Chough report: September 2020

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!).

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