitat of the cirl buntings and the monitoring and supplementary feeding of the birds.

Cirl in Grouville, Jersey. Photo by Mick Dryden 28-4-2016 (4)

Food has been provided for the buntings, notably by the fantastic Richard Perchard, without whose tireless effort our story might have been different, to ensure that any food-finding problems the buntings might encounter in the remaining Jersey habitat throughout the year were cancelled out. The bunting’s story was updated in 2013 and 2014 and, despite setbacks (see report of a fire here) they appeared settled.

This year, 2016, was chosen for a British Isles-wide survey (well, Devon, Cornwall and Jersey in the most part) to see just how the cirl bunting population was doing with all the effort being put in. And so, we waited to discover what Jersey’s population had done in 2016. Mick Dryden once again led surveys of the site in south-east Jersey and with a team of volunteers counted each and every bird in April, at the start of the breeding season, and again in July.

So, how are we (well, the buntings) doing? Mick reported that there were six birds in April, at four territories – this meant that potentially there were also unseen (nesting?) birds. And, in July, after they’ve had a chance to breed? Mick and the team reported 17 birds including eight young from three pairs!