Jersey’s Great Garden Bird Watch – 18 years of citizen science in Jersey

H Glyn Young and Andrew Koester

No one can have failed to pick up this week that our environment and the biodiversity that we are a part of is under severe threat. Our very future is being debated. The Great Garden Bird Watch in Jersey may seem trivial by comparison but, like its counterparts in the UK (this year’s 40th Big Garden Birdwatch) and elsewhere, it represents a remarkable piece of citizen science that is truly encouraging in the face of such gloom. Each year, supported by the Jersey Evening Post, we encourage people across the Island to spend time on one day over a February weekend to count the birds they see in their garden, typically with the annual threat of atrocious weather, and tell us how many they see.

During this year’s count, our 18th since we started in 2002, 231 households sent us records of their birds. It wasn’t the highest number that we’ve had back but it has been important in establishing very visible trends, showing how those birds that live the closest to us are faring in today’s world. We need this kind of information if we are going to persuade our governments and those around us that Nature needs our help. Don’t forget, if the birds that have chosen to live closest to us are not doing well, what does that say about our own future?

Counts like this are also good for us, we can watch our birds, enjoy their presence and make ourselves happier and healthier. Proximity to and enjoyment of Nature are well known to help our own mental wellbeing (see discussion here) while another study of people who feed and watch birds found that people generally believed that their bird feeding benefits garden birds. They indicated that natural factors (e.g. bird abundance, disease prevalence) and abiotic factors (i.e. cold temperature) had more of an influence on how much they feed birds than internal constraints such as time and money (see link below). We like feeding ‘our’ birds and its good for their survival and its good for our health.

Back to our latest count (here) Jersey’s counters reported 40 different bird species in our gardens. Well 40 birds and red squirrels. Some birds are very rarely counted and hard to analyse so we base or long-term study of population trends of the 16 most reported species, the Big 16. We don’t include herring gulls as many people actively dissuade them so that counts of them may be skewed. See full results for the Big 16 here

Each year, members of The Big 16 may change position in our little table. In 2019, in order of commonness they were:

Species: Average per reporting garden

  1. House sparrow 6.9
  2. Goldfinch 2.8
  3. Chaffinch 1.8
  4. Wood pigeon 1.77
  5. Starling 1.75
  6. Great tit 1.6
  7. Blue tit 1.6
  8. Collared dove 1.4
  9. Magpie 1.4
  10. Robin 1.3
  11. Blackbird 1.0
  12. Greenfinch 0.33
  13. Song thrush 0.26
  14. Pheasant 0.22
  15. Blackcap 0.16
  16. Great spotted woodpecker 0.12

Our honorary bird, the red squirrel, at 0.4 per garden, would have been 12th.

The relative fortunes of the Big 16 over the 18 years of the count can all be seen in our report (here). There has been a slow decline in overall numbers of the 16 with some very obvious losers, species that are losing ground like greenfinch and starling, and winners like goldfinch, wood pigeon and blackcap. One very encouraging trend has been the recovery of the house sparrow, a species inextricably connected with people that had been disappearing from large parts of the British Isles. It’s doing ok in parts of Jersey!

Of further interest to us is this year’s Top 10 in the UK (from RSPB):

Species: Average per reporting UK garden

  1. House sparrow 4.4
  2. Starling 3.1
  3. Blue tit 2.6
  4. Blackbird 2.3
  5. Wood pigeon 2.3
  6. Goldfinch 1.8
  7. Great tit 1.5
  8. Robin 1.0
  9. Chaffinch 1.3
  10. Magpie 1.2.

There are some interesting comparisons. We have more of those lovely house sparrows while starlings and blue tits are definitely missing out in Jersey.

So, in Jersey we can see well how our bird neighbours are doing. And it is undoubtedly a mixed picture. We need to highlight what’s happening, we need to continue to help our garden birds and we need to take part in next year’s count. Watch this space!

Read the report Observations at backyard bird feeders influence the emotions and actions of people that feed birds here

Chough report: March 2019

By Liz Corry

It has been all go this March. Sometimes quite literally as some of the choughs have, well, just gone!

Jersey’s chough population plummets

At least that would be the headline if this was a tabloid site. The less drastic approach is to say that several of the choughs have been unaccounted for since January or February depending on the individual. This means that Jersey’s population might have gone from 46 to 37 choughs over a three-month period.

With all the leg ring issues we have reported on recently, it is possible that some birds are going undetected at Sorel. Two birds have been sporting matching leg rings for the past month. We finally managed to determine that one of these is Gilly. Her metal number was read by zooming in on an opportunistic photo. Through process of elimination, the second bird has to be either Duke or Bo. Neither have been seen for a while.

One of two birds sporting the same leg ring combination after losing a coloured ring. Photo by Liz Corry.

To add to the mystery, both Duke and Bo paired up last year forming territories at Sorel and Les Mielles respectively. Duke’s partner is still very much alive and well at Sorel. Although she now appears to be flying around in a trio with two others. Bo and his partner, Mary, were not identified at Sorel throughout the entire month. Have they permanently moved to the southwest of the Island? Or, has something happened to one or both birds?

Mystery disappearances have also affected two pairs from Ronez Quarry that shared the same building. Our beloved Bean and normally easy to spot Q (bright pink ring) have a zero attendance record for March. Their partners are regularly turning up to the supplemental feed so what does that mean? Did they decide to ditch their trademark monogamous ways and elope to a different part of the Island? Are they dead? Has Bean become agoraphobic and can no longer leave her roost?

What we do know is that we have new pairings generating both good and bad news.

Breeding pairs for 2019

We are not 100% clear on all our pairings this year due to the confusion over which birds are alive and dead. For example, Bean’s partner Kevin is now followed everywhere by two foster-reared females Ubè and Wally. This lends itself to the theory that Bean is no longer at Sorel (or Jersey). Likewise, Pyrrho who was with Duke last year, now appears to hang out with another pair. This pair is one of our new couplings Skywalker and Zennor.

There are a few new pairs at Sorel this breeding season including Skywalker, released last year, and Zennor. Photo by Liz Corry.

On 4th March, Skywalker was observed at Sorel with wool. It wasn’t entirely clear if he was collecting the wool or if the wind had blown it across his face. He carried it around for a bit ultimately ditching it for the supplemental feed. On the same day we found bits of wool inside the aviary – a sign that the pairs had begun lining their nest.

At this stage, we think there are ten pairs and two groups of three attempting to nest at various sites around Jersey. I have to say it….

West is best?

You are now just as likely to see choughs at Les Landes, Grosnez, or Plémont as you are at Sorel these days. There is at least one pair nesting out west, possibly more given the difficulty in tracking individuals.

We have had lots of reports in from the National Trust, States of Jersey rangers, and Durrell staff on their days off.

Choughs hanging out at Plémont. Photo by John Parkes, National Trust for Jersey.

Grantez is being highlighted as a foraging site and/or fly over route. Not to be confused with Grosnez, which is starting to look hopeful as a potential nesting territory. It also appears to be the perfect ‘playground’ for the choughs to practice their aerial acrobatics whilst annoying the resident fulmar population. Note that fulmars (who are very good at spitting) and choughs aren’t always the best of neighbours.

The perils of plastic

We had to catch up Betty this month when she was spotted at the aviary with yellow nylon wire wrapped around her right foot. Betty had most likely picked this up whilst looking for nest liner. Luckily, we were able to trap her in the aviary relatively quickly. It still required a two-day wait whilst hatches were fixed – yep they jammed again – but we cut the material off before it could do any damage.

Betty was caught up in March to remove material wrapped around her foot. Photo by Liz Corry.

Whilst in the hand, there was the opportunity to clear up confusion over a DNA test taken when Betty was a chick. The original sexing result was questioned by the DNA testing company due to an admin error. Betty’s recent behaviour and body weight of 350g implied she was a he. A new DNA sample was taken and sent to the UK. The result came back as a definite male.

This is great news as Betty is paired up with Gilly (female) and this year they look set to nest for the first time.

On a side note, their relationship meant that Gilly followed Betty into the aviary when we trapped him. This allowed us to catch Gilly as well and replace her missing green ring.

Zoo choughs show a promising start

Jersey Zoo has a new pairing this year of Tristan and Pendragon (Penny for short). They are in fact our only pair now due to the sad loss of birds last year. Both are experienced breeders but this will be their first season together.

So far so good. They have been busy adding material to the nest box. Hopefully there will be eggs by April. Staff are monitoring progress closely via the nest cam.

The new pair at Jersey Zoo started building a nest in March. Photo by Liz Corry.

Skills-sharing on a global level

Each year the Durrell Conservation Academy runs the Durrell Endangered Species Management course. The participants, affectionately known as DESMANS, come to Jersey from all over the world to learn practical conservation skills which they can then take back and apply to projects in their own countries.

Birds On The Edge is incorporated into one of their modules where they learn skills in radio-tracking, distance sampling, reintroduction practices, and broaden their knowledge in conservation management.

DESMANS learning how to radio-track at Jersey Zoo. Photo by Izabela Barata.

This month they visited Sorel to see the project up close and personal. Instead of a stuffy indoor lecture, they were treated to my ramblings on about Birds On The Edge and how the choughs have returned to Jersey. They were very impressed with the choughs although the friendly Manx sheep clearly stole the show.

DESMANS 2019 with course leader Tim Wright and facilitator Izabela Barata at Sorel. Photo by Liz Purgal.

 

Climate change is pushing UK wildlife out of sync

From BirdGuides

Climate change has advanced the breeding season of many species in the UK – but just how much varies markedly across the country, according to a major new study.

The first in-depth analysis into the seasonal timing of certain bird and insect behaviours has confirmed that spring is indeed getting earlier each year – but that exactly how much earlier these events now start depends on where in the UK and in which habitat they occur.

The authors of the report have warned these trends could have serious ramifications for ecosystems, as significant variation between groups of animals in the rates of advance means populations are becoming out of sync with the life cycles of their prey. The 50-year study into natural cycles of egg laying and migration has also dashed environmentalists’ hopes that shaded habitats such as forests are shielding some populations from the destabilising effects of global warming.

Lead author Dr James Bell, who heads up the Rothamsted Insect Survey, said: “There was already good evidence that spring is coming earlier each year, but what we didn’t expect to find was that it was advancing as much in forests as it is in open areas such as grassland.

“Equally, in areas where we’d expect to see much greater acceleration, such as urban parkland, the rates of advance appear to be the same.

“This all points to a complex picture emerging under climate change, which makes ecosystem responses hard to predict, and even harder for conservationists to prepare for.”

An earlier study by the group looking at a 30-year period had shown the average rate of advance varied from about a week earlier for birds and a month earlier for aphids, but the new paper reveals an even more complex picture.

Dr Stephen Thackeray of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) explained: “Our previous research has shown that, in the UK, many signs of spring have been shifting earlier over the last few decades and that this is likely to be driven by climatic change.

“However, we have never before had such a detailed picture of how these changes vary across the UK and its major habitats.”

The study charts the seasonal habits of more than 250 UK species of birds and insects, and shows clear evidence that aphids, moths and butterflies are now on the wing, and birds are laying their eggs, much earlier than they were in the middle of the 20th century.

The researchers, including scientists from CEH, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Butterfly Conservation, and Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA), analysed data collected between 1960 and 2010 from three national monitoring networks – the Rothamsted Insect Survey, the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme and the Nest Record Scheme.

The long-term changes they uncovered broadly confirm similar effects being observed the world over – that as global temperatures rise, natural phenomena such as flowering, or emergence from hibernation, are occurring earlier each year. But by looking in detail at this long-term data, the team has revealed that the responses of some species to climate change are not straightforward, nor necessarily predictable.

Moths provide a good example of this. As those species that turn from caterpillars to adults early in the year appear to be doing so much earlier. Professor Tom Brereton of Butterfly Conservation said it was unclear what was behind these specific patterns, nor why butterflies did not show something similar: “Whatever the reasons, we should be concerned about how dramatically climate change is affecting butterfly and moth life cycles.”

Bucking this trend towards earlier onset are those birds and butterflies that inhabit farmland, as well as birds who live in coastal habitats – providing possible evidence that other factors, such as declining food availability, are applying a different pressure on these populations and delaying the onset of breeding.

Dr James Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science at the BTO, said: “Birds are at the top of many food chains, and are sensitive to the impacts of climate change on the availability of their insect prey. This work shows how changing spring conditions may affect the ability of birds to find food, and that those impacts are likely to vary across the country.”

A particularly worrying finding of the study is that the rate at which these seasonal behaviours are shifting is the same in open habitats, such as grasslands, as it is in shady ones, such as forests. It had been thought forests might offer some protection for species against rising temperatures. “The work is important because it shows us that we cannot rely on habitat to slow down climate change impacts, even in woodlands and forests where the conditions are more stable, and which were expected to buffer against adverse changes,” explained Dr Bell.

As well as providing more evidence of the effects of climate change, the study also provides the most detailed assessment yet of how many species’ life cycles are determined by geography and altitude. It shows that rather than tracking the simple north-south trend of increasing temperatures and earlier onset of spring, the date of key behaviours of many species follow more complex patterns. So, while aphid activity simply becomes progressively later the further north you go, the same was only true for birds and butterflies up to the likes of Derry, Gretna or Newcastle.

Beyond that point, butterflies become active earlier in the warmer, wetter west than the colder, drier east, while for birds laying eggs, the opposite is true. Dr Jon Pickup, lead aphid researcher at SASA said: “As pests, it remains a concern that aphid migrations are getting earlier at a dramatic rate, and this piece of work shows us that signal across the UK very clearly.”

The study is the result of many years work analysing and interpreting huge data sets, and now lays the ground work for some urgent new research into what is driving these impacts at habitat levels.

“There is unlikely to be a more comprehensive analysis that address both spatial and habitat variations in seasonal timings,” concluded Dr Bell.

Read or download the paper Spatial and habitat variation in aphid, butterfly, moth and bird phenologies over the last half century here

April volunteer activity

Sunday 14th April 2019 – La Corbière, St Brelade – 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

Please note this task has been changed from the one originally scheduled, and we will be undertaking heathland restoration and footpath work.

Task For the last task of the season join us on the beautiful headland above La Corbière to restore an area of heathland that has been engulfed by bracken. There will be an amount of gorse management to undertake and we are also going repair the badly eroded footpath. The work area is a five minute walk to the north of the Railway Walk.

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; j.clively@gov.je) or Jon Parkes (tel: 483193; jon.parkes@nationaltrust.je).

The site Meet at the car park by the Radio Tower behind (south) of Corbière Phare Bars. Google maps here. Jersey Phone Directory Map 12 inset, square D20.

Parking There will be parking available at the meeting place.

Meet at 10.20 promptly for a 10.30 start. We will be finished work by 12.30 for well-earned refreshments.

Tools needed All tools will be provided, but we are short on spades so if you have one it would be helpful to bring it along. Pruning saws and loppers may also be useful to tackle the gorse.

Clothing needed Please check the weather for the day and bring suitable clothing, wet weather gear and wellies may be necessary but fingers crossed for some April sun! We can supply a pair of gardening gloves if you don’t have them, but you may have a favourite pair you’d like to bring.

 Children All are welcome, young or old although we do ask that volunteers under 16 years of age are accompanied by an adult.

Refreshments Kim will be on hand after we have finished to ply us with her homemade cakes and hot drinks

Widespread losses of pollinating insects revealed across Britain

Wild bees and hoverflies lost from a quarter of the places they were found in 1980

From The Guardian

A widespread loss of pollinating insects in recent decades has been revealed by the first national survey in Britain, which study authors say “highlights a fundamental deterioration” in nature.

The analysis of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species found the insects have been lost from a quarter of the places they were found in 1980. A third of the species now occupy smaller ranges, with just one in 10 expanding their extent, and the average number of species found in a square kilometre fell by 11.

A small group of 22 bee species known to be important in pollinating crops such as oilseed rape saw a rise in range, potentially due to farmers increasingly planting wild flowers around fields. However, the scientists found “severe” declines in other bee species from 2007, coinciding with the introduction of a widely used neonicotinoid insecticide, which has since been banned.

Researchers have become increasingly concerned about dramatic drops in populations of insects, which underpin much of nature. Some warned in February that these falls threaten a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, while studies from Germany and Puerto Rico have shown plunging numbers in the last 25 to 35 years.

The latest study is based on more than 700,000 sightings made by volunteers across Britain from 1980 to 2013. These are used to map the range of each species of bee and hoverfly over time. The data did not allow the assessment of numbers of insects, but some researchers think populations have fallen faster than range.

Pollinating insects are vital to human food security, as three-quarters of crops depend on them. They are also crucial to other wildlife, both as food and as pollinators of wild plants. “The declines in Britain can be viewed as a warning about the health of our countryside,” said Gary Powney at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology who led the research.

He called for more volunteers to take part in the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme: “Their contribution is vital for us to understand what is happening in our landscape.” Another recent study found that allotments, weedy corners and fancy gardens can all be urban havens for bees.

The biggest factor in the decline in pollinators is likely to be the destruction of wild habitats and use of pesticides as farming has intensified. But the analysis also revealed a particularly big drop of 55% in the range of upland bee and hoverfly species, and significant falls in northern Britain, which may result from climate change making conditions too warm.

Among the bees whose range has shrunk are the formerly widespread red-shanked carder bee, whose extent fell by 42%, and the large shaggy bee, whose range fell 53%. But the lobe-spurred furrow bee, which was once rare, has expanded its range fivefold and is now considered an important crop pollinator in England.

Powney said the increased range of the bees most commonly pollinating crops is good news and might be a result of more oilseed rape being grown, as well as wildflower margins being planted. But he also warned: “They are a relatively small group of species. Therefore, with species having declined overall, it would be risky to rely on this group to support the long-term food security for our country. If anything happens to them in the future there will be fewer other species to ‘step up’.”

Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex and not part of the latest research, said: “Previous studies have described declines in UK butterflies, moths, carabid beetles, bees and hoverflies – this new study confirms that declines in insects are ongoing.”

If the losses of upland and northern species are due to climate change, “then we can expect far more rapid declines of these species in the future, as climate change has barely got started”, he said. Goulson also said the start of more rapid declines in southern bees after 2007 coincided with the first use of now-banned neonicotinoid pesticides.

Matt Shardlow, of the conservation charity Buglife, said unless the pesticide approval process was improved to help bee safety and green subsidies were targeted to create corridors that connect wild spaces, we can expect the declines to continue or worsen.

Download the study Widespread losses of pollinating insects in Britain here

 

Butterfly numbers down by two thirds: High-intensity agriculture reduces number of butterfly species in adjacent areas

From ScienceDaily

Meadows adjacent to high-intensity agricultural areas are home to less than half the number of butterfly species than areas in nature preserves. The number of individuals is even down to one-third of that number. These are results of a research team led by Jan Christian Habel at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Thomas Schmitt at the Senckenberg Nature Research Society and published in Insect Conservation and Diversity.

Germany is home to roughly 33,500 species of insects — but their numbers are decreasing dramatically. Of the 189 species of butterflies currently known from Germany, 99 species are on the Red List, five have already become extinct, and 12 additional species are threatened with extinction.

Reduced biodiversity also on areas around intensively cultivated fields

The research team recorded the occurrence of butterfly species in 21 meadow sites east of Munich. Of these study sites, 17 are surrounded by agriculturally used areas, and four are in nature preserves with near-natural cultivation.

The team recorded a total of 24 butterfly species and 864 individuals in all study sites. Specialists among the butterflies were particularly dependent on near-natural habitats, while the more adaptable “generalists” were also found in other grassland sites.

“In the meadows that are surrounded by agriculturally used areas we encountered an average of 2.7 butterfly species per visit; in the four study sites within the protected areas ‘Dietersheimer Brenne‘ and ‘Garchinger Heide‘ near Munich we found an average of 6.6 species,” adds Prof. Werner Ulrich of the Copernicus University in Thorn, Poland.

Negative impact of the industrialised agriculture demands rethinking

“Our results show an obvious trend: in the vicinity of intensively cultivated fields that are regularly sprayed with pesticides, the diversity and numbers of butterflies are significantly lower than in meadows near less used or unused areas,” explains the study’s lead author, Prof. Jan Christian Habel.

“Our study emphasises the negative impact of the conventional, industrialised agriculture on the butterfly diversity and shows the urgent need for ecologically sustainable cultivation methods. Additional field studies may aid in identifying individual factors responsible for the insect die-back and in implementing appropriate countermeasures,” adds Schmitt in closing.

See the paper Agricultural intensification drives butterfly decline here

Chough report: February 2019

White died this month due to health complications. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Where to begin? The start seems a good place, but this start begins with an end. Two in fact, maybe three. Following? You will.

Wild breeding population suffers a setback

We sadly have to report the death of two choughs and a highly likely third. At the start of February, White was flying around with tatty feathers looking rough. He soon started showing symptoms of a syngamus issue despite ‘clean’ faecal samples. At the same time we noticed that Mauve, his partner, was not being recorded at the feeds. It is easy to lose an individual in a large flock, but pairs stick together.

White began to deteriorate so he was caught up and checked by the Vet. It took two days to trap him because the entire flock are now wise to our methods. Once locked in the aviary it was clear he was in trouble.

His was surprisingly good weight for a sick bird, which in itself was a concern. He has always been a larger bird, you can spot him in the flock based on size alone, but you would expect a slight weight loss.

Worming proved futile and he died a few days later. Post mortem results showed that his airways had become blocked by plaques of pus that had dislodged in the trachea. Why he had the plaques in the first place is unknown.

Whilst all this was going on Mauve was still absent. By the end of February, we had to conclude that Mauve was no longer with us.

White preening his partner Mauve in 2015 – their first season together. Photo by Liz Corry.

Mauve was one of the original group released in 2013. She had an interesting start to her free-flying life in Jersey as recounted in several of the earlier reports. White was brought to Jersey at the end of 2013 and released in 2014. They paired up in 2015 and a year later they had chicks of their own out on the north coast.

Cold case: chough PP012

On the same day that White passed, I was informed of a dead chough found in a garden at Grosnez. As Mauve had been missing I naturally assumed it was her.

On Sunday 17th, members from the Birds On The Edge team ran a stall at the annual Seedy Sunday & Wild About Jersey event (see below). Within an hour of the doors opening to the public I was approached by a lady from Grosnez. Seeing Lynne, our volunteer dressed as a chough, reminded her – she had a dead chough in her freezer!

The next 24 hours in the story were filled with twists and turns. In a nutshell, the lady had found the dead bird on her property in September 2017! At the time she wasn’t aware of the chough project, but had carefully double-bagged the body with a descriptive note attached. Nowadays she regularly sees the choughs flying over her land and knows what they are. As we all know, time ticks on and we forget things. Until you bump into a lady dressed as a giant chough!

Clearly this bird was not Mauve. The chough in question was Carmine, a wild chick hatched in 2017 belonging to Q and Flieur. She was one of the juveniles with syngamus who we had trouble trapping in the aviary. Since she was never medicated she probably succumbed to the infestation whilst flying around Grosnez with her parents.

A juvenile red-billed chough. Photo by Liz Corry.

We are very grateful to the lady for preserving Carmine and reporting it as we now have closure on a case. We can add this info to our dataset which aids future management plans.

If you do find a dead or injured chough in Jersey please call 01534 860059 or contact any of the project partners. We can come to you and collect the bird. All of our birds have metal leg rings on with a unique number. This will tell us who they are even if they have lost their plastic rings.

Replacement rings

Replacing missing rings on the choughs is turning into a never-ending challenge. Not helped by the birds either not showing at the feed or not staying inside when we try to shut the hatches.

A plastic leg ring found in grassland near the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

When White was trapped inside, I had the opportunity to replace Green’s missing rings. I could not fit the black gull-ring used with Green and the original release cohort. These need to be heated in hot water to open them without the material snapping; also tricky to fit one-handed. Since I was working alone without a thermos I made an on-the-spot decision. I fitted a black and white striped ring we happened to have in the ringing box.

These rings are normally used in the UK to identify a Cornish chough. As we don’t expect many of these to turn up in Jersey over the next few months I’m sure it will do as a temporary measure.

To get around the struggle of trapping the birds I tried the route of shutting the hatches after the birds had gone to roost. Fingers crossed at least one of the birds who still roost in the aviary would be a bird we needed. There were ten birds still at the aviary as the sun set. Two, maybe three, used the external roost boxes. The others went inside. The plan almost failed when the hatches didn’t close. I climbed the framework, silently cursing so as not to spook the birds, and manually closed the broken hatches.

Returning in the morning I was met with an interesting find. Earl and Xaviour had slept at the aviary. We thought they were back at Plémont having regularly been seen there before sunset. It now appears they are there for supper before flying back to Sorel to sleep. This finally meant Xaviour could have her two orange rings returned. Annoyingly she was the only bird in that group needing rings. We still have two Orange-right-only birds flying around. We need to see who if any they are partnered with to know who they are.

Potential new breeding pairs for 2019

Despite the sad loss of a breeding pair there is good news for the 2019 season. We have at least four new pairings thanks to the birds maturing. Zennor’s love for Skywalker is still going strong from the first moment she set eyes on him at Sorel last summer to a very exciting moment I can’t reveal until the March report!

Vicq, a foster-reared female has caught the eye of wild-hatched Osbourne. He isn’t even a year old yet, but it appears Vicq has staked her claim. And of course there is her clutch-mate Xaviour whose second year at Plémont may prove fruitful.

At present we have fourteen potential breeding pairs for 2019. I’m not sure how possible it will be for me to monitor them all throughout the season. I’m really hoping not to repeat the fiasco of last year when we miss-timed the hatch dates and were too late to ring the chicks. I may well be looking for volunteers.

Population census

The 2019 attendance record at the supplemental feeds has been relatively poor; around 60%. There are a few consistent absentees such as Earl and Xaviour who are spending more time back at Plémont. Other absentees have not been as easy to determine. The death of White obviously made us uneasy. What if we have lost more?

The dolmen at Grantez is one area choughs have been spotted this month. Photo by Liz Corry.

When possible, I have travelled around to known foraging sites to try and count the choughs. Of course to count them, I need to see them and I appear to be having issues with that. First off, Jersey’s potato fields are currently covered in plastic sheeting. In a way searching is easier because there are swathes of land where the choughs won’t be going. However, it also makes it hard to see anything when the morning sun reflects off the plastic.

Potato fields at L’Étacq covered to protect and encourage new growth. Photo by Liz Corry.

More fields near Grantez giving the illusion of water bodies when viewed from afar. Photo by Liz Corry.

I had a report sent in from one of the States’ rangers of two choughs in a field at Grantez one morning. Grantez is a perfect stop off for choughs with grazing sheep, a high vantage point to look over St Ouen’s Bay, two large fields grazed by donkeys, and a dolmen. Choughs love a bit of neolithic architecture. Of course, when I go up they aren’t there.

The same can be said for Le Pulec, Les Landes, and Plémont. All places I have had confirmed sightings this month. Fortunately we have a report of 13 at Les Landes at the same time we had 28 at Sorel. So at least we know we still have at least 41 choughs.

Not a chough – but perfect chough foraging habitat. Photo by Liz Corry.

Wild About Jersey

This year’s Wild About Jersey teamed up with Seedy Sunday a free seed exchange event. Le Rocquier School hosted the weekend with the Saturday (16th) dedicated to volunteer survey training for butterflies, bats, reptiles and the new Pond Watch scheme (takes over from Toad Watch). Sunday (17th) was the Seedy Sunday open day with various stalls, talks, interactive exhibits, and a guest speaker Alan Gardner, The Autistic Gardener.

Birds On The Edge had a stall staffed by Cris Sellares, Tim Liddiard, and myself. Conservation crops, a chough nest, and a dung beetle (soft toy) were laid out so the public could learn more about our work. I gave a talk entitled ‘Witches and Unicorns: how saving one species helps another‘. Trust me there is a link!

Drumming up support for Birds On The Edge. Photo by Liz Corry.

Not only did the event raise the profile of Birds On The Edge and bring to light the fate of Carmine, it managed to raise £1248.62 for Jersey Trees for Life. The money will be used to maintain and create more red squirrel bridges, across our Jersey’s roads.

Small mammal, big pain

Mice attempted to break into the chough feed-twice! Photo by Liz Corry.

The much ‘loved’ rodents struck again at the aviary. Droppings covered almost every surface in the keeper porch. Anything with the slight whiff of food about it had been nibbled including the first aid box! And then of course there was the ‘heavy duty’ storage box for the chough food.

Mice are smart. As evidenced by the fact the only place they chewed the box was the hinge – the weakest point. They didn’t succeed in reaching the pellet, but they did contaminate it with plastic shavings which meant it couldn’t be fed to the birds. As a temporary measure, I taped the hinge whilst I went to the local hardware store. It bought some time at least.

Plasterers metalwork is being use to add extra rodent-proofing to the aviary doors. Photo by Liz Corry.

With my zoo keeper thinking hat on I wandered around the store looking for an easy, cheap, will-fit-inside-my-Hyundai, solution.

Plasterers beading! At just over £2 a strip it made for a cheap and easy to fit edging strip to the door frame to stop mice and shrews from getting in. The metal work is flexible enough for a human to bend it by hand but sturdy enough to deter a mouse.

I also salvaged some builders metal work from the skip. Durrell’s HQ is currently undergoing repairs and the builders had just that week ditched some scraps. All I need now is for them to ditch their cutting tools as my Leatherman doesn’t fair well with the more robust stuff.

A metal bin has been donated to the project to stop the mice eating our supplies. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

Thanks to a charitable donation we were given a metal storage box for the chough food. The mice and shrews can only get into this if they work together to form ladder and flip the lid.

I wouldn’t put it past them. Just take a look at the camera trap image below from inside the aviary.

Spot the Mission Impossible mouse trying to reach the chough food. Photo taken using Moultrie camera trap.

Magpie-proof feeders mark II

A new design of chough-feeder. Photo by Liz Corry.

We now have another design of chough feeder in use at the aviary. The choughs successfully probe for food reaching every nook and cranny. Magpies are limited by their bill shape and length.

It doesn’t stay that clean for long and has room for improvement in terms of ease of cleaning. We also have to remember to screw the lid back properly.

I was lazy one evening, and screwed it back by hand. The next day I returned to find the choughs had freed the bracket and opened the lid!

Clearly their idea of slow-release feeding is not the same as mine.

 

Can we bring back a missing predator?

Paul Stammers will present Returning a top predator: the reintroduction of ospreys in England at Durrell’s Academy Lecture Theatre at 19.30 on Friday 8th March. Free entry and everyone welcome.

We are increasingly familiar with rewilding environments: trying to bring back missing elements such as those important species that helped shape the landscape and the way that others including ourselves have lived. Think of beavers, marmots, bison and deer – all species returned successfully to parts of Europe. But, they are herbivores, how easy is it to bring back a predator? Well, agencies in the UK have become very good at bringing back predatory birds like the white-tailed eagle and the red kite. Less well known perhaps is the story with the osprey – a bird that famously came back naturally to Scotland in 1954 after a long absence and some serious effort to stop it leaving again. More recently this iconic bird has been directly restored in England, at Rutland Water, and work is underway in Poole Harbour which will see ospreys nesting once again in southern England.

Paul Stammers was born in Norfolk, the son of a gamekeeper. After leaving college, Paul joined Rolls Royce in Derby to serve an Engineer Apprenticeship and gained a degree in mechanical engineering. He went on to work on the design and testing of the RB211 engine at Derby and Hucknall.

In 1972 Paul was approached by Mars Ltd to join their design team at Melton Mowbray where he went to work in design, project engineering, production management, local external relations and finally environmental management. He then took the decision to retire at 50-years old to follow his interests in conservation.

In 1996 Paul started as a volunteer on The Rutland Osprey Project, assisting with translocation of osprey chicks from Scotland to Rutland Water. In 2007 he became a member of staff working with Dr Tim Mackrill, Project Officer Rutland Ospreys for the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust and Anglian Water.

During the last 12 years Paul has helped in the day-to-day running of the project and establishing a breeding colony of nine pairs of ospreys and in excess of 20 adult birds returning each year to the local area. Between 2011 and 2019 Paul regularly visited both Gambia and Senegal tracking ospreys and visiting schools that are supported by the project and LRWT.

At the end of the 2018 season Paul decided to step down from his staff position but continue to work as a volunteer with the project. In September 2018 he was appointed Trustee of the Osprey Leadership Foundation. The aim of the Foundation is to give young people the opportunity to study and work in conservation in both the UK and West Africa.

On Friday, Paul will talk about the translocation of ospreys to Rutland, the establishment of a colony and then on to Africa and the work with schools in The Gambia. Finally he will give a summary of the aims of the Osprey Leadership Foundation.

During his visit, Paul will have a look at Jersey with ospreys in mind. He will come to us from Guernsey where he will have been hosted by BOTE friend, and conservation stalwart, Vic Froome. Vic will come across with Paul, not least as he likes to see some choughs from time to time!

Durrell’s Academy is at the Les Noyers Hostel site across the green car park from the Zoo entrance (map here) . Please park on the grass or walk over from the main car park (you may need to bring a torch).

February volunteer activity

Sunday 10th February 2019 – Le Mont, Rue des Mans, St Brelade – 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

The details Please note that due to ongoing industrial action, this month’s task will be managed by Robin and the team from Jersey Trees for Life

Task As part of the Jersey Trees for Life ongoing hedgerow campaign, native trees and hedging whips will be planted around fields in St Brelade. The purpose of this planting is to continue linking and enlarging the areas previously planted. The campaign project itself is to enable the establishment of wildlife corridors across the Island primarily for the benefit of squirrels, bats, hedgehogs and our native bird species, as well as the re-instigating of former hedgerows lost due to farming and natural causes. Jersey Trees for Life view this particular area of their work as fundamental in their core aims.

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; j.clively@gov.je) or Jon Parkes (tel: 483193; jon.parkes@nationaltrust.je).

The site The property is called Le Mont, Rue des Mans, St Brelade. One of the Trees for Life Team will be on hand at the entrance to guide you to the parking place.  Jersey phone directory: Map 13, square M17. Google maps here

Parking Parking will be tight, so if you can share a lift it would be ideal. There may be parking spaces at the site or along the road.

Meet at 10.20 promptly for a 10.30 start. We will be finished work by 12.30 for well-earned refreshments.

Tools needed Please bring a spade if you have one, (please note that trowels, shovels and forks will not be suitable for this task!) Jersey Trees for Life can provide a limited number of spades and other tools.

Clothing needed Please check the weather for the day and bring suitable clothing, wet weather gear and wellies may be necessary but fingers crossed for some February sun! We can supply a pair of gardening gloves if you don’t have them, but you may have a favourite pair you’d like to bring.

Children All are welcome, young or old although we do ask that volunteers under 16 years of age are accompanied by an adult.

Refreshments After all the trees have been planted, Kim will reward you with a hot drink and a slice of homemade cake.

 

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Chough report: January 2019

A chatter of choughs following the keeper along the cliff path. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

January was a pretty standard month for the choughs; forage, fly, try not to freeze. The weather is still mild considering the time of year although we have experienced gales, sleet, and hail*. The choughs don’t appear to be desperately hungry for their supplemental food which can only be a good thing. Even if it does make the staff feel a little redundant.

Take, for example, the day the choughs were not at the aviary for the supplemental feed. I trudged back to the car park only to find them hanging out at the motocross track. Their reaction was more pet dog trying its luck than wild bird in need of food for survival.

*an amendment was needed prior to publishing; we had snow! Not quite the polar vortex that North America are experiencing, but snow nevertheless. 

Replacement rings

We continue trying to catch up birds to check their leg rings and replace where necessary. We have two birds sporting identical leg ring combinations right now making it difficult to distinguish individuals. Even harder when the sheep muscle in on the action.

Sheep doing their best chough impressions at the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.

Since the birds are not desperate for the supplemental food they lack the motivation to go inside the aviary when we call them. They fly over to look then just sit on the roof preening and staring at staff who are poised ready to drop the hatches. The wet windy weather has also hampered plans.

Ubé being fitted with a replacement grey ring by keeper Hannah. Photo by Liz Corry.

We managed to catch one group this month. Of the twelve birds trapped inside only three needed new rings; Kevin, Wally, and Ubé. Each bird is weighed before being released so at least we came away with some useful data. All the birds fell into the healthy weight range for a chough, which again shows that they are doing well in the wild.

Preparations for the breeding season

As January came to an end the breeding pairs started to gear up for the new breeding season ahead. Lots of preening and pair-bonding on show at Sorel and Les Landes. Earl and Xaviour are frequenting Plémont again no doubt scouting out a suitable nest site.

I met with Ronez’s Toby Carteret and Paul Pinel to discuss plans for this season down in the quarry. Toby and his team will try and adapt the nest-boxes so we can have a better viewing angle from the nest cameras and allow more air to circulate inside for the nest. We have identified last year’s nest sites and co-ordinated planned maintenance work at the site to reduce disturbance to a minimum. We could have twelve to fourteen pairs trying to breed this year so it will definitely take a coordinated effort to find and monitor all the nests.

Preparations underway at Ronez for the start of the new breeding season. Photo by Liz Corry.

I was also pleased to hand over several sets of child-friendly binoculars for the school groups who visit the quarry. These were bought with money from the Insurance Corporation Award we received last year. Along with the use of a spotting scope, staff are hoping the children will see there is more to a life in a quarry than blasting rocks (admittedly the latter is way more exciting). The pupils can look out for choughs, peregrines and a penguin (apparently there is one!). Hopefully we can inspire the next generation of conservation-focused quarry workers.

Carbon-friendly choughs

We have always been conscientious about our impact on the environment when working on the north coast. The aviary, for example, is a temporary structure that will be removed and ‘recycled’ when no longer needed. Food waste is removed from the site, rusty hinges sent to scrap metal, used batteries sent for recycling etc.

Thanks to a small grant from the Jersey Ecology Trust Fund (ETF) we have stepped up our eco-friendly status for 2019. Firstly, we purchased a battery powered strimmer from Eastern Garden Machinery along with the necessary safety gear. The EGO strimmer is powered by a lithium battery. The same battery can be used in different attachments such as hedge trimmer, leaf blower, flame thrower…..ok last one made up, but you get the idea.

The EGO Powerplus is an environmentally friendly power tool (Its a little hard to take a selfie whilst strimming).

Up until now we have been using a petrol strimmer and push lawn mower to maintain the short grass in and around the aviary. Not only is ditching fossil fuel better for the environment, the battery-powered strimmer is quieter. Important for the birds (and the neighbours in Mourier Valley!).

Our capacity for rainwater storage at the aviary is increasing thanks to money from the ETF. Photo by Liz Corry.

The second element of our upgrade focuses on water sustainability. We already collect rainwater for use at the aviary. However, the container often overflows after just one downpour; in summer it runs dry.

Fed up of dragging jerry cans along the cliff path, we will install a second water butt outside and have an extra 25 litre container in the keeper porch.

Staying inside, we have switched to biodegradable bin liners and have a two year supply stock-piled thanks to the grant (nothing to do with Brexit).

Finally, we purchased a solar-powered charger for phones, tablets, the trail camera, and GoPro used by project staff. Smartphones are increasingly important in fieldwork. From the safety aspect of staying in touch, to ever-developing apps allowing in-field data recording. Sorel’s solar power will reduce electricity demands and save the pennies.

RAV Power solar charger soaking up the sun on the observation bench. Photo by Liz Corry.

Waiting for the clouds to break with the RAVPower solar charger. Photo by Liz Corry.

New year, new sign

Walkers at Sorel will have noticed we have replaced the sign at the car park. Long overdue, we needed to update the text to reflect the fact that Jersey has a resident population of choughs once again. It also details why we have sheep grazing the north coast and the other areas around Jersey you can spot the choughs. We are hoping this will encourage visitors to explore Jersey’s National Park. Thanks go to Durrell’s graphic designer Rich Howell and Site Services’ Trevor Smith for installing it.

Return of the Birds On The Edge sign to Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Student participation at Sorel

Speaking of visitors, we have seen our first university field trips of the year visit Sorel to learn about Birds On The Edge first hand. Accompanied by a talk in the warmth of Durrell Academy’s lecture theatre, the undergraduate and postgraduate students are taken to Sorel and shown the supplemental feed, grazing sheep, and conservation fields. The rest of their week is spent in the zoo or lecture theatre.

From these visits we often have students interested in taking up projects for their dissertations. We already have three students lined up to visit Jersey and take part in research to benefit the project. We are still lacking a student placement to help with the daily running of the work. As student debts and the cost of living rises we have to be realistic – Jersey is not the most practical of places to relocate to for a student project. Especially the chough project which requires transportation around the Island. Plans are afoot to try and rectify this. We cannot simply rely on the appeal of the choughs and the experienced gained to attract student placements.

Although come on, who wouldn’t want to work with these guys….