Chough report: August 2017

by Liz Corry

This month has flown by. So have the choughs. Awful opening line, but accurate. Now that the breeding season is over the choughs are spending more time away from Sorel and it is quite rare to see all 38 choughs at the supplemental feeds.

West is best?

Lee and Caûvette are back at Les Landes and Grosnez. This time with their chick in tow. We were treated to several sightings of the family whilst we carried out rat monitoring fieldwork at Plémont. The most memorable sighting was that of all three flying through the early morning fog towards Grosnez. These days they spend the whole day out west, returning to Sorel an hour or so before roosting time.

Lee photographed by a member of the public at Grosnez castle. Photo by Mike Nuttall.

They are not the only ones on the move. A sighting from an ex-Durrell colleague of seven choughs flying over Hamptonne Country Life Museum added to the tally of sightings in St Lawrence parish.

All of the reports from St Lawrence are of birds flying over. Are the choughs just passing through or checking out the parish for suitable feeding site?

Their daily activities are making it a little harder for the team to monitor every chough as closely as we have in the past. Although we have still kept on top of monitoring their health and welfare. It is hard not to when you can get this close…

Syngamus infections in the wild chicks

Last month we reported that the wild chicks were sneezing and sounding congested. We managed to obtain individual faecal samples for three of the four chicks after patiently waiting at each feed. All three tested positive for syngamus nematodes. The fourth bird is proving harder to sample as it disappears out west with it’s parents each morning.

We have so far managed to trap and treat two of the chicks. We are still trying with the third. The chick we treated in July has shown a great deal of improvement which is encouraging.

Durrell vet nurse, Teresea Bell, examining one of this year’s wild chicks. Photo by Liz Corry.

Perils of living in the wild

One of the wild chicks had to be caught up for a second time this month. Beanie baby had plastic thread entangled around her foot. It was quite a mess and needed cutting. Luckily there was no damage and she was free to rejoin her parents. The other good news is that she had put on weight since the last catch-up to treat her for syngamus. We can’t hear her wheezing or sneezing anymore suggesting that the treatment has worked.

Plastic sack thread entangled around the foot of one of the wild chicks. Cut loose prior to photo being taken by Liz Corry.

Upholding tradition

We received report this month from a family who live close to the release site. They were pleased to see three choughs chilling out on their roof taking in the local scenery. We see a similar sight at Crabbé on the granite farmhouse and in Mourier Valley.

What is particular nice about this photo is the choughs sat on the witches’ step, or pièrres dé chorchièrs in Jèrriais. These are flat stones jutting from chimneys of granite houses in Jersey. According to Channel Island folklore, these small ledges were used by witches to rest on as they fly to their sabbats, i.e. meetings. In doing so the homeowner would be looked on favourably by the witch. One witch, Marie Pipet, from Guernsey was said to possess the power to turn herself into a chough!

Enrichment ideas for the captive choughs

Gianna 8-2017

Project student John Harding was set the task of designing enrichment feeders for the choughs in the zoo. Gianna, the tame chough, took up the role of R&D assistant and put them to test. She probably did more eating than assisting, but it still helped John find a winning design.

He also learnt a great deal as he discovered that ‘product placement’ is just as important as design. There are certain areas within the aviary, mainly on the ground, that Gianna does not like going to. In some cases it was a matter of gaining her confidence. In others she just outright refused to go and therefore a waste of time putting enrichment there.

6 thoughts on “Chough report: August 2017

  1. Super stuff, Liz! Fascinating report and glad you’re getting to the bottom of the wheezing. Sounds as if, with patience, it’ll be a relatively solvable problem. In bringing up a wild population, it’s a challenge to know when to intervene and when not to. At this stage, mostly intervene!

    • In the early stages of a recovery programme like this, even with truly wild birds, every individual counts. As the population grows it is the overall population or establishing sub-populations that count. We’re still in the early stages. You can always tell when the management changes in a project like ours – they won’t all get names!

      • Ah yes, thanks for the clarification. I wonder do you have a figure for the size of population you’re aiming for over a given timescale and is there an assessment of how many chough the island could potentially support in the long term?

        • Hiya. It’s still hard to judge unfortunately. It would be good to know how adequately the birds are finding food in the environment. Invertebrate numbers are low but if the choughs are finding sufficient food then, as most aren’t moving far along the coast, there might be area for lots of them. If, despite all of the birds foraging obviously, they aren’t getting sufficient food and relying on our supplements then maybe the population would be smaller. The birds now using Les Landes are showing that the flock is starting to spread out. I’d hope for a minimum of 50 birds in a self-supporting population but maybe 100 using widespread areas of the north, west and south-west coasts? And how about them colonising the other Channel Islands? Wouldn’t that be something!

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