Chough report: August 2018

One of this year’s chicks in need of a name. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Zoo choughs

Keepers were in shock this month after the loss of two choughs in the Zoo. On 8th August a male was discovered by a keeper on the floor of the aviary. From his physical appearance, staff assumed the chough had been in a fight with Tristan, the only other male in the group, and lost.

The male chough had x-rays taken to assess injuries. Photo by Liz Corry.

When a second chough, Issy our breeding female, became ill we suspected there was more to it. The male’s condition gradually worsened despite efforts and eventually the bird had to be euthanased. Sadly, the female died a few days later.

Andrew Routh, Head Vet, explains “We took blood samples that were analysed in-house, at our usual diagnostic laboratory in the UK and, additionally, forwarded on by them to a specialist also in the UK. We will be re-sampling the remaining three birds in the collection. Full post mortem examinations were carried out on both birds and a comprehensive set of tissues from each sent for analysis by board-certified pathologists in the UK. No conclusions yet on the cause though further tests are pending.”

The remaining three birds have been taken off-show to individual enclosures for close monitoring. So far, they have shown no signs of ill health, are eating well and chatting loudly. Gianna, the Italian diva that she is, is a tad miffed we have taken her away from her public. Hopefully we can return them soon at which point the chough keeper talks will resume.

Wild chicks update

The last unringed wild chick was caught up on 1st August to be fitted with leg rings. Whilst in the hand, the chick made noises we’ve never heard before. And no, it wasn’t because we were squeezing too hard! There is debate as to whether the sounds were more gull-like or goose-like. Either way the ‘meeping’ chick became the first of the 2018 group to be named – Beaker.

The last of 2018’s chicks to be ringed (left!) and his namesake Beaker (right) – both emit unusual sounds. Photo by Elin Cunningham.

Two weeks later the DNA results returned form the UK lab. Whilst teenagers across the land were jumping for joy over their exam results, we beamed with delight upon hearing we have five males and four females.

This is great news for the Jersey population because:

(1) The sex ratio for wild-hatched choughs in Jersey is now 1:1. For the entire flock, it is more like three females for every two males. Not quite as catchy. Still a good result;

and

(2) We can name the new chicks! Aside from Beaker we had names lined up for Dusty’s chicks. In honour of Ronez’s assistance with the project, the three boys are now known as Clem (who found the chicks), Toby, and Osbourne (Ossy for short).

Tempting as it might be to call Beaker’s sister Dr Honeydew, her name is still open to debateWe are still searching for appropriate Jersey-related names for four females and a male. Please use the comments box to put forward any suggestions.

Parents Chicks 
Dusty & Chickay Clem (male) Toby (male) Ossy (male)
Kevin & Bean Green (female) Orange (female)
Lee & Caûvette Yellow (female) Black (male)
Q & Flieur Mauve (female) Beaker (male)

The 2018 chicks now have the adult colouring in their legs and bills (adult behind the chick). Photo by Liz Corry.

Spreading their wings

The flock have shown a distinct change in behaviour this month. After the chaos over June and July when chicks had to be fed and wild food supplies had dried up, the adults are relaxing back into their normal routines. One fortunate member of the public snapped a photo of 30 choughs flying over Plémont. On the back of this, social media reported seeing ‘large’ groups back at Les Landes.

Choughs flying over Plémont headland. Photo by Anne Gray.

The change is partly due to the chicks becoming independent and feeding themselves.

A major factor will be the rise in wild food supplies thanks to the shift in weather. Leatherjackets in the soil and dung-loving insects will provide the calories needed to fly back and forth around the north-west coast.

We are seeing an average of 24 choughs at the supplemental feeds. They appear to be the same individuals; all families bar Lee and Caûvette‘s making up half the group. Their willingness to enter the aviary has taken a knock since the recent spate of catch-ups. We have to reassure them that entering the aviary does not always result in humans waving nets around.

Having a wild food source around provides them with options. Great for them. For staff not so much, as it means the birds are less likely to hang around the aviary. Health screening, weight checks etc. are not as easy.

Chough chick photographed back in July at Sorel. Photo by Peter G. Hiatt.

Now you sheep me, now you don’t

Lack of choughs at the aviary is being compensated by appearances of sheep within the perimeter fence. The first sighting was on one of the hottest, driest days of the summer. A young sheep was happily curled up in the shade of the aviary sheds munching on lush green grass whilst the others were lined up along the hedgerows competing for shade. Much to the sheep’s dismay it was returned to the flock.

The next day it was back! And once again returned to the flock. A day or so later a different sheep was present. Neither student or I could figure out how on earth they were getting through the locked gate and wire fencing.

Days passed, sheep were absent. Or so we thought. Camera-trap footage to investigate chough roost activity threw up a different mystery. A ewe present in the morning, had gone by the afternoon. Clearly they were playing games with us.

Camera trap image inside the aviary showing a sheep within the aviary perimeter.

They upped the stakes in the last days of August. Having hidden in the bracken, ‘Houdini’ found her way inside the aviary. True magicians never reveal their secrets – except when their hooves and horns knocking equipment over in the keeper-porch give them away. I had left both doors open, not expecting her to follow me in, but it meant she could safely hang out in the aviary until the shepherd reached Sorel. And saved me a job with the lawnmower.

Yet another prime example of how the conservation of one species can benefit others.

September volunteer activity

Sunday 9th September 2018 – Victoria Tower, St Martin – 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

Well hasn’t it been an amazing summer? However, the signs of autumn are becoming apparent, sloes, blackberries and of course the Jersey Conservation Volunteers!

The details The first task of the season will focus primarily on sycamore control. Sycamore Acer pseudoplatanus is a deciduous broadleaf tree native to central, eastern and southern Europe. It was introduced to the British Isles and is now a naturalised species.

While sycamore trees do have a value to wildlife, they are so successful that they have a tendency to take over. The purpose of this task is to control the abundance of sycamore at the site by cutting back and, where possible, uprooting young self-seeded saplings.

If you have any questions, or if you wish to be added to the Jersey Conservation Volunteers email list, please contact either Julia Meldrum (tel: 441600; j.meldrum@gov.je) or Jon Parkes (tel: 483193; jon.parkes@nationaltrust.je).

The site  We will meet in the car park at the end of Le Mont Mallet Jersey Phone Book map Map 11 MM15 – Google maps here

Parking Parking at the site is very limited but further on road parking is available along La Rue de La Pouclee et des Quatre Chemins. Please also consider car sharing or cycling.

The task We will be managing the sycamore woodland by cutting back older trees and uprooting saplings.

Meet at 10.20 promptly for a 10.30 start. We will be finished work by 12.30 for well-earned refreshments.

Tools needed Tools will be provided but if you have a pair of gardening gloves, a spade and cutting tools (e.g. pruning saw, loppers, secateurs) it would be helpful if you could bring them along with you.

Clothing needed Good thick gloves (though we can supply a pair if you don’t have them), wellies or sturdy boots, (it shouldn’t be muddy but the vegetation may well be wet it and it may be rough underfoot) and common sense clothes to cope with the elements, we go ahead whatever the weather!

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

Refreshments Kim the Kake has spent all summer baking for us (well perhaps not) but she will thankfully be on hand at the end of the task to dish out hot drinks and her scrumptious homemade cakes.

 

Birds in the Channel Islands: annual update

For several years now we have compiled a combined list of all birds recorded in the Channel Islands thanks to the recorders from Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark. Each year we’ve seen the lists grow longer and the order the species are listed in keep changing. Today we launch the updated list, updated to the end of 2017 (the Islands don’t review any year’s birds until after the next one starts). Download the list here.

The updated list includes four (well, five) new species, three of which, excitingly, were recorded on two islands each: marsh sandpiper (Alderney and Jersey), (American) royal tern (Guernsey and Alderney) and Iberian chiffchaff (Alderney and Jersey). In fact, the royal tern became quite a celebrity in Guernsey, Alderney and even in Sussex. The tern went just about everywhere. Except Jersey that is. Editor’s note its been around in 2018. And still not been to Jersey!

The other obvious feature for regular readers of this or any other bird list is the changes to the order, relationships and even the birds’ scientific names. Many of us grew up with long held understanding of the order we put the birds in (start with divers and end with crows) and how they were related (divers and grebes, herons and storks). However, new technologies have made it much easier to look closely at every species and get a much better idea of who’s who and where they sit in the order. Wildfowl are first, and not just because they’re very cool but because they and the gamebirds are not that closely related to every other bird. And hawks and falcons aren’t related? No, and strangely that split should have been obvious before.

The list actually includes one, or two, other new species. That goose formerly known as the bean goose has become two species: taiga bean goose and tundra bean goose. Luckily for the list compilers, the Islands’ ornithologists had in recent years recorded which of the two bean geese, then considered the lower rank of subspecies, were being seen. The split, and upgrade to full species status, wasn’t hard to fit in. If everything was always so easy. Our other new bird was a Caspian gull. This eastern version of the herring gull was once considered just herring gull until analysis found that it was quite distinct. Only unlike the geese it doesn’t always look distinct and takes a real enthusiast to pick one out of the flock. Luckily this one’s finder and photographer not only knows his gulls but got a little assist in that it was ringed!

And the totals? Well, overall we’ve recorded 376 species with Jersey still edging in front with 335. So enjoy the new list, tick off your sightings and try to fill the gaps in each Island’s list. And play ‘what will be Alderney’s 300th species’ (I’m going with little bunting). Why not check out the gaps in the list and try to fill them (we’d recommend seawatching in Sark first). But remember, if you visit the islands please send in your records to the relevant recorder – they’re all there on the list. 

A Working List of the Birds of the Channel Islands (updated to December 2017) can be downloaded here

 

 

Chough report: July 2018

A two-month old chough chick exploring Grosnez headland. Photo by Mick Dryden.

By Liz Corry

Jersey now has 46 choughs flying free thanks to a brilliant breeding season and release efforts by Jersey Zoo staff. Details of how that came to be this month are explained below.

Who’s the daddy?

Determined to crack the mystery over the wild chick lineage, we began catching birds to fit leg rings. It took a couple of weeks and help from Ian Buxton and Cristina Sellarés  (licensed bird ringers). By the end of July we had nine chicks fitted with leg rings and no birds left unringed. A total of nine birds.

Tarsus length being measured on a wild-hatched chick. This can be an indicator for sex. Photo by Elin Cunningham.

Plastic leg rings on a wild-hatched chough to identify individual (pink) and year of hatch (green). Photo by Elin Cunningham.

What we are not clear on, and may never know, is whether we had ten or eleven chicks at one stage. On 4th July Q and Flieur were seen feeding two unringed chicks. When we checked their nest on 16th June it was empty. Judging by the age of the chicks at the aviary they could not have fledged before the 16th. Did Q and Flieur nest elsewhere? Are they responsible for the mystery nest we found in the quarry?

Trevor and Noir were also seen feeding one or two unringed chicks at the start of July. Are they responsible for the mystery nest? Are these chicks in addition to Q and Flieur’s?

Noirmont feeding an unringed chick with partner Trevor looking on. Photo by Liz Corry.

We knew for certain Lee and Caûvette had two chicks and were happily taking them to Grosnez each day. Kevin and Bean had fledged three chicks. Yet, by the start of July, they were clearly only feeding two unringed chicks. Had one of the other pairs adopted the third chick over the course of the feeding frenzies at the aviary?

Lee feeding one of his two chicks at Grosnez. Photo by Mick Dryden.

By the time we had fitted all the leg rings, Trevor and Noir had stopped feeding a chick(s). Was this because they had died or because they never had them in the first place? The blood samples we send off only inform us about gender. There is a lot more involved to test for lineage.

For now, all that matters is that we have nine chicks being fed and nurtured out at Sorel. The wild chicks are named according to their leg rings until we can think of better names.

Dusty & Chickay Red White Blue
Kevin & Bean Green Orange
Lee & Caûvette Yellow Black
Q & Flieur Mauve Pink

You can already see a difference in the chicks as they get older. Bill colour is changing. More importantly they are picking up crucial skills from the adults, whether parents or not. We have seen them drinking from the water tray and lifting the broken slate enrichment area in the aviary looking for insects.

A recently fledged chick chilling with the flock at Sorel back in June. Photo by Liz Corry.

Chough chicks can be very forceful with their begging. Photo by Liz Corry.

Mega-beast: Dusty feeding one of his chicks. Photo by Liz Corry.

Dusty regretting parenthood? Photo by Liz Corry.

An unringed chick begging at Yarila (non-breeding bird) eventually pushing her off the stand. Photo by Liz Corry.

Dusty feeding one of his chicks whilst Chickay (mum) goes about her business. Photo by Liz Corry.

Chickay pretending not to see or hear her chick. Photo by Liz Corry.

Star wars saga

The three males – Han Solo, Skywalker, and Chewy – held in the aviary for a month have been officially released.

Release day saw 45 choughs turn up to wish the newbies well or steal their food. 50:50 really. Photo by Liz Corry.

Skywalker’s brief adventure outside in June meant it came as no surprise to see him leave first. Albeit to the roof of the aviary where he sat preening Zennor.

Skywalker’s (on the left) first hour of freedom spent with his new love of his life, Zennor. Photo by Liz Corry.

Han Solo and Chewy were not as quick to venture outside; once they did they appeared at ease, making friends with the free-living group. Although less at ease with the wild chicks who had decided to test the newbies’ untapped parenting skills by begging in their faces.

An unringed chick following Skywalker around in the misguided hope of free food. Photo by Liz Corry.

After a few days Han stopped showing up at the feeds. Since group attendance rate was around 80-90% it was hard to know if he was in trouble or not. He made a reappearance four days later and looked to be fine, feeding happily with the group.

The next disappearing act was after 5th July. This time he failed to reappear. There was a sighting on the 28th at the aviary. Although chances are the leg rings were misread for Caûvette’s (his year-colour is black, hers is dark blue).

As he was showing no obvious signs of ill health, a possible theory behind his disappearance is lack of food. If he struggled to find food in the wild (whether due to lack of foraging skills or the foreboding heat) and wasn’t making it to the supplemental feed, he could have easily starved. If he was made weaker by the lack of food, he would become increasingly susceptible to peregrine attacks.

In fact, on one of the post-release roost checks, only one chough could be seen at Sorel as the sun set. The presence of a peregrine perched on the adjacent cliff face may account for the absence of the other choughs.

Peregrine perched below an unused chough nest box on the cliffs at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Theories aside, we have had to conclude that Han Solo is  presumed missing at this stage. Gone to a galaxy far, far away.

Heatwave

Jersey’s north coast is being hit hard by the summer heatwave. The coastal grassland has lost its lush green colour and the sheep have temporarily vacated; there just isn’t enough vegetation for them. The choughs have been fairing ok; the supplemental food compensates for the rock-hard ground.

The release site back in May before the heatwave. Photo by Liz Corry.

The release site in July feeling the effect of the heatwave. Photo by Liz Corry.

The biggest concern for them (and us) is water. The stream in Mourier Valley is currently hidden by bracken and fresh water sources in the quarry depleted. With an absolute drought declared on the Island we were concerned the choughs would turn to hazardous water troughs. Horse troughs in particular tend to be designed with smooth steep sides. A bird or small mammal can’t climb out if they fall in whilst drinking.

The stream in Mourier Valley runs almost parallel to the footpath – not that you can see it for the bracken. Photo by Liz Corry.

We always provide drinking water for the choughs in the aviary. However, the water butt dried up in back in June. Cleaning duties have been reduced to a minimum and fresh water is carried up each day for the choughs. In mid-July we had help from a few Durrell staff to get extra containers up to Sorel. Two days later it rained!

The rain didn’t last long though. We are back to rationing water until the heatwave breaks.

Insect shortages

In addition to water shortages, we have been struggling with commercial insect supplies. The company who supply the Zoo with livefood ran out of mealworms – a natural glitch in the breeding process.

When they have managed to supply mealworms, the hot weather has led to the insects over-heating in the packaging they are sent in. Trust me the smell of dead and/or dying mealworms is not a pleasant one.

Rather than a photo of dead mealworms, here is a sheep instead! Photo by Liz Corry.

The alternative of dried mealworms has not worked in the past for birds in the Zoo. They refuse point blank, some writing an angry worded tweet to the CEO. Out of desperation, we gave them a try at Sorel along with suet pellet (made with insect protein). The pressures of begging chicks and lack of wild food meant the adults had no reservations over taking the dry food.

We are still struggling with insect supplies although the order of Remiline pellet finally arrived at the end of July. Swings and roundabouts.

ReWild the People

ReWild the People circular walk from Devil’s Hole held on the 15th July. Photo by Dave Evans.

As part of Jess Pinel’s fundraising challenge of 31 activities in 31 days we hosted a circular walk from Devil’s Hole to Sorel. This was a free event open to all. Whilst taking in the sea air we discussed the Birds On The Edge project and the benefits to the public.

Aaron le Couteur, shepherd, explaining how sheep help to restore Jersey’s coastal habitats. Photo by Dave Evans.

Aaron le Couteur, the shepherd, gave a very informative talk and the choughs showed up for a bonus feed. The event was enjoyed by all and hopefully gained a few new fans to spread the word across the Island. More information about the other activities undertaken can be found here.

Choughs getting a bonus feed for the Rewild the People walk. Photo by Dave Evans.

Lights, camera, action

The choughs took part in two media projects this month. They are clearly getting used to the cameras as they were not phased by the go-pros at the feed. We hope to share some of the footage soon.

Filming the choughs at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Both filming projects will be detailed further very soon so watch this space!

Chough report: June 2018

By Liz Corry

Breeding success

The choughs have been busy ‘behind the scenes’ resulting in a record-breaking breeding season. By the end of June, we had found four active nests with a total of ten chicks. We knew four chicks had hatched at the end of May. We didn’t have to wait long before Ronez Quarry sent photos of a second nest with chicks.

Dusty and Chickay’s nest with three chicks safely tucked away in a quarry building. Photo taken under license by Toby Cabaret.

This nest belonged to Dusty and his partner Chickay: an astonishing and heart-warming sight. This was their third season nesting, finally they had chicks, and from the looks of things they were at least three weeks old.

The icing on the cake is the uniqueness of the coupling. Chickay was hand-reared, proving that our choice of methods worked, and Dusty is himself a wild-hatched chick.

Ronez hired equipment to access the chough nests under license. Photo by Liz Corry.

A site-visit was arranged for 16th June when the quarry was not in operation. Ronez hired a cherry picker to access the nests. What we found was a mixed bag of good news and bad news. Some nests had failed, some succeeded beyond expectations. And then one complete surprise; a nest we had no idea about.

This nest contained one chick approximately four weeks old. We also noticed twigs in a nest-box we had put up in 2014. This is the first time the birds have tried to use this box. Either they decided it wasn’t a suitable place to continue or the pairing just didn’t work out.

The table below aims to answer any queries the dedicated reader has about which pairs succeeded.

Pair Bred before? Nest status
Green & Black Yes empty
Dingle & Red Yes empty
Kevin & Bean Yes 3 chicks
Dusty & Chickay No 3 chicks
Q & Flieur Yes empty
Lee & Caûvette Yes 2 chicks
White & Mauve Yes empty
Trevor & Noirmont No no nest found
Pyrrho & Percy No empty
? & ? 1 chick
Total 9 chicks

 

However it also throws up a few queries, like “didn’t Kevin and Bean have four chicks in May”? Yes they did. Sadly one is no more, probably the runt of the clutch, but to have three chicks still alive and well is a first for Jersey’s choughs.

The nest belonging to Lee and Caûvette was found to contain two chicks. Photo by Liz Corry.

You might also be tempted to ask “does the mystery chick not belong to Trevor and Noir“? That, dear reader, is something I still don’t have the answer to a month after the site visit. And one that is driving me insane so lets return to June 16th; life was simpler then.

We had taken a licensed ringer into the quarry with us so we could ring the chicks and get DNA samples for sexing. This is supposed to be done when the chick is around three weeks of age. Clearly from what we were seeing these chicks were older. We did not want to risk disturbing them for fear they prematurely left the nest once we put them back. It is a long way to fall!

That is ok, we thought, we can just ring them once they reach the aviary. We can see which adults feed them and work out ownership that way.

How naive we were.

Fledged chough chicks reach the aviary

Below is a montage of footage taken during the supplemental feed once the chicks had fledged. Imagine having a baby that can fly and walk and scream for food whilst doing said actions. Then multiply by two or three. That is what it’s like for a chough parent for the first few months. Note how loud the begging starts off then trails away. Always lingering, never stopping.

From appearances, Chickay was not keen on parenthood. She left most of the feeding duties to Dusty. One of our daily reports records an observation of Kevin “karate kicking” a chick in response to the constant in-your-face begging. Quite often at the feeds you would see chicks accidentally push the parent off the food-stand or shelf in the frenzy to beat its sibling to the food on offer. You also saw them beg at non-breeding individuals who looked more than a little perplexed by the situation.

Throughout all this, the three newbies (Han SoloChewy, and Skywalker) remained locked in quarantine in one half of the aviary. We could not attempt to catch-up and ring the wild chicks until the three had been released. That was scheduled for July.

All we could do in the meantime was try and figure out how many chicks each set of parents had. Lee and Caûvette made things easy as they continued to visit Les Landes and Grosnez, taking their chicks away from the mayhem for a few hours each day. We knew both of their chicks seen on the 16th had survived and arrived at the aviary the last week of June.

Family portrait: Lee and Caûvette with their two chicks at Grosnez. Photo by Mick Dryden.

Lee with his two noisy chicks. Photo by Mick Dryden.

Dusty and Chickay were tending to three chicks (well Dusty was at least). They would take them back and forth between Sorel and the south-east corner of the quarry. Initially there was concern over one of the three chicks as it looked relatively lethargic. We put this down to the heat and that it could be the youngest, struggling to keep up. Dusty was always very sensible, taking his chicks into the shade to rest.

Dusty and Chickay keeping their chicks in the shaded parts of the quarry. Note the chick lying down next to dad whilst the other two preen next to mum. Photo by Liz Corry.

Kevin and Bean‘s three also made it from nest site to Sorel. However, they made it a little harder. Most of the time their chicks were kept around Sorel Point. Often out of sight, but not earshot. 

View across the quarry from Sorel Point. Photo by Liz Corry.

Then the mystery deepened. Q and Flieur turned up to the supplemental feed with two chicks. “But their nest was empty?” you cry. Yes, yes it was. “And the surprise nest only had one chick in it?” you answer back. Yes, yes it did.

The Plémont pair

Earl and foster-reared Xaviour, or the Plémont pair as we call them, are still roosting out at Petit Plémont. Their amazing choice of nest site has made it impossible to tell exactly what they have been up to this breeding season. We did suspect, from the couple’s behaviour out of the nest, that the female was incubating eggs.

Earl taking a break on the WW2 bunker ruins at Petit Plémont. Photo by Liz Corry.

One was seen carrying something white away from the nest. An optimistic observer thought it was a faecal sac. These ‘sacs’ are produced by chicks and carried away from the nest by the parents. He changed his mind when he saw the adult pecking away at it. The white object started to look more like an egg, but smaller than a chough egg. Out of reach of the observer, we will never know the true-identity of the object.

In the days the followed, hope of a successful nesting attempt began to fade. Xaviour was spending more time away from the nest. Foraging around the headland and neighbouring cliff tops to feed herself rather than take back to an expectant nest.

The pair are young. This year should be taken as a positive step forward in their development. They remain the first pair to set up a territory away from the release site. As they mature they will no doubt see success with their nest.

Star Wars saga continues

Han Solo, Chewy, and Skywalker continue to adjust to life at Sorel whilst in quarantine. Faecal samples from the two Paradise Park birds tested positive for nematodes.

Staff began to hear sneezing from the confined group a week or so after their arrival. Nothing to cause alarm, but enough to warrant a wormer pre-release.

This was scheduled for 20th June. On the 17th the Bird Department received a call to say that there were only two choughs locked in the aviary. Skywalker was missing. Scanning the aviary, it became apparent that he had not used Jedi mind tricks to escape. He had in fact managed to squeeze out through a hole in the netting, no doubt created by rodents.

He was not with the free-living choughs at Sorel. Well not in plain sight at least. The following day he couldn’t be any more obvious if he tried. Skywalker was on the roof of the aviary alongside Zennor a young female.

Since the boys arrived at Sorel, Zennor has shown a keen interest in them. She sits, on the opposite side of the netting during every feed whilst everyone else is tucking into their meal. We thought her interest was in Han Solo as they had touched bills through the netting; fiction becoming reality? Alas, it was Skywalker she wanted which worked to everyone’s advantage as he had another chough to follow, returned to the aviary, and we managed to get him safely back inside.

Return of the Jedi: Skywalker shortly after being trapped back inside the aviary. Photo by Paul Pestana.

All in time for the vet to visit on the 20th, give all three a wormer, and fit Han Solo with a transponder chip just like all the other captive-bred birds have. Bird Department staff also kitted them out with shiny new leg ring combos to make it easy to tell them apart once released.

Luckily the States Vet agreed that no extra time needed to be added to their quarantine period. Once complete, at the end of June, they can be released.

May the force be with them.

Aviary maintenance

Despite the recent rodent-proofing at the release aviary there are still weak points in the defences. As exemplified by Skywalker’s escape. Without a major overhaul of the aviary design there is not much to be done.

Mind you, that overhaul may come sooner than imagined. The shelving has now warped so badly that bolts keeping the hatches closed no longer reach. The hinges on the external keeper door snapped right off due to rust.

This is the first year the pre-release group have not had full access to the flight tunnel in a bid to avoid further premature releases. Once the new boys have been released and settled into life at Sorel we can start repair work.

Supplemental feeds

The choughs have seen a few changes to the menu this month due to food shortages. There is still no Remilline pellet in stock in Jersey, so the egg-based diet returned to the menu. The live-food manufacturer has been experiencing issues with their mealworm stock resulting in fewer or no insects being delivered. Not the best of timing. We had to increase the amount of supplemental food this month in response to an increasing demand. Obviously with mouths to feed, the breeding pairs become more dependent on the aviary feed.

Lights, camera, action

Ronez Quarry very kindly funded young film maker Sam Hertzog to fly to Jersey and produce a short film about the chough reintroduction project. Sam had four days to try and sum up the last five years into a seven minute documentary. To make the challenge that little bit harder we threw in rolling sea fog, a field manager dying of hay fever, and birds that never paid attention to the script.

Sam succeeded. You can view his film below. We are very grateful to his friend Elin Cunningham for proposing the idea and for being the boom operator, gaffer, assistant director, chauffeur….

Bird and mammal population declines linked to a rapidly warming climate

From BirdWatch

The speed at which the planet is warming is playing a key role in the decline of bird and mammal species, new research has revealed.

As part of a new study, The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) examined 987 populations from 481 species across the world, investigating how the rate of climate and land-use change simultaneously affects the declines of mammals and birds. The lead reason behind the speed of the population declines studied was the rapidity of a warming climate.

Rapid climate warming has a particularly detrimental result on bird populations, and indeed the observed effects were twice as strong in birds as in mammals. The study also revealed that populations outside of protected areas are more severely impacted, with species such as black-tailed godwit and pink-footed goose some of those highlighted.

Lead author Fiona Spooner explained: “The reason we think birds might be worse off in particular is due to birds’ breeding seasons being particularly sensitive to temperature changes. We think this could be leading to a desynchronisation of their reproduction cycle, leading to the negative impacts we’re seeing. Mammal breeding seasons are a lot more flexible, and this is reflected in the data.”

This finding is particularly stark because, if the rate at which the climate warms exceeds the maximum rate of animals being able to adapt to environmental changes, local extinctions will increase. The study lays out the urgency of understanding the vulnerability of these species to increases in temperature and also offers a projection into a future, in which humans haven’t attempted to mitigate climate change, where animal populations are heavily declined across the world.

Senior co-author Dr Robin Freeman reiterated the need to attempt to curb future warming: “Our research shows that in areas where the rate of climate warming is worse, we see more rapid bird and mammal population declines. Unless we can find ways to reduce future warming, we can expect these declines to be much worse.”

Gareth Redmond-King, Head of Climate and Energy Policy at WWF, commented on how continued climate change could threaten UK wildlife too: “This report provides further evidence of the growing threat that climate change poses to our wildlife, not only around the world but also right here on our doorsteps, such as bees and the much-loved puffin – we urgently need the UK Government to take action to meet current targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but also to increase ambition to build a sustainable, climate-resilient future in which we restore nature, not destroy it.”

Read the paper Rapid warming is associated with population decline among terrestrial birds and mammals globally here

Birds eat 400 to 500 million tons of insects annually

Along with spiders, insectivorous birds play a vital role in consuming insects that would otherwise destroy forests or crops.

From ScienceDaily

Birds around the world eat 400 to 500 million metric tonnes of beetles, flies, ants, moths, aphids, grasshoppers, crickets and other anthropods per year. These numbers have been calculated in a study led by Martin Nyffeler of the University of Basel and published in The Science of Nature, highlights the important role birds play in keeping plant-eating insect populations under control.

Nyffeler and his colleagues based their figures on 103 studies that highlighted the volume of prey that insect-eating birds consume in seven of the world’s major ecological communities known as biomes. According to their estimations, this amounts to between 400 and 500 million tonnes of insects per year but is most likely to be on the lower end of the range. Their calculations are supported by a large number of experimental studies conducted by many different research teams in a variety of habitats in different parts of the world.

“The global population of insectivorous birds annually consumes as much energy as a megacity the size of New York. They get this energy by capturing billions of potentially harmful herbivorous insects and other arthropods,” says Nyffeler.

Forest-dwelling birds consume around 75 per cent of the insects eaten in total by birds which make up about 300 million tonnes of insects per year. About 100 million tonnes are eaten by birds in savanna areas, grasslands and croplands, and those living in the deserts and Arctic tundra. Birds actively hunt insects especially during the breeding season, when they need protein-rich prey to feed to their nestlings.

Further, the researchers estimated that insectivorous birds together only have a biomass of about three million tonnes. Nyffeler says the comparatively low value for the global biomass of wild birds can be partially explained through their very low production efficiency. This means that respiration takes a lot of energy and only leaves about one to two percent to be converted into biomass.

“The estimates presented in this paper emphasize the ecological and economic importance of insectivorous birds in suppressing potentially harmful insect pests on a global scale — especially in forested areas,” explains Nyffeler, who says that this is especially so for tropical, temperate and boreal forest ecosystems.

“Only a few other predator groups such as spiders and entomophagous insects (including in particular predaceous ants) can keep up with the insectivorous birds in their capacity to suppress plant-eating insect populations on a global scale,” he adds.

A study from 2017 which Nyffeler also led showed that spiders consume between 400 and 800 million tonnes of insects each year. Other predator groups like bats, primates, shrews, hedgehogs, frogs, salamanders, and lizards seem to be valuable yet less effective natural enemies of plant-eating insects. He says their influence seems to be more biome-specific rather than on a worldwide scale. For instance, lizards help to suppress insects on tropical islands, but less so on a broader scale.

“Birds are an endangered class of animals because they are heavily threatened by factors such as afforestation, intensification of agriculture, spread of systemic pesticides, predation by domestic cats, collisions with human-made structures, light pollution and climate change. If these global threats cannot soon be resolved, we must fear that the vital ecosystem services that birds provide — such as the suppression of insect pests — will be lost,” says Nyffeler.

Read the full paper Insectivorous birds consume an estimated 400–500 million tons of prey annually here

Choughs claim top prize for conservation

By Liz Corry

It’s coming home. It’s coming home. It’s coming, the Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards 2018 are coming home“.

Insurance Corporation logoOK so not as catchy, but the sentiment is the same. Our work with the choughs (see earlier blog entry here) claimed top prize at this year’s Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards. And yes, we are well chuffed.

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Michelle Arundale, Chairperson of the Judging Panel and organiser of the event, said that this was the first time they had to draw up a shortlist of entries in the awards’ 28 year history. Michelle said, “we had such a fabulous response this year and we were delighted to see such a variety of projects entering.” and that judging provided “a chance to meet the inspirational people behind the projects doing their utmost to enhance our natural environment in so many different ways.”

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Michelle Arundale, Chairperson of the Judging panel and organiser of the event. Photo courtesy of Insurance Corporation

Ronez logoYou can watch an edited version of ITV News interview here. It looks at how the choughs and Ronez Quarry have been working together to improve Jersey’s biodiversity.

Angela Salmon, one of the judges this year, noted “The projects have involved many members of our community and these projects will be enjoyed by adults and children. The people leading the winning projects showed great knowledge, understanding and enthusiasm for nature conservation and they are also keen to share their knowledge by educating others.”

We will use the prize money to enable school groups visiting the quarry to learn about Jersey’s wildlife and develop field skills in bird identification. The remaining money will be used to pay for the DNA sexing of this year’s wild chicks.

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Awards ceremony held at the Pomme D’or Hotel. Photo courtesy of Insurance Corporation

There was a shared sentiment amongst the nominees that whilst we have submitted individual projects we are all working towards the same goal. And that all the projects are inter-linked in some respect. For example, Littlefeet’s beach cleans are important to the wildlife species Durrell are trying to save. Birding Tours Jersey need birds otherwise the tours would be really boring! Removing plastic waste from the beach helps Jersey’s seabird population stay afloat (literally!).

Birding Tours Jersey, was this year’s runner-up receiving £1000 towards the free birding tours given to islanders. This year they have hosted three puffin watch tours and several dawn chorus walks to highlight the wonders of Jersey wildlife. And to add to the connection to nature that our projects share, Neil was one of the first chough volunteers before leaving to start Birding Tours.

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Neil Singleton and partner Alison Caldeira receiving the runner-up prize. Photo courtesy of Insurance Corporation

Another nice link was seen with the Conservationist of the Year Award and the Peter Walpole People’s Choice Award. Both of which were awarded to Sarah Maguire for her BioBlitz project in schools. BioBlitz is run through the Jersey Biodiversity Records Centre. Sarah also works for Durrell in our Education team at the Zoo.

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Sarah Maguire (middle) won two awards for her BioBlitz project. Photo courtesy of Insurance Corporation

It is cliché to say it, but everyone is a winner in the conservation awards. Unlike a certain World Cup.

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Winners and nominees of the Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards 2018. Photo courtesy of Insurance Corporation

Painted lady’s roundtrip migratory flight is the longest recorded in butterflies

Painted lady. Photo by Mick DrydenFrom ScienceDaily

The painted lady butterfly is a migratory species in Europe, and common visitor to the Channel Islands, previously known to migrate from Europe to the Afrotropics during the autumn. Butterflies are obviously much harder to track on migration than birds and the fate of this butterfly species and its offspring remained unknown. Butterfly migration can be very different to that in birds where a bird like the swallow moves between, often very distant but well demarcated, summer and winter areas. The best known butterfly migration is perhaps that of the monarch in North America where despite there being well known and well demarcated summer and winter areas, generations of monarchs will never see the winter areas but are essential in the species life cycle (see the fascinating story of the monarch here).

Researchers were now able to demonstrate that painted lady butterflies return from the Afrotropical region to recolonise the Mediterranean in early spring, travelling an annual distance of 12,000 km across the Sahara Desert.

While the Palearctic-African migratory circuit is typically associated with birds, scientists from the Institute of Evolutionary Biology (IBE), a joint research centre of the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) and Pompeu Fabra University (UPF), in Barcelona, Spain, found that the painted lady Vanessa cardui endures annual trans-Saharan circuits like some birds do.

This butterfly species travels 12,000 km and crosses the Sahara Desert twice to seasonally exploit resources and favourable climates on both sides of the desert. Few species are known to perform annual long-range trans-Saharan circuits, and that of the painted lady is the longest migratory flight known in butterflies to date.

In a previously published study, the researchers demonstrated that painted lady butterflies migrate from Europe to tropical Africa by the end of summer, crossing the Mediterranean Sea and Sahara Desert.

The fate of these migrants and that of their offspring remained unknown. “Our hypothesis was that the species initiates a reverse northward migration towards Europe in spring, thus completing a regular migratory cycle,” states Roger Vila, one of the researchers.

Painted lady (2). Photo by Mick Dryden

The answer is in the wings

With the aim of confirming this hypothesis, they studied the natal origin of the butterflies that reached the Mediterranean region in early spring. To do so, they analysed the stable hydrogen isotopes of the butterflies sampled in Morocco, Andalusia and Catalonia in Spain, Crete, Egypt and Israel.

An isotope is a form of a chemical element whose atomic nucleus contains a different number of neutrons compared to protons in the nucleus. In water, the proportion of hydrogen and its stable isotope depends on the geographical location. When absorbing water, this proportion is maintained in plants; it later remains in the caterpillars that feed on these plants, and, eventually, in adult butterflies.

By analysing the hydrogen stable isotopes found in the wings of adult butterflies, the researchers could determine where they had developed as caterpillars.

“It is difficult to study the movement of insects by means of observations, marking or radio tracking, since there are millions of individuals and they are very small. This is why finding out where a butterfly grew up before undergoing the metamorphosis by means of stable isotope analysis turns out to be extremely useful. It feels like magic,” says Gerard Talavera, who led the research.

The results show a major proportion of specimens stay in the Afrotropics during winter and that those recolonising the Mediterranean are most probably their offspring. This scenario closes the loop for the Palearctic-African migratory system of Vanessa cardui and shows that the annual distance travelled by the successive generations may reach about 12,000 km, including crossing of the Sahara Desert twice.

Whether the painted lady does regular migratory circuits similar to those of the monarch butterfly in North America was a matter of scientific debate. This research reveals the parallelisms in such a unique evolutionary adaptation.

Access the paper Round-trip across the Sahara: Afrotropical Painted Lady butterflies recolonize the Mediterranean in early spring here

Painted lady (3). Photo by Mick Dryden

2018 Inter-Island Environment Meeting

Crabbe. 9 October 2015. Photo by HGYoung (2)This year’s Inter-Island Environment Meeting (IIEM) will be held once again in Jersey, at Crabbé, St Mary on Thursday 20th and Friday 21st September.

The hosts will be National Trust Jersey and the States of Jersey Department for the Environment and the event will once again be generously supported by Insurance Corporation.

Crabbé Activity CentreCrabbe Activity Centre is a newly renovated outdoor centre belonging to Jersey’s Youth Service and ideally located on the Island’s north coast. The centre has basic accommodation for those who are visiting, giving us a friendly holiday camp feel, ideally suited to this year’s theme, with all conveniences situated on site including a wood-fired pizza oven. For those who would rather not sleep in a bunk-bed or tent, there will be hotel rooms  available nearby.

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2018 theme

This year’s theme is ‘Environmental Partnership’ – inspired by groups/organisations working towards a common goal. Current or future.

Aim and objectives

The general aim of the IIEM is to enable Government bodies, NGO’s, environmental managers and individuals to discuss the status of the islands’ environments.

The 2018 IIEM has three objectives for delegates to:-

–              Present a range of environmental topics relevant to their organisation and island, demonstrating collaboration and partnerships working, and the pros and cons and best practice therein.

–              Discuss current or future projects which could effectively be undertaken throughout the Channel Islands and other regions, such as the Isle of Man and UK.

–              Discuss the potential for a Channel Island Environmental Charter.

Common toad. Photo by Kristian Bell

Intended audience

The IIEM is aimed at ecological, conservation, environmental management bodies (government/NGO) and individuals from the Channel Islands and other regions, such as the Isle of Man and UK.

IIEM talk/poster presentation requirements

Delegates from the Channel Islands and beyond are encouraged to present on research related to the IIEM objectives on either terrestrial, ornithological or marine topics, either via talk or poster formats. Please contact Jon Parkes (JonParkes@nationaltrust.je) or Nina Cornish (N.Cornish@gov.je) to discuss and submit your presentation ideas.

Talks

Talks will normally last for 15 minutes, with 5 minutes for questions. Presenters are requested to submit a title and abstract (maximum of 300 words) to Jon Parkes by Friday 13th July.

Poster

Poster presentations will be displayed. Posters should be formatted to A1 size, either landscape/portrait. Presenters are requested to submit a title and abstract (maximum of 100 words) to Jon Parkes by Friday 13th July. Boards and attachment material will be provided.

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Field Trips

There is a Birds On The Edge guided walk on Thursday (20th September) at 13.30 to nearby Mourier Valley to talk about sheep grazing, choughs, habitat management and bird crops.

The Friday (21st) afternoon session will consist of three field trips of which delegates will be asked to choose an option and indicate their choice on the registration form. The options will be:

  1. Grève de Lecq to Plémont by Kayak: Sea Bird Conservation – Identified areas for protection and monitoring. Led by Piers Sangan and Kazz from Wild Adventures. Note: numbers are restricted for this field trip and places will be allocated on a first come first serve basis
  2. The Wetland Centre Tour: A chance to visit the National Trust for Jersey’s bird observatory and interpretation centre. Led by the Trust Rangers.
  3. Plémont Restoration Site – The story so far: See the former holiday camp site and the work the Trust and its partners have done to return the site to nature. Led by The Trust’s Land Manager and Conservation Officer.

Registration

You can use the registration form here and email the completed form to Jon Parkes at JonParkes@nationaltrust.je by Friday 29th June.

Travel

Air travel

Flybe, British Airways, easyJet and others fly from the UK

Aurigny Air Services fly to Alderney from Guernsey and from Jersey via Guernsey.

Boat travel

Condor Ferries travel from the UK and France to Jersey and between Guernsey and Jersey

Accommodation

If you don’t wish to stay at Crabbé there are accommodation options nearby including:

Prince of Wales in Grève de Lecq

Grève de Lecq barracks

Durrell Hostel and Camping

For further information on accommodation please see Visit Jersey’s website for more information

Crabbe. 9 October 2015. Photo by HGYoung (14)