Chough report: March 2017

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.

One of the off-show breeding aviaries at Jersey Zoo. Photo by Liz Corry.

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.

Gianna is on standby to help foster-rear chicks with the Zoo keepers. Photo by Liz Corry.

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.

Chough CCTV in the quarry providing evidence that nest building began in early March. Photo by Mark de Carteret.

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.

Plémont Bay. Photo by Chris Brookes Aerial Photography.

A view of Plémont café with Sorel Point visible on the horizon (top left). Photo by Chris Brookes Aerial Photography.

Headland at Plémont at high tide. Choughs have been seen foraging in this area. Photo by Chris Brookes Aerial Photography.

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.

Project student Simon monitoring the choughs at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

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.

Maintenance staff came up with a novel idea to operate the release hatches. Photo by Liz Corry.

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.

Not content with their wool, their dung larvae, their drinking water, and their feed, the choughs found another way to exploit the grazing flock…a shelter box. Photo by Liz Corry.

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!

Part of the chough flying display at Sorel put on for the DESMAN students. Photo by Anna Chouler.

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…

20170329_142000And finally,

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, an online lending library.


Want to study choughs?


From DICE (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology)

Scholarship opportunity: Restoring a Kentish icon: feasibility of reintroducing the chough to Kent

DICE + SAC logo

DICE are seeking applications for a PhD in Biodiversity Management supported by the University of Kent’s Vice Chancellor’s Research Scholarship Fund. Applicants need to be versatile with a demonstrable aptitude for conservation science, interdisciplinary research and quantitative analysis, together with an interest in bird conservation and/or reintroduction biology.

Supervisors: Dr Bob Smith, Prof Richard Griffiths, Prof Jim Groombridge & Dr Dave Roberts

Advisor: Professor Carl Jones MBE.

CanterburyThe science of reintroducing species back into the wild has evolved into a distinct branch of conservation science. The Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology has been working at the forefront of species conservation and reintroduction biology with partners around the world for over two decades. An opportunity has now arisen to apply this experience and expertise locally, with an analysis of the feasibility of bringing back the iconic red-billed chough to Kent. The chough population has become highly fragmented Arms_of_the_University_of_Kentwith several isolated populations around the coast of Britain. The chough was once more widespread and formerly occurred as far east as Kent where it became extinct c. 160 years ago. However, it still lives on in the Coat of Arms of Canterbury City and the University of Kent, and potential habitat remains in Kent, with large areas of nature reserves and farmland across the Dover area.


Partners This project builds on the experience of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust who lead the chough reintroduction to Jersey through the Birds On The Edge project. The project will also partner with Operation Chough, based at Paradise Park in Cornwall, who have led the ex situ components of the reintroduction programme; and Wildwood Trust in Kent, a leading centre for the conservation and rewilding of British Wildlife.

Aims & Objectives

1. Habitat suitability analysis: this will involve combining an ecological assessment of potential release sites with an impact and risk assessment of a potential reintroduction. This will require spatial analysis and species distribution modelling using GIS;

2. Assessment of local attitudes to a proposed reintroduction: this will use social science methods to gather quantitative and qualitative data on awareness, attitudes, and knowledge of the chough and broader conservation issues among the wider local community;

3. Systematic conservation planning assessment: This will involve working with local NGO and government groups to map the different protected areas and management activities in the focal area, and identify sites where habitat management would support chough conservation;

4. Flagship species potential: this will use choice experiments and other social science methods to identify whether the chough would make a suitable flagship species for different target audience groups, including neighbouring communities and visiting tourists.

Training The project will require a versatile student who will be trained in both social science and natural science survey methods, GIS and species distribution modelling. The student will be required to take forward dialogue with local organisations, identifying potential release sites with them through applying the research, and help produce a reintroduction plan in conjunction with IUCN/SSC (2013) guidelines. The student will be expected to undertake some teaching as a Graduate Teaching Assistant on undergraduate programmes.

Funding £14,296 (2016/17 rate) plus tuition fees at the Home/EU rate. This scholarship is administered under the Graduate Teaching Assistant Scheme

Applications Applicants should have at least a 2:1 Honours degree and a good MSc in a relevant subject. Graduates who can demonstrate equivalent relevant experience to MSc level through professional work, research and publications may also be considered.

Applications should comprise of a covering letter (1 page) and CV (2 pages max including the names and contact details of two referees) and should be sent to Dr Bob Smith ( by midnight on May 8th 2017.

Further information

Project title Restoring a Kentish icon: feasibility of reintroducing the chough to Kent

Application deadline: midnight on May 8th 2017

Interview: May 18th 2017

Start date: 16 September 2017

Programme: PhD

Mode of Study: Full time

Studentship Length: 3 years


State of UK Birds 2016

Slavonian grebe. Photo by Mick DrydenFrom BTO

State of the UK's Birds 2016 coverThe main theme of The State of the UK’s Birds report (SUKB) 2016 is the latest Birds of Conservation Concern 4 list – BoCC4 published in 2015 (read and download here) – and the species whose status has changed. The increase in the UK’s Red list by 15 species is due to problems in all habitats including farmland, woodland and coasts but most notably in uplands with five new upland species moving onto the red list. One of these is curlew. The UK supports 27% of the global population, and the long-term trend shows a 64% decline from 1970 to 2014. This, combined with the bird’s global status of Near Threatened, suggests that the curlew is one of the most pressing bird conservation priorities in the UK (read more about the curlew here).

“The BTO is working with others on a programme of research to understand the causes of curlew decline and guide potential management solutions. This involves analyses of long-term data collected by thousands of volunteers, using novel tracking technology to study the needs of individual birds, and working with local enthusiasts to inform the recovery of local populations” 
– James Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science, BTO

Upland birds

Whinchat. Photo by Mick DrydenWhinchat, another largely upland species monitored by the UK and Channel Islands BBS Survey shows a 53% decline during the last two decades.  As an Afro-Palearctic migrant, this species is part of another group for which there is particular concern. Threats and pressures during migration and on the wintering grounds need to be considered alongside the impact of changes in upland habitats in the UK.

More unexpected perhaps, is that grey wagtail has moved from the Amber list to the Red list. Alongside declines in common sandpiper and dipper, this raises wider concerns about species associated with upland streams and rivers. The other two upland species to show marked declines are merlin and dotterel, the latter a montane species likely to affected negatively by climate change and grazing pressure.


Scarce and rare breeding species

As well as the annual update of changes in widespread breeding species based mainly on the BBS, SUKB 2016 once again includes a summary of trends in scarce and rare breeding species, drawn mainly from the annual reports of the Rare Breeding Bird Panel (RBBP) and the SCARABBS programme of periodic surveys.

Common pochard male (3). Photo by Mick DrydenOf the 91 species reported on in the most recent RBBP report covering 2014, 71 were assessed by BoCC4. Eight species showed an improvement in status (including woodlark, bearded tit and chough, which joined the Green list), with conservation action to maintain suitable reed beds helping the populations of species such as bittern recover. Five species, common pochard, Slavonian grebe, merlin, dotterel and black redstart moved onto the Red list. The remaining 20 of the 91, not assessed by BoCC4, are those which are not considered to be a regular component of the UK’s avifauna. This may be because they breed only occasionally (e.g. European bee-eater), or indeed have never bred, but from time-to-time visiting individuals exhibit breeding behaviour (e.g. great reed warbler). The RBBP logs such occurrences, as it may be that they represent a precursor to future colonisation, such as the first little egrets that displayed to each other in the early 1990s, before first breeding in 1996 and the subsequent population explosion.

The importance of volunteer data

Thousands of dedicated volunteers contributed to the data used throughout most of this report. Data used to calculate UK population trends and related research. Over 2,600 volunteers participated in the Breeding Bird Survey in 2016 alone, one of many surveys highlighted in the report. This particular survey provides annual population trends for 111 species, including upland species such as curlew, whinchat and grey wagtail.

At a smaller, but equally as important scale, the 258 volunteers who contribute to the Waterways Breeding Bird Survey allow monitoring on those species specific to waterways, such as common sandpiper and dipper and cover almost 300 sites annually.

Eurasian curlew. Photo by Mick Dryden

Who produces the report

SUKB is produced by a coalition of three non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – the RSPBBTO and the WWT – and the UK Government’s statutory nature conservation agencies – Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Natural England (NE), the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland (DAERA), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

Download the full report The State of the UK’s Birds 2016 here

Grazing returns to L’Ancresse Common

From La Société Conservation Herd


The (Guernsey) Conservation Herd have been invited to graze L’Ancresse Common and were moved to the common on Sunday 2nd April.

La Société Conservation Herd were invited to graze the Common by Vale Commons Council as a trial to re-introduce grazing. This initiative has been set up under its new management regime which aims to protect the area as an important recreational and cultural site whilst also enhancing the internationally important grasslands.

The Conservation Herd at Port Soif, Guernsey. Photo by Helen Young


L’Ancresse Common was historically grazed by inhabitants of Braye du Valle, who have rights to graze their animals there. As fewer households kept their own cows and it became less economically viable for dairy farms to graze theirs on the common, the number of grazing animals there reduced. Today, no inhabitants exercise their right to graze.

This loss of grazing has had a significant impact on the ecology of the common – the grassland has become tall and rank and areas have become established by gorse and brambles. The delicate wildflowers which require short, grazed grassland no longer have access to light and so are being lost from the common. This, in turn, leads to a loss of the insects, small mammals, bats and birds which rely on them.

The Conservation Herd on L'Ancresse Common. Photo by Andrew Guille

La Société Conservation Herd

The Conservation Herd is a herd of eight Guernsey steers whose job is to manage grasslands to protect and enhance their diversity. La Société was approached by VCC to graze the common for several weeks, starting from April 2nd. This initiative is a trial of a longer-termed project which aims to see more grazing animals return to the common.

Julia Henney, the Conservation Herd’s manager, said, “We were delighted to be approached by VCC and asked to graze L’Ancresse Common. It is a vitally important site for Guernsey’s biodiversity and we hope that re-introducing grazing will help preserve it for many years to come. We have experience grazing common land, with the introduction of Operation Skylark at Port Soif Common. The local community offered so much support and the herd were well received and accepted onto Port Soif Common and we hope to replicate this success at L’Ancresse.”

The Conservation Herd on L'Ancresse Common. Photo by Chris SimsPeter Blake, President of the Vales Commons Council  said “Myself and my committee wish you and the herd a great stay on the Common and hope that this will encourage more of the inhabitants to do the same.”

The Conservation Herd will be grazing within electric fencing for several weeks around The Doyle area and will be checked daily by the team which cares for them. La Société and the Vale Commons Council would welcome assistance from regular dog walkers and people who walk or exercise around L’Ancresse. ‘Watchers’ are sought to keep an eye on the cattle when they’re passing and report any problems or concerns to the Conservation Herd team.

Temporary signs are placed around the site to explain the project and give information on who to contact in the event of an emergency.

Anyone who would like more information on the Conservation Herd is welcome to contact Julia Henney at and visit our online map here to track where they are grazing.

The Conservation Herd on L'Ancresse Common. Photo by Andrew Guille


April volunteer activity

Les Blanches Banques. Photo by Department of the Environment

Sunday 9th April 2017 – Mont a la Brune, Les Blanches Banques, St Brelade – 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

Spring is definitely in the air but there are still two events to go before we break for summer so come and join us on the dunes for the penultimate task.

The details

Holm oaks are evergreen trees that originate from the Mediterranean but grow very successfully in Jersey. These fast growing trees can reach 20m high and shade out the small duneland plants if left unchecked. They spread easily and so this task will involve digging up the numerous small saplings across the dunes before they start to get problematic!

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 on Mont a la Brune (see below) at 10:20 for a 10:30 start to scour the dunes for saplings.

Parking  Parking is in the upper car park on Mont a la Brune (Le Chemin des Basses des Mielles). Jersey phone directory Map 6, G15. Google maps here

The task Digging up and removing the numerous small holm oak saplings across the dunes.

Tools needed The only tool suitable for this job will be a spade, which we have limited numbers of, so please bring your own if you have one.

Clothing needed. Bring gardening gloves (though we can supply a pair if you don’t have them), wellies or sturdy boots, (it won’t be muddy but 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 and we’ll be away by 13.00. VIV (Very Important Volunteer) Kim will be supplying hot drinks and her famous homemade cakes before everyone leaves at the end of the morning.

Les Blanches Banques. Photo by Department of the Environment