Chough report: December 2021

By Liz Corry

Sorel in the bleak midwinter. Photo by Liz Corry.

December was wet and wild, but that didn’t stop the choughs from making the most of Jersey. We had several sightings covering the north and south of the Island.

Jersey choughs have been foraging in the fields along le Canibut. Photo by Liz Corry.

The fields around Le Canibut lane in St John provided daily sustenance for a bit. Corbière became an early morning jaunt for several birds. Eight were spotted one morning searching for insects amongst the stony ground around the headland. We were able to identify the birds as a mix of this year’s juveniles and non-breeding sub-adults.

Monvie and Jaune searching for invertebrates on the south coast. Photo by Mick Dryden.

Historically, choughs in Jersey were known to nest along the stretch of coast running from Corbière to Beauport. The coastline clearly still holds it appeal for the species although not enough to support a chough independently from Sorel and the supplemental feed.

The south west corner of Jersey was historically home to breeding pairs of chough. Image taken from Google Earth 2022.

December catch-ups

An ‘epic’ event happened this month at Sorel. I finally managed to outsmart the choughs and trap them in the aviary on the first attempt. Ok, so it’s not climbing Kilimanjaro or turning rainwater into wine. But in our books, it’s pretty impressive. Especially given the fact myself and the student shut in 14 of the 24 choughs present, hand-netted and weighed seven, replaced missing rings on three, and solved a medical mystery for one. All within an hour and time to spare before sunset. 

No, before you ask, there was no pear tree and/or partridge in sight.

Student Charlotte Dean got the rare opportunity to hold a wild chough whilst learning about ringing. Photo by Liz Corry.

Minty, our Plémont male, now has brand new green and red rings. It should make him more obvious when he is flying between Grosnez and Plémont during the breeding season. In the process of replacing Lee’s missing white ring we noticed wear along the top edge of his metal ring. This was only fitted six years ago.

 

Lee’s metal ring fitted in 2015 is showing wear and tear. Photo by Liz Corry.

The medical mystery concerned Minty who was observed limping one afternoon at Sorel. There also looked to be swelling on one of his feet. Once in the hand, it was clear to see his hind digit on the left foot was swollen. In consultation with the vet, it was decided that it was likely to be fibrous scar tissue or a cold abscess. The limping seen the week before was unrelated and has not been observed since. We will continue to monitor him as closely as we can as with all the choughs. We will take him to the vet to be X-rayed if his condition worsens.

Swelling on the hind digit looks to be scar tissue or a cold abscess. Phot by Liz Corry.

Essential Maintenance

Ever since that catch-up on the 22nd, the choughs have been on the defensive, reluctant to enter the aviary if we are present. They might hate us even more when we set up the Henchman ladder to repair the tears in the netting.

Tears in the netting are appearing once again along the metal support pole. Photo by Charlotte Dean.

We tried to do the work on 9th December with the assistance of the Government Countryside Rangers. The ladders are too big for our Dacia and the condition of the farm track called for the Rangers’ high clearance Land Rover.

After our best Chuckle Brothers impression getting the ladder into the aviary whilst being pelted with hail, the Henchman was too tall to stand upright inside. We had borrowed Site Services’ Henchman because the Bird Department’s one was in use, not realising it was a different model until it arrived at Sorel car park.

We rescheduled for the New Year and set to work repairing the holes we could reach unaided.

We also had to reschedule installing new nest boxes in Ronez Quarry. Emergencies at Ronez postponed the two planned visits in December. I’m hoping it will be a case of third time lucky in January.

We kept ourselves busy in the meantime. The student created Christmas themed enrichment for the choughs using reclaimed wood, old perching, and non-toxic paints. A well-deserved Blue Peter badge is winging its way to her.

December in Jersey…must be time for a visit to Hawai’i

I participated in two online planning workshops this month to discuss ideas for the ‘Alalā reintroduction plans (aka the Hawaiian crow). The ‘Alalā Project team and the Jersey chough team have had on and off contact over the last ten years sharing a common goal and using similar practices we can both learn from.

Hawaiian crows are tool users. Photo by Ken Bohn/San Diego Global

Release efforts between 2016 and 2019 saw captive bred ‘alalā living free in Puʻ u Makaʻ ala Natural Area Reserve on Hawai’i Island. Sadly, after several losses, the team decided to re-capture the surviving birds and return them to the safety of captivity whilst they set to work on Plan B.

‘Alalā face a very complicated situation which is why the team are looking for help and ideas from far and wide including the Mariana crow, Puerto Rican parrot projects, and the Jersey chough project. Getting all four teams in one virtual room was a challenge in itself given the time zones. The first meeting was at 10pm (GMT) the second a more respectable 6pm.

It was very motivational to hear people sharing experiences that resonated across species and countries. Often when helping others you end up learning something yourself. And it reminded me just how lucky Jersey has been to have had success so early on with a species recovery project.

               

Blue Islands flight JECH0U9H

The four juvenile choughs bred at the Zoo this year were exported on the 16th to Paradise Park via Blue Islands. It was a true team effort requiring all Bird Department staff in that day to help catch the four out of the aviary in the afternoon of the 15th. They were then held in a quarantine aviary overnight ready for a 6am wake up call. The birds were caught and crated ready for a 7am departure in the dark heading to the airport. Blue Islands flew them to Exeter where they were met by Paradise Park staff and driven on to Hayle, Cornwall.

And finally…

As we bring December and 2021 to a close, we would like to thank everyone who has been involved in the project this year and all our supporters for their generosity and enthusiasm. It’s been another hard year for choughs dodging peregrines and humans dodging COVID, but we made it. Happy New Year! Here’s to a year full of leatherjackets, dung beetles, larvae and whatever else makes you choughing happy.

Sunsetting on another year at Sorel. Photo by Charlotte Dean.

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