Alarm over decline in flying insects

Comma. Photo by Mick DrydenFrom BBC News

It’s known as the windscreen phenomenon. When you stop your car after a drive, there seem to be far fewer squashed insects than there used to be. Scientists have long suspected that insects are in dramatic decline, but new evidence confirms this.

Research at more than 60 protected areas in Germany suggests flying insects have declined by more than 75% over almost 30 years. And the causes are unknown. “This confirms what everybody’s been having as a gut feeling – the windscreen phenomenon where you squash fewer bugs as the decades go by,” said Caspar Hallmann of Radboud University in The Netherlands.

“This is the first study that looked into the total biomass of flying insects and it confirms our worries.”

Bumble bee. Photo by Mick Dryden

The study is based on measurements of the biomass of all insects trapped at 63 nature protection areas in Germany over 27 years since 1989. The data includes thousands of different insects, such as bees, butterflies and moths. Scientists say the dramatic decline was seen regardless of habitat, land use and the weather, leaving them at a loss to explain what was behind it. They stressed the importance of adopting measures known to be beneficial for insects, including strips of flowers around farmland and minimising the effects of intensive agriculture.

And they said there was an urgent need to uncover the causes and extent of the decline in all airborne insects. “We don’t know exactly what the causes are,” said Hans de Kroon, also of Radboud University, who supervised the research. ”This study shows how important it is to have good monitoring programmes and we need more research right now to look into those causes – so, that has really high priority.”

The finding was even more worrying given that it was happening in nature reserves, which are meant to protect insects and other living species. ”In the modern agricultural landscape, for insects it’s a hostile environment, it’s a desert, if not worse,” said Dr de Kroon. ”And the decline there has been well documented. The big surprise is that it is also happening in adjacent nature reserves.”

Honey bee. Photo by Mick Dryden

The loss of insects has far-reaching consequences for entire ecosystems. Insects provide a food source for many birds, amphibians, bats and reptiles, while plants rely on insects for pollination.

The decline is more severe than found in previous studies. A survey of insects at four sites in the UK between 1973 and 2002 found losses at one of the four sites only.

Dr Lynn Dicks, from the University of East Anglia, UK, who is not connected with the study, said the paper provides new evidence for “an alarming decline” that many entomologists have suspected for some time. “If total flying insect biomass is genuinely declining at this rate (around 6% per year), it is extremely concerning,” she said. “Flying insects have really important ecological functions, for which their numbers matter a lot.”

Download the full report More than 75 percent decline over 27 years in total flying insect biomass in protected areas here

November volunteer activity

JCV 2017

Sunday 5th November 2017 – La Vallette, St John – 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

The details Based at National Trust for Jersey land at La Vallette, St John. This scenic hillside overlooking Bonne Nuit Harbour is in need of a bit of JCV TLC.

Please contact Julia at j.meldrum@gov.je or Jon at jonparkes@nationaltrust.je or phone Julia on 441600 or Jon on 483193 before you go just case anything changes.

The site  National Trust for Jersey land at La Vallette, St John: scenic hillside overlooking Bonne Nuit Harbour.

Parking  Meeting point is at the bus stop overlooking Bonne Nuit Harbour. Parking is quite limited with perhaps space for 2 or 3 cars next to the bus stop; however, there is public parking down on the pier.

(Jersey phone directory Map 4, W4). Google maps here

The task In order to encourage new heather growth and enhance existing patches we are planning to cut and clear bracken and rake off the bracken litter. This will open up the soil and give light and space for any new shoots to thrive. Sycamore saplings and re-growth have been creeping onto the heathland from neighbouring woodland so we will also be aiming to remove these by either cutting or uprooting. In order to give the heathland a real boost we are hoping to have some freshly cut heather seed harvested from another site to rake into the soil.

The task is open to all but, as ever, due to the fairly steep, uneven ground a reasonable level of fitness is required.

We will meet at 10:20 for a 10:30 start. We will work until about 12:30.

Tools needed We will provide some tools and gloves but if you have any of your own then feel free to bring them along.

Clothing needed We will provide protective gloves as well as hand washing facilities and ask that all attendees kindly use them.

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 cake and refreshments will be served by our super talented baker Kim the Kake.

See you there!

 

Already vulnerable British birds are likely to be the worst affected by climate change

Common snipe. Photo by Mick Dryden (2)From RareBird Alert

Latest research by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has found that, although several birds may benefit from a changing climate, particularly in the north, some species will be hit hard and among these are some of the most vulnerable British birds.

Researchers have long investigated the effects that climate change might have on where different species might occur in the future. However, for the first time, scientists at the BTO have investigated how climate change will affect how common different species are likely to be across Great Britain.

Analysing data for 124 different bird species allowed scientists to understand how the whole bird community might change as a consequence of climate change.

Several species (55 of the 124 considered in this study) are likely to benefit from future climate change and their populations may increase significantly by 2080. In contrast, fewer species (11 of 124) are likely to suffer from climate change. This may apparently look like good news, but in reality six of the 11 species that are projected to decline are already included in the British red list of the birds that are at highest risk of local extinction (grey partridge, curlew, grasshopper warbler, ring ouzel, pied flycatcher and yellowhammer), two, curlew and yellowhammer, are on Jersey’s red list (here), and four (red grouse, common snipe, willow warbler and meadow pipit) are currently in the amber list (willow warbler is red on Jersey’s red list!). These species will be at even greater risk of extinction if urgent actions are not taken to improve the habitats and landscapes they require to give them a chance to adapt to climate change.

Ring ouzel (3). Photo by Mick Dryden

In contrast, 40 of the 55 species that are likely to increase are either green-listed, which means they are not currently threatened, or do not yet breed in Britain. This highlights how climate change will more seriously hit those species that are already of conservation concern.

Dario Massimino, Research Ecologist at BTO, and lead author on the paper, said, “This is the first time that count data have been used for future projections on such a large-scale and for so many species, and the findings are very interesting. Gains in the north and west, apparent stability in the south-east and a worsening scenario for those species already in precipitous decline. Without the dedication of BTO volunteers who collect the observations, this type of analysis just wouldn’t be possible; thank you to them all.”

Dr Mark Eaton, RSPB Principal Conservation Scientist said: “This paper serves as a clear warning that we must rise to the challenge of climate change if we are to avoid seeing species disappear from the UK. We already know that climate change is among the greatest long-term threats to our wildlife and research like this is invaluable by identifying the individual species that could be lost if we fail to act. Using the findings of this work we can plan for the future and the role the UK must play in protecting vital habitats and helping species adapt to a changing world.”

Among the 124 breeding bird species, researchers also considered some which are not yet present in Great Britain but could potentially colonise if they take advantage of higher temperatures. To achieve this, data from the UK Breeding Bird Survey were combined with data from its French counterpart (the Suivi Temporel des Oiseaux Communs). French data were included to better understand how species respond to warmer temperatures that are found in France but yet to occur in Great Britain, and to consider potential colonists such as melodious warbler and tawny pipit.

Tawny pipit. Photo by Mick Dryden

As a consequence of these responses to climate change, different regions of Britain will see net gains and losses in bird numbers. The projections show that the largest gains will mostly be in northern and north-western Scotland and other smaller areas of western Britain. The south-east shows apparent stability, but this is a result of potentially large declines in red-listed species and compensating increases in green-listed species. We are likely to see dramatic changes in the bird community throughout British Isles, but in particular in the west of Scotland.

The full paper Projected reductions in climatic suitability for vulnerable British birds can be accessed here

Birds On The Edge and Durrell: an evening with Dr Julian Hume, Saturday 11th November 2017

timthumbBirds On The Edge and Durrell: an evening with Dr Julian Hume of the Natural History Museum

In the footsteps of a hairdresser: Dodos, giant tortoises and the fossil record of the Mascarenes

Jersey Zoo Discovery Centre – 1900 on 11th November 2017

Animals and plants on islands often evolve in isolation of those on the mainland – a widely studied discipline know as island biogeography (see e.g. site here). Without the same pressures that their relatives might be facing the island forms can become very different to their ancestors. And not just species but the ecosystems that they live in may be very different, having been sculpted by a different set of influences – in the absence of predators unlikely species can become dominant or become landscape engineers like the tortoises in the Galapagos or the Indian Ocean islands and geese and geese-like ducks in Hawaii.

However, when the balance of these ecosystems is upset the whole thing can come crashing down. Unique animals, plants, whole ecosystems can disappear. Typically, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the usual culprit that brings about these crashes, or least usual for the last few millennia, is us humans. With help of course, from the plants and animals that come with us.

Lost landCloser to the mainland, the wildlife and ecosystems of the Channel Islands, may not seem like classic examples of island biogeography. However, like more distant oceanic islands we currently have no native predatory mammals (several introduced ones) and none of the normal natural grazers to keep vegetation in check (not since we became islands probably) the latter roles currently partially filled by introduced rabbits and, at least in places, by managed sheep and cattle. And like the Mascarenes, Hawaii and New Zealand we are seeing the impacts of man and the animals and plants we like to surround ourselves with.

Birds On The Edge welcomes Dr Julian Hume, a recognised authority on islands, their unique species, their ecosystems Extinct birds (2)and just what can go wrong with them when man gets involved. Julian will give a talk on Friday 11th November at Jersey Zoo. Julian has authored many books on extinct birds, globally and particularly from the Hawaiian and Mascarene Islands (Mauritius, Reunion and Rodrigues). However, Julian is much more than an author though, his intense research into his subjects has included reconstructing and painting species known only from bones or travellers notebooks and establishing their niche in ecosystems once untroubled by
humans.

Extinct birds (Hawaii)An expert on the dodo, a species very familiar to Channel Islanders, Julian will talk about his research into the birdlife of Mauritius and his most recent discoveries on the life and observations of Etienne Thirioux, the hairdresser and amateur naturalist, whose contribution to the fossil record of Mauritius has never been bettered. Julian will illustrate his talk with contemporary artwork and his own paintings. He will reflect too on just how easily islands and their natural inhabitants can be changed for ever.

Please come along to this free presentation at Jersey Zoo’s Discovery Centre (formerly the Princess Royal Pavilion) at 1900 on Saturday 11th November. Please come to Zoo entrance a few minutes before 1900 for access.

Julian P Hume website

Julian P Hume Wikipedia 

Julian_Hume

Chough report: September 2017

by Liz Corry

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” – George Eliot
If that bird happens to be a Jersey chough, substitute “earth” for Les Landes and “successive autumns” for lots and lots of insects. For the first time since the choughs have been living at liberty, the entire flock have snubbed their morning supplemental feed in favour of wild pickings out at Les Landes.
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Chough spotting in the middle of Les Landes Racecourse (the red circles indicate choughs, not cowpats). Photo by Liz Corry.

Choughs taking flight at Les Landes Racecourse. Photo by Liz Corry.

They have been flipping over and picking apart cow pats, probing the grass on the spectators’ stand at the Racecourse for cranefly larvae, and scouring the cliff face for anything else they can prise out of the ground.

A group of choughs (under the arrow) and starlings foraging in the spectators’ area of the Racecourse. Photo by Liz Corry.

This is obviously encouraging news for the project. The choughs are clearly content and they are gaining popularity with the public, both locals and tourists who delight in watching their antics. Especially the flying displays.

For the lone observer tasked with keeping track of all 38 choughs it is a roller coaster of emotions; pride, joy, irritation, despair etc. The blessed things don’t stay still nor in one group and it is near impossible to read leg rings. Add to that the inevitable sod’s law factor and you get events such as (1) Racecourse tractor mowing back and forth along your observation site (2) friendly kestrel spotting lunch slap bang in the middle of the foraging chough flock sending them scattering just as you are half way through counting said flock and (3) random 10 minute hail storm!
20170918_120732

La Nethe Falaise is a favourite spot for the choughs to hang out when they are up at Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.

There is, however, one trick of the trade that can be deployed and moments of need. It should only be practised by a trained professional. It can only be practised by a trained professional since without the recognition from the foster-reared and hand-reared choughs it probably wouldn’t work and you would be left looking like a right Parus major (one for the bird geeks).

Like any species, the offer of free food is too tempting and providing I can get close enough in an area where the birds do not feel threatened I can get the choughs to gather together in one place. Note in the video and photos the choughs closest to me are Ubè and Vicq, both foster-reared, and a couple of the older adults who have known me for four years.

Thirty of the choughs getting a sneaky supplemental feed at Les Landes Racecourse. Photo by Liz Corry.

It is possible to identify most of the leg rings when the choughs are this close. Right up until the point when sod’s law example number 2 comes into play. After that, only the clingy types stay behind begging for more free food.
For the past few weeks the maximum number of choughs at any one time has been thirty-four. There should be thirty-eight. The individuals who appear to be absent most often are Lee and Caûvette, their chick Pink, and Carmine another wild chick hatched this year.

Carmine, a wild chick from this year, was last seen at the aviary on September 2nd. Photo by Liz Corry.

Whilst it would be nice to assume Pink is with her parents, both chicks are of an age now not to be dependent on their parents. Furthermore they were both showing signs of having nematodes back in August. Failed attempts to catch them up in the aviary meant that they were never treated before they were last seen at Sorel at the start of September.
It is quite possible that Carmine and Pink have sadly perished. Ever optimistic we will continue monitoring the population and ask the public to keep their eyes (and ears) open.

As a footnote, apologies for the media quality this month. The trusty camera has packed up and I am relying on my camera phone!

 

 

Seventy four percent of seabirds ingesting plastic

- 006From Rare Bird Alert

A new report published this month has highlighted the threat marine plastic pollution poses to seabirds in the north-eastern Atlantic region. Researchers found that, of 34 seabird species investigated, 74% had ingested plastic.

The authors of the new study, from the North Highland College UHI’s Environmental Research Institute, part of the University of the Highland and Islands, and the RSPB Centre for Conservation Science collated data from all known studies reporting instances of plastic ingestion and nest incorporation in seabirds around northern Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Greenland, Svalbard, the Faroes and Iceland.

Dr Nina O’Hanlon, of Environmental Research Institute, explains: “Marine plastic pollution is an increasing and global environmental issue which poses a major threat to marine biodiversity. The production of plastic continues to rise with millions of tons entering the oceans each year. Seabirds can ingest plastic, become entangled in it or incorporate it into their nests, causing impacts which may have negative consequences on reproduction and survival.”

- 007

Dr Alex Bond, RSPB senior conservation scientist, said: “The north-eastern Atlantic Ocean is home to internationally important breeding populations of seabirds and an amazing array of other marine life. Solutions to plastic pollution in the oceans require concerted action at its source on land – 80% of marine litter is thought to come from land – especially by producers and users.

“The properties which make plastics desirable are the very things which make it problematic,” Dr Bond continues. “Due to its low cost, approximately half of all plastic items are produced for single-use. Plastic never breaks down, it only breaks up, into smaller fragments which remain in the environment and, as its density varies, it can be found throughout the water column, increasing the number of species which come into contact with it.”

While the team’s research highlights some concerning statistics, its report concludes that more coordinated, comprehensive and detailed investigations are required on plastic ingestion and nest incorporation to assess the full impact marine plastic is having on seabird populations.

Dr O’Hanlon explains: “In the north-eastern Atlantic Ocean, an area of international importance for seabirds, there has been little effort to better understand how marine plastic affects different seabird species over time and regionally. We actually know very little about the current prevalence of plastic ingestion and nest incorporation for many species, several, like the long-tailed duck and Atlantic puffin, which are globally threatened. Only 49% of the 69 species which are commonly found in the region have been investigated for plastic ingestion. We believe it’s vital to have a multi-jurisdictional, coordinated and collaborative effort to gain a more comprehensive and current understanding of this important issue.”

The group’s research was undertaken as part of Circular Ocean, a project funded by the EU’s Northern Periphery and Arctic Programme, which aims to incentivise the reuse and recycling of marine plastic litter in remote and rural regions.

The full paper Seabirds and marine plastic debris in the northeastern Atlantic: A synthesis and recommendations for monitoring and research can be read here

Puffin. Not in Jersey. Photo by Mick Dryden

Storm petrels heard on Shiants for first time. Back in Jersey soon?

European storm petrel. Photo by Mick DrydenFrom Rare Bird Alert

Calling European storm petrels have been recorded for the very first time on the Shiant Isles, Scotland this summer, an important milestone for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project, which is working to attract these small seabirds to nest on the islands. The characteristic “churring” call of storm petrels was heard from burrows, their breeding habitat, an encouraging sign that the project’s conservation work is paying off.

The EU LIFE+ funded partnership project between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Nicolson family, the custodians of the islands, began in 2014 to provide safe breeding grounds for Scotland’s globally threatened seabirds on this cluster of islands in the Minch, five miles off the coast of Harris. A population of invasive non-native black rats on the islands were thought to be limiting the breeding success of the colonies of puffins, razorbills and guillemots, whilst storm petrels and Manx shearwaters were not found there at all.

Following a rat eradication programme in the winter of 2015/16 the project has been focused on monitoring how the wildlife has responded, ensuring the biosecurity of the islands, and attempting to attract storm petrels and Manx shearwaters to breed, as there is ideal nesting habitat for them. It will be March 2018 before the islands can be officially declared free of rats, provided none are found between then and now.

Storm petrel (3). Photo by Mick Dryden

Storm petrels are little bigger than sparrows and only come to shore in summer to breed. Scotland’s internationally important population currently only nests at a limited number of potentially available sites on offshore islands because of their vulnerability to predation. They are known to abandon and avoid nesting sites where rats or other ground based predators are found.

While these small seabirds have been recorded flying past the Shiants for many years by the Shiants Auk Ringing Group prior to the recovery project beginning there was no evidence that they were landing on the islands or attempting to nest there. Last summer night vision cameras captured footage of several of these small seabirds, but this is the first year their churring has been heard in burrows.

This summer a speaker broadcasting a recording of a storm petrel churring (hear storm petrels here) was placed by some boulder scree near the shore and played throughout the night. The project hoped that this would not only attract storm petrels to the area so they could discover the nesting sites, but also to settle and start a breeding colony there. Calls from birds were recorded from three separate sites close to the speaker.

A night vision camera also captured footage of a storm petrel displaying nesting behaviour; looking relaxed and heading into a burrow. While it’s possible that birds may have successfully bred on the islands this summer confirming this is difficult due to them only entering and leaving their nest burrows in darkness and would have risked disturbing them due to the locations of the calls.

Dr Charlie Main, Senior Project Manager for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project said: “The churring of a storm petrel is very distinctive and we’re delighted that it’s been recorded on the Shiants this summer. While we are still some way off the islands being officially declared rat free these calls indicate that all the biosecurity work we’re doing to keep these islands predator free and make them ideal breeding sites for seabirds is paying off.

“It’s even more exciting to think that the birds may have bred on the islands this year, although the risk of disturbing nesting birds meant we were unable to confirm this. These calls are very positive signs for the future and we hope that next year we’ll be able to record even more calls and footage of the birds. The long term aim is to allow a breeding colony of storm petrels to establish at the Shiants.”

Dr Andrew Douse, Policy & Advice Manager, Ornithology at Scottish Natural Heritage said: “The return of storm petrels as a breeding species on the Shiants is one of the key aims of the project for SNH, so the news of birds recorded calling is very welcome. Storm petrels only occur on islands without rats, which means that they are very vulnerable to the effects that arise from invasive species such as these. The Shiants are an ideal breeding location for storm petrels and hopefully they will go on to become an important stronghold for this species.”

In the Channel Islands we have a healthy population of storm petrels on (rat-free) Burhou (Alderney) but the presence of rats elsewhere, even in otherwise suitable areas of the coast like Plémont, mean that we have nowhere near as many as we could have in the islands with adequate management.

Storm petrel (4). Photo by Mick Dryden

Migrating birds might not be able to fly home fast enough to meet shifts in springtime

Willow warbler. Photo by Mick DrydenFrom Carbon Brief

Flying back too early or too late for spring is costly for migratory birds. Their arrival must coincide with the emergence of food sources, such as caterpillars, in order to enable them to feed and successfully rear their young.

Birds that overwinter in warmer climes, including willow warbler, tree pipit and barn swallow, will be unable to cut their migrations short as climate change causes spring to arrive earlier in many parts of Europe, as new evidence suggests that some birds are much less adaptable to climate change than previously hoped.

Tree pipit. Photo by Mick Dryden

Time to fly

Each winter, around half of the UK’s birds take off to find food in a more temperate climate, returning to their ancestral breeding grounds the following spring. However, scientists fear that this annual migration could be disrupted by climate change, which is causing spring to arrive six-to-eight days earlier in Europe than it did 30 years ago.

Evidence suggests that some birds will be able to adapt by leaving for their winter grounds later in the year or wintering closer to home (see BOTE report here). However, not all birds are able to perceive subtle shifts in temperature and instead rely on the number of daylight hours – which is unaffected by warming – to tell them when it’s time to fly.

For these birds, keeping pace with an earlier spring means getting back from their wintering grounds more quickly. But the solution isn’t as simple as flying at a faster speed because birds simply do not have the energy to beat their wings any harder during their lengthy migrations. A new study, published in Nature Climate Change, looks at a third option: reducing the length of “stopovers”. These are the avian version of a pit stop, where birds feed and rest before continuing their journey. While shorter stopovers can significantly speed up a migration, it’s unlikely to be enough, the study finds.

For example, cutting time spent resting by 50% would lead to birds arriving in their spring grounds just two days earlier, on average. In comparison, the peak availability of caterpillars – a key source of food for birds – in UK forests advanced by 20 days between 1980 and 2008. This mismatch between the arrival time of birds and their foods could spell trouble for many bird species that are unable to adjust the start of their spring migration, says lead author Dr Heiko Schmaljohann from the Institute of Avian Research in Germany:

“The inability to sufficiently adjust or adapt the breeding area arrival timing leads to an increasing mismatch between food availability and its demand. If this mismatch increases for a species population, it is possible that this may lead to a population decline.”

Schmaljohann adds that although there are some birds which seem to be adjusting their spring arrival date in response to climate change, such as the pied flycatcher, it is still not known which species are most at risk of decline:

“The pied flycatcher has advanced its breeding area arrival timing the most. Whether they have a better ability of detecting how conditions will be at the breeding area in one to two months is totally unknown. It is extremely unlikely that birds, being still at their African wintering grounds, can anticipate the environmental conditions they will experience at the breeding areas in advance.”

Pied flycatcher. Photo by Regis Perdriat

Calculating migration speed

To understand what drives the speed of a migration, the researchers reviewed data from 49 tracking studies of 46 different bird species.

They found that the overall migration speed is largely dependent on the number of stopovers, which they defined as spending more than one day in the same location. Researchers then used mathematical modelling to predict how reducing the amount of time resting while flying home could help birds to speed up.

Their modelling considered the average flying speed, the total migration distance and how birds can vary their speed in response to changing environmental conditions. In the future, birds may actually be forced to take longer breaks as their stopover grounds will likely be affected by climate change, says Dr Schmaljohann:

“When birds experience unfavourable conditions, such as drought, heavy rain and cold temperatures, the feeding conditions deteriorate. The feeding conditions directly affect total speed of migration via stopover duration.”

Adapting on the fly

This new research may help to explain why birds appear increasingly unable to keep pace with climate change, says Dr Stephen Mayor, an ecologist from the University of Florida, who wasn’t involved in the study:

“You would think that birds which migrate thousands of kilometres with the changing seasons would be experts at adapting to climate change, but this evidence suggests birds are much less adaptable than we might hope – probably because the climatic changes are so rapid and variable.”

The full paper The limits of modifying migration speed to adjust to climate change, Nature Climate Change can be seen here

 

Barn swallow (2). Photo by Mick Dryden

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.

Saving the devil: a story about seabird recovery in the Caribbean

by Liz Corry

Last Thursday, Dr Kirsty Swinnerton gave a talk at Jersey Zoo about seabird recovery work in the Caribbean, Alaska and the UK, to name a few. Kirsty demonstrated how the problems (pests) and recovery actions (pest management, social attraction, nest-boxes) are the same in the different regions for different seabirds. Also, how we can exchange ideas and lessons learned across species, organisations and regions.

Dr Kirsty Swinnerton presenting at Jersey Zoo to a packed out auditorium. Photo by Liz Corry.

The talk was very well attended and received a lot of positive feedback. We hope to publish a summary on the website in the next few weeks. Kirsty ran out of time to show the film trailer for one of the projects she mentioned, Saving the devil.

For those of you unable to attend the talk, put the crucifixes down and let me explain. The ‘little devil’, or Diablotin, to residents of Haiti, is a black-capped petrel. A secretive, unassuming seabird that just so happens to fly at night making sinister ghostly calls, hence the name.

A black-capped petrel with Adam C. Brown a scientist studying the species. Photo credit BirdsCaribbean.

The black-capped petrel was thought to be extinct, thanks to human encroachment and introduced predators, namely mongoose. It was rediscovered in the 1960s in a remote part of Haiti. The species is considered an indicator of how healthy Haiti’s habitat is. With only three breeding sites across the entire country the answer is clearly not a positive one.

Thanks to considerable research and conservation management, by scientists and local NGOs, the outlook is starting to look better.  Research techniques which could be applied here in Jersey, include the use of marine radar technology and night vision binoculars. The petrel comes to shore only for a few months of the year to breed; flying into forested mountains at night to underground burrows. This technology allows biologists to locate, identify and count flying petrels coming inland, in the dark. It has led to the petrels rediscovery a few years ago in Dominica, West Indies.

You can learn more about the petrel and the project by clicking here. The three minute trailer for the film ‘Saving the devil’ is below. The full length film will no doubt be saddening and thought provoking, but ultimately an example of conservation optimism and how we can make a difference.

Trailer for “SAVE THE DEVIL”, a documentary about the story of two families fighting for their life in Haiti. from Guido Ronge on Vimeo.