Chough report: December 2016

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By Liz Corry

Winter 2015: Jersey’s re-established chough population takeover Crabbé shooting range.

Winter 2016: the choughs occupy former WW2 coastal artillery Battery Moltke.

Winter 2017?: Be afraid, be very afraid!

Or rejoice in the fact that the choughs are now becoming more at home in Jersey, expanding their range, and slightly less reliant on the aviary at Sorel.

The choughs were on the move again in December. Photo by Liz Corry.

Binoculars and patience needed at this site to ID the choughs. Photo by Liz Corry

Crabbé is even more appealing to the choughs this winter compared to 2015. A local farmer has moved sheep onto land by the shooting range. This area is halfway between Sorel and Les Landes (as the chough flies) making it a convenient rest stop if the weather isn’t at all brilliant for flying.

Or if the birds simply want a peaceful getaway from the hubbub of the flock.

Yarila, one of the Paradise Park chicks, likes this area. She seems to prefer hanging out with a few of the older birds rather than the other youngsters. Luckily for us she still has her transmitter making it easier to follow her movements.

Yarila with the antennae of her tail-mounted transmitter visible. Photo by Liz Corry

The view from the farmhouse chimney at Crabbé also holds appeal as shown below by Lee and Caûvette.

Lee and Cauvette doing their best Dick Van Dyke impressions on top of the farmhouse chimney. Photo by Liz Corry.

However, as we learnt last month their favourite location away from Sorel is out west at Les Landes and down to the Battery Moltke. Lee and Caûvette continue to stay down at the racecourse until flying back to Sorel around 1pm to 2pm in time for the 3pm supplemental feed. The radio-tracked youngsters spend time in the same area, but fly back to Sorel for the 11am feed. We tend not to see the entire group at Les Landes at the same time. Generally 16 or so stay back at Devil’s Hole or Sorel. Although the public, through reports, have seen groups between 20 and 30 birds.

The choughs have been hanging out along the cliffs at Rouge Nez, St Ouen. Photo by Liz Corry

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Inside the rifle targets at Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry

Panoramic view of Rouge Nez to Les Maillots (left to right). Photo by Liz Corry.

A British nickname for a chough is the ‘sea crow’ which certainly applies in Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.

Back at Sorel there has been very little to report over December. It has been a very mild winter to date. Less demanding for the choughs in terms of energy expenditure. They still get just as dirty getting stuck in to looking for insects in soil, sandy cliffs, and animal dung.

Choughs lack table manners when it comes to eating. Photo by Liz Corry.

They are still stealing the sheep pellet Ewen and Aaron put out for the Loaghtans. Apt timing as we have been looking into an alternative diet to provide at the aviary. After looking at nutritional values, potential palatability, and cost-effectiveness of various avian pelleted diets the vet and I chose to try Orlux Remiline pellet with the choughs in the Zoo. Since they are confined to their aviary and there are less of them than out at Sorel it made it easier to see if they ate the pellet and in a more controlled environment.

Bird Department keepers measured how much of the standard diet was being eaten over a period of five days. Then measured how much was being eaten when 50% of that diet was substituted with the pellet. As expected the birds initially preferred their original diet. No one likes change. They did, however, eat the pellet. In the New Year the choughs at Sorel will be introduced to the pellet and we will monitor how it goes. At a tenth of the cost of Orlux, I’m also going to investigate the sheep pellet!

Could sheep food be an alternative supplemental diet for the released choughs? Photo by Liz Corry

A few of the older birds are starting to lose their original colour rings. The material has become brittle and is snapping as evident from the pieces of one found in the aviary. The rings are designed for use on gulls and should, therefore, be fairly tolerant of cliff top conditions. At present everyone can still be identified by one means or another. Which meant when it came time for the annual audit on 31st December we could say with confidence that Jersey has 35 choughs living wild; 12 male, 23 female.

All 35 ‘wild’ choughs were accounted for on the annual animal audit day 2016. Photo by Liz Corry.

In other news…

One of our ex-students Paul Pestana returned from his travels in Asia. With a beaming smile on his face he sat us down to show us a very specific selection of holiday snaps. Whilst camping and hiking in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan he recognised an all too familiar sound. Choughs! Both red-billed choughs and alpine (yellow-billed) choughs were present. Below are a selection of photos he has kindly shared with us. It is hard to know which is more impressive his find or the scenery where he found them.

Red-billed chough in Tajikistan. Minus the mountain in the background, it felt very similar to watching choughs living in the quarry back in Jersey. Photo by Paul Pestana.

Lake Ala-Kol, Kyrgyzstan. Photo by Paul Pestana.

Lake Ala-Kol, Kyrgyzstan. Photo by Paul Pestana.

Alpine choughs in Kyrgyzstan. Photo by Paul Pestana.

7 thoughts on “Chough report: December 2016

  1. Tajikstan. Seems so strange that this cry is exactly like the one that comes through the blustery winds of The Lizard or St Just/Land’s End. What a lineage!

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