Chough report: December 2019

By Liz Corry

Choughs and staff have been battling storm-force gales this month. With fewer insects around most, if not all, of the birds have been appearing at the supplemental feed fuelling their travels around Jersey’s coastline.

Here is what else we’ve been getting up to in December…

Cosmetic surgery on Wally’s Christmas wishlist?

Wally is currently sporting an overgrown upper mandible. Photo by Liz Corry.

Wally and juvenile Dary both have overgrown bills. From observations it looks to be the upper mandible that has overgrown rather than the tip of the lower mandible breaking off. This should not be a major problem, however, it may reduce the effectiveness of their foraging skills. Hopefully natural wear and tear will eventually rectify the situation. Watch this space.

Dary currently has an overgrown upper mandible. Photo by Liz Corry.

Habitat use in December

Plémont pond at the restored headland. Photo by Liz Corry

Observations at Plémont over the Christmas period suggest that the area is no longer being used by choughs as a roost site. To be expected with the disappearance of Earl although it would have been nice for Xaviour to remain there with her new partner. We could do with finding out where she is roosting as it may tell us where she will nest in 2020.

There could be ‘new’ roost sites around the Island that we are not aware of. One chough was observed flying west after the supplemental feed roughly 30 minutes before sunset. Annoyingly, having just come from a fruitless search of Le Pulec to Plémont, all I could do was watch as it disappeared behind the tree line at Crabbé. From there it could have gone in any direction…including back to Sorel.

Watching from the Devil’s Hole cliff path as a lone chough flies off into the sunset. Photo by Liz Corry.

We have had a couple more reports of a pair of choughs around Grantez and the adjacent coastline. One sighting from an ex-chough keeper referenced the land behind St Ouen’s Scout Centre. 

Two choughs spotted at the back of St Ouen’s Scout Centre. Photo by Kathryn Smith.

It is impossible to see leg rings in the photo, but it does show the type of habitat the choughs are willing to explore in Jersey looking for food. There are several houses nearby and the area is a popular spot with dog walkers. Let’s hope we get more sightings reported and the pair’s identity solved. Remember you can send in sightings by clicking here.

Aerial image of the Jersey Scout Centre in St Ouen and surrounding area. Image taken from Google Earth.

Identity crisis?

Kevin has lost his yellow ID ring so for now he is just white left. We will try and rectify this in the New Year when the force 9-10 gales hopefully die down making the catch up less like Mission Impossible.

Kevin can only be identified from his white 2015 year ring after losing his yellow ID ring. Photo by Liz Corry.

Luckily he is easy to spot as he is normally with his partner Wally. A couple of the other choughs are proving harder to ID despite having all their leg rings. Take Morris, he has a grey over cerise ring whilst Baie has pale blue over cerise leg rings. It’s not easy to distinguish the two colours especially when the low winter sun is beaming directly on the birds. There are three of us who work out at Sorel and we have all mistaken one for the other at some point.

All this means we might not realise a bird is missing/dead straight away. As the month (and year) draws to a close we have been trying to determine exact numbers. Where possible both myself and Flavio have headed out to the coast; one staying at Sorel whilst the other heads to a different known foraging site(s). It feels a bit like a wild goose chase…but with choughs. 

Counting choughs…or is it sheep? Photo by Liz Corry

Our best guess is that there are now thirty-five choughs living free in Jersey; twenty captive-reared, fifteen hatched in the wild. We have not been able to account for any extras at Sorel throughout December.

Aviary damage

December’s persistent gales have taken their toll on the aviary. So much so that an external hatch door came off its hinges and landed inside the aviary. The cable-ties securing plastic side panels in place to provide shelter from the winds) snapped off. Not once, but three times. The vertical anti-rodent guttering snapped off. And to top it off, holes appeared in the netting along the top. Possibly rodent-related although this could also be because the netting rubs on the support pole in the winds.

Still, despite the Force 10 battering, it has fared better than the Motocross track whose observation tower and trailer blew over!

Christmas Day at Sorel was a very different picture to the last three weeks of wind, rain, and hail. Photo by Liz Corry.

The one upside to all the rain appears to be how useful the dirt tracks have become to the choughs. Birds were spotted probing the muddy ruts for insects, drinking from the puddles, and hanging out on the field gate. 

Sorel farm track has attracted the attention of the birds this month. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

Heard of a kissing gate? Well this is a choughing gate. Photo by Liz Corry.

Kentish chough developments

At the start of December (when the ferries were still sailing!) I was invited over to Kent to assist with planning the Kentish chough reintroduction. My first day was spent with the team visiting potential aviary locations and discussing suitability.

A view of Dover Harbour from the White Cliffs. Photo by Liz Corry.

Several landowners already work towards restoring habitats that will benefit choughs. The National Trust for example graze ponies to improve the flower-rich grassland. Short grass and insect-attracting dung – what more could a chough ask for? The challenge Kent face is working in such a densely populated area. Dover is a smidge different to Sorel.

The National Trust are just one of the many stakeholders involved in the project. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

Kirsty Swinnerton, Kent Wildlife Trust (and well known to BOTE through her long involvement), pointing out the boundaries of a current grazing project using Shetland cattle. Photo by Liz Corry.

My second day was at Wildwood Trust, home to the captive choughs. A morning of meetings resulted in potential research collaborations and a few ideas for how to manage the Kent releases.

Signage at Wildwood mentions the success of our chough work. Photo by Liz Corry.

Wildwood are also involved in exciting projects to rewild nearby forest as well as several exciting projects around the UK. It was nice to see behind the scenes and talk about something other than choughs! The photo gallery at the bottom shows just a few of the species Wildwood conserve.

I gave a lunchtime talk to staff about the Jersey project and the lessons we have learnt. I gave the same talk on the final day for the Kent Wildlife Trust. That talk was held at the Tyland Barn Centre and streamed live to staff at their other reserve centres. The trust are heavily involved in the public engagement side and particularly interested in how the Jersey community have reacted to the choughs.

Talking to staff at Kent Wildlife Trust about Birds On The Edge and the choughs. Photo by KWT

 

2 thoughts on “Chough report: December 2019

  1. Thanks for the latest news.. and thats a really fabulous photo of Dover Harbour …What times do you give the feeds up at Sorel these days..I’d like to go and watch..

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