By Liz Corry
Preparations for the breeding season were well under way this month both at the Zoo and out on the coast. The breeding pairs at the Zoo moved into their seasonal accommodation ready to begin nesting. For Issy and Tristan that meant staying put and keeping a watchful eye on the visitors to the Zoo. Our other two pairs headed off show. Last year Issy and Tristan successfully reared two chicks who were later released onto the north coast. We are hoping for the same success this year. Maybe even more as keepers can now monitor activity in the nest from their computers thanks to a new wireless CCTV installation in their aviary.
The off-show aviaries had a spruce up before the other two pairs moved in. The birds had a quick health check by the vets prior to moving. All appeared physically OK. Mentally? We will have to wait and see.
We are hoping that Lucifer learnt his lesson last year and allows Gwinny to incubate her eggs in peace.
A reminder of the ‘domestic dispute’ can be found in the April 2016 report.
In case he does live up to his namesake, we have set up the artificial incubation room at the Bird Department. We also have foster-mum Gianna on standby.
To ensure that she is in sync with the pairs we moved her into her own ‘breeding’ aviary when the others moved into theirs.
Nesting material was provided over several days by keepers. Each pair received material at the same time to encourage the pairs to nest in sync.
For some the prospect of a new nest is way too exciting…
By the end of the month Gianna had pretty much completed her nest. Material could be seen sticking out of Issy and Tristan‘s nest. The other two pairs were a bit slower on the uptake. From watching this video taken from Gwinny and Lucifer‘s nest camera you will understand why.
Our cameras are not online for public viewing. However, over in Cornwall, our partners at Paradise Park have their nest cameras up and running. You can follow their progress by clicking here.
Back on the north coast the free-living choughs were also busy with nesting material. The established breeding pairs started turning-up late to the feeds and not foraging as much around Sorel as the others.They were spending their time in the quarry trying to keep what they were up to under wraps. However, thanks to the new chough nest-box cameras in the quarry they could not keep it a secret for long.
To everyone’s relief Green and Black decided to use the nest-box Ronez fitted to encourage them away from working machinery. Within a week of the box being up, the birds were adding twigs. This will provide extremely valuable information to the team if the pair complete their nest.
The other nest camera is located in the building used by Dingle and Red. The monitor showed an empty nest-box, but we know from their antics they were up to something. It will be a case of wait and see.
The trickier detective work this month focused on trying to determine if Lee and Caûvette would attempt to nest for the first time? If so would it be away from Sorel? And will there be any other first timers now that the birds coming of age?
We know Lee and Caûvette like hanging out at Les Landes in the morning. Towards the end of March they also started missing out on the afternoon supplemental feed. They would arrive 20-40 minutes later than everyone else. We delayed the afternoon feeds by 30 minutes to give them a shot of getting some food before all the others scoffed it. This worked out well for a bit. Then the clocks changed and the birds gained at least an extra hour of daylight to frolic in before roost.
Lee and Caûvette seemed quite content without the aviary feed. They were obviously finding plenty of wild food. Probably because they had added Plémont to their list of daily foraging sites. From the aerial images below, courtesy of Chris Brookes Aerial Photography, you can understand why.
I am personally indebted to Tony Paintin for his feeding observations from Plémont since they reaffirmed my sanity as, on the 25th March, I looked up from my lunch plate at Plémont cafe and watched as two chough-like birds flew across the panoramic window view towards the headland. It meant that when I ran down the steps to the beach like a crazy lady I knew I would be rewarded with the site of Lee and Caûvette exploring the nooks and crannies of Plémont’s coves and crevices.
They didn’t stay for long. Minutes later they were off exploring Grand Becquet and Grève de Lecq. They probably wanted to get a look at the black guillemot reported there to see what all the fuss was about.
No sign of them collecting nesting material, but then again we only get to see them for about an hour each day. The radio-tracking study stopped at the end of this month allowing the team to spend more time observing behviour. Only five of the original eleven birds were still wearing their transmitters. Besides, apart from two birds, the flock was staying put at Sorel.
During this time we discovered a shift in one of the non-breeding couplings. Q has ditched Pyrrho in favour of Flieur who is a month shy of her 3rd birthday and prime age to start breeding.
We also noticed a few of the youngsters sneezing. The monthly faecal screening showed presence of Syngamus and Coccidia within the group. The condition of the birds was not as severe as on previous occasions so there was no urgent need to catch them for worming injections. Instead we focused on repairing the aviary so that we could catch birds and continued to monitor the group as closely as we could.
The aviary finally had a spring clean. More like overhaul with new hatch wires, in some cases new hinges. The hatches themselves were cleaned and painted and the broken central beam was replaced and, thanks to Trevor’s trusty truck, the partitions were hauled back into place.
At the same time the National Trust for Jersey were up replacing the sheep fencing a Sorel. The sheep are still confined to the aviary field and adjacent field. Once the lambs at St Catherine’s are old enough they will move up and roam free at Sorel and Devil’s Hole.
Other activities this month included a visit by Allen Moore from the Isle of Man. Allen is pretty much chough aficionado and not just in the Isle of Man. In fact he flew to Jersey from Las Palma (indirectly sadly) where he had just spent a two week ‘holiday’ studying the choughs and the other birds of La Palma. The La Palma chough is a bit of an oddball of the chough family (there is always one). It can be found in a wide range of habitats, including pine forest, and eats olives!
Durrell Training Academy is hosting the annual DESMAN course at present. Running from February until May. Participants spent time this month learning about the Birds On The Edge project via lectures and site visits. They also received training in radio-tracking techniques. For the tour of Sorel they were joined by a visiting course group from Nottingham Trent University. Despite the number of visitors and disturbance caused by maintenance work, the groups got to see the choughs in action.
The video below shows project student Simon feeding the choughs. Sometimes you don’t need to worry about whether or not the choughs will hear the whistle and come for food.
Due to ‘unnatural’ weather conditions at one point this month (i.e. no wind!), staff at Ronez Quarry tried to see if an alternative to a whistle cue would work…
if you want to read the moving story behind the first ever chough at Jersey Zoo then grab yourself a copy of Dingle by Marie Marchand. It has a introduction by Gerald Durrell who was responsible for bringing the original Dingle to Jersey.
Published in 1961, hard-copies are few and far between. We got hold of one through the good folks at Cotswold Internet Books Ltd. However, if you prefer a digital copy then register for free with www.archive.org, an online lending library.