Chough report: February 2017

P1730907By Liz Corry

Considering February is the shortest month, Mother Nature managed to fit in pretty much every weather type bar drought. The choughs faced blinding fog, F10 gales, hailstorms, thunder, and glorious sunshine.

Rolling sea fog to the west of Mourier Valley (left) glorious sunshine to the east at the same time. Photos by Liz Corry.

This might explain why Lee and Caûvette failed to turn up for supplemental feeds four days in a row. In fact they were not sighted anywhere for almost five days. We are not entirely sure if they stayed out at Les Landes the whole time or just waited until sunset to reach their regular roost site at Sorel. Staff attempted to find the answer by stalking the pair around Les Landes and staking out the roost site. Both of which failed because they were either nowhere to be seen to stalk or the roost site was shrouded in fog.


Just as panic set in with the sighting of peregrines hunting at Les Landes the pair were spotted. Both completely fine, behaving as normal feeding around the parade ring at the racecourse.

There was the slight twinge of excitement about their absence if we went with the train of thought that they had chosen to roost at Les Landes. Would this be a clue about where they will attempt to nest?

Chough nest-site prospecting with the Channel Island Occupation Society

Choughs will nest in man-made structures and down mine shafts as well as sea caves and crevices. We know Jersey’s choughs have been hanging around the German observation tower at Les Landes so we decided to investigate the various structures built during the German Occupation in the 1940s. We met with Tony Pike from the Channel Island Occupation Society (CIOS) and his dog Sal who very kindly gave us a guided tour of the site.

Tony Pike kindly allowed access to several German military structures to assess feasibility of chough’s nesting. Sal, his dog, was also keen to show us around as long as it wasn’t underground. Photo by Liz Corry.

We started at the tower, known as the Kriegsmarine Marine Peilstand 3 tower. This was originally built by the German Navy for observing targets at sea. There are seven floors to it, five of which look out to sea and take a fierce battering from the sea winds. Birds cannot enter the tower from this side as the openings have been blocked off with perspex to preserve the interior.

View of the MP3 tower at Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry.

There is one opening on the land side left open by CIOS members for bats to access if needed. Theoretically, the choughs can use this to access the tower. The walls of the tower are two metres thick providing a convenient shelter ledge for choughs at the opening. Despite the depth it might still be too exposed for choughs to choose to nest on.

Looking inland from inside the tower. Photo by Liz Corry

Once inside there are just flat walls, no ledges to build a nest on with the exception of the concrete spiral staircase. When it rains the floors can become very wet and although they dry out fast I imagine that a smart bird like a chough will quickly realise that this is not a suitable place to raise young.

There are two ‘brother’ towers of Bt Steinbruch on Guernsey and Bt Annes on Alderney allowing the Germans to pass semaphore messages throughout the Channel Islands. The mobile network of its day. Maybe that is what the choughs are doing? Trying to scope out the other islands to decide whether its worth the flight across?

Choughs practising semaphore in an attempt to communicate with Guernsey. Photo by Liz Corry.

As a side note Tony pointed out two sites along the cliffs which the Germans had blasted square holes into the rock face to provide sheltered artillery positions for a soldier to sit in. This side note turned out to be extremely relevant as one is positioned a metre below where we have stationed ourselves several times in the past two months watching the choughs. If only we had known we could have saved ourselves a lot of earache and a few less head colds.

View from a rifleman’s lookout position blasted out of the cliff face. Photo by Liz Corry.

A chough foraging on a cliff face the profile of which was changed when the Germans blasted rock and dumped rubble when building the bunkers. Photo by Liz Corry.

The other structures we were interested in are to be found below ground. There is an extensive complex of passage-linked personnel and ammunition bunkers at Battery Moltke. Precision engineering by the Germans meant that the bunkers had heating and ventilation through a series of shafts and underground piping. None of which look accessible by choughs. Most of the public entrance ways to the bunkers and passageways are behind locked metal-sheeted doors to stop vandalism. If the choughs did find their way in I would like to think they would appreciate what is hidden away underground as much as we did.


Battery Moltke under the ground. Photo courtesy of the Channel Islands Occupation Society

One particular bunker was unearthed by Tony and a team of volunteers last year several decades after the States of Jersey had back-filled it with rubble for health and safety reasons. The ‘flower bunker’ as Tony called it, is an anti-aircraft bunker with a decontamination unit in case of a gas attack. On the walls inside you can see the original artwork by German officers of flowers in what one assumes is an attempt to brighten up the doom and gloom one would face being locked away in an air raid.

Original artwork by German officers on the walls of an anti-aircraft bunker at Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry.


Original artwork by German officers on the walls of an anti-aircraft bunker at Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry.

From what we observed it looks unlikely that choughs would nest successfully in any of these places. We are very grateful to Tony nonetheless and now have a greater appreciation of Les Landes when we go out radio-tracking. The choughs still have the option of sea caves and crevices along that stretch of coastline. They may look to the farm buildings behind the racecourse. We will keep a close eye on Lee and Caûvette in March. At the first sign of twig carrying we will be on them like…falcons (in a non-aggressive way).

Big brother is watching you

Ronez visit 9-12-2016. HGYoung (5)

Simon visiting the dusty nest sites at Ronez Quarry. Photo by Glyn Young

Ronez Quarry very kindly agreed to fund nest cameras in the quarry this year. With help from quarry staff  nest-boxes have been installed to try and encourage two particular pairs to nest away from active machinery.

We cannot be sure that the pairs will use the boxes, but if they do we will be able to follow their progress closer than ever before. Using equipment supplied by Handykam we will be able to record what goes on inside the box and hopefully learn more about clutch size, hatch rates, and general day to day activities of nesting choughs.

We do not currently have the option to view live footage. This incurs a greater cost and would be a gamble since we are not even sure if the birds will use the boxes.

The set up also includes monitors at each site to allow quarry staff to check the nests whenever they like without disturbing the birds. Their attentiveness over the past two breeding seasons has been invaluable to the success of the choughs. In the past we have had to wait for a scissor lift or something similar to be brought into the quarry to look in a nest if staff alert us to a situation. Now we just flick a switch.

Highly sophisticated calibration techniques for setting up nest cameras. Photo by Liz Corry.

If the pairs decide not to use the boxes we may be able to reposition the cameras and still capture nesting activities. However, it all depends on timing as we do not want to disturb the choughs unnecessarily. We are very grateful to Ronez Quarry for funding and supporting this project. In particular Mark de Carteret and Andy Paranthoen for co-ordinating and fitting the cameras.

Last, but not least


A future chough diet?

Orlux Remiline granules, a complete food for song thrushes, is being gradually added to the supplemental diet this month. We are trying to see if we can switch from an egg-based diet which can spoil relatively quickly to a dry pelleted diet.

If successful we will then look into automated feed stations similar to those used in Mauritius and New Zealand.


March volunteer activity

NE-IM-JCV hedge 31 10 16

Sunday 12th March 2017 – Le Don Hodges, St John – 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

The details

Join National Trust Rangers Neil and Will at Le Don Hodges on the north coast (immediately inland from the chough aviary) to help undertake young hedgerow management. Since these agricultural fields were acquired by the Trust in 2012, thousands of bareroot whips of native hedgerow tree species have been planted as part of a programme of hedgerow restoration. This forms part of a wider wildlife farming initiative being implemented at the site that also includes the planting of conservation cover crops for birds and pollinating insects.

Please contact Julia at or Jon at or phone Julia on 441600 or Jon on 483193 before you go just case anything changes.

The site

We will meet in the car park at Sorel point, La Rue de Sorel, (west of Ronez Quarry), St John at 10:20 for a 10:30 start. Jersey phone directory Map 3, 2R. Google maps here

Parking  There is parking at the meeting point.

The task In order to give the young hedgerow trees the best start possible we now need to undertake some management. This task will involve clearing the vegetation and mulching around the base of the trees, cutting back encroaching bramble, replacing broken/missing tree guards and canes, pruning the trees to encourage dense growth, and planting up any gaps where the planted whips have not survived. We made a fantastic start to this work during the November task but there is still a large number of trees that need attention and plenty of gaps to plug.

Tools needed Tools will be provided but if you have your own gloves, sickle, secateurs, and/or loppers it would be helpful if you could bring them along.

Clothing needed. Bring gardening gloves (though we can supply a pair if you don’t have them), wellies or sturdy boots, (it could well be muddy and the vegetation may be wet it and it may be rough underfoot) and common sense clothes to cope with the elements, we go ahead whatever the weather!

Children All are welcome, young or old. Children under 16 must be supervised by a parent or guardian during the task.

Work will finish by 12:30 when we will turn our attention to devouring Kim’s delicious cakes.

Hope to see you there!

Curlews and godwits in serious trouble

Bar-tailed godwit. Photo by Mick DrydenOver-half of the world’s curlew and godwit species face extinction from habitat loss and other pressures

From Surfbirds

A new ground-breaking assessment published in Bird Conservation International has revealed that loss of habitat could lead to the extinction of a number of species of curlew and godwit, some of which are found in the Channel Islands and the UK.

The world’s godwit and curlew species occur on all continents except Antarctica, but breed only in the Northern Hemisphere. Over half are of global conservation concern, including two (Eskimo curlew and slender-billed curlew) that are Critically Endangered and may even be extinct, and two others (Far Eastern curlew and bristle-thighed curlew) also threatened with extinction. A further three that all occur locally, the Eurasian curlew, bar-tailed godwit and black-tailed godwit, are globally Near Threatened.  The assessment has canvassed the views of over 100 experts and reviewed the scientific literature, to help highlight the many threats they face.

Top of the list is the loss of non-breeding habitats. Most species rely on coastal estuaries and wetlands outside of the breeding season, many of which face increasing development and disturbance. This pressure is greatest in the Yellow Sea of China and Korea, perhaps the most important staging area in the world for migratory birds, in terms of numbers, diversity and proportion of threatened species.  Part of the East Asian Australasian Flyway, the Yellow Sea provides a vital rung in the migratory ladder between northern breeding areas in Asia and Alaska and southern non-breeding areas as far south as New Zealand and as far west as India. A quarter of the Yellow Sea’s mudflat feeding areas have been lost since the 1980s and much of the remainder is heavily degraded, causing declines in many wader species that depend on it. Increasing pressure for coastal development elsewhere in Asia and across the Americas may similarly affect other species.

Black-tailed godwit. Photo by Mick Dryden

All curlew and godwit species nest on the ground in open landscapes. The deterioration of these habitats, for example through changes in agricultural practices, drainage, tree planting and disturbance is a significant pressure across Europe and North America, exacerbated by increasing populations of generalist predators such as red foxes. Climate change is also likely to be an increasing threat through time in both breeding and non-breeding areas.

It is not too late to act. Coastal sites that support important non-breeding populations need to be identified and effectively protected from development, most urgently along the Yellow Sea but also locally – the majority of Jersey’s wintering bar-tailed godwits can be found in Grouville Bay where they increasingly they face disturbance from recreational beach users. Areas that support breeding populations across North America and Europe need to be sympathetically managed at a low-intensity, and where necessary, steps can be taken to reduce the predation pressure.

Bar-taileds 1987-2017

Bar-tailed godwit. Jersey (January) counts 1987-2017. Figures from Societe Jersiaise Ornithology Section

James Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and lead author of the paper said “These long-lived wader species require wild open landscapes for breeding, and generally occupy undisturbed coastal habitats at other times of the year. Many are long-distance migrants and vulnerable to change throughout their annual cycle. In many ways, they are among the most sensitive bird species to global change. That over half of the species studied are rapidly declining globally should emphasise to us the impact we are having upon the planet. Their long-term future may well depend upon how well we coordinate international efforts to adopt the recommendations of this paper and support their conservation.”

Nicola Crockford, Principal Policy Officer, RSPB, said “The Eurasian curlew is an iconic species; its appearance in spring is announced by one of nature’s most evocative calls. Sadly like many UK species the Eurasian curlew is in trouble, their numbers have dropped dramatically, putting them at risk of disappearing completely from the UK.“

“The paper recommends that achieving conservation success at the national or international scale will likely require dedicated programmes targeting species at risk, like we have developed for the Eurasian Curlew in the UK where steep declines have been a major factor in the listing of the species as globally Near Threatened with extinction.”

“Through RSPB’s Curlew Recovery Programme and BTO’s programme of Curlew research, we are working together, in partnership with a range of people from farmers and land owners to statutory nature conservation bodies, to reverse this decline.”

A global threats overview for Numeniini populations: synthesising expert knowledge for a group of declining migratory birds. Paper here

Eurasian curlew. Photo by Mick Dryden




Doses of neighbourhood nature – the benefits for mental health of living with nature

Male blackbird. Photo by Mick DrydenFrom Rare Bird Alert

People living in neighbourhoods with more birds, shrubs and trees are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and stress, according to research by the University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology and the University of Queensland.

The study, involving hundreds of people, found benefits for mental health of being able to see birds, shrubs and trees around the home, whether people lived in urban or more leafy suburban neighbourhoods.

The study, which surveyed mental health in over 270 people from different ages, incomes and ethnicities, also found that those who spent less time out of doors than usual in the previous week were more likely to report they were anxious or depressed.

Blue tit (2). Photo by Mick Dryden

After conducting extensive surveys of the number of birds in the morning and afternoon in Milton Keynes, Bedford and Luton, the study found that lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress were associated with the number of birds people could see in the afternoon. The academics studied afternoon bird numbers — which tend to be lower than birds generally seen in the morning — because they are more in keeping with the number of birds that people are likely to see in their neighbourhood on a daily basis.

In the study, common birds including blackbirds, robins, blue tits and crows were seen. But the study did not find a relationship between the species of birds and mental health, but rather the number of birds they could see from their windows, in the garden or in their neighbourhood.

Previous studies have found that the ability of most people to identify different species is low (see 2012 study below), suggesting that for most people it is interacting with birds, not just specific birds, that provides well-being.

University of Exeter research fellow Dr Daniel Cox, who led the study, said: “This study starts to unpick the role that some key components of nature play for our mental well-being.”

Birds around the home, and nature in general, show great promise in preventative health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live.”

The positive association between birds, shrubs and trees and better mental health applied, even after controlling for variation in neighbourhood deprivation, household income, age and a wide range of other socio-demographic factors.

2012. Biodiversity and the feel-good factor: understanding associations between self-reported human well-being and species richness. Download the paper here

2017. Doses of neighbourhood nature – the benefits for mental health of living with nature. Download the paper here

Robin. Photo by Tony Paintin