By Liz Corry
Chough numbers increase in the wild
Jersey’s free-living choughs have had another productive nesting season. There are seven pairs in the group and we discovered five nests. As reported last month, Dingle and Red’s clutch of four eggs failed to hatch.
That still left four active nests with chicks. The team was taken to the nest-sites on 9th July by Ronez operational assistant, Toby Cabaret. Dave Buxton, licensed ringer, joined the team in order to fit leg rings on the chicks.
We were initially greeted with bad news. We found two dead chicks on the floor under a nest, approximately two and three weeks old at time of death. Post mortem results were inconclusive due to decomposition of soft tissues. Fortunately there was still one chick alive in the nest.
A second nest had also lost a chick leaving just one chick for the team to process.
The third nest was checked and also found to contain just one chick. In all of the above nests, the parentage was unknown; although we had our suspicions.
The fourth nest belonging to Green and Black was in one of the nest-boxes fitted this year. Despite the nest camera being blocked with wool and twigs we had strong suspicions there were chicks inside. Due to access issues it would be a case of waiting for fledglings to emerge to determine if this was the case.
On the 21st we received news from Toby that one of the ringed chicks had started to explore outside the nest. We estimated it would be a week before it made an appearance at Sorel.
We were right! On the 27th the dulcet tones of a begging chick could be heard over the cliff tops and upon its arrival at the aviary accompanied by its parents. Finally we knew who its parents were. Kevin and Bean were the only two choughs hurriedly feeding the chick. This was quite a moment for the team since young Bean is one of three hand-reared females at Sorel. There could only be one name for this chick; Beanie baby.
Our question over the fourth nest was answered two days before Beanie baby flew to Sorel. Paul Pestana’s voluntary observations paid off on the 25th when he spotted a commotion on the roof of one of the quarry buildings. Two chicks had jumped up through a hole in the roof and started begging frantically at Green and Black who had returned with food from Sorel. Within minutes of being fed they hopped back out of sight and the adults flew off to find more food.
This breeding season seems to be one of give and take. Therefore, our news of two unringed chicks was followed by news of a loss the next day. Concerned quarry staff phoned in the morning to report a chick on the ground in a building looking like it couldn’t fly. A somewhat common appearance in chough chicks that haven’t fully fledged. However, it soon became apparent it was more serious. Sadly the chick died before it reached the vets. A post-mortem showed a severe syngamus infection as likely cause. Black was showing symptoms of a syngamus infection. If she was ingesting infected insects it was highly likely she was also feeding them to the chicks. The survival of the second chick was now in doubt, but there was nothing we could do until it flew to Sorel.
Whilst staff have been busy observing nests, the choughs have been off gallivanting along the north coast. Nottingham Trent student Guille has been attempting to follow them as part of his MSc project. He wakes at dawn and tracks groups or individuals armed with a pair of binoculars and a trusted bicycle. He also put a plea out to the Jersey public via social media to report any sightings. They didn’t disappoint.
After an initial slow start, Guille has been able to observe choughs foraging at Crabbé, Plémont, Grosnez, and Les Landes. All places we knew they visited already, but thought they had ditched during the breeding season to stay close to nest sites. At least that is the impression you get when you go to the aviary to feed twice a day.
One warm day, a pleasing find was seeing a group of choughs bathing and drinking in the stream at Mourier Valley. Rather more interesting was the discovery of the breeding pairs travelling several kilometres away from their nest sites. White and Mauve with at least 16 others were photographed at Grève de Lecq at the start of the month. We had started to think this pair had failed to breed this year, so it wasn’t too surprising for them to be away from their nest site.
We suspected the Les Landes pair, Lee and Caûvette, were responsible for one of the chicks in the quarry. Guille’s observations and public reports meant that the pair were spending considerable time and distance (~5km) away from their nest to forage. Grosnez, Plémont Headland, and Les Landes being their favourite spots. Kevin and Bean were also spending time away from their nest having been seen 2-3km away in the mornings and early afternoon.
Catch up with Caûvette
We trapped Caûvette in the aviary at Sorel and caught her up to remove her back digit from her plastic leg ring. Unlike Bean she had not managed to free it unaided. There appeared to be no damage. The only thing was that claw had become overgrown and needed a trim. Once weighed she was released from the aviary to join the others. In the process of catching her up we also caught up Green and Q much to their displeasure. Not one to waste an opportunity we recorded body weights for those two prior to releasing. The two males and Caûvette were all good weights suggesting that they must be finding enough food whether wild or at the aviary.
Han Solo takes flight
Our zoo chick, Han Solo, took his first flight out of the nest box on 15th June and there wasn’t a Millennium Falcon in sight! Well maybe a kestrel hovering over the valley.*
He had been teetering at the edge for several days beforehand. Once out it took him a little while to get used to his new-found flying skills, preferring to hang out in one of two places. He doesn’t seem too perturbed by the public. We assume mum and dad have explained the situation to him.
*apologies to anyone not a fan of Star Wars and to everyone for the bad pun.
RBC helps out Jersey Zoo’s own RBCs (red-billed choughs)
On 9th June a team from the Royal Bank of Canada volunteered their time at Jersey Zoo to help with the choughs.
They were set the task to weed the borders outside the display aviary and plant it up to look like chough habitat found on the north coast. Species such as foxglove, red campion, bladder campion, knapweed, lady’s bedstraw, birds foot trefoil and heather were added. Most of the plants were coming to the end of their flowering period, but they will grow back next year.
Gorse bushes translocated from the old green lizard enclosure into the aviary when the choughs first moved in, have now spread to the outside. Volunteers made sure these young growths received a bit of TLC to encourage them to grow.
At the end of a hard day’s work they were treated to a talk from Glyn about Birds On The Edge, the choughs, and the reason why conserving coastal farmland is important.
On top of volunteering their time, the RBC have donated money to help rodent proof the release aviary and repair netting damage. For which we and the choughs are extremely grateful.
LIVE Teaching through nature
The choughs participated once again with Alderney Wildlife Trust‘s LIVE Teaching Through Nature schools programme. Their blogging skills almost as good as their flying skills if I may say so myself. The online paid programme offers schools the opportunity to bring nature into their classrooms by utilising live streams of Alderney’s seabirds, videos and blogs from Durrell and the choughs in Jersey, and the occasional live chat with field staff.
This project links directly to the key stage 1 & 2 curriculum, and is an effective way of teaching science and literacy skills, and encouraging pupil creativity and confidence. Feedback from our two week takeover in June was yet again positive hopefully inspiring some young conservationists along the way.