Chough report: December 2017

by Liz Corry

As the year drew to a close and daylight hours dwindled to their annual low, the choughs spent more and more time at Sorel close to their roost sites.

Chough movements in December

There was one intriguing public report at the start of December suggesting a new roost site. Farm workers at West Point Farm, St Ouen, had been seeing a pair of choughs in their barns around 7am each morning. At that time of year sunrise occurs around 7.40am. Was the pair roosting in the barns or being ‘the early bird that catches the worm’ and leaving Sorel before everyone else to find food out west?

Choughs leaving the feed site at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

The day of the report, and each day since, there have been 35 choughs at Sorel for the feed. The sun sets not long after with a dozen or so choughs staying at the aviary and the rest heading east, presumably to the quarry.

Taking in the last rays of a December day. Photo by Liz Corry.

Another reason to stay close to Sorel is the supplemetal feed. Now that winter has set in the availability of wild food is low and the need for calories high. December has not been particularly cold – in fact there have been a few balmy days where shorts were an option (for keeper not bird).

An unusually warm day in December enjoyed by the choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

However, our tiny island has taken a constant battering over the past weeks with gale force winds of 40 to 60 mph. It is bad enough walking or driving in it. Imagine being a 300g bird trying to fly or trying to stay grounded whilst searching for food in the soil.

24 hours later! (note the choughs on the roof) Photo by Liz Corry.

Apart from a demand for more food the choughs have on the whole faired ok so far with the bad weather. They are making the most of the sheep being confined to the aviary field. It is tupping season with one lucky ram confined to two fields with a flock of ewes. Lots of dung with maybe the odd tasty insect morsel inside.

One lucky ram confined to the aviary field at Sorel for tupping season. Photo by Liz Corry.

The choughs have been foraging in amongst the sheep confined to the field adjacent to the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

Syngamus strikes again

There have been two cases of syngamus infection this month. Luckily I was able to trap the birds, Lee and Duke, within a couple of days of symptoms showing. They evaded capture on the first day of trying, partly due to the hatches not budging when released (if anyone can come up with a better release hatch design I will pay you! albeit in chocolate coins). The second day their hunger in the increasingly cold wet weather spurred on their motivation for staying inside the aviary and the hatches closed. Much to the relief of the vet on call over Christmas as it was the 23rd December.

Never easy trying to trap choughs who refuse to go inside. Photo by Liz Corry.

Whilst Lee had been our major cause for concern due to gaping and repeated sneezing, it was Duke who sounded the most congested once we had him in the hand. He also had a lot of mucus around his nares which we rarely see.

Duke presented with mucus coming from his nares as a result of infection. Photo by Liz Corry.

Once they had received their wormer injection they were released and left to feed on the pellet and insects at the aviary. Remarkably there have been no observations of sneezing since that day. However, do bear in mind the gales/fog/heavy rain/sleet (often in the same day) have meant that there is little incentive to hang around at Sorel observing birds.

We have tried. Body weights have been obtained for several of the birds. Not consistently to show any trends, but enough to know the choughs getting on the scales are not underweight. These of course will be the more confident individuals and/or ones that have low parasite loads. We have a new type of scale that the birds will use. A lot cheaper than the flat Kern scales (£20 versus £150).

Prototype weighing station using digital kitchen scales. Photo by Liz Corry.

They are not intended as outdoor scales so I have had a few attempts at weather-proofing. The current one needs improving as the birds are unsure. Once they have approved the design plans we can make several weighing stations to place around the aviary ensuring we cater to all of the choughs.

Gianna’s dilemma

Towards the end of November keepers at the zoo started to notice Gianna our foster mum having issues. She was crash landing when flying. Gianna is tame and she lets keepers get extremely close. She lets me open her bill to check for infections or blockages if needed. It was easy to see that the source of Gianna’s mobility problems was her eyes.

Gianna’s left eye was starting to show signs of cataract. Furthermore, there was no reaction in her right eye. She was taken to the Vet Department for further examination. Photos were sent to a UK specialist who confirmed she had cataracts in both eyes.

Jess Maxwell with Head Vet Andrew Routh examining Gianna’s eyes. Photo by Bea Detnon.

Since the initial assessment there has been a noticably downturn in her ability to move around. Understandably as her vision deteriorates her confidence in everyday things like hopping from rock to rock has decreased. She has been moved to an off-show aviary close to the Vet Department so she can receive the best attention from keepers.

Cataract forming in Gianna’s left eye at the start of December. Photo by Liz Corry.

The cataract in Gianna’s left eye by the end of December. Photo by Bea Detnon.

Despite everyone’s love for Gianna we have to accept that her future is murky. There is the option of an operation to remove the cataracts. As you can imagine this is very specialised, expensive, and relies on the individual being strong enough to undergo the operation. For those of you interested in avian ophthalmology click here. If the operation option is not feasible her quality of life will then need to be carefully considered.

Season’s greetings

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From all of us at chough HQ we hope you enjoyed your Christmas holidays and wish you all the best for 2018. Thank you for your continued support.

January volunteer activity

Tesson Mill. Photo courtesy of National Trust for Jersey

Sunday 14th January 2018 – Tesson Mill, St Peter’s Valley – 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

Happy New Year!

The details Originally we had hoped the January task would be planting a new woodland on a former agricultural field owned by the National Trust in St Peter’s Valley. Unfortunately, due to still being in the planning stages of the project, we are unable to commence with this task at the present time.

So instead, we will be carrying out some well needed woodland management at a nearby location. This will include sycamore and ivy control, hazel coppicing, and digging up some invasive garden species to help native plants take over and flourish.

Please contact Julia at j.meldrum@gov.je or Jon at jonparkes@nationaltrust.je or phone Julia on 441600 or Jon on 483193 before you go just case anything changes.

The site Tesson Mill end of the woodland in St Peter’s Valley.

Parking  The meeting point will be at the top of the slope at the Tesson Mill end of the woodland in St Peter’s Valley. There is parking at the Mill Pond near the Vic in the Valley Pub and Quetivel Mill. There will also be some space for those of you with 4x4s on the slope at Tesson Mill and hopefully the land opposite (Please note that these spaces will be limited).

Jersey phone directory Map 14, R14) Google map here

We will leave the carpark at 10:20 for a 10:30 start and plan to work until about 12:30.

The task Woodland management

Tools needed The Trust will provide gloves and tools for the job, but if you would like to bring your own digging and cutting equipment e.g. handsaws and grab/pick-axes, you are very welcome.

Clothing needed. It might be wet here so wellies could be essential!.

Children All are welcome, young or old. Children under 16 must be supervised by a parent or guardian during the task.

We’ll work until 12.30 when we will have a hot drink and a slice (or 2, if we can get away with it) of Kim’s yummy home-made cake!

The National Trust Rangers are looking forward to seeing you all there!

Study pinpoints Arctic shorebird decline and it could be our fault!

Dunlin (2). Photo by Mick DrydenFrom Rare Bird Alert

A new study addresses concerns over the many Arctic shorebird populations in precipitous decline. Evident from the study is that monitoring and protection of habitat where the birds breed, winter, and stopover is critical to their survival and to that of a global migration spectacle.

To understand why arctic shorebirds are declining and the role humans may be playing, Dr. Rebecca Bentzen of the WCS Arctic Beringia Program and her colleagues set out to quantify adult bird survival. The scientists collected and combined data across nine breeding sites in the Canadian and Alaskan Arctic in 2010–2014, engaging in unprecedented levels of collaboration as part of the Arctic Shorebird Demographic Network.

Sites included the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) and the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Six species of shorebirds were represented in the study – American golden plover, dunlin, semipalmated sandpiper, western sandpiper, red-necked phalarope, and grey phalarope.

Red-necked phalarope. Photo by Mick Dryden

Testing how ecological and human-related variables affected the adult annual survival of the birds, the scientists observed few breeding ground impacts, suggesting that shorebird declines are not currently driven by conditions experienced on the Arctic breeding grounds.

“In a positive sense, our estimates for adult survival were substantially higher than previously published across five of the six species,” said Bentzen. “This is good news; we seem to be doing the right thing in the Arctic as far as conserving these birds.”

This could change, however, with a warming and more variable climate, and oil extraction in environmentally sensitive areas such as ANWR’s coastal plain or around Teshekpuk Lake in the National Petroleum Reserve.

In addition, the study found that the survival of five species of shorebirds that migrate from breeding sites in the Alaskan and Canadian Arctic to wintering areas farther south in the Americas is robust, presumably due to favourable conditions in the nesting areas along that flyway. Meanwhile, dunlin — a shorebird species that migrates to wintering areas in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway on the west side of the Pacific have poorer adult survival.

Jersey January shorebird counts 1987-2017

Are declines in Arctic shorebird counts happening in places like Jersey?

The authors surmise that loss of habitat at migratory stopovers or overwintering sites on the East Asian-Australasian Flyway are responsible for driving poorer adult survival rates and should be a focus of future conservation efforts.

Bentzen notes that the results should focus attention on habitat needs in the East Asian region. In addition, breeding grounds should be carefully monitored and protected as climate impacts and potentially development encroachment increases in and around these critical Arctic breeding habitats.

Download the paper Environmental and ecological conditions at Arctic breeding sites have limited effects on true survival rates of adult shorebirds here

State of the UK’s Birds 2017

State of the UK's Birds 2017Just published, the latest State of the UK’s Birds Report highlights how our birds are doing. Some of our summer migrants are arriving earlier, the distributions of others are moving north and some are just beginning to colonise. The report is only possible due to the efforts of volunteers who take part in BTO surveys including those throughout the Channel Islands.

Headlines

  • Climate change will provide opportunities for some species, while others will be more vulnerable
  • Birds in the UK are showing changes in abundance and distribution, predominantly moving northwards, in a way that is consistent with a changing climate
  • Migratory birds are arriving earlier and egg-laying dates have advanced such that swallows, for example, are arriving in the UK 15 days earlier, and breeding 11 days earlier, than they did in the 1960s
  • A large number of bird species are likely to have opportunities for colonisation and range expansion in the UK under projected climate change. Potential colonists include a number of wetland species such as little bittern and night heron. A considerable list of southerly-distributed species have already shown substantial increases in recent years, including garganey, quail and little egret

Garganey pair. Photo by Mick Dryden

  • Climate change will increase the pressures on species already in decline. A number of our declining rare breeding birds, including dotterel, whimbrel, common scoter and Slavonian grebe, are likely to be at a higher risk of extinction in the UK, based on projections of how climate will become less suitable for them

Slavonian (horned) grebe. Photo by Mick Dryden

  • The UK’s kittiwake population has declined by 70% since 1986 because of falling breeding success and adult survival. Climate change has reduced the availability of the sandeels they rely upon in the breeding season. Other species that feed largely on sandeels, such as Arctic skua, Arctic tern and puffin, are at high risk of climate-related decline
  • National surveys provided updated population estimates for capercaillie and hen harrier and revealed declines for both species
  • In the UK Overseas Territories, there are positive signs of recovery for four endemic land birds on Henderson Island and updates on a successful translocation project for the cahow.

Download the full report State of the UK’s Birds 2017 here

Kittiwake. Photo by Mick Dryden (3)

Citizen scientists helping tackle puffin decline

Puffin by Romano da CostaFrom Rare Bird Alert

The RSPB’s Project Puffin has taken the first steps in solving the mystery of why some puffin colonies in the UK are in dramatic decline after scientists analysed more than 1400 photos sent in by the public, helping them to build a better picture of what these seabirds are feeding their chicks.

UK coastlines have come alive each spring with the sight, sound and smell of puffins nesting and raising their young, known as pufflings. With their bright orange bills and distinctive eye markings people from around the world visit puffin hotspots in the UK and Ireland to photograph the bustling colonies. However, in recent years puffin numbers have plummeted at some colonies, and experts estimate that without help more than half the global puffin population will disappear within the next forty years.

In the summer RSPB scientists set out to understand more about the differing fortunes of puffins around our coasts. The project aimed to capture a snapshot of what puffins are feeding their young at as many colonies as possible, as it is thought their food supply has been negatively impacted by warming seas and shifting ocean currents. By enlisting the help of the public, also known as the ‘Puffarazzi’, 1,402 photos of puffins bringing food to their chicks were sent to the team.

Atlantic puffin. Photo by Mick Dryden

The photos have helped scientists identify areas where puffins are struggling to find the large, nutritious fish needed to support their chicks. Early results suggest that the diet of puffins vary significantly around the UK – in the northern isles of Orkney and Shetland, where serious puffin declines have been seen, puffins appear to be consistently finding smaller prey compared to most other colonies.

Traditionally puffins feed on a mixture of fish, but with nutritious sandeels making up a high proportion of their diet. The photos from puffin colonies in northwest Scotland show that sandeels are making up about half of their diet compared to the two-thirds at colonies in southern Scotland, northern England and Wales.

Ellie Owen, RSPB Conservation Scientist leading the Project Puffin team, said: “puffins colourful bills and unique eye markings make them a favourite bird to photograph. The huge response to our appeal for photos has been incredible, with more than a thousand submitted. It’s taken the team of staff and volunteers more than three months to go through them all.

“For a young puffin waiting in its burrow, its life hangs on whether its parents return with enough food. An abundant supply of large, nutritious fish such as sandeels, sprats and herrings is key to healthy colonies. The public response means we’re getting data on a scale that we’ve never been able to collect before; showing what puffins are managing to find to feed their chicks around our coastline. The next stage of the project is to look more closely at the diet of puffins compared to their breeding success to pin down what part diet plays in the decline of some puffins.”

From May to August, 602 people joined the Puffarazzi, gathering 1402 photos of Puffins taking food to their chicks. Pictures came from almost 40 colonies around the UK, including those on the Farne Islands, Skomer and the Isle of May. The project is supported by Heritage Lottery Fund Scotland thanks to money raised by National Lottery players. To see more of the pictures and to learn about the RSPB’s Project Puffin, visit their website here

December volunteer activity

Managed woodland at Grouville Marsh. Photo courtesy of States of Jersey

Sunday 10th December 2017 – Grouville Marsh, Grouville – 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

Why not take a break from Christmas shopping (unless like me you haven’t started yet!) and join the JCV on Sunday 10th December 2017

The details Sangan Island Conservation has asked for our help to cut down willow encroaching into the meadow at Grouville Marsh SSI and build a dead hedge along the stream edge.

Please contact Julia at j.meldrum@gov.je or Jon at jonparkes@nationaltrust.je or phone Julia on 441600 or Jon on 483193 before you go just case anything changes.

The site  Grouville Marsh SSI

Parking  Meet at Longbeach carpark, Grouville. From here it is a five minute walk to the work area. Jersey phone directory Map 11, KK16; Google maps here

We will leave the carpark at 10:20 for a 10:30 start and plan to work until about 12:30.

The task Cutting back willows and other vegetation and dead hedging along the stream bank.

Tools needed We will provide some tools, but if you have pruning saws, loppers, secateurs and gloves please bring them with you

Clothing needed. It can get very wet here and Piers has let us know that wellies will be absolutely essential!.

Children All are welcome, young or old. Children under 16 must be supervised by a parent or guardian during the task.

We’ll work until 12.30 when we will have a hot drink and a slice (or 2, if we can get away with it) of Kim’s yummy home-made cake!

See you there!

Chough report: November 2017

Choughs took flight this month to explore the west coast of Jersey. Photo by Trevor Biddle.

By Liz Corry

Having spent most of November on holiday or in bed overdosing on Lemsip, I thought I would get away with not having to write anything this month. However, as is now tradition, it is times like these when the choughs start hitting the headlines. So, thanks entirely to public sightings, I have the following news to share.

New sightings for November

There have been a couple of positive sightings of choughs at Petit Port and Corbiere once again. We never know every individual involved, but we do get at least one or two positive sightings of choughs in the area each year around this time and this year we have had some positive identification like Roy Filleul’s photo of PP003 at Corbiere and Mary with friend in the NT Field, St Ouen’s Bay.

Staff at Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd had a surprise sighting of two choughs flying around their buildings on 3rd November. They managed to film it and post on their Facebook site, see below. Since then we have been receiving reports of choughs making the most of St Ouen’s Bay. It tends to be 2 to 3 birds at a time, no large groups, and they are seen in the same places (although there could be observer bias in that).

We had a report of a chough drinking from the water’s edge at the St Ouen’s Pond Scrape (in front of the Eddie Buxton hide) which is personally very exciting as I’ve only ever seen them drink from the aviary water tray and the sheep bowsers.

Kempt Tower and Les Mielles nature reserve are becoming popular with at least three of the choughs. Thanks to Trevor Biddle’s photo of them down at the Scrape (south of St Ouen’s Pond) we know the identities of the three explorers; Pyrrho and wild-hatched siblings known to us as PP004 and PP005. Rather interestingly these three have been a trio since the start of this year and observed carrying nesting material towards the quarry back in spring.

Three sub-adult choughs spotted by a member of the public near the Scrape, St Ouen’s Bay. Photo by Trevor Biddle.

It is likely that people are seeing the same three in the area, but without leg ring information this cannot be confirmed. Understandably that information is hard to obtain, it is amazing just to get photos. All this knowledge feeds back into their long-term management plan so if you do spot choughs out and about in Jersey please do send in your report to birdsote@gmail.com or call 01534 860059 and leave the details.

Red-billed choughs in NT Field. 5-11-2017. HGYoung

Two choughs in the NT Field, St Ouen’s Bay. 5-11-2017. Photo by Glyn Young

Chough numbers in Jersey dealt another blow

One chough who will not be venturing further afield anymore is Egg. We had a rather sad report from Ronez Quarry of a dead chough found behind the door inside one of their buildings. On collection of the body the leg rings told us the bird was a captive-raised female known as Egg. What we did not know was the cause of death since the body looked to be in good condition and time of death fairly recent. She was taken to the Zoo’s veterinary team for post-mortem analysis.

X-rays ruled out any kind of trauma. She was underweight, but there was no evidence that she starved to death. Syngamus was present, but at a very low encounter rate. Internal investigation showed problems in her lungs and presence of acanthocephalans, a type of parasitic worm also known as thorny-headed worm. Once again we cannot say for sure that these factors caused the death, but certainly played a part in her demise. We are waiting on histology results for further information.

Captive-reared chough, Egg, collecting nesting material at Sorel back in April. Photo by Liz Corry.

This brings the chough population down to 35 individuals; 12 males, 23 females. It also means we have lost a potential breeding female. Egg was partnered with Dusty and for a second year in a row had made a nest although nothing came of it. We will now need to keep watch on Dusty. Will he form a new pairing in time for the next breeding season only a couple of months away? Will Chickay finally get her chance after spending two loyal years following him? More importantly was Egg‘s cause of death a one-off or is something sinister afoot?

Julian Hume

Julian Hume and Lindsey Hubbard visited the aviary on 13th November. Julian, better known for his work with extinct bird species was excited to watch such an exuberant, and very much living, species!

Julian Hume and Lindsey 13-11-2017 (1). HGYoung

Extension request for release aviary

The release aviary at Sorel was originally granted a five-year lease of life under States of Jersey planning regulations. As this comes to an end this month we have submitted a request to extend permission a further five years.

We still have a a group of choughs using the aviary as a roost site (not to mention kestrels and barn owls). There is still a need to recapture birds for veterinary treatment as demonstrated in last month’s report. The aviary facilitates this need.

In the long term we are also looking at introducing new blood lines into the population which would require soft-release of captive reared individuals. We still aim to remove the aviary at some point in the future, but for now there is still a clear need for the structure.

More information and opportunity for public comment can be found on the States website by clicking here.

The required planning notification went up at the aviary on 9th November and has, thanks to high winds, been replaced four times!

Sorel -Site Notice 12-11-2017. Jane De St Croix

A brambling winter at the bird crops

Romano2By Cris Sellarés

To some of us, nothing signals the arrival of the colder months as much as the bloom of the sunflowers from the BOTE winter bird crops across the Island. Their bold colours are the sign that the fields will again produce a good amount of seeds right at the time of the year when our farmland birds need them the most.

Just as the blooming of the crops signals the goodness to come, other signs go up, the ones that we put at the edges of the fields to inform neighbours and visitors about the  role of the fields and their importance to the birds.

Romano1

Away from their breeding grounds, be they here in Jersey or in far corners of Europe, once the birds arrive at the crops that we’ve prepared for them, all they have to do is survive. This translates in wildlife terms to “eat and do not be eaten”, and this is why the crops play such a crucial role: the seed from the crops provides the food, the structure of the crops and nearby hedges provides cover – from predators and bad weather.

All the birds need at this point is to be left to it, so whilst more and more people love the sight of these impressive flocks by the crops, we ask everybody to enjoy the view from the boundaries and footpaths, and not scare the birds away from their food and shelter.

This winter, with over 60 fields planted at fourteen sites across the Island, is already turning out to be one of the most interesting years that we’ve had at Birds On The Edge.

In late October, when birds started to flock to the crops our resident chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches and linnets were joined not only by their continental relatives arriving from the north and the east, but also by other species of finches which we do not usually see in Jersey, in particular dozens, maybe hundreds of bramblings. In comparison, the previous winter only two representatives of this colourful finch were seen at the crops.

Chaffinch. Photo by Romano da Costa

Bramblings will hang out with chaffinches and other finches, and have no problem following them to people’s gardens to feed, so if you start seeing chaffinches in your garden, particularly if the weather turns very cold, keep your eyes peeled for bramblings, they will be making their way there soon.

Brambling12wm

In conclusion, seeing that these hungry bramblings that found their way to Jersey and to the crops are feeding in them is a great sign that the fields are doing their job – providing sustenance for birds in need is exactly what they were planted for.

The seed for the crops was bought with a generous donation from Action For Wildlife Jersey and a grant from the Countryside Enhancement Scheme. Action For Wildlife Jersey is a local group of nature enthusiasts and experts on various fields (excuse the pun) who organise many educational walks and talks throughout the year. The many farmers, sponsors and everyone at BOTE hope that you are enjoying the winter bird crops as much as the birds already are.

Read the report from the 2016-2017 winter here

Chough report: October 2017

A few of the Jersey choughs signalling dinner time. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

As October drew to a close it was achingly apparent that the chough flock was down from 38 to 36 individuals. The two wild-hatched females who went missing in September had still not made an appearance, forcing us to reluctantly record them as missing presumed dead.

This is the first time we have lost wild-hatched birds post-fledging period. One can’t help feel a sense of responsibility. These individuals were known to have a nematode infection, but attempts to medicate them had failed before they went missing. All we can do now is monitor the remaining choughs to ensure the same fate doesn’t befall them.

So we did, and guess what…two of the adults started sneezing. Egg and Helier began with the ‘I’m not sneezing, just clearing my nostrils’ subtle sneeze. After a few days Egg stopped whereas Helier continued and progressively worsened.

After a few failed catch ups due to jammed hatches, intelligent corvids, and of all things Portuguese forest fires (see ‘Sepia skies’ below) Helier was finally locked in the aviary allowing her to be treated by the vet team. She was released back into the wild straight after her worming injection and appears to be much improved.

Nematodes are part of the natural ecosystem. Choughs feeding in the wild will be exposed to them and have to tolerate or succumb. This year is turning out to be the worst since the project began in terms of number of infected birds and fatalities warranting further investigation.

Sepia skies

Having worked at Sorel for several years now you would have thought that everything that could go wrong in a catch up had done or at least been theorised and accounted for. Hinges sticking on trap doors, birds not showing up or not hungry enough to want to go inside, mountain bikers zooming past scaring the flock into the air, etcetera. Not once had we thought to account for Caribbean hurricanes and Portuguese forest fires!

On the morning of the first planned attempt to catch up Helier the skies in Jersey, and parts of the UK, were looking very ominous. Walking around Sorel it felt like someone had put a sepia filter on the world. Frustratingly my camera phone kept adding its own filter so the photos below don’t fully set the scene.

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On 16th October 2017 the skies above Jersey turned a sepia colour. Photo by Liz Corry.

Low cloud filled the skies throughout the morning. Around lunchtime the sun made an appearance, but looked more like Mars than our beloved sun. There were no horsemen on the horizon so instead of embracing impending doom I turned to the Gods of Google.

A red sun breaking out from the cloud of dust and ash in the atmosphere. Photo by Liz Corry.

An explanation for the near apocalyptic conditions was provided by the BBC. Remnants of Hurricane Ophelia passing over the south of England and Channel Islands were dragging dust from the Sahara and smoke from the devastating forest fires in Portugal and Spain across our skies.

I tried explaining this to a very confused flock of choughs who were clearly conflicted about what time they should go to roost. One might think this would be advantageous to someone trying to lock birds in an aviary. Nope. Instead it meant they just sat and stared at me in their perplexed state. A twenty-minute stand-off resulted in a dejected keeper walking away left to come up with a Plan B.

Roost check

Plan B failed. In fact it wasn’t until Plan E was executed that we were able to lock the sick chough in the aviary. The new plan arose from the need to know who was roosting in the aviary in case we had to lock in the sick bird for longer than a day. There was a small chance she roosted in the aviary already rather than the quarry. If so, all we had to do was wait until the birds had gone to roost and quietly shut the external hatches.

Cut to the scene of a person in dark clothes vaulting a field gate at night only lit by the stars and the dim headlights from a teenager’s car (one assumes from the discarded firework packaging and soda cans found the next morning) idling at Sorel Point.

The operation provided extra information other than Helier’s roosting site. A total of twelve choughs were roosting inside the aviary including Dusty the very first wild-hatched chough and the two females who follow him.

Kevin and Bean were hanging around outside the aviary. They could have used one of the external roost spaces at the aviary or simply flown over from the quarry at first light to forage nearby. The other interesting find was the kestrel who shot out of the external roost box when I arrived in the morning to check on the choughs.

There are no photos from Operation If this doesn’t work we’re screwed. So instead here are a couple taken at Les Landes when checking for signs of choughs at sunset.

A view of the Pinacle at sunset. Photo by Liz Corry

Sunset at Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry.

The Women’s Institute expedition to the north coast

Earlier in the year the ladies of La Moye WI had invited me to give a talk about the choughs. Several of their members were already aware of the project, but had not realised that the historic breeding sites for Jersey choughs were in fact along the coastline at La Moye.

Enthusiasm for the project continued to grow as the evening went on, fuelled by the obligatory tea and cake, and by the end of the night a trip to Sorel was penned in the diary.

After a few clashes in the calendar a small group from La Moye finally made it up to the north coast this month. Glyn walked them around the conservation fields and release site. Not all of the choughs were present, but certainly enough to make an impact and demonstrate their amazing flying skills. I sadly missed out as I was in England, but from the looks on their faces I think they enjoyed it.

La moye WI (1)

 

Does the early bird catch the caterpillar?

Willow warbler (6). Photo by Mick DrydenFrom BTO Science

The time that birds decide to breed has a strong impact upon the likely success of raising their young to independence. Pairs of birds will generally time egg laying to maximise the availability of food for their chicks. However, one of the strongest impacts of climate change so far has been to alter the timing of spring. In response to milder temperatures, flowers and insects are all appearing earlier than they used to. Songbirds struggling to match their timing to the changing climate could be facing population declines.

To test this, BTO, in collaboration with The Woodland Trust, Rothamsted Research, Butterfly Conservation and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH), have collated some of the most comprehensive long-term data on the timing of spring from across the UK. They have related changes in the timing of leaf and flower emergence as well as aphid, butterfly and moth emergence, to changes in the timing of egg-laying, tracked by the BTO/JNCC Nest Record Scheme. Survey data from 1983 to 2010 was used to estimate variation in spring phenology from 280 plant and insect species and the egg-laying phenology of 21 British songbird species to explore the effects on avian population trends and potential underlying demographic mechanisms.

Common whitethroat (2). Photo by Mick Dryden

As expected, in warmer springs, birds do tend to breed late relative to the timing of spring. However, by using data from the BTO/JNCC ringing scheme to monitor changes in the number of fledglings produced by each species per year, the study’s authors found no evidence that these mismatched species were also suffering a long-term decline in breeding success. This suggests that the population declines observed in many British songbirds are not directly caused by the effect of mismatch on breeding success.

These results significantly increase our understanding of the impacts of climate change upon birds by showing there is not a strong link between changes in the timing of spring and long-term trends in breeding success. The heroic efforts of thousands of volunteers recording information on birds, insects and plants were vital in providing the long-term data required to understand the impacts of climate change upon bird populations, and we thank them for their hard work and dedication.

See the paper The sensitivity of breeding songbirds to change in seasonal timing is linked to population change but cannot be directly attributed to the effects of trophic asynchrony on productivity here