For several years now we have compiled a combined list of all birds recorded in the Channel Islands thanks to the recorders from Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark. Each year we’ve seen the lists grow longer and the order the species are listed in keep changing. Today we launch the updated list, updated to the end of 2017 (the Islands don’t review any year’s birds until after the next one starts). Download the list here.
The updated list includes four (well, five) new species, three of which, excitingly, were recorded on two islands each: marsh sandpiper (Alderney and Jersey), (American) royal tern (Guernsey and Alderney) and Iberian chiffchaff (Alderney and Jersey). In fact, the royal tern became quite a celebrity in Guernsey, Alderney and even in Sussex. The tern went just about everywhere. Except Jersey that is. Editor’s note its been around in 2018. And still not been to Jersey!
The other obvious feature for regular readers of this or any other bird list is the changes to the order, relationships and even the birds’ scientific names. Many of us grew up with long held understanding of the order we put the birds in (start with divers and end with crows) and how they were related (divers and grebes, herons and storks). However, new technologies have made it much easier to look closely at every species and get a much better idea of who’s who and where they sit in the order. Wildfowl are first, and not just because they’re very cool but because they and the gamebirds are not that closely related to every other bird. And hawks and falcons aren’t related? No, and strangely that split should have been obvious before.
The list actually includes one, or two, other new species. That goose formerly known as the bean goose has become two species: taiga bean goose and tundra bean goose. Luckily for the list compilers, the Islands’ ornithologists had in recent years recorded which of the two bean geese, then considered the lower rank of subspecies, were being seen. The split, and upgrade to full species status, wasn’t hard to fit in. If everything was always so easy. Our other new bird was a Caspian gull. This eastern version of the herring gull was once considered just herring gull until analysis found that it was quite distinct. Only unlike the geese it doesn’t always look distinct and takes a real enthusiast to pick one out of the flock. Luckily this one’s finder and photographer not only knows his gulls but got a little assist in that it was ringed!
And the totals? Well, overall we’ve recorded 376 species with Jersey still edging in front with 335. So enjoy the new list, tick off your sightings and try to fill the gaps in each Island’s list. And play ‘what will be Alderney’s 300th species’ (I’m going with little bunting). Why not check out the gaps in the list and try to fill them (we’d recommend seawatching in Sark first). But remember, if you visit the islands please send in your records to the relevant recorder – they’re all there on the list.
A Working List of the Birds of the Channel Islands (updated to December 2017) can be downloaded here
A two-month old chough chick exploring Grosnez headland. Photo by Mick Dryden.
By Liz Corry
Jersey now has 46 choughs flying free thanks to a brilliant breeding season and release efforts by Jersey Zoo staff. Details of how that came to be this month are explained below.
Who’s the daddy?
Determined to crack the mystery over the wild chick lineage, we began catching birds to fit leg rings. It took a couple of weeks and help from Ian Buxton and Cristina Sellarés (licensed bird ringers). By the end of July we had nine chicks fitted with leg rings and no birds left unringed. A total of nine birds.
Tarsus length being measured on a wild-hatched chick. This can be an indicator for sex. Photo by Elin Cunningham.
Plastic leg rings on a wild-hatched chough to identify individual (pink) and year of hatch (green). Photo by Elin Cunningham.
What we are not clear on, and may never know, is whether we had ten or eleven chicks at one stage. On 4th July Q and Flieur were seen feeding two unringed chicks. When we checked their nest on 16th June it was empty. Judging by the age of the chicks at the aviary they could not have fledged before the 16th. Did Q and Flieur nest elsewhere? Are they responsible for the mystery nest we found in the quarry?
Trevor and Noir were also seen feeding one or two unringed chicks at the start of July. Are they responsible for the mystery nest? Are these chicks in addition to Q and Flieur’s?
Noirmont feeding an unringed chick with partner Trevor looking on. Photo by Liz Corry.
We knew for certain Lee and Caûvette had two chicks and were happily taking them to Grosnez each day. Kevin and Bean had fledged three chicks. Yet, by the start of July, they were clearly only feeding two unringed chicks. Had one of the other pairs adopted the third chick over the course of the feeding frenzies at the aviary?
Lee feeding one of his two chicks at Grosnez. Photo by Mick Dryden.
By the time we had fitted all the leg rings, Trevor and Noir had stopped feeding a chick(s). Was this because they had died or because they never had them in the first place? The blood samples we send off only inform us about gender. There is a lot more involved to test for lineage.
For now, all that matters is that we have nine chicks being fed and nurtured out at Sorel. The wild chicks are named according to their leg rings until we can think of better names.
Dusty & Chickay
Kevin & Bean
Lee & Caûvette
Q & Flieur
You can already see a difference in the chicks as they get older. Bill colour is changing. More importantly they are picking up crucial skills from the adults, whether parents or not. We have seen them drinking from the water tray and lifting the broken slate enrichment area in the aviary looking for insects.
A recently fledged chick chilling with the flock at Sorel back in June. Photo by Liz Corry.
Chough chicks can be very forceful with their begging. Photo by Liz Corry.
Mega-beast: Dusty feeding one of his chicks. Photo by Liz Corry.
Dusty regretting parenthood? Photo by Liz Corry.
An unringed chick begging at Yarila (non-breeding bird) eventually pushing her off the stand. Photo by Liz Corry.
Dusty feeding one of his chicks whilst Chickay (mum) goes about her business. Photo by Liz Corry.
Chickay pretending not to see or hear her chick. Photo by Liz Corry.
Star wars saga
The three males – Han Solo, Skywalker, and Chewy – held in the aviary for a month have been officially released.
Release day saw 45 choughs turn up to wish the newbies well or steal their food. 50:50 really. Photo by Liz Corry.
Skywalker’s brief adventure outside in June meant it came as no surprise to see him leave first. Albeit to the roof of the aviary where he sat preening Zennor.
Skywalker’s (on the left) first hour of freedom spent with his new love of his life, Zennor. Photo by Liz Corry.
Han Solo and Chewy were not as quick to venture outside; once they did they appeared at ease, making friends with the free-living group. Although less at ease with the wild chicks who had decided to test the newbies’ untapped parenting skills by begging in their faces.
An unringed chick following Skywalker around in the misguided hope of free food. Photo by Liz Corry.
After a few days Han stopped showing up at the feeds. Since group attendance rate was around 80-90% it was hard to know if he was in trouble or not. He made a reappearance four days later and looked to be fine, feeding happily with the group.
The next disappearing act was after 5th July. This time he failed to reappear. There was a sighting on the 28th at the aviary. Although chances are the leg rings were misread for Caûvette’s (his year-colour is black, hers is dark blue).
As he was showing no obvious signs of ill health, a possible theory behind his disappearance is lack of food. If he struggled to find food in the wild (whether due to lack of foraging skills or the foreboding heat) and wasn’t making it to the supplemental feed, he could have easily starved. If he was made weaker by the lack of food, he would become increasingly susceptible to peregrine attacks.
In fact, on one of the post-release roost checks, only one chough could be seen at Sorel as the sun set. The presence of a peregrine perched on the adjacent cliff face may account for the absence of the other choughs.
Peregrine perched below an unused chough nest box on the cliffs at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
Theories aside, we have had to conclude that Han Solo is presumed missing at this stage. Gone to a galaxy far, far away.
Jersey’s north coast is being hit hard by the summer heatwave. The coastal grassland has lost its lush green colour and the sheep have temporarily vacated; there just isn’t enough vegetation for them. The choughs have been fairing ok; the supplemental food compensates for the rock-hard ground.
The release site back in May before the heatwave. Photo by Liz Corry.
The release site in July feeling the effect of the heatwave. Photo by Liz Corry.
The biggest concern for them (and us) is water. The stream in Mourier Valley is currently hidden by bracken and fresh water sources in the quarry depleted. With an absolute drought declared on the Island we were concerned the choughs would turn to hazardous water troughs. Horse troughs in particular tend to be designed with smooth steep sides. A bird or small mammal can’t climb out if they fall in whilst drinking.
The stream in Mourier Valley runs almost parallel to the footpath – not that you can see it for the bracken. Photo by Liz Corry.
We always provide drinking water for the choughs in the aviary. However, the water butt dried up in back in June. Cleaning duties have been reduced to a minimum and fresh water is carried up each day for the choughs. In mid-July we had help from a few Durrell staff to get extra containers up to Sorel. Two days later it rained!
The rain didn’t last long though. We are back to rationing water until the heatwave breaks.
In addition to water shortages, we have been struggling with commercial insect supplies. The company who supply the Zoo with livefood ran out of mealworms – a natural glitch in the breeding process.
When they have managed to supply mealworms, the hot weather has led to the insects over-heating in the packaging they are sent in. Trust me the smell of dead and/or dying mealworms is not a pleasant one.
Rather than a photo of dead mealworms, here is a sheep instead! Photo by Liz Corry.
The alternative of dried mealworms has not worked in the past for birds in the Zoo. They refuse point blank, some writing an angry worded tweet to the CEO. Out of desperation, we gave them a try at Sorel along with suet pellet (made with insect protein). The pressures of begging chicks and lack of wild food meant the adults had no reservations over taking the dry food.
We are still struggling with insect supplies although the order of Remiline pellet finally arrived at the end of July. Swings and roundabouts.
ReWild the People
ReWild the People circular walk from Devil’s Hole held on the 15th July. Photo by Dave Evans.
As part of Jess Pinel’s fundraising challenge of 31 activities in 31 days we hosted a circular walk from Devil’s Hole to Sorel. This was a free event open to all. Whilst taking in the sea air we discussed the Birds On The Edge project and the benefits to the public.
Aaron le Couteur, shepherd, explaining how sheep help to restore Jersey’s coastal habitats. Photo by Dave Evans.
Aaron le Couteur, the shepherd, gave a very informative talk and the choughs showed up for a bonus feed. The event was enjoyed by all and hopefully gained a few new fans to spread the word across the Island. More information about the other activities undertaken can be found here.
Choughs getting a bonus feed for the Rewild the People walk. Photo by Dave Evans.
Lights, camera, action
The choughs took part in two media projects this month. They are clearly getting used to the cameras as they were not phased by the go-pros at the feed. We hope to share some of the footage soon.
Filming the choughs at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
Both filming projects will be detailed further very soon so watch this space!
The choughs have been busy ‘behind the scenes’ resulting in a record-breaking breeding season. By the end of June, we had found four active nests with a total of ten chicks. We knew four chicks had hatched at the end of May. We didn’t have to wait long before Ronez Quarry sent photos of a second nest with chicks.
Dusty and Chickay’s nest with three chicks safely tucked away in a quarry building. Photo taken under license by Toby Cabaret.
This nest belonged to Dusty and his partner Chickay: an astonishing and heart-warming sight. This was their third season nesting, finally they had chicks, and from the looks of things they were at least three weeks old.
The icing on the cake is the uniqueness of the coupling. Chickay was hand-reared, proving that our choice of methods worked, and Dusty is himself a wild-hatched chick.
Ronez hired equipment to access the chough nests under license. Photo by Liz Corry.
A site-visit was arranged for 16th June when the quarry was not in operation. Ronez hired a cherry picker to access the nests. What we found was a mixed bag of good news and bad news. Some nests had failed, some succeeded beyond expectations. And then one complete surprise; a nest we had no idea about.
This nest contained one chick approximately four weeks old. We also noticed twigs in a nest-box we had put up in 2014. This is the first time the birds have tried to use this box. Either they decided it wasn’t a suitable place to continue or the pairing just didn’t work out.
The table below aims to answer any queries the dedicated reader has about which pairs succeeded.
Green & Black
Dingle & Red
Kevin & Bean
Dusty & Chickay
Q & Flieur
Lee & Caûvette
White & Mauve
Trevor & Noirmont
no nest found
Pyrrho & Percy
? & ?
However it also throws up a few queries, like “didn’t Kevin and Bean have four chicks in May”? Yes they did. Sadly one is no more, probably the runt of the clutch, but to have three chicks still alive and well is a first for Jersey’s choughs.
The nest belonging to Lee and Caûvette was found to contain two chicks. Photo by Liz Corry.
You might also be tempted to ask “does the mystery chick not belong to Trevor and Noir“? That, dear reader, is something I still don’t have the answer to a month after the site visit. And one that is driving me insane so lets return to June 16th; life was simpler then.
We had taken a licensed ringer into the quarry with us so we could ring the chicks and get DNA samples for sexing. This is supposed to be done when the chick is around three weeks of age. Clearly from what we were seeing these chicks were older. We did not want to risk disturbing them for fear they prematurely left the nest once we put them back. It is a long way to fall!
That is ok, we thought, we can just ring them once they reach the aviary. We can see which adults feed them and work out ownership that way.
How naive we were.
Fledged chough chicks reach the aviary
Below is a montage of footage taken during the supplemental feed once the chicks had fledged. Imagine having a baby that can fly and walk and scream for food whilst doing said actions. Then multiply by two or three. That is what it’s like for a chough parent for the first few months. Note how loud the begging starts off then trails away. Always lingering, never stopping.
From appearances, Chickay was not keen on parenthood. She left most of the feeding duties to Dusty. One of our daily reports records an observation of Kevin “karate kicking” a chick in response to the constant in-your-face begging. Quite often at the feeds you would see chicks accidentally push the parent off the food-stand or shelf in the frenzy to beat its sibling to the food on offer. You also saw them beg at non-breeding individuals who looked more than a little perplexed by the situation.
Throughout all this, the three newbies (Han Solo, Chewy, and Skywalker) remained locked in quarantine in one half of the aviary. We could not attempt to catch-up and ring the wild chicks until the three had been released. That was scheduled for July.
All we could do in the meantime was try and figure out how many chicks each set of parents had. Lee and Caûvette made things easy as they continued to visit Les Landes and Grosnez, taking their chicks away from the mayhem for a few hours each day. We knew both of their chicks seen on the 16th had survived and arrived at the aviary the last week of June.
Family portrait: Lee and Caûvette with their two chicks at Grosnez. Photo by Mick Dryden.
Lee with his two noisy chicks. Photo by Mick Dryden.
Dusty and Chickay were tending to three chicks (well Dusty was at least). They would take them back and forth between Sorel and the south-east corner of the quarry. Initially there was concern over one of the three chicks as it looked relatively lethargic. We put this down to the heat and that it could be the youngest, struggling to keep up. Dusty was always very sensible, taking his chicks into the shade to rest.
Dusty and Chickay keeping their chicks in the shaded parts of the quarry. Note the chick lying down next to dad whilst the other two preen next to mum. Photo by Liz Corry.
Kevin and Bean‘s three also made it from nest site to Sorel. However, they made it a little harder. Most of the time their chicks were kept around Sorel Point. Often out of sight, but not earshot.
View across the quarry from Sorel Point. Photo by Liz Corry.
Then the mystery deepened. Q and Flieur turned up to the supplemental feed with two chicks. “But their nest was empty?” you cry. Yes, yes it was. “And the surprise nest only had one chick in it?” you answer back. Yes, yes it did.
The Plémont pair
Earl and foster-reared Xaviour, or the Plémont pair as we call them, are still roosting out at Petit Plémont. Their amazing choice of nest site has made it impossible to tell exactly what they have been up to this breeding season. We did suspect, from the couple’s behaviour out of the nest, that the female was incubating eggs.
Earl taking a break on the WW2 bunker ruins at Petit Plémont. Photo by Liz Corry.
One was seen carrying something white away from the nest. An optimistic observer thought it was a faecal sac. These ‘sacs’ are produced by chicks and carried away from the nest by the parents. He changed his mind when he saw the adult pecking away at it. The white object started to look more like an egg, but smaller than a chough egg. Out of reach of the observer, we will never know the true-identity of the object.
In the days the followed, hope of a successful nesting attempt began to fade. Xaviour was spending more time away from the nest. Foraging around the headland and neighbouring cliff tops to feed herself rather than take back to an expectant nest.
The pair are young. This year should be taken as a positive step forward in their development. They remain the first pair to set up a territory away from the release site. As they mature they will no doubt see success with their nest.
Star Wars saga continues
Han Solo, Chewy, and Skywalker continue to adjust to life at Sorel whilst in quarantine. Faecal samples from the two Paradise Park birds tested positive for nematodes.
Staff began to hear sneezing from the confined group a week or so after their arrival. Nothing to cause alarm, but enough to warrant a wormer pre-release.
This was scheduled for 20th June. On the 17th the Bird Department received a call to say that there were only two choughs locked in the aviary. Skywalker was missing. Scanning the aviary, it became apparent that he had not used Jedi mind tricks to escape. He had in fact managed to squeeze out through a hole in the netting, no doubt created by rodents.
He was not with the free-living choughs at Sorel. Well not in plain sight at least. The following day he couldn’t be any more obvious if he tried. Skywalker was on the roof of the aviary alongside Zennor a young female.
Since the boys arrived at Sorel, Zennor has shown a keen interest in them. She sits, on the opposite side of the netting during every feed whilst everyone else is tucking into their meal. We thought her interest was in Han Solo as they had touched bills through the netting; fiction becoming reality? Alas, it was Skywalker she wanted which worked to everyone’s advantage as he had another chough to follow, returned to the aviary, and we managed to get him safely back inside.
Return of the Jedi: Skywalker shortly after being trapped back inside the aviary. Photo by Paul Pestana.
All in time for the vet to visit on the 20th, give all three a wormer, and fit Han Solo with a transponder chip just like all the other captive-bred birds have. Bird Department staff also kitted them out with shiny new leg ring combos to make it easy to tell them apart once released.
Luckily the States Vet agreed that no extra time needed to be added to their quarantine period. Once complete, at the end of June, they can be released.
May the force be with them.
Despite the recent rodent-proofing at the release aviary there are still weak points in the defences. As exemplified by Skywalker’s escape. Without a major overhaul of the aviary design there is not much to be done.
Mind you, that overhaul may come sooner than imagined. The shelving has now warped so badly that bolts keeping the hatches closed no longer reach. The hinges on the external keeper door snapped right off due to rust.
This is the first year the pre-release group have not had full access to the flight tunnel in a bid to avoid further premature releases. Once the new boys have been released and settled into life at Sorel we can start repair work.
The choughs have seen a few changes to the menu this month due to food shortages. There is still no Remilline pellet in stock in Jersey, so the egg-based diet returned to the menu. The live-food manufacturer has been experiencing issues with their mealworm stock resulting in fewer or no insects being delivered. Not the best of timing. We had to increase the amount of supplemental food this month in response to an increasing demand. Obviously with mouths to feed, the breeding pairs become more dependent on the aviary feed.
Lights, camera, action
Ronez Quarry very kindly funded young film maker Sam Hertzog to fly to Jersey and produce a short film about the chough reintroduction project. Sam had four days to try and sum up the last five years into a seven minute documentary. To make the challenge that little bit harder we threw in rolling sea fog, a field manager dying of hay fever, and birds that never paid attention to the script.
Sam succeeded. You can view his film below. We are very grateful to his friend Elin Cunningham for proposing the idea and for being the boom operator, gaffer, assistant director, chauffeur….