“Sacré bleu, c’est crave à bec rouge!”…Is what I imagined the Frenchman exclaimed on the morning on the 23rd when a red-billed chough appeared in the skies of Normandy. Why so alarmed? Choughs are only found in three locations in France: the Alps, the Pyrenees, and a tiny population on the north west corner of Brittany. This was a first! Well, a first for a long time.
The man in question is Yann Mouchel a park ranger for the Conservatoire du Littoral, La Manche, based at Cap de Carteret. Yann has followed Birds On The Edge for the last few years after meeting a group of visiting Jersey Botanists. So, whilst surprised by the sight he wasn’t overly shocked. In fact Yann had been dreaming of this moment…and so had we.
For the chough in question was none other than a Jersey chough! Unmistakable from the leg rings adorning the bird. Our first confirmed report of a Jersey chough dispersing off-Island. In France no less.
Yann first noticed the bird around 10am at the Nez de Carteret. It had lost one of its plastic colour rings which hampered identification. With the remaining rings we could narrow it down to just a few options. We set to work trying to dwindle it down further by confirming which birds were still flying around Jersey.
I think the chough in Carteret is one of this year’s chicks. We had not got round to naming her other than by her ring combo dark blue over mauve. She has been absent at the Sorel supplemental feed since the 21st.
The alternative option is Bean who went missing over a year ago. Whilst I would love it if our little hand-reared Bean was still alive, it seems more likely that a youngster has dispersed off-Island.
The other news Yann shared was that the chough was lame. He speculated that the resident peregrine pair might be to blame. Having looked after these birds for so long, my initial reaction was a desire to rush over to Carteret with a vet.
Two things put a stop to this: COVID and reality. Travel restrictions and impractical 14-day quarantining (impractical for zookeepers at least) prevent me from leaving the Island. Then of course is the reality. We want the choughs to disperse. It is natural.
For now I’m resigned to stare longingly across the waters and rely on Yann monitoring her progress.
If you want to travel virtually from Jersey to Carteret and learn more about where the chough is choosing to hang out then visit Google Earth. I have put together a presentation which you can access here and click on Presentation. Please be aware you may be asked to download Google Earth if viewing on a tablet or smartphone.
The rest of our October news seems relatively boring now. Although at the time it wasn’t as the following happened before the 23rd. In fact, think of it as the prelude to the Carteret story as the flock were well and truly on the move this month.
We had our first Airport sighting. Two birds had been checking out one of the hangers. An interesting choice of residence. Think they might need to find a new estate agent. Airport staff have not seen them since.
These two could be the same birds we reported on last month flying below the runway. We also know a pair are using the dunes and the sand pits both in close proximity to the airport.
Moving away from the Airport, the pair at Corbière are still doing well. This month they were joined by other choughs who made daily visits to Corbière. One of Durrell’s long term volunteers lives near the lighthouse and kept seeing small groups of four or six flying over her garden.
Another first has been sightings of choughs foraging in the horse fields near the Portlet Inn. Portlet adjoins Noirmont, an area we have seen choughs visit before.
In fact our second release in spring 2014 saw one radio-tracked bird end up by Noirmont Manor. Sadly never seen again, but over the years other choughs have been reported flying around. This month a small group seemed to be targeting the area and clearly finding food.
Researchers have found that more bird species in the vicinity increase the life contentment of Europeans at least as much as a comparable increase in income.
Under the current pandemic conditions, activities out in nature are a popular pastime. The beneficial effects of a diverse nature on people’s mental health have already been documented by studies on a smaller scale. Scientists of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and the University of Kiel examined for the first time whether a diverse nature also increases human well-being on a Europe-wide scale.
To this end, the researchers used the data from the “2012 European quality of Life Survey” to study the connection between the species diversity in their surroundings and the life satisfaction in more than 26,000 adults from 26 European countries. Species diversity was measured based on the diversity of avian species, as documented in the European breeding bird atlas.
“Europeans are particularly satisfied with their lives if their immediate surroundings host a high species diversity,” explains the study’s lead author, Joel Methorst, from the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center, the iDiv, and the Goethe University in Frankfurt, and he continues, “According to our findings, the happiest Europeans are those who can experience numerous different bird species in their daily life, or who live in near-natural surroundings that are home to many species.”
Birds are well-suited as indicators of biological diversity, since they are among the most visible elements of the animate nature—particularly in urban areas. Moreover, their song can often be heard even if the bird itself is not visible, and most birds are popular, and people like to watch them. But there is also a second aspect that affects life satisfaction: the surroundings. A particularly high number of bird species can be found in areas with a high proportion of near-natural and diverse landscapes that hold numerous greenspaces and bodies of water.
“We also examined the socio-economic data of the people that were surveyed, and, much to our surprise, we found that avian diversity is as important for their life satisfaction as is their income,” explains Prof. Katrin Böhning-Gaese, director of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center. This result becomes particularly obvious when both values increase by ten percent. Fourteen additional bird species in the vicinity raise the level of life satisfaction at least as much as an extra 124 Euros per month in the household account, based on an average income of 1,237 Euro per month in Europe.
According to the study, a diverse nature, therefore, plays an important role for human well-being across Europe—even beyond its material services. At the same time, the researchers draw attention to impending health-related problems. “The Global Assessment 2019 by the World Biodiversity Council IPBES and studies of avian species in agricultural landscapes in Europe clearly show that the biological diversity is currently undergoing a dramatic decline. This poses the risk that human well-being will also suffer from an impoverished nature. Nature conservation, therefore, not only ensures our material basis of life, but it also constitutes an investment in the well-being of us all,” adds Methorst in conclusion.
Download the paper The importance of species diversity for human well-being in Europehere
****Please note that due to COVID-19, you will need to book a place to attend this task through Eventbright here and numbers will be restricted to a total of 25.
It is also advised to bring your own tools, work gloves and a mug for refreshments****
Task Come along for a morning of tree planting with the National Trust for Jersey. As part of the Trust’s ongoing re-wilding efforts we will be planting various species of native trees in a previously neglected corner of La Coupe along the north east coast of the island.
Meeting point will be at La Coupe, St Martin where you park for the beach.
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 La Coupe, St Martin. Jersey phone directory Map 5 (inset) LL8, Google maps here
Parking There is limited space so once this is full we will have some parking available in the field opposite La Coupe House at the top of the hill. Rangers will be on hand to direct.
Tools needed Due to COVID restrictions we are discouraging the sharing of tools and ensuring that any borrowed tools are disinfected before and after the event. With this in mind, if you have your own spade, or cutting tools such as shears and loppers then please do bring them along.
Clothing needed Please dress for the weather, you will also need to bring gardening gloves and wear decent footwear as the terrain can be quite slippery and muddy.
Children All are welcome, young or old although we do ask that volunteers under 16 years of age are directly supervised by a parent or guardian.
Refreshments We will be finishing at 1pm where we will be able to have a socially distanced cuppa and piece of cake.
Choughs foraging at Les Landes Racecourse. Photo by Liz Corry.
We don’t have much to say for September. Thankfully. The public can’t stop talking about choughs! Whether it be via website, WhatsApp, email, or simply stopping me in the street, the reports have come in thick and fast.
The birds are spending more time flocking together now the pressure of the breeding season is behind them. Quite literally going where the wind takes them, often to areas they already use just in greater numbers. Makes it nice and obvious to onlookers. The chattering of choughs is hard to ignore.
Les Landes Racecourse is once again proving popular. Both with birds and people. Easy access by car, pleasant pathways to stroll or walk dogs off lead, and stunning summer views across to the other Channel Islands. Obviously from the people’s point of view. For choughs, and plenty of other bird species, there appeared to be an abundance of invertebrate food attracting them to the site.
Beanie Baby and Beaker were two such birds visiting Les Landes. One report of the pair described them to be with a third unringed bird. Could this be Xaviour?! If she had lost all the plastic rings the remaining metal can often be hard to see depending on the angle of the sun. Another, more exciting option is that the third was an unringed chick. Sorry Xaviour, but a fledged chick from a wild pair out trumps your card. We’ve not had further sightings to lend support to either theory.
Beaker (left) and Beanie Baby at Grosnez. Photo by Mick Dryden.
Under the category of ‘not surprising, but still a first’
A pair of choughs have been frequenting the fields near The Elms, headquarters of the National Trust for Jersey. Seems only fair. They’ve ticked off Durrell headquarters already. Next month Howard Davis Farm to say hello to the Government of Jersey’s Environment team?
Another pair rested on the chimney of the observer’s home in St Peter’s before heading off. This lane is sandwiched between the Airport and Les Mielles in St Ouen’s Bay. An airport might not sound like the best place for a bird to be, but it is surrounded by chough-friendly habitat. The sand pits, home a pair last year, is very close by. Could this be an indication that a new pair have moved in?
Choughs have been spotted close to St Ouen’s Bay and Jersey Airport. Image by Google Earth.
Closer to Sorel, a gentleman sent in two reports of choughs at La Tête de Frémont and Bonne Nuit Bay. I’m surprised we don’t get more sightings in this area given the dramatic cliffs and suitable foraging habitat. It is also a likely route for them to take if heading over to Les Platons.
File these under ‘need to know more’
We’ve had a reliable report of chough over Grouville Common. An, historic report from nearby Gorey village was more likely the resident jackdaws. There have been choughs checking out Gorey Castle in past years. Grouville Common is a little too woody to appeal to choughs. It does, however, join up to the Royal Jersey Golf Course. Plenty of short grass and close to the high tide strand line of Longbeach if the choughs fancied a maritime invertebrate mix in their diet.
The fairways of Royal Jersey Golf Club could look very attractive to hungry choughs. Photo by Royal Jersey Golf.
Lastly and very importantly are two sightings from one of our project partners in Trinity Parish. Regular readers will know that we are still trying to solve the mystery of the Trinity pair. Who are they and where do the roost (or nest back in summer)? Don your deerstalker hat, light the Holmes pipe, and ponder the latest clues. On 14th September, two choughs were seen flying over Petit Pré Woods at 19:10. They had been flying around the Royal Jersey Showground and headed off inland. With the sun setting at 19:22 that day it wouldn’t be long before they went to roost. Inland? Or a quick U-turn back to a coastal site? At dawn, on the 16th, two choughs were flying over Victoria Village. The ‘village’ (actually a housing estate) is 100 metres away from the showground as the chough flies. Two sightings in the same area, one going to bed, one leaving for the morning feed? Could we be closer to solving the mystery?
In other news
The choughs have welcomed a pair of jackdaws into their flock. Photo by Liz Corry.
The aviary at Sorel is starting to be used by more than just the choughs and our visiting barn owls and kestrel. A pair of jackdaws have been hanging around at the supplemental feed. They don’t interfere with the choughs or go inside the aviary. Think they just like the company.
Magpies on the other hand are known to go in the aviary. This month, for the first time, we have witnessed juvenile magpies go inside. Much like the chough parents bringing their fledglings to feed, the magpies have done the same. The choughs do not appear bothered and will defend their food supplies when they need to. The problem is with the young magpies who haven’t quite got to grips with how to get out of the aviary. When keepers arrive to feed, the magpies’ stress levels increase and they fling themselves into the netting in panic.
On two occasions the keeper trapped them in the aviary, caught them with a hand net and released them unharmed. It seemed like the best thing to do, but actually they need to learn how to get out by themselves. Otherwise the behaviour pattern happens all over again. The magpie in the video below eventually walked out of the aviary and flew away.
Less welcome at the aviary are rats. Many a curse word has been uttered when keepers find a new hole chewed in the netting. This month the rats stepped up their game. Keepers have seen a rat in the aviary during the daytime when the supplemental feed goes out. This has happened a few times. It poses a disease risk to the choughs as rat droppings and urine can fester harmful bacteria.
We have been extra vigilant when cleaning the water tray and dishes. Surfaces are already cleaned daily. I will be setting up traps and investigating options for rodent proofing. The up-turned guttering clearly isn’t deterring the Sorel rats (think agouti more than average lab rat!).
Avid readers may have noticed it has been quiet on the chough front of late. Life has been a little different since the arrival of COVID-19 in Jersey. As it has for everyone around the world.
Jersey’s first case was confirmed on 10th March with the Zoo closing its doors to the public on the 24th. Shortly before that happened, Zoo animal staff were arranged into teams, or bubbles, working a 4 day on 4 day off rota. The Bird Department had two teams, one of which I joined. Glyn Young was shielding but took on the visits to Sorel as his daily activity and where, with his daughter Mairi, he could keep isolated from people, although less so from sheep.
Suddenly my days were filled with flamingos, Madagascan birds, and pond scrubbing to name a few. Supplemental feeds at Sorel were still factored in, however, time constraints meant observations were limited and not achievable during working hours (which rarely kept to schedule).
We are very grateful to Sue Müller who, once Government advice permitted, volunteered to monitor nest sites. She helped to confirm all the active nest sites in the quarry. For me, the routine dog walks became chough hunts. Fun times for my furry friends.
The Zoo reopened to the public on the 12th May adhering to the Government of Jersey’s advice. We were the first British Isles zoo to make this call. I’m proud to say that, through staff dedication, volunteer support, and visitor co-operation we were able to become operational again and still remain so.
Social distancing and isolation have become the norm during this pandemic. Photo by Liz Corry.
Our working week returned to normal a few weeks after reopening. Glyn continued to isolate and cover the Sorel feeds along with two volunteers who returned to help. I continue to work on the ground in the Zoo as well as the chough project which hopefully explains the reason for delaying publication of the monthly reports.
It has been a very surreal eight months. Our team has been extremely fortunate in terms of the personal impact of COVID. For many of you that might not have been the case.
Stay safe. Be kind. And remember hands, face, space, read the monthly chough reports. That last one is imperative.
Click on the blue links on the images below to read the monthly chough reports.
New recruits mixing with the flock. Photo by Liz Corry.
The results are in!
We finally finished ringing the young choughs at Sorel by the second week in August. Part of the ringing process includes collecting DNA samples to send to the UK for identifying sex. The results came back relatively quickly. We have three males and nine females. Overall, this means we still have an imbalance in the population. Roughly one male for every two females. The good news is that, providing they make it through the winter, we could be looking at fifteen pairs for the 2021 season.
I spoke too soon. One of the 2020 males sadly died this month. He had not shown any indications of being sick until one of the ringing catch-ups. He wasn’t the target, just found himself in the group locked in and had to be hand-netted. Once in the hand we could hear his breathing wasn’t right.
It was Sunday evening and with no vet nearby. I decided to release him and then re-catch the next day with a vet in tow. Big mistake. The weather (thunderstorms), the aviary (jammed hatches), and the bird’s stubbornness all played against me. When I could try catching, he would simply sit outside watching the others go in. Only moving when I walked to the brow of the hill, clear of the hatch doors.
Evading capture. Photo by Liz Corry.
He still wasn’t looking ill, sneezing, or open-mouthed breathing as they would with a Syngamus infection. However, a phone call on the 17th from Ronez proved otherwise. He had been found dead in the bottom quarry. His post mortem revealed no obvious signs of Syngamus or Aspergillus. He had thorny-headed worm present just not in any numbers to cause fatality. Another unsolved mystery for the chough history books.
I order a new a batch of leg rings each year. One leg ring represents year of hatch and each year has a specific colour. We are now in the seventh year of choughs breeding in the wild and the colour options are becoming limited. We also struggle with quality from the supplier hence a lot of replacements are required.
The plastic striped ring and the numbered metal ring provide information that this is a Jersey chough, Photo by Liz Corry.
I invested in a batch of colour rings with text written on. Theoretically, each chick is accessioned with a PP number in the ZIMS database. This PP number would be on their plastic ring so, theoretically, we would need just one ring for year and individual instead of the current two.
Note I keep saying theoretically. The chaos that COVID-19 caused with our monitoring meant this plan was side-tracked. The first batch I ordered arrived in time for the start of ringing. Only we couldn’t use them. The manufacturer had printed the text in black not white on a dark blue ring. Totally illegible.
The next batch (different manufacturer) arrived too late. However, I did end up using one on Danny. Danny, for those who haven’t read July’s report, was given a pale blue leg ring. We already had a chick with pale blue on the other leg. When Danny found himself in a hand-net again this month, I swapped his ring for one of these new ones. It’s a bluer blue than the old pale blue. Stands out a treat.
A new pale blue coded leg ring will make Danny stand out in the crowded flock. Photo by Liz Corry.
I also looked into a new style of plastic ring; clip-on rings. Used widely amongst pigeon fanciers and super easy for a 3D printed mass market. The keepers in the Zoo have started trialling them on the red-breasted geese. For the choughs they look ideal as we can glue the clip shut much like we glue the current wrap-around rings. Alas, I was let down again by delivery times. The fit of the ones that arrived were a millimetre too tight. Sounds negligible yet makes a huge difference. Just the same as the rings we wear.
Back to the drawing board for next season. Will have to add leg rings to the chough’s Christmas wish list.
A few noteworthy public sightings came in this month. Max Allan, retired vet well known to many Islanders, had ten choughs land on his roof in St John. They normally try and avoid vets! Not sure if he charged for their visit.
Durrell’s former CEO, Paul Masterton, emailed in photos of three choughs visiting his neighbour’s house. This was somewhat fortuitous as it might well be the only bit of evidence we have of Trevor and Noirmont having successfully fledged a chick this year.
Choughs stopped by to pay a visit to Durrell’s former CEO this month. Photo by Paul Masterton.
Noirmont and a chick were photographed on the roof of the house. The chick was one that Glyn had caught and still needed the other rings to be fitted. We were having difficulty assigning parents to this chick as we hadn’t seen it being fed by anyone.
It would seem unlikely for Noirmont to travel without Trevor. If we assume he was the third bird it suggests this chick belongs to them.
North East explorers
A pair of choughs have been sited on several occasions flying over Rozel Valley. The Rozel sightings cluster around la Ferme farm a dairy farm home to 280 Jersey cows. If a pair of choughs are looking for a new home then la Ferme’s buildings and the surrounding grazed land offer a favourable choice. Neighbouring attractions, if this was an ad in Chough Property Monthly, include horse-grazed paddocks and scenic clifftops.
La Ferme Farm, Trinity, is located in the north east of the island. Image from Google Maps.
Back in February I saw a pair of choughs from my garden flying over Rozel valley. This month I saw the same thing. Maybe even the same pair? They spent a fair amount of time dipping in and out of sight possibly landing to feed. An hour later they flew by again this time from the direction of Rozel Bay over to White Rock.
These could be the same choughs seen at Farmers Cricket Ground last month and again this month.
Flying further afield
COVID-19 has prevented a lot of zoos from importing and exporting animals as part of their collection management. The two choughs we bred at Jersey Zoo in 2019 were due to travel to Paradise Park, Cornwall. This was put on hold in lockdown and the birds housed in off-show aviaries so Penny and Tristan could start their new family.
On 25th August, along with several birds of other species, the chicks finally made their way across the channel via ferry. These two girls can now become part of the UK breeding programme.
And, just because they haven’t featured in a while….
Fledged chough chicks joined the flock at the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.
Summary of the 2020 breeding season
We have ringed a total of twelve chicks this year from seven different broods. Three chicks have unknown parentage although I can narrow it down to three possible options. We also know that five chicks died bouldering or shortly post-fledge which brings the 2020 total to seventeen chicks. No doubt we would have recorded more if COVID-19 restrictions had not prevented us for checking in nests. In a way it doesn’t matter. The twelve that fledged and continue to fly around Jersey are the important thing.
Last month’s report sounded like we had a handle on which pairs had bred and which chicks had made it to the aviary for supplemental feed. We didn’t. Not entirely. None of the chicks had been ringed in the nest this year thanks to the pandemic situation. On some days there were numerous unringed, identical birds in the flock.
On 23rd June, Glyn opportunistically caught up two of the unringed chicks to pop on a plastic leg ring. Six days later I caught up four chicks with a licensed ringer including one Glyn had previously caught. We fitted them with the full complement of rings and took DNA for sexing.
Choughs very quickly wise-up to any catch-up plans. Repeated back to back catch-up attempts result in the birds avoiding the aviary. Which meant it took all of July (and the first week in August) to finish processing all of the unringed chicks.
As the month went on, we started to get a clearer picture on parentage. However, the longer you wait to ring a chick the more independent it becomes, i.e. feeds for itself. You need to see an adult physically feeding a youngster to know it is the parent. Of course, there is another risk with waiting. An unringed chick seen at the start of the month might get predated, fatally injured etc. and won’t be around by the end of the month. We certainly experienced that with Dusty and Chickay’s brood.
The twelve that survived bring the total wild population back up to 44 after the dip in 2019. We look forward to monitoring their progress.
One of the more memorable ringing events occurred on 16th July. I had completely different plans that day taking a film crew to Sorel along with a colleague, Dan, to film a piece for our Love your zoo LIVE event. As we arrived, I spotted an unringed chough in the aviary. Not only that, but it was also a new arrival. You can tell by their naivety when they are inside the aviary. Instead of navigating the open hatches and flying straight out they fumble around in blind panic if spooked. Trapping it and catching it up was super easy. There were no licensed ringers available at short notice to fit the metal ring, so we did the rest.
Dan was very excited especially when he found out he was going to be my glamourous assistance. I let him pick the ring colour with a caution of anything but pale blue or grey (hard to distinguish in the wild). He went with pale blue. Despite that we have named the chick Danny. The sexing result came back as a male just to add to the significance.
We spent two and a half hours filming out at Sorel that day. As expected, a lot ended up on the cutting room floor. Here is the video for those who missed it.
Zoo chicks take flight
The three youngsters left their nest box at the start of July. The first was out on the first! They look really good and follow mum to the ground looking for food. Still insisting mum feeds them, but watching and learning all the time when Penny is foraging for worms, larvae etc. We are lucky that the Zoo aviary is home to a few ant nests. As long as we time it right, we can turn over a stone and have hundreds of eggs available to the choughs. They just have to make sure they get to them before the ants have carried them away.
On of Penny’s chicks contemplating the big leap. Photo by Liz Corry.
Sexing results came back on the 17th confirming we have three males. Two firsts for the Zoo; three chicks fledged, no females. These boys will head to the UK early next year to join either Paradise Park or Wildwood‘s breeding programme.
Chough chicks fledge in the Zoo. Photo by Liz Corry.
Chough travel plans continue despite Covid-19
Beaker and Beanie Baby continue to visit Grosnez and Les Landes whilst roosting at Plémont. They even made an appearance at the Sorel feed on 28th July. Maybe supplies were running low over in the west?
Searching for choughs at Les Landes and Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.
Cliffs adjacent to Les Landes racecourse offer plenty of roosting and nesting opportunities. Photo by Liz Corry.
Someone is certainly enjoying the east of the Island. More reports from Les Platons, Bouley Bay, Trinity, and flying over St Martin’s cricket pitch. We have Dave Buxton to thank for the latter. Licensed ringer and avid cricketer.
The pitch certainly looks inviting to a chough with all that short grass. The question is what lies beneath? Juicy grubs?
Choughs have been spotted flying over Farmers Cricket Club, St Martin. Photo by Farmers CC.
This year’s chicks have started to fledge and make their way over to Sorel. First out, and no surprise, were Dusty andChickay’s chicks on the 9th. The only surprise was the number. Four! This is our largest brood recorded having made it from nest to supplemental feed.
Kevin and Wally with one of their chicks. Photo by Liz Corry.
Ronez staff reported seeing a chick bouldering next to Lee and Caûvette’s nest and at least one still in the nest. Sadly, on the 15th they recovered a body which we assume was one of these two chicks. We have not seen Lee or Caûvettefeed chicks out at Sorel and can only assume the brood failed. This is unusual for the pair. The post mortem on the recovered body was inconclusive.
Lee and Caûvette’s chicks perished; at least they have each other. Photo by Liz Corry.
Bo and Flieurwere caring for two chicks at the supplemental feeds. This is Bo’s first-time parenting. He seems up for the challenge. I wonder if he realises he is set for at least a month of earache post-nest?
One of Chickay’s four chicks demanding to be fed. Photo by Liz Corry.
Other first timers are Percy and Icho. Last year their first clutch failed. This year they have three youngsters. Two arrived at the aviary with them on the 23rd then a third was noticed on the 26th.
Our regular breeding pairs had varying success. I’ve already mentioned Dusty. His father, Green, and partner Pyrrhotended to a nest, yet nothing made it across to Sorel.
Red,one of the original release birds, and Dingle raised two chicks that we know of. Ronez staff reported hearing chick noises coming from the nest box. Then on the 25th they had to intervene when one chick, having left the box, found himself with his firstlife choice: a) face imminent death from construction vehicles b) face imminent death from tons of molten ash pouring on him or c) let the kind hi-viz human pick him up and move him to a safer area. He (we) went for Option C.
Kevin and Wally fledged two chicks. Straight forward. No drama there.Trevor and Noirmont also fledged two chicks. I saw them bouldering around their nest site mid-June. What happened next is a bit of a mystery. Throughout June, no one observedTrevor or Noirmont feeding chicks at the aviary. They failed then right? Wrong! Although I can’t tell you until July’s report. The power of hindsight. Insert dramatic pause here.
A chick arriving at the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.
Awkward: the aviary takes a bit of getting used to for new arrivals. Photo by Liz Corry
Embarrassing but we got there. Photo by Liz Corry.
June revealed two new pairings. That of Bee and Mac and Honeydew and Minty. All relatively young (≤3 years old) and no known nests. However, back in March Minty was seen carrying nesting material. At the time we reported him having a ‘blossoming’ relationship with a different female. Does this mean he was building a nest with her and it failed? He switched females and started building a nest with Honeydew way back in March? Either way we have no current evidence of Honeydew and Minty caring for a nest at Sorel.
Without wanting to sound like a broken record, the Plémont update is much the same. No confirmed sign of Xaviour. Beanie Baby and Beaker are roosting at Plémont. No sign of chicks although monitoring of this site has been minimal. I think I have discovered their nest. It is too late in the year for them to be using it for definitive proof and I can only reach it at low tide. For monitoring purposes, due to Jersey’s amazing tidal range, it needs to be a low, low tide if that makes sense.
High tide mark black) on the cliffs give you an idea where choughs can and cannot nest. Photo by Liz Corry.
The Corbière mystery has been solved. Early June I managed to get a partial ID on one of the pair.Annoyingly this was on a day I had not planned to go looking and had no scope or long lens camera in the car.I did manage to clock a green ring on the left leg. This narrowed it down to one of six options.
La Rosiere, Corbière, provides foraging and potential nesting habitat for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry
I returned on the 23rd in unforgiving heat this time armed with equipment. Turns out I didn’t need it as they were right there in front of me. Theheat must have made them complacent splitting their time between foraging on open ground for a spell and sheltering in the old quarry ruins.
Honeydew and Minty sheltering in the ruins from the intense heat. Photo by Liz Corry.
Quarry ruins used by the choughs as shelter. Photo by Liz Corry.
With an air of smug triumph, I said hello to Minty and Honeydew, cracked a culturally inappropriate joke about them being at the Jehovah Witness hall, then decided I had been in the sun for too long.
The Corbière pair arriving at the Kingdom Hall foraging site. Photo by Liz Corry.
Actually, what I did next was run around Gorselands and la Moye as I thought I heard a second pair calling not far away. When I returned toMinty and Honeydewone of them called out…and it echoed! I had just spent half an hour chasing an echo.I packed up and went off for an ice cream.
The desalination plant next to the Kingdom Hall may explain the echoing bird calls. Photo by Liz Corry.
From my collective observations and the few public records, it does look like this pair could be roosting in the south west corner of Jersey. They like to use the abandoned Highlands Hotel during the day. It acts as a safe rest stop overlooking the land. They head to the roof then disappear out of sight for several minutes before heading off again to forage. The structure looks to have potential for a roost. The building hasapparently beenempty for 12-18 months. I would like to get in contact with the owner to see if we can investigate the possibility of roost or nest.If any readers can help with this please do get in contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 860 059.
Highlands Hotel is a prominent feature of the cliff tops in Jersey’s southwest. Photo by Liz Corry.
After the feed one Sunday, Icho was sat in the dead hawthorn tree by the aviary looking out of sorts. Percy was off somewhere else. She was very quiet and her feathers were out of place. There looked to be bald patches under her eyes and top of head. It was very easy for me to shut her in the aviary (another cause for concern).
Icho shut in the aviary to be caught up for a health check. Photo by Liz Corry.
Thankfully it was just a case of damp feathers mixing with rock dust. She must have bathed before arriving at the aviary. The right ratio of dust to water acting like ‘hair gel’ on the feathers.
Her subdued nature? Probably the same any mother has who had spent the past seven weeks feeding three hungry mouths?
A short yet sweet update. Penny continued to look after her three surviving chicks in the Zoo. We didn’t have to intervene just make sure she continued to get a regular supply of food. We ringed the chicks on the 16th and took DNA samples to send off for sexing. All looked fit and well.
Three very healthy chicks visible on the Zoo nest-cam. Photo by Liz Corry.
The Malagasy A-Team
I have been making the most of June’s daylight hours to keep on top of maintenance jobs. Well trying to at least. There is the ever-growing grass and surrounding bracken to keep on top off. The rats are still making a meal of the netting in quite an extraordinary way. A substantial sized rectangle had been gnawed out of one piece. I’m not sure which I was more alarmed at – the size or the shape.
For one memorable day in June, I had help from a very specialvolunteer group. Five staff members from Durrell’s Madagascar team have been over here in Jersey since February. They were attending the three-month DESMAN course at our Academyand became ‘stranded on the rock’ thanks to the pandemic.
Mamy and Henri cut the grass and created enrichment areas inside the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.
Students from the other countries had managed to make it home. Getting back to Madagascar was a little trickier. To alleviate lockdown boredom, they offered their assistance around the Zoo where feasible and out at Sorel. They powered through the jobs which helped me immensely.
Mirana meeting the Manx loaghtans. Photo by Liz Corry.
One task included re-vamping the signage at the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.
They managed to get flights home a few days later. They were ecstatic. I wasn’t. I had just lost my best team! I jest. We love our colleagues and lament over not spending more time face to face…unless it is in times of a pandemic.
Mamy showed off his carpentry skills. Photo by Liz Corry.
From left to right: Mirana, Lova, Helen hiding) and Ny set to work removing the bracken before fixing holes in the netting. Photo by Liz Corry.
As well as an unexpected volunteer team, I was in for another treat at Sorel this month.One evening, as I drove away from the aviary, I noticed a bird of prey sat on the field gate. Not unusual. Kestrel, buzzard, harrier, barn owl all hangout up there. This beauty caught my eye. It looked falcon-esque. Yet as I drove closer, eventually stopping mere metresaway, managing to get my camera out of the boot, AND take a photo, I knew this wasn’t your average falcon. Of course the jesses were an early give away.
Cyrus taking in the scenery on an excursion from St Johns Manor Falconry. Photo by Liz Corry.
With no falconer insight,I fired off a few social media messages to see who was missing their bird. Within minutes St John’s Manor contacted me to say it was probably their beloved Cyrus. Turns out she had been missing for a day and her GPS tag had failed. I know what it feels like when our choughs go missing so I stayed nearby to keep an eye on her until they arrived. I’d love to tell you there was a happy ending. I don’t know if there was. As soon as the falconer arrived, she flew off. Not far and it was approaching roost time so I would like to think she opted for rabbit in the falconer’s hand rather than the ones running around Sorel.
Ronez Quarry had me on speed dial this month. On the 19th, staff found the body of Aude at the asphalt plant. She had become wedged inside the building and likely starved to death. Red and Dingle hold territory at this site. Had there been a confrontation or simply a tragic accident?
Then on the 28thDusty and Chickay’s nest grabbed the headlines. One of their chicks had prematurely found its way outside of the building. Staff had been keeping an eye on it and noticed that the parents were not feeding it.
As I drove from my house to the quarry, thoughts of juggling hand-rearing at Sorel whilst doing the 10-12hr days of the Bird Department at the Zoo filled me with dread. Luckily, on a 9 by 5 mile island, I didn’t have to drive for long. And once I had assessed the situation I was a little more optimistic.
This choughlet stepped out of it’s comfort zone a little too soon. Photo by Liz Corry.
The chick looked to be about 4-5 weeks old. He had most likely been bouldering inside the building, hopping in and out of the nest. This morning he ‘bouldered’ a little too far heading down the staircase and on to the floor. A scary place for any chough with cement trucks driving by and gulls flying overhead. The parents were clearly aware of the chicks’ predicament and frequently flew passed to feed the chicks inside the building. They just weren’t prepared to put themselves in the same danger.
I intervened, carefully scooped up the chick, and moved it back inside near to the nest. Glyn then came down to take over observations as Mairi, at Sorel, warned him that the fed parents were heading back to the quarry. We had a camera trap at the ready for when the quarry closed and we had to leave. Not that it was necessary as Dusty flew in after the supplementary feed was put out and fed the chick. A happy end to the day. Hopefully the next time it decides to brave the outdoors the chick will know what its doing.
Penny had started incubating a clutch of four eggs at the start of the month. The first two had hatched overnight and during the 21st. The next chick emerged on the 22nd and the final chick on the 23rd. Amazing achievement for this pair.
Tristan immediately spoilt the fun by turning on Penny the day the fourth chick hatched. His aggression threatened both mum and chicks so we intervened and put Tristan in a ‘time out’. We moved him to an off-show aviary where he will stay for at least two months, waiting for the chicks to fledge.
Sadly one of those chicks died early on. The other three continue to thrive.
More reports of the ‘Corbière pair’ have come in, including one with leg rings colours. This allowed us to produce a shortlist of who they might be. Slight hitch. We don’t have individuals with those specific colour combinations.
Checking out the chough on the roof of the Highlands Hotel, Corbière. Photo by Liz Corry.
The sunlight may have played tricks on the observer. Alternatively one of the missing birds is alive and well hiding out in the south. I tried to follow up on this, but found my other work commitments took over. The pair continue to be a mystery.
The entire west coast of Jersey is visible from Corbière. Photo by Liz Corry.
A pair of choughs are still active in and around Les Platons. Less so at the Zoo. Maybe their membership expired. If the pair are staying closer to the cliffs maybe they have a nest ? Or is lockdown making me delusional?
So much potential for choughs if the bracken on Trinity’s stretch of coast could be managed. Photo by Liz Corry.
Bracken covered coastline with Ronez quarry visible (furthest headland). Photo by Liz Corry.
I’m fully prepared to own the latter. On one ‘chough hunt’, I stepped out of Egypte woods onto the cliff path above Wolf’s Lair to the evoking melodies of bagpipes drifting across the bay. I thought I had finally lost it. Turns out Wolf’s Lair is simply the easiest place to practice your bagpipes without neighbours complaining.
I finally spotted one half of the Trinity twosome on the 12th. Returning to my car from a thankless chough hunt, a single chough call caught my attention. The bird was casually flying eastwards from the direction of Wolf’s Lair along the cliffs. It made a graceful U-turn then disappeared out of sight. Are corvids capable of mockery?
Small coves on the north east coast could be home to our mystery choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
Don’t get excited. We still have no concrete nesting evidence or of Xaviour’s status. Beaker and Beanie Baby turned up at the supplemental feed on the 31st; the first time in nearly two months. Is this a sign of things to come?
The stretch of coast from Grosnez (foreground) to Plémont is home to Beaker and Beanie Baby. Photo by Liz Corry.
Just to outdo last month’s leg ring problems, we had eight birds needing attention in May. Wally had been flying around with a toe caught in a ring since at least the 12th April. When Glyn tried to catch her on 4th May she had somehow managed to free the toe by herself. Typical.
Glyn giving Dusty a quick health check. Photo by Mairi Young.
Dusty was caught up on the 4th to free his toe from his left leg ring. Cauvette experienced similar problems having been spotted on the 16th and was dealt with three days later. Kevin, Lee, Pyrrho, Chewie, and Baie lost a ring or had one slip under another. All were caught up over a seven day period and fitted with shiny new rings.
The ‘chough-mobile’ sprang to action once again transporting water to Sorel. Both water tanks at the aviary and inside storage had run dry. As with any garden bird feeder, the ones at Sorel need to be kept clean to reduce the spread of possible disease between choughs and other species. We are now regularly seeing a pair of jackdaw at the aviary as well as the magpie family.
Speaking of cleaning, the choughs have started their annual moult. Lots of primary and secondary feathers to pick up off the floor each visit. It takes roughly 90 days just for the tail feathers to complete their cycle of old to new ones. So expect to see a lot of scruffy birds in the meantime.
Lee kindly demonstrating what a chough in moult looks like. Photo by Mick Dryden.