By Liz Corry
It is with a heavy heart that we report on the passing of Gianna the tame chough at Jersey Zoo. Last month she was rushed to the Zoo’s Vet Centre after being found on the floor soaking wet from the rain and motionless. After a couple of hours under a heat lamp she showed improvement and began taking food from keepers.
Immediate action was taken to modify her enclosure. Site Services added an extra shelter on the roof and keepers added new perching and extra shelter boxes. The keepers and students covered the floor with a tonne of fresh sand in case the mud bath created by the heavy rains was harbouring any nasty germs.
Sadly all this was in vain. Despite eating and interacting with keepers Gianna seemed to be struggling. The difficulty with treating any animal is that they can’t tell you what is wrong. Our vet team carried out several tests each one not really providing the solution. Sadly despite medication and a lot of love, Gianna slipped away on 11th November.
Gianna arrived in Jersey seven years ago from Turin, Italy. She had been rescued by staff at the Universita di Medicina Veterinaria after being found injured on a balcony of a block of flats. Staff looked after her that summer at their facilities, but needed to re-home her. They recognised something in her, something special, and thought she could serve a greater purpose by joining the Jersey chough project. Or simply put she was far too imprinted to be released! They suspected she had been hand-reared and kept as a pet. They guessed her age at around three years old based on examination.
Gianna integrated well into the captive flock, but it was clear her love of human attention meant she was never going to pair up with another chough. We did try her with a hand-reared male. She attacked him in a jealous rage when keepers started showing him attention. Prima donna!
In 2015 we changed tactic. This time we would ‘pair’ with her! Gianna was moved to a bespoke aviary allowing staff easy access to the nest-box. Immediately she built a nest with material we provided. She even laid her own eggs. Not that they were fertile. However, it meant that when the time came we could swap her eggs for fertile ones to foster incubate or chicks that Gianna and staff could raise together.
She foster-reared her first chick that season and the following year raised four more. These four were released at Sorel that summer. Two have since had chicks of their own, one nesting in the quarry, the other out at Plémont.
Gianna’s impact on the success of the project doesn’t end there. During her time at Jersey Zoo she has acted as an ambassador for the choughs. Her friendly demeanour meant she always came to the front of the aviary for the keeper talks. In recent years her confidence grew and she would allow certain visitors to tickle her through the mesh under my supervision. This simple interaction made people suddenly appreciate that birds have personalities.
Any student that worked with her couldn’t help falling for her charms…even the ones that thought they didn’t like birds! She returned the admiration especially if said student provided her with insect-filled enrichment. The video below was filmed by the current project student Flavio in October after he had created new enrichment using bamboo.
Frustratingly we don’t have any answers yet to why she died. The vet team are waiting on results from the UK lab. Even then it is likely that several factors acted together to cause her ill health.
What we do know is that Gianna has helped expand people’s knowledge about red-billed choughs, developed foster-rearing techniques for conservation management, and trained numerous students in captive husbandry. Most of all she was loved and will forever be in our hearts.
Other veterinary news
We are still waiting on lab results from the UK to shed light on the reason why Lotte was found dead in the quarry. Until the histology is known the post-mortem remains inconclusive.
On a positive note, the bird treated for a suspected syngamus infection last month is still doing well. No further issues have arisen within the group.
War and Peace
I have no evidence of a bitter love rivalry or lightsaber joust to the death, but if we assume as such it makes this next bit more bearable. Or at least entertaining.
As alluded to last month, it does appear that we have lost two breeding males. Earl and Skywalker have not been seen at Sorel, or anywhere else in Jersey, since August and September respectively. Their females have re-paired and, in both cases, the new partnership has arisen at the same time the ‘old’ male disappears. Implying the ‘old’ male was pushed out.
Skywalker’s partner Pyrrho is now preening and cuddling up to Betty (a male). Betty’s ex has not been recorded at the feed since summer. We can only assume she is dead.
Earl’s partner Xaviour is now with wild-hatched Beaker. We had seen this male with another wild-hatched female giving hope to having our first truly wild Jersey chick in 2020. Whilst this now looks unlikely it still looks like Plémont will remain a breeding site. If Xaviour stays in good health!
Update on the 2019 fledglings
From the ‘chough register’ we keep at the supplemental feeds we know that three youngsters have not been present since the end of July. Initially you assume that you are just not seeing their leg rings in the mayhem of birds at the feeds. Or that they are not returning to Sorel because they are with a breakaway group finding food elsewhere on the Island. The report of a possible chough in Sark also adds to the doubt; maybe the lone chick from Plémont decided the odds looked better across the waters?
Now winter is upon us and with no confirmed sightings we are recording Cliff, Cerise, and Pallot as missing presumed dead. Those of you who follow regularly maybe wondering why you have never heard of those three before. You have, but as PP046, PP041, and PP048. We finally named the 2019 youngsters!
Of note, we have named one clutch after two St John households who have supported the project since the start. A small token of our appreciation. Morris and Dary regularly visit the aviary for food and make trips out west having learnt the best foraging spots from their parents.
We turned to the Jèrriais dictionary for two names. Jaune, meaning yellow, was given to a female with a yellow leg ring. Baie is the only surviving chick from the ‘Dust bay’ building in the quarry (also located in the bay at Ronez).
We’ve also kept the Star Wars theme alive with naming Skywalker’s offspring. I had to turn to an uber-geek for help. There is a prize to the first person who guesses correctly and knows the reasoning behind the choices.
A few leg ring issues needed addressing this month. One was Flieur, who had lost her blue plastic ring and need a replacement. One youngster still needs a metal ring. She is proving tricky to catch; at least her colour ring combo makes her easy to spot.
If you manage to read and/or photograph any leg rings on a chough whilst out and about in Jersey, you can now identify which bird it is. Or at least have a go before they fly off. Click here for the list of Jersey’s choughs.
I have also updated our website to include a new chough sighting form. Hopefully this will make it easier to report your sightings and provide the team with the data we need.
You can find a new guide to show the differences between a chough and some of its corvid cousins in Jersey. As well as a couple of distant relations that have been misidentified in the past (there are more videos of choughs here too).
We are still experiencing a few technical glitches since we went back online. For a while comments were being blocked. That should now be resolved, but please do get in touch if you experience any problems. Forays into the Matrix are few and far between so faults easily go unnoticed unless reported by users.
Chough movements and public sightings
We have had several public sightings this month, more so than last month. The dip in temperatures and heavy rains will be forcing the birds to look further afield for food. None of the sightings have been from anywhere unexpected. Places like Le Pulec (Stinky Bay), Crabbé, and St Ouen’s Bay have been visited before albeit infrequently. The interesting information from these sightings is the time of day and numbers. We clearly have a pair using the west coast independent from the others. We could really do with establishing who these two are.
Group activity close to roost time is being cited more particularly over Grève de Lecq. Again, this might be linked to the weather; birds trying to stock up on calories before bed as overnight frosts creep in.
Numbers at the supplemental feed have varied this month. The register shows that on average 75% of the group are present when we put the food out. The rest either don’t need it or swing by just before roosting. Some days it has been the reverse with less than 25% at the feed. These are the drier days when the winds and sunshine are in the birds’ favour.
These patterns of behaviour are what you expect to see at your garden bird feeder. The choughs are no different. Yes there is food out there for them to find naturally, but due to human impacts on the environment they need a helping hand.
One thing the choughs don’t need from us this month is fresh water. They are getting plenty of that thanks to the endless rainy days. A few of the birds have been spotted drinking and bathing in the puddles formed up by the motocross much to the delight of onlookers.
Sunday 8th December 2019 –– St Martin Village 10:00-13.00
Task Join the National Trust for Jersey’s countryside rangers this Sunday for a morning of hedge and tree planting in St Martin.
National Trust for Jersey has recently been working alongside The Jersey Royal Company in an ambitious hedge-planting scheme. Over the last couple of months, staff from Jersey Royal, ably coordinated by the NTJ’s Conrad Evans, have been busy planting on land leased and managed by Jersey Royal. The aim for this year is to plant 10 miles of hedging trees between St Catherine’s Woods and Jersey Zoo, amounting to over 20,000 hedging trees. And this is where the JCV can lend their seasoned hedge planting skills to the cause. The next link in our chain of hedgerows is a large agricultural field in St Martin, which is currently very bare and in desperate need of some ‘tree TLC’. So come along and help us continue with the planting of these vital wildlife corridors.
If you have any questions, or if you wish to be added to the Jersey Conservation Volunteers email list, please contact either Julia Clively (tel: 441600; email@example.com) or Jon Parkes (tel: 483193; firstname.lastname@example.org).
The site St Martin Village (Jersey Phone Directory Map 10, GG 11 and Google maps here )
Parking St Martin’s village green carpark opposite the school. Please also consider car sharing or cycling.
We will meet earlier than usual at 9:45 for a 10:00 start. We will be finished by 12.30.
Tools needed As always, we can supply some tools, but if you have a pair of gardening gloves, and cutting tools (e.g. pruning saw, loppers, secateurs) it would be helpful if you could bring them along with you. Gloves and tools will be provided but please bring your own spades if you have them.
Clothing needed As ever decent footwear and wet weather gear is recommended to cope with whatever the weather throws at us.
Children All are welcome, young or old although we do ask that volunteers under 16 years of age are accompanied by an adult.
Refreshments Down tools at around 12.30 for well-earned tea and cake!
A little later than in previous years, we are very pleased to update everyone on the Channel Islands’ birds. Two new species were added to the Islands list and unlike some of last year’s (here) they were ‘proper’ species, not those cryptic ones hiding in plain sight. Although Guernsey did add the previously ‘hidden’ Iberian chiffchaff and Caspian gull to their own list in 2018.
With some revisions (Jersey’s saker falcon, probably an escape, was demoted), the overall total for the Islands only actually went up by one so now stands at 377. I was right, last year, that Alderney would add little bunting to their total but they still haven’t reached 300. Losing a bean goose (its become two species and while Jersey can confirm records of both taiga and tundra bean, Guernsey and Alderney decided that they couldn’t retrospectively confirm the tundra version) put them back one, the little bunting brought them back up to 298. The wait for 300 goes on!
And, in the separate islands, Guernsey added the three species above but also saw their first pallid swifts with birds seen in October and November. Offshore Guernsey birders recorded their Island and the whole CI’s third Wilson’s petrel. And, to rub it in with their southern neighbours the royal tern continued to hang around until May and still didn’t visit Jersey.
In Alderney, the impressive effort continued and besides the little bunting, long awaited second records of goosander, Iceland gull and Richard’s and tawny pipits were logged. There were also three records of great egret, a rapidly spreading species, and two of cirl bunting, a species, in contrast, considered to be in decline and exhibiting limited movements. Interestingly, Sark also saw a cirl bunting, their first since, well, a long time ago. Jersey has breeding cirl buntings but they were absent from the Island from 2004-2012 pointing to more movement in this species than had been expected (and look out for more news on this beautiful bird next year!).
Guernsey also recorded local rarities in Canada and pink-footed goose, penduline tit and corn bunting. Sark added records of only rarely recorded red kite, nightjar and hawfinch with their cirl bunting.
In Jersey, besides the two CI firsts, above, the first Island record of Pallas’s leaf warbler meant that a gap in the CI list was finally filled in – there have been 18 previous records of this warbler across the other three islands. There were also seconds for Barolo shearwater, little crake and Caspian gull. The little crake was found in poor health and died in care. A third common rosefinch and third dusky warbler were also notable.
Two further wading birds made contrasting appearances in the islands in 2018 with a Kentish plover recorded in Jersey for the third time since 2000 and six black-winged stilts seen (two in Jersey and four in Alderney). Kentish plover is a former breeder in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney (last breeding in 1974) whereas the stilt was only first seen in the islands, in Guernsey, in 1987 and has now been recorded in 13 separate years.
The full A Working List of the Birds of the Channel Islands can be downloaded here
By Liz Corry and Glyn Young
This year’s Inter-Island Environment Meeting (IIEM) was held in Alderney hosted by the Alderney Wildlife Trust and the States of Alderney. We had two days of presentations, participatory bioblitzs, and workshops. A new Wilder Islands conference ran on the third day bringing scientists, conservation practitioners, and policy makers together. This extra day was used to discuss the role of islands as biodiversity hot spots in a response to global environmental decline. Each day was introduced by AWT’s indefatigable Roland Gauvain.
There were over 120 delegates in attendance representing the Channel Islands, UK, British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies and France. Quite a crowd and quite a diversity of subjects.
For an island just shy of 8km2 Alderney did pretty well to accommodate us all. We took over the independent cinema and Island Hall for presentations and workshops, nipping into the Georgian House for coffee breaks and sustenance (there was also a divine three-course meal cooked by The Blonde Hedgehog staff using locally sourced products. We won’t talk about that since Glyn was only there for Day 3).
Topics included invasive species control, citizen science, rewilding, and species monitoring. We will just mention a few to give you a flavour of the event.
Bob Tompkins talked about how Jersey is tackling the Asian hornet problem. We also heard from delegates about the Bailiwick of Guernsey’s approach. It is a daunting task; one that depends enormously on volunteers and public awareness. One take-home message, maybe unintentional, was just how amazing and socially intricate hornets are.
Asian hornets are considered a pest because they predate honey bees; a species already in peril. As are many of our pollinating species be it bird, bat, or beetle.
At last years IIEM we heard from Barry Wells about the success of the newly created Pollinator Project. His team’s efforts (and enthusiasm) are now being replicated in Jersey in order to connect the Channel Islands together to achieve greater success.
Barry highlighted an interesting fact – around 27% of Guernsey is designated as gardens. If you can convince homeowners to set aside just 10% of that land to pollinating plants it would be the equivalent of 200 football pitches. On one tiny island! Think how many insects that would help.
This is another example of how volunteers can be a huge benefit to biodiversity by making subtle changes. Sometimes a huge shift in public attitudes is needed and is harder to achieve. Cristina Sellarés touched upon this when she discussed the impact of dogs chasing wading birds on beaches.
Some impacts are harder to notice unless you dedicate your time to monitoring them. Take eelgrass for example. It is considered a priority marine habitat in the Channel Islands due to the wonderful array of ecological functions that it has. Yet we don’t really know anything about our own eelgrass.
Lack of public awareness has meant urban development, dredging, pollution, and sediment runoff has significantly degraded this habitat. A joint collaboration between partners from Guernsey and Alderney led to a citizen science project to monitor eelgrass. Data from this will hopefully be used by policy makers to apply protection and conserve eelgrass beds.
How to segway from eelgrass to choughs? Monitoring – sea eagles – reintroductions – choughs. Seamless.
Jamie Marsh, Reserves Manager for Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, talked about the white-tailed sea eagle recent release on the Isle of Wight. Three-pairs of birds were released in August as part of a reintroduction project. With an 8ft (2.5m) wingspan it is not surprising that the birds’ GPS trackers have shown some interesting results. One eagle, named Culver, excelled itself and was spotted by a father and son in London! Jamie shared the tracking data which confirmed Culver flew over Westminster at the end of August, over to Essex, before returning to Hampshire.
If this particular project is successful it will help pave the way for other reintroductions on the Isle of Wight; cirl bunting? beaver? chough?!
Public opinion has been divided over returning sea eagles to England. Not helped by the often skewed and in some cases fake news coverage. Something Dr George McGavin raised in his lecture on the first evening.
George’s talk entitled Where have all the insects gone? touched upon the tendency for the media to extrapolate headline grabbing facts from reports and not consider the finer detail. Audience members were treated to a brief lesson in statistical significance and bias in survey sampling. Luckily George went about it in an engaging manner.
On the subject of insect numbers, George referenced the 2004 Big Bug Count led by the RSPB. Similar to their Big Garden Birdwatch, people were asked to count the number of insects seen on their vehicle registration plate using a ‘Splatometer’. It made people reminisce of days gone by when you would have to stop the car to wipe splattered flying insects off your windscreen.
Of course windscreens are different from number plates. Maybe the ‘splats’ are more likely on a larger, higher up surface? We won’t know unless the survey is repeated on an annual basis allowing us to see trends. We do it for birds, why not for insects? Well if you live in Kent you can! Kent Wildlife Trust reinstated the scheme this summer. What results would we get for Jersey? An island with more cars than people!
On the third day, the conference took on a new role and focused on the role islands have to play in a rapidly changing world where ecosystem collapse seems inevitable and considered how we can work together to meet this challenge. Again hosted by Dr George McGavin, each session involved a series of short presentations putting forward the speaker’s position with the speakers then forming a panel to debate the issue, with questions and input from the floor.
Session 1 looked at how we prioritise our response to the impacts of climate change on island ecosystems with Rob Stoneman (Rewilding Europe), Glyn Young (Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Birds On The Edge) and Dr Louise Soanes (University of Roehampton).
Glyn’s talk was nattily entitled Islands: threatened engines of evolution and covered the importance of islands in the ‘creation’ of new species, current threats to the world’s islands and novel solutions looking at Durrell’s work in the Galápagos Islands.
Session 2 looked at the role of marine protected areas within islands in securing marine biodiversity with Dr Bryce Beukers-Stewart (University of York), Dr Jean-Luc Solandt (Marine Conservation Society), Farah Mukhida (Anguilla National Trust) and Jim Masters (Fishing into the Future).
Blue Islands Charter
Political representatives at the conference stepped out to take part in the Blue Island Summit, to sign a charter committing islands to work together in their response to the environmental threats they face.
The natural environment knows no boundaries
Acknowledging that the natural environment has no boundaries, Ministers and other representatives from the UK family of small islands agreed the Blue Island Charter. The Charter provides a statement of principle on a number of initiatives previously discussed by the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies Environment Ministers Council as well as other islands. These stressed working together on common issues which we all face.
Some key issues which the UK family of territories intend to pursue include moving towards a ban on single use plastics and, in general, controlling the impact of the Island’s activities upon the terrestrial and marine environment. Crucially, this would be facilitated by supporting each other through open communication and education.
The various territories are further actively exploring the possibility of creating a joint biodiversity fund to support inter-island work. This fund would also be open to contributions from other parties, including governmental, corporate and private sources.
This charter demonstrates the will and intent of islands to work together for the benefit of all, to safeguard the environment and promote active collaboration on matters such as climate change. It portrays a level of commitment in promoting environmental governance in a manner rarely seen on a global scale. See the media release here
Session 3, after lunch, Hon. Claude Hogan (Minister, Montserrat), Dr Mike Pienkowski (UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum) and Dr Keith Bensusan (Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society) looked at the roles NGOs and government might play in the response to climate change and biodiversity loss across our islands.
And finally, the outcome of the Blue Islands Summit was announced by delegates from Alderney (Andrew Muter, CEO) and Gibraltar (Dr Liesl Mesilio, Director of the Environment) to the room at large and attendees were asked to approve as a whole a statement of unity and a request for collaborative working.
And so, on a wet and very windy Sunday we returned home to Jersey, our flight home in doubt until the last minute. Thank you Aurigny. Before the flight I took time to walk down to Braye and watch the weather, to quietly thank our hosts, AWT and particularly Roland, Lindsay and Justin and listen to Wales beat Australia. What better way to end a great and productive weekend.
In May this year, Jersey’s States Assembly declared a Climate Emergency (see subsequent report here). As you know, trees and hedgerows play a vital role in capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide as well as providing an important habitat for our local biodiversity.
To celebrate National Tree Week the Government of Jersey Natural Environment Team are joining forces with Jersey Trees For Life and Jersey Conservation Volunteers to plant as many trees and as much hedgerow as we can in one morning. We’d love to get lots of people involved so it would be fantastic if you’d join us.
Date and time: Saturday, 23 November 2019 from 9.00-13.00
Place: We are planting at the Jersey Motocross site at Sorel, St John. They have kindly allowed us use of their car park but we’d ask you to think about travelling as sustainably as possible.
Jersey Phone Directory Map 3, R2) and Google maps here
Equipment: Please bring a garden spade if you have one, though we will have some spares.
Clothing: Good thick gloves (we can supply a pair if you don’t have them), wellies or sturdy boots, and common sense clothes to cope with the north coast elements
Children are welcome to attend this task as long as they are directly supervised by a parent or guardian.
IMPORTANT We are asking people to sign up using this Eventbrite link so that we can make sure we have enough people to supervise and enough tools.
For more information about this event please contact Beverley Dallas-Chapman at Jersey Trees for Life. Email: email@example.com Mobile: 07797 713 321
By Liz Corry
October has seen a distinct dip in temperatures and a rise in the amount of rainfall and blustery weather. The number of choughs at the supplemental feed has been just as varied. Often the two are linked. Birds prepare for bad weather by filling up on calories. As the days get colder the choughs spend more time around the supplemental feed site. Some that have been independent all summer, like Xaviour, are now returning because wild supplies are running low out west.
On days when its constantly tipping down you might not find any choughs around the aviary – they are sheltering somewhere like the quarry or cliff crevices. Or, you arrive to find a dozen very angry choughs flying out of their aviary shelter cursing your presence, waiting to return the second you leave.
On drier, calmer days, the birds are out making the most of the sunshine. We had six records sent in by the public this month. Two reports from Alison Hales, Director of Paradise Park, whilst over here on holiday. One tourist who should definitely know what a chough looks like!
Two choughs were spotted foraging on grassland at St Ouen’s Pond and Kempt Tower. There have only been a few sightings in this latter area since the first release in 2013. Enough to suggest this small patch of land in the bay is alluring to choughs but quite how important it is we don’t know.
Spotting one or two choughs can be tricky. A dozen on the other hand… A resident near Les Ormes reported twelve noisy choughs flying overhead in a southerly direction. This is the first record for 2019 of choughs in St Brelade’s parish.
We will be adding a link on the website to the list of choughs out and about in Jersey. This is in response to a suggestion made by a local resident. If you manage to see the leg rings (quite a challenge) you will be able to identify the bird and discover a bit of. Hopefully leading to more detailed records
Catching up with the choughs
One of this years juveniles, PP044, was caught up and treated for a suspected Syngamus infection this month. This naturally occurring nematode tends to cause problems every now and again even though it is probably present all year round.
Our ability to treat affected individuals has contributed to the success of the reintroduction. I am pleased to say that PP044 responded well to her worming injection and continues to fly free around Jersey.
As a side note we also caught up Black, one of the original females, when we trapped PP044. Black needed a replacement plastic leg ring. Once this was fitted she was released and flew off to rejoin her partner.
Numbers down again
Ronez staff found a dead chough in the production area of the lower quarry on 26th October. Leg rings allowed for instant identification of Lotte, a wild-hatched female just under eighteen months of age. She had not shown any signs of ill health and was seen the day before at Sorel.
A bit of a mystery for the vet carrying out the post-mortem examination. We are waiting on lab results before determining cause of death.
Seasonal roost checks
Several roost checks were carried out at the end of October to determine which birds, if any, roost at the aviary. It is helpful to gauge how dependent the choughs are on this structure especially since the population has grown.
We also want to see if there is any significant change to numbers once the clocks fall back an hour. Historically we have seen a rise in the numbers of birds using the aviary in winter. This may be linked to certain quarry roosts being disturbed by artificial lighting and work there continuing when the sun sets before 5pm.
Getting answers has not been easy. Camera traps inside the aviary have had limited results. We only have two to start with and one mysteriously stopped working. To cover every potential location, Flavio has been re-positioning the camera each night and checking through the footage the following day.
Combining this evidence with observational data we have managed to gain… very little knowledge. There is definitely one chough roosting by herself in a box. The jury is still out as to whether the external roost boxes are being used and if we have a few more choughs at the aviary. It does appear, however, that fewer choughs are using the aviary as a roost site than in previous years. A step in the right direction.
The chough pairs have been at it again. With more plot twists than a daytime soap opera, we now appear to have three new pairings. Two of which are to the detriment of others.
Toby, a young male from the quarry, has been seen preening Aude a three-year old female. Hopefully this pair will make it through the winter and have their first go at breeding next year.
Rather annoyingly (from our viewpoint), Pyrrho has been seen with Betty. At first it just seemed coincidental that they were at the same feed stations. Progressing to suspicious and ending with definitely a pair when she was seen preening Betty all afternoon.
Two things to note are (1) Betty is a male and (2) Pyrrho fledged two chicks this year with Skywalker. So where the heck is Skywalker? He hasn’t been seen at the feed for over a month. Likewise Betty’s other half has not been seen in a while. They were not a breeding pair so a little more acceptable that they have parted.
Not content with one drama, we started noticing Xaviour at the feeds and in a fairly regular fashion. She is one half of the Plémont pair. The male is unaccounted for. We have noticed Xaviour feeding from the same food bowl as Beaker a young male. Coincidence or a completely calculated move?
It might seem a little early, but we have started planning for the 2020 breeding season. Working alongside Ronez’s Toby Cabaret we have identified three nest sites in the quarry that need a little TLC in order to ensure their continued success.
One nest-box is looking a little worse for wear. Not surprising given that it’s exposed position means it takes a battering from the winds and rain. It is now a health and safety risk to workers below and Toby’s team will replace the box with a more secure, longer lasting box.
As part of this ‘renovation’ work we are trialling a different design of nest-box. One that was brought to our attention a few years ago by a family in Ireland.
Incorporated into their barn conversion was a novel nest-box design to accommodate a resident pair of chough. The pair successfully raised young the following season. Clearly a winning design and one that will hopefully work in the quarry.
We have to mention the Go Wild Gorillas who departed the Island trail in a blaze of glory. The million dollar statues* were on display at Jersey Zoo for one last time before the auction. Without discrediting all the amazing artists, our favourites had to be Dia de la Exctincion and I-Spy for featuring a red-billed chough in their design!
*actually the auction raised more like 1.5 million given the exchange rate!
By Liz Corry
The 5th International Chough Conference was held in Segovia, Spain from the 3rd to 5th October. Held at the Palacio Episcopal building adjoined to Casa de Espiritualidad San Frutos. A very religious affair! And very inclusive events with delegates from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France and all around the UK. And Jersey!
There were two days of talks focused on red-billed choughs and yellow-billed (Alpine) choughs and a field trip to Hoces del Duratón Natural Park on the final day. Being the chough geeks that we are, the evenings were spent staking out chough roosts in ‘downtown’ Segovia. More on that later.
Segovia is a 25 minute train journey north of Madrid and famous for it’s gothic cathedral, roman aqueduct, and Disney-esque Alcázar Palace. It also happens to be home to a large population of red-billed choughs.
A census carried out this year by José González del Barrio and his team recorded 123 choughs roosting in the city. They seem to have a penchant for architectural masterpieces; its not hard to see why. The cathedral is home to half the population with the alcazar and churches accommodating another 30%.
It stands to reason that they also have a considerable number of nest sites in Segovia. José’s team recorded 94 nests this year ranging from natural caves to guttering in the cathedral. Bell towers seem to be a particular favourite.
It is not unusual for Spanish choughs to nest in man-made structures, but researchers have noticed an increase in numbers of birds switching from natural mountain caves or crevices to these urban sites.
Just outside of the city (1-3km) there are cereal crops, fallow fields, and grazing cattle and sheep on land they refer to as ‘wasteland’ i.e. can’t grow commercial crops. These provide foraging sites for the choughs (and jackdaws). This is probably why the urban areas are more appealing to raise young rather than up in the mountains where temperatures fall below zero.
However, there is a rather unappealing element to urban living. I’m not referring to the flea-riddled stray cats that prowl the cathedral like a gang of hooded youth. Although cats and rats do predate the birds and eggs.
The problem is Segovia’s human inhabitants and their dislike of pigeons. Pigeons roost and nest in the same places as choughs. So when someone puts up a deterrent to stop pigeons pooping on an historic monument, it also stops the choughs. Nine nests failed this year due to human disturbance. The worse cases seeing chicks and/or adults blocked in and starving to death.
This behaviour is largely due to a lack of awareness over choughs in general. One reason why organisers selected Segovia to host the conference. Our presence in the city (especially on the roost visits) gives the choughs some ‘air time’. We also had local government officials sit in on the talks. Hopefully public attitudes will change towards choughs. The real challenge will be how to pigeon-proof a structure whilst still giving access to a similar sized species.
City life or country living?
Despite the perils of city living, the choughs have been switching their country cliff-side dwellings for urban development over the last 10-15 year in central Spain. Guillermo Blanco presented data that showed the number of cliff nesting pairs had dropped by 180 pairs over a twenty-eight year period. Switching limestone or clay cliffs for farm buildings and human dwellings.
Jesús Zúñiga had a similar tale to tell in the Sierra Nevada National Park of southern Spain. The chough population has declined by 60% compared to data collected in 1980-1984. This also coincides with an increased use of buildings for roost and nesting.
Choughs in central Spain are switching from cliffs for buildings when it comes to nesting and roosting.
Some choice of nest sites may look familiar to Birds On The Edge readers. Others are a little more suited to the pages of Homes & Gardens magazine.
Many of the buildings the birds are choosing to nest in are abandoned and nowhere near as intricate as the cathedral and churches of Segovia. Ledges and boxes have been erected by conservationists to support nest construction. They are seeing some amazing results.
As eluded to earlier, predators are more of a problem in these areas. Cats, rats, pine marten and genets. A team from Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi have come up with a genius idea – “ugly nests” (patent pending). They have used reclaimed materials such as water containers (too slippery for the mammals to grip) and installed them so they are out of reach from predatory paws.
The team were so proud of their ugly nests that we were treated to a demonstration of how easy it is to make one (we had the priest on standby if it all went wrong). We even had an auction with the winning bidder becoming the proud owner of a bespoke ugly nest!
Food availability for choughs
The main reason for the ‘cultural shift’ in Spanish choughs has been the change in agriculture surrounding the limestone cliffs and gorges. Irrigation of the land for maize and fruit growing instead of traditional dry cultivation means a reduction in suitable foraging habitat for the birds.
Places like Segovia on the other hand have livestock grazing within a kilometre of the city walls. This is perfect foraging habitat for choughs (and several hundred jackdaw).
We know dung is a favourite food source for UK choughs. Gillian Gilbert (RSPB) explained how the Scottish birds particularly like to rummage through dung between July and October in search of invertebrates. In the 1980s, choughs were finding lots of beetles from the Aphodius family. Nowadays, Aphodius numbers have declined and the choughs are more reliant on species of Geotrupes beetles. So what is the problem? Well Geotrupes are soil-boring dung beetles, they drag the dung down into the ground, whereas Aphodius live in the dung. The birds have to work more to probe soil compared to dung which means Geotrupes have less nutritional value.
Food availability (or lack thereof) was a common theme across all countries. In the UK, the Islay choughs began receiving supplemental food eight years ago when researchers noticed a population crash. This extra food, provided by farmers and chough-champions Eric and Sue Bignal, is crucial during the months of September and October.
In the past few years, several of the Cornish birds have been visiting garden bird feeders to score some free food. This may be more opportunistic than essential for survival, but certainly something researchers should keep an eye on in case things change.
Yellow-billed (or Alpine) choughs are known to be opportunistic feeders. Mention choughs to anyone who skis in the Alps and they will probably regale tales of over-friendly, black birds hanging around their restaurant table. Alpine choughs have a broader diet then their cousins. In winter, as temperatures drop they start to forage on juniper berries, seeds, and après-ski leftovers.
Cristina Vallino, University of Turin, has undertaken a novel approach to observing the feeding behaviour of these birds around ski resorts. Using the free-access public webcams from ski-resorts in three different Alpine countries she has clocked up 13,704 recordings and analysed flock size, stay time, food intake, vigilance distance and flushing distance. She then combined this with genetic studies of the diet to determine variation in diet. Her concerns for the Alpine chough are the long term effects of eating leftovers. Will this ‘fast food’ be effecting their health?
Conservation of European choughs can be a little tricky compared to the UK because the birds can travel long distances. For example, in some years individuals roosting in Segovia may nest in Madrid. Subsequent juvenile dispersal from those nests plays an important role in range expansion. Not just moving within country but between countries too.
Personally speaking, the two most anticipated conference presentations focused on the first use of solar-powered GPS tags on choughs. One on an Alpine chough in Aragon, Spain, the other on red-billed chough in central Spain.
Both studies used transmitters built by a Lithuania company, Ornitrack. The tags transmit data using the 3G mobile network. So as long as you have coverage you can receive data anywhere in the world…roaming charges apply. No joke – just ask the Russians!
The tag is solar-powered which explains the bulky size; the panel needs to be above the feathers in order to charge. The weight of the tag requires harness attachment rather than just gluing on to the body. Juan Manual Pérez-Garcia and his team fitted harnesses to six birds this summer and had some interesting results.
One bird covered a distance of 173km in two days. Another flew 85km on its first flight (in under 3 hrs) then took another 15km journey before settling down for 12 days. Sadly it was then predated by a booted eagle. They know this because an accelerometer fitted in the tag gives an activity pattern. You can detect feeding events, roosting events, and sadly the shaking around and eventual immobility from a predation event. And then the carrying off to the nest to feed the eagle chicks event!
These studies are in their infancy stage. A lot of work is needed looking at the welfare implications of tag attachment. Cost is a small hurdle to overcome considering each tag is about £1,200 plus a data transfer fee. There is definite potential and something we are keen to explore in Jersey.
Future prospects for choughs
The scope of work and tireless dedication evident from everyone in the room (any associates that could not be there in person) is promising for the future of choughs. Whilst classed as least concern, due to their global range, the species appears to be in decline. By sharing data, collaborating on research, and undertaking well-planned translocations or re-introductions we will hopefully halt any further decline. In the process, as several talks showed, this can have a far wider impact for global biodiversity because species restoration works in partnership with habitat restoration.
There was far too much to cover in one post. I will end with a photo gallery of chough sightings in Segovia and a couple of videos. All of which may help you plan your 2020 holidays!
La Palma island wildlife recovery centre: choughs often end up at the centre after collisions with power lines or collisions with cats mouths.
By Liz Corry
A blog post about cute pigs?! Nah. I’m just throwing you off the scent. Click bait. It is the monthly chough report of course with everything that happened in September.
Scoping out the racecourse
The chough flock spent at lot of time in September foraging around Les Landes Racecourse. There appeared to be plenty of insects available in the soil. Leatherjackets (cranefly larvae) from the looks of things although viewing through a scope a some distance adds uncertainty.
We still have a fair few turn up at the supplemental feed. The noticeable difference is that they are taking less food. Instead of finding empty food dishes within an hour of food being put out we find leftover pellet. Presumably because they have eaten so well out and about in the mornings.
Our rodent-proof food stands mean we can leave the leftovers for the choughs to snack on later. Hunger should not be a problem for Jersey’s choughs this month!
Class of 2019 suffer another setback
Another dead juvenile has been found out on the north coast. The body was found by a dog walker near Devil’s Hole. The lady regularly visits Sorel and knew when we would be feeding so kindly handed over the remains. We identified the bird as PP042 who fledged this year in the quarry. Not a huge surprise as they were on the missing birds list.
The surprise was the condition of the bird…headless and, on X-ray, very broken. You can see shattered bone in the left humerus (circled red in the image below). Our vet was a bit baffled at the post-mortem. The injuries sustained are something he is more familiar with seeing from a bird that had been hit by a car. Plus we don’t know if all this happened after the bird died or before.
We do know this means there are only 11 juveniles remaining. Three of those have not been seen in a long time. If they are still unaccounted for in October we will have to assume the worse.
PP035 is one juvenile very much alive and kicking. She was caught up mid-September because one of her plastic rings was unraveling. Not an easy thing to do for a bird to do. It would have required force. The ring was replaced and this time a lot of glue was used to seal the overlapping edges. She looked in good health and was released straight away.
The flock of sheep at Sorel were moved off site this month as part of their management plan.
There was, however, one little sheep who avoided the round-up. We found her merrily grazing away at the aviary. She had pushed through the fencing and entered the hedgerow bank rather cunningly hiding in the hedgerow when the shepherd was around and reappearing at the chough feed.
With a bit a team work and a lot of patience she was eventually moved out (it gave our push-mower a bit of a break!).
After seven years of working out at Sorel it felt quite eerie to visit and have no sheep and no choughs*. You can still find the sheep in various locations around Jersey doing their bit for conservation grazing. Maybe it could become the next rewilding game #whereswoolly?
*don’t worry we haven’t removed the birds, they do that themselves by flying off during the day.
Flocking season in the Zoo
At this time of year, with breeding over, we normally move all the Zoo choughs back into one aviary. This mimics the flocking behaviour you see in choughs over winter. However, this year was a bit different.
This is the first year we have had only one breeding pair at Jersey Zoo. It is also the first year we haven’t released parent-reared chicks. So that means trying to mix a family of four with the only other chough we have – Gianna.
Normally the other choughs ignore Gianna, but with one family and an uninvited guest in their territory things are a little different. We have made three attempts to mix Gianna with the group this month. The first time we assumed tensions were high because the male in the family had only just been moved back. He had been housed separately for the past two months due to bad behaviour. We gave him some more time to settle in and calm down before the next attempt. No change. We waited again. Surely the hormones had settled? Nope.
As soon as I leave the aviary the pair fly over and shout loudly at Gianna. If I then walk away from Gianna, they dive-bomb her and it gets physical. Thankfully, Gianna is thick skinned and once I’m back inside with her she returns to preening and picking out insects.
Sadly for Gianna I can’t live in the aviary and be 24-hr bodyguard (although the rent would be free). She has been moved back to her off-show aviary and might have to stay in there over winter.
New placement student
If Gianna does have to stay off-show she will receive lots of attention because….fanfare please…we have a student placement again! After more than a year with a vacant position, Flavio has joined the project.
He is with us until March and has already got stuck in to the task at hand. As evident in the video below. Faceal sampling for health checks, camera trap reviews for roost ID, and dealing with a dead chough all in Week 1.
Flavio has previously worked on a beetle conservation project in the UK so we are hoping to put his survey skills to use in Jersey. His mode of transport is a bicycle so be sure to give him a wide berth if you are overtaking – he has an expensive scope in his bag. I wouldn’t want it damaged!
The annual Inter-Islands Environmental Meeting was held in Alderney this year hosted by the Alderney Wildlife Trust. With the theme of Wilder Islands, delegates attended a two day symposium highlighting work carried out across the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and islands of the British Overseas Territories. Birds On The Edge was represented by myself and Cristina Sellares with Glyn Young joining on the challenging third day.
The third day was a mixture of talks and working groups tackling the challenges islanders face with biodiversity and climate change. Tony Juniper gave the introductory keynote speech.
We were also treated to an evening lecture from Dr George McGavin the esteemed entomologist and patron of the Alderney Wildlife Trust.
A separate blog will be posted going into more detail. The highlights for this report include the mention we got in Jamie Marsh’s talk on the white-tailed sea eagle reintroduction in the Isle of Wight. Guess where we might be taking choughs next? And our first possible sighting of a Jersey chough visiting Sark! Suffice to say our
holidays work plans for 2020 are quickly filling up.
Alderney Wildlife Trust was not the only Trust we were involved with this month. I attended further planning meetings this month for the Kentish Chough Partnership (KCP). This includes Kent Wildlife Trust, WildWood Trust, and the National Trust to name all the trusts. Also involved are Paradise Park, White Cliffs Countryside Partnership, and English Heritage. As you can imagine there are a lot of stakeholders with an invested interest in restoring Kent’s biodiveristy.
Building on the success of the Jersey choughs, can reintroduced choughs help restore Kent’s chalk grasslands? Could we eventually join the Cornish population and Kentish population to bring back this charismatic bird to England’s entire south coast as in days gone by? Ok, that last bit is jumping the gun. Although it is early days, the KCP are certainly working hard to make sure the first aim is achievable.
You can click the link here to read about Kent Wildlife Trust’s vision for a Wilder Kent.
Sunday 3rd November 2019 – Parc de la Petite Falaise, Trinity – 10:30-13.00
Please note that November’s task is a week earlier than normal to avoid clashing with Remembrance Sunday
Task Join us this Sunday for hazel coppicing and dead-hedge creation. Coppicing means to cut back (a tree or shrub) to ground level periodically to stimulate growth. Did you know the word ‘coppice’ is derived from the French ‘couper’ which means ‘to cut’?
If you have any questions, or if you wish to be added to the Jersey Conservation Volunteers email list, please contact either Julia Clively (tel: 441600; firstname.lastname@example.org) or Jon Parkes (tel: 483193; email@example.com).
The site Parc de la Petite Falaise (Bouley Bay Common), La Rue de la Petite Falaise, Trinity (Jersey Phone Directory Map 5: BB 7. Google maps here
Parking Parking is available on site but please also consider car sharing or cycling.
Please arrive in time to start work at 10.30. We will be finished by 13.00.
Tools needed As always, we can supply some tools, but if you have a pair of gardening gloves, and cutting tools (e.g. pruning saw, loppers, secateurs) it would be helpful if you could bring them along with you.
Clothing needed Good thick gloves (though we can supply a pair if you don’t have them), wellies or sturdy boots, and common sense clothes to cope with whatever the weather throws at us.
Children All are welcome, young or old although we do ask that volunteers under 16 years of age are accompanied by an adult.
Refreshments Down tools at around 12.30 for some of Kim’s homemade cakes and a cuppa!
See you there!