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….

 

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