Jersey’s Great Garden Birdwatch this weekend – 3rd and 4th February 2018
Nothing predicts the coming spring like the announcement of the annual Action for Wildlife, Birds On The Edge and Jersey Evening Post Great Garden Birdwatch. Of course, nothing prepares us for a weekend of atrocious weather more than the announcement of the Great Garden Birdwatch! Mind you, the weather throughout January was so awful that things couldn’t be any worse. Surely? This year we’re asking everyone to count the birds in their garden on either Saturday 3rd of February or the following day, Sunday 4th of February.
Whatever the weather the birds will be there in the garden and they’ll need us. We’ve seen some of our favourites declining over recent years. Blue tits, greenfinches and starlings are now very rare visitors. Even house sparrows aren’t the familiar sight in every garden that they once were. Notes on previous years surveys have detailed the fate of different bird populations in Jersey gardens so please have a look at 2016 and 2017.
Of course, as we’ve shown in the past, some birds do buck the trend and are doing ok. Our winter blackcap population, different from the birds here in summer and pretty well absent from the countryside over winter, seem to love it here. And wood pigeons aren’t showing signs of deserting us any day soon.
Please, this year as before, take a few minutes to watch the birds in your garden on the Saturday or the Sunday and fill out the simple form here and email it in to us at Birds On The Edge. The more completed surveys the better and the stronger the data becomes in showing us all the state of our favourite birds and the importance of our gardens in safeguarding them.
How to enter the survey
Counters should note the highest number of each species of bird that are seen together at one time during that period – not the total number which enter your garden over the period of the watch.
Survey forms and a handy identification guide will be published in the JEP on Tuesday January 30th and all data received will be passed on to La Société Jersiaise to add to their records and included in Birds On The Edge bird monitoring analyses.
Completed forms can be posted in or delivered to the JEP. You can also send in your records online through this website here from the weekend.
And remember, for one weekend a year red squirrels can consider themselves birds!
On their autumn migration south in the Northern Hemisphere, many birds are being lured by artificial light pollution into urban areas that may be an ecological trap, according to new research using weather surveillance radars from the northeastern United States over a seven-year period to map the distributions of migratory birds during their autumn stopovers.
Since most of the birds that migrate in the US are nocturnal and leave their stopover sites at night, the research group took snapshots of the birds as they departed.
“Shortly after sunset, at around civil twilight, they all take off in these well-synchronized flights that show up as a sudden bloom of reflectivity on the radar,” University of Delaware’s Jeff Buler said. “We take a snapshot of that, which allows us to map out where they were on the ground and at what densities. It basically gives us a picture of their distributions on the ground.”
The researchers were interested in seeing what factors shape the birds’ distributions and why they occur in certain areas.
“We think artificial light might be a mechanism of attraction because we know at a very small scale, birds are attracted to light,” Buler said. “Much like insects are drawn to a streetlight at night, birds are also drawn to places like lighthouses. Especially when visibility is poor, you can get these big fall-outs at lighthouses and sports complexes. Stadiums will have birds land in the stadium if it’s foggy at night and the lights are on.”
One hazard for birds attracted to city lights is death from flying into high buildings. Buler said that some cities such as Toronto have even gone so far as to institute ‘Lights Out’ programmes, turning off the lights in tall buildings to deter birds from colliding with them.
The research team analysed the distributions of the birds in proximity to the brightest areas in the northeast such as Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
“These are super-bright, large metropolitan areas,” Buler said. “We found an increasing density of birds the closer you get to these cities. The effect goes out about 200 kilometres [about 125 miles]. We estimate that these flying birds can see a city on the horizon up to several hundred kilometres away. Essentially, there is no place in the northeastern United States where they can’t see the sky glow of a city.”
Parks and yards
The researchers also found that suburban areas, such as people’s backyards and city parks, such as Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, harbour some of the highest densities of birds in the northeast.
“Fairmount Park has higher densities of birds than at Cape May, New Jersey, which is where birders typically go to see birds concentrating during migration,” Buler said.
When they do get lured into cities, the birds seek out suitable habitat, which can cause concerns from a conservation standpoint as lots of birds pack into a small area with limited resources and higher mortality risks.
“One of the things we point out in this research is that there might be negative consequences for birds being drawn to urban cities. We know there’s risk of collision with buildings, collision with vehicles, and getting eaten by cats, which are a major predator,” Buler said.
“Domestic cats could be the largest anthropogenic source of mortality for birds. If birds are being drawn into these heavily developed areas, it may be increasing their risk of mortality from anthropogenic sources and it may also be that the resources in those habitats are going to be depleted much faster because of competition with other birds.”
Another concern: light pollution created in these cities has been increasing in recent years with the advent of LED lights, which are much brighter than the incandescent lights they replaced.
“The transition of street lighting from incandescent to LED continues to increase the amount of light pollution,” Buler said. “If you think about it from an evolutionary sense, for all wildlife really, mammals and insects and birds, they’ve only been exposed to this light pollution for less than 200 years. They’re still adapting to the light.”
Access the paper Artificial light at night confounds broad-scale habitat use by migrating birds here
As the year drew to a close and daylight hours dwindled to their annual low, the choughs spent more and more time at Sorel close to their roost sites.
Chough movements in December
There was one intriguing public report at the start of December suggesting a new roost site. Farm workers at West Point Farm, St Ouen, had been seeing a pair of choughs in their barns around 7am each morning. At that time of year sunrise occurs around 7.40am. Was the pair roosting in the barns or being ‘the early bird that catches the worm’ and leaving Sorel before everyone else to find food out west?
Choughs leaving the feed site at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
The day of the report, and each day since, there have been 35 choughs at Sorel for the feed. The sun sets not long after with a dozen or so choughs staying at the aviary and the rest heading east, presumably to the quarry.
Taking in the last rays of a December day. Photo by Liz Corry.
Another reason to stay close to Sorel is the supplemetal feed. Now that winter has set in the availability of wild food is low and the need for calories high. December has not been particularly cold – in fact there have been a few balmy days where shorts were an option (for keeper not bird).
An unusually warm day in December enjoyed by the choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
However, our tiny island has taken a constant battering over the past weeks with gale force winds of 40 to 60 mph. It is bad enough walking or driving in it. Imagine being a 300g bird trying to fly or trying to stay grounded whilst searching for food in the soil.
24 hours later! (note the choughs on the roof) Photo by Liz Corry.
Apart from a demand for more food the choughs have on the whole faired ok so far with the bad weather. They are making the most of the sheep being confined to the aviary field. It is tupping season with one lucky ram confined to two fields with a flock of ewes. Lots of dung with maybe the odd tasty insect morsel inside.
One lucky ram confined to the aviary field at Sorel for tupping season. Photo by Liz Corry.
The choughs have been foraging in amongst the sheep confined to the field adjacent to the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.
Syngamus strikes again
There have been two cases of syngamus infection this month. Luckily I was able to trap the birds, Lee and Duke, within a couple of days of symptoms showing. They evaded capture on the first day of trying, partly due to the hatches not budging when released (if anyone can come up with a better release hatch design I will pay you! albeit in chocolate coins). The second day their hunger in the increasingly cold wet weather spurred on their motivation for staying inside the aviary and the hatches closed. Much to the relief of the vet on call over Christmas as it was the 23rd December.
Never easy trying to trap choughs who refuse to go inside. Photo by Liz Corry.
Whilst Lee had been our major cause for concern due to gaping and repeated sneezing, it was Duke who sounded the most congested once we had him in the hand. He also had a lot of mucus around his nares which we rarely see.
Duke presented with mucus coming from his nares as a result of infection. Photo by Liz Corry.
Once they had received their wormer injection they were released and left to feed on the pellet and insects at the aviary. Remarkably there have been no observations of sneezing since that day. However, do bear in mind the gales/fog/heavy rain/sleet (often in the same day) have meant that there is little incentive to hang around at Sorel observing birds.
We have tried. Body weights have been obtained for several of the birds. Not consistently to show any trends, but enough to know the choughs getting on the scales are not underweight. These of course will be the more confident individuals and/or ones that have low parasite loads. We have a new type of scale that the birds will use. A lot cheaper than the flat Kern scales (£20 versus £150).
Prototype weighing station using digital kitchen scales. Photo by Liz Corry.
They are not intended as outdoor scales so I have had a few attempts at weather-proofing. The current one needs improving as the birds are unsure. Once they have approved the design plans we can make several weighing stations to place around the aviary ensuring we cater to all of the choughs.
Towards the end of November keepers at the zoo started to notice Gianna our foster mum having issues. She was crash landing when flying. Gianna is tame and she lets keepers get extremely close. She lets me open her bill to check for infections or blockages if needed. It was easy to see that the source of Gianna’s mobility problems was her eyes.
Gianna’s left eye was starting to show signs of cataract. Furthermore, there was no reaction in her right eye. She was taken to the Vet Department for further examination. Photos were sent to a UK specialist who confirmed she had cataracts in both eyes.
Jess Maxwell with Head Vet Andrew Routh examining Gianna’s eyes. Photo by Bea Detnon.
Since the initial assessment there has been a noticably downturn in her ability to move around. Understandably as her vision deteriorates her confidence in everyday things like hopping from rock to rock has decreased. She has been moved to an off-show aviary close to the Vet Department so she can receive the best attention from keepers.
Cataract forming in Gianna’s left eye at the start of December. Photo by Liz Corry.
The cataract in Gianna’s left eye by the end of December. Photo by Bea Detnon.
Despite everyone’s love for Gianna we have to accept that her future is murky. There is the option of an operation to remove the cataracts. As you can imagine this is very specialised, expensive, and relies on the individual being strong enough to undergo the operation. For those of you interested in avian ophthalmology click here. If the operation option is not feasible her quality of life will then need to be carefully considered.
From all of us at chough HQ we hope you enjoyed your Christmas holidays and wish you all the best for 2018. Thank you for your continued support.
The details Originally we had hoped the January task would be planting a new woodland on a former agricultural field owned by the National Trust in St Peter’s Valley. Unfortunately, due to still being in the planning stages of the project, we are unable to commence with this task at the present time.
So instead, we will be carrying out some well needed woodland management at a nearby location. This will include sycamore and ivy control, hazel coppicing, and digging up some invasive garden species to help native plants take over and flourish.
The site Tesson Mill end of the woodland in St Peter’s Valley.
Parking The meeting point will be at the top of the slope at the Tesson Mill end of the woodland in St Peter’s Valley. There is parking at the Mill Pond near the Vic in the Valley Pub and Quetivel Mill. There will also be some space for those of you with 4x4s on the slope at Tesson Mill and hopefully the land opposite (Please note that these spaces will be limited).
Jersey phone directory Map 14, R14) Google map here
We will leave the carpark at 10:20 for a 10:30 start and plan to work until about 12:30.
The task Woodland management
Tools needed The Trust will provide gloves and tools for the job, but if you would like to bring your own digging and cutting equipment e.g. handsaws and grab/pick-axes, you are very welcome.
Clothing needed. It might be wet here so wellies could be essential!.
Children All are welcome, young or old. Children under 16 must be supervised by a parent or guardian during the task.
We’ll work until 12.30 when we will have a hot drink and a slice (or 2, if we can get away with it) of Kim’s yummy home-made cake!
The National Trust Rangers are looking forward to seeing you all there!