Jersey Island’s striking landscape shares many similarities with the Llŷn Peninsula in northwest Wales and the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland. Each of these regions are popular tourist destinations that are heavily influenced by agriculture and their connection to the sea. Their coastal landscapes are also extremely important to many forms of wildlife, not least our favourite corvid, the red-billed chough. The choughs’ iconic call, coupled with their bright red beaks and legs are a staple of the Llŷn and Iveragh Peninsulas. And these birds are clearly held in high regard on Jersey since their reintroduction in 2013.
On the Llŷn and Iveragh Peninsulas, choughs nest within mines, quarries, farm buildings and along cliff faces. A short distance from these nest sites, choughs have access to a mix of foraging habitats such as beach, sand dune, earth banks, coastal and agricultural grasslands, coastal heath and some well-grazed upland sites. Here, choughs can find their favourite food items such as beetles, ants and spiders, as well as the larvae of beetles, butterflies and moths. The importance of Llŷn and Iveragh for choughs is one of the primary reasons why ‘Special Protection Areas’ (SPAs) have been designated on both peninsulas.
The most recent national chough censuses indicated that chough populations across the UK and Ireland are relatively stable, although there were some concerning declines in certain regions. These national surveys are usually conducted every ten years in the UK. However, there was nearly two decades of a gap between Ireland’s 2002/03 national chough census and the most recent census carried out in 2021. Although these censuses provide invaluable insights into the health of national and regional chough populations, more frequent updates would help us determine how our choughs are faring in the years between censuses.With this in mind, the University College Cork-led LIVE Project, in collaboration with the National Trust in Wales and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) organised a cross-border ‘Chough Count’ on the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland and the Llŷn Peninsula in northwest Wales on 12th March 2022. This initiative typifies one of LIVE’s main objectives – the sharing of knowledge and best practice between our two peninsulas.
The Llŷn Peninsula’s second ‘Chough Count’ saw 51 volunteers record 254 choughs as the sun shone in north Wales. Iveragh’s inaugural count saw twenty-six volunteers record 64 choughs in quite challenging weather conditions. By conducting annual counts of Llŷn & Iveragh’s choughs, we can detect trends in these populations in the years between censuses and we can identify important habitats for this protected species. The 2022 chough count also gave our surveyors the opportunity to record some of our other native birds such as skylarks, fulmars, white-tailed sea eagles and a hen harrier in Iveragh, as well as red kites, peregrine falcons and a green woodpecker on Pen Llŷn.
Distribution of records during Pen Llŷn’s second ‘Chough Count’ held on 12th March 2022.
The LIVE Project (ecomuseumlive.eu) has received funding from the European Regional Development Fund through its Ireland Wales cooperation programme. Led by the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences in University College Cork, LIVE works to enable the coastal communities of Llŷn and Iveragh to promote their natural and cultural assets, with the aim of encouraging more sustainable tourism opportunities in these rural regions of Ireland and Wales.
The sun has set on the Red-billed Chough Project officer’s time here in Jersey with Birds On The Edge and with Durrell. Her absence from Jersey Zoo Bird Department and at the Sorel aviary is undeniable. We can only strive to be as dedicated to the Jersey free-flying choughs as she once was. But despite this saddening farewell; the chough show must go on! Updates on the choughs will continue; and what an exciting month it has been!
Native reptile sightings
While the Island’s starting to heat up with all this fantastic summery weather; there have been many green lizard sightings. Jersey is the only place in the British Isles where green lizards occur naturally and are one of the three species of lizards which are protected under the Conservation Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2021. Green lizards can be seen between spring and summer. Green lizards are sexually dimorphic; meaning, they encompass differences in appearance, shape and/or size between the sexes, they are easily distinguishable: the male green lizard (as seen in the image) is bright green with a bright blue throat but is also larger than the female. In contrast, the female lizard is smaller, less vibrant and has creamy and/or brown lines running down the body. So, now that we’re in May, it is the perfect time to keep your eyes peeled when walking in and around any of the Island’s coastal paths. If you happen to spot a green lizard or the other lizards native to Jersey; Jersey Amphibian and Reptile Group (JARG) and Jersey Biodiversity Centre (JBC) would love to know, so make sure you send your sighting details to them as it will help with the protection and monitoring of the reptile species on the Island.
If reptiles aren’t your ‘cup of tea’ then not to worry, the summer also brings out our beautiful butterflies. Between the months of April and September you’ll find butterflies are very abundant across the whole of the countryside. We’ve already come across some dedicated volunteers conducting butterfly surveys for Jersey Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (JBMS) along the coastal path from Sorel Point carpark. Butterflies are used as great environmental indicators; this is because they live in specific habitats and can indicate the general health of the land by their presence or absence. As Butterflies are generally a widely abundant terrestrial insect that are often admired for their large size and distinct appearances; they are the ideal insect for surveying. In and around Sorel we’ve seen butterflies such as: speckled wood, small heath and small copper. All three of these butterflies’ ideal habitat is semi-natural heaths and agricultural environments; indicating that the area around the Sorel aviary is relatively adequate land for foraging habitat for our red-billed choughs.
Moulting time for non-breeders
But, enough about the Island’s non-chough native wildlife, what about the birds themselves?! It’s that time of year again when the non-breeding choughs start to moult – this is becoming readily apparent by all the feathers we can now collect from the Sorel aviary and by the less than perfect looking feathering on some of the non-breeding choughs. Choughs generally start their moult between May and/or early June. They start moulting their central tail feathers first working outwards. They then start moulting and growing their wing feathers, the primaries, around the same time as their tail; but complete their tail moult first. The moulting process for an adult chough can take up to 152 days.Monday, 9th May
On 9th May, Jersey celebrates Liberation Day and Jersey puts on quite a show with flags at many houses and businesses as well a spectacular parade. But Jersey Zoo had another cause of celebration, the bird flu restrictions were finally dropped by the Government. Therefore, Jersey Zoo was given the green light to move any of birds temporarily sheltered back out into their original enclosures; enabling the public to enjoy some missing birds from the collection. It was good to see all the Chilean flamingos and red-breasted geese back in their valley. But this brought the chough project good news too; as it meant the arranged Ronez Quarry visit could go forward and this year’s hatched chicks could potentially be ringed!
Ronez Quarry visit
Jerseys free-flying choughs have had another productive nesting season. There are eleven breeding pairs in the group this year and with help from Ronez Quarry we discovered twelve nests in the quarry buildings. Unfortunately, from the twelve nests there were only hungry chick vocalizations from seven out of the twelve nests. But worry not! Some of the other breeding pairs have settled in other locations around Jersey. These seven nests are owned by the known breeding pairs that have been presumed incubating (absentees at supplementary feeds can be a give-away). Choughs are well-known for being faithful when it comes to their nest sites; but it’s always worth a check of the new nests. None of the new nests found by quarry personnel this year were being used by our breeding pairs. This could indicate that some of the younger choughs are practicing for when they start nesting in the near future! Once the incubation period is over, the female will still spend the majority of her time on the nest but as the chicks get older and/or gain vital feathering she spends less time sat on the nest; allowing us to see both the female and male take alternate feeding trips to the aviary. A good indication that the chough chicks will be of good size is the appearance of the female within the breeding pair also leaving the nest to forage, or in our case, visit the aviary for the supplementary feed. As we’ve been seeing both sexes of each breeding pair of late and have estimated all the breeding pairs’ end of incubation dates, we knew that most would have chicks old enough to ring around the end of May.
With help of loaned equipment provided by 4Hire, Ronez’s Assistant Operations Manager, Toby and Durrell Chough Intern, Charlotte were able to reach great heights and see into five of the seven nests in the quarry. Two of these nests were inaccessible due to high winds and/or the position of nests in buildings. But worry not, when visiting the quarry, we could clearly hear hungry chicks from all seven active nests!
The first nest we checked was Lee & Caûvette’s. They had three chicks, no older than nine days old! This meant they were not old enough to be ringed, but at least we knew that this breeding pair has been successful in hatching three chicks this year. The second nest we visited was Trevor & Noirmont’s which only had one chick inside, but it was old enough to be removed from the nest to be health-checked and become the first chick to be given temporary rings this year. This chick was ringed with this year’s ringing colour; dark green and will be identified as ‘white over dark green’ and/or Manitou (named after the cherry-picker which gave us access to the nest).
Our third nest site to visit was going to be Percy & Icho’s nest; however, high winds picked up and both the quarry staff and Durrell staff knew it was going to be too dangerous for us and the chicks to attempt to visit their nest box. It was clear though that the breeding pair were visiting this nest and there were definite sounds of hungry chicks coming from inside; the big question will be how many will we greet around their fledging date! The fourth nest we looked at was Kevin & Wally’s. We had previously been sent a photo of this nest from Toby – in this picture, we thought there were only two chicks but while at the quarry we got a lovely surprise from the video we took of inside the nest. There were definitely three of the oldest chicks we’d seen in a nest around the quarry so far! Due to the nest being out of sight; we did not attempt to ring these chicks for their own safety – but we hope to see them all at the start of June at Sorel aviary!
The fifth nest visited, that of Green & Pyrrho, was accessed with the stair lift; they had three chicks which were also old enough to ring. However, again, due to the positioning of the nest and the supporting beams of the building, we could not get up high enough to reach into their nest box – and again, the chicks were left alone. The sixth nest visited was Bo & Flieur’s, in a very noisy and dusty building; surprising how the adults and/or chicks survive inside it! There was no way of accessing this nest but we could hear some very noisy chicks indicating their reproductive success. We may not know how many chicks are in this nest; but we know to expect some to arrive in the coming month. The seventh and final nest we visited was Dusty & Chickay’s. They have four hungry chicks in their nest but because of their placement in the building, this nest was inaccessible to cherry-pickers and stair lift equipment. It’s almost as if the choughs build their nests so that no one can access them!As much as our visit didn’t go completely to plan, thanks to mother nature and the breeding pairs’ chicks’ ability to latch onto their nests making us unable to remove them to ring them before they fledge’ it’s clear that this year our choughs have been very productive; most if not all have had three or more chicks. We currently know of 14 chicks in the quarry; but let’s not forget that we still have an unknown number of chicks from two other breeding pairs! Going from our breeding population’s clutch sizes in the past (our choughs usually lay up to four eggs), there could be at least three or four chicks in each of the other two nests that were inaccessible. Which could bring this year’s hatched chick count to 22!! This may be wishful thinking, but it’s always good to expect the unexpected!