Chough report: June 2019

Plémont bay – a new territory for the choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

A lot of ups and downs this month for the Channel Island choughs; literally in some cases! The nests have fledged with some surprising outcomes. Whilst the chicks were escaping their nests, I escaped the Island to Slovenia to talk all about choughs to Germans. 

Rewilding Plémont

In a first, on record, a wild-hatched chough has fledged at Plémont! The pair responsible were on their second season of trying and are the first to successfully breed away from Sorel.

The success is largely due to the pair’s ability to find food in the wild. They have not been seen at the supplemental feeds for a long time implying they don’t need it. Instead they forage around Plémont, Grosnez, and Les Landes. 

Research by BirdWatch Ireland showed choughs in Donegal have a preference of wind-swept, maritime grassland within a 1 km range from the nest. Petit Plémont headland matches this description perfectly. In addition, the wonderful restoration work of the derelict Pontins site by the National Trust for Jersey a few years ago has really paid off.

The Plémont chick is a fast learner. It even picked up some cave art skills! Photo by Liz Corry.

It has been quite challenging to keep up with the youngster. When first bouldering outside of the nest it would hide behind rocks when mum and dad were off finding food. We didn’t manage to get any clear photos of it at this age. 

Born into the wind, the chick was quick to develop its flying skills. None of this hanging around the quarry clinging to the safety of girders and stairways.

There have been a few sightings of the family at Plémont. We probably won’t be able to give the chick an identity (leg rings, DNA sexing) until they start returning to the Sorel feeds. If they return!

The ones that got away

We returned to the quarry on 4th June to ring chicks too young to ring when we visited last month. The first nest belonged to Red and Dingle using a box in the asphalt plant. You may remember they had two young chicks. Now there were three!

Licensed ringer Dave Buxton discovered three chicks in the nest- box. Photo by Liz Corry.

The newcomer was 23 grams lighter than it’s siblings. Having hatched last, it had time to catch up. On 25th June the quarry reported all three chicks had fledged with parents attentive as ever.

Staff soon began to realise one of the chicks was in trouble. Whilst two had positioned themselves on the purlins of the building, the third was out and exposed to the risk of mechanical harm. Staff left doors to the building open hoping the parents would encourage the chick back to safety. Apparently the parents were shouting at it quite a lot; one assumes that is what they were trying to do!

Onsite CCTV allowed staff to keep watch on the chick; it appeared to be doing ok. After two days it wasn’t moving – at all. Sadly it had died. A post-mortem revealed a healed fracture in one wing. An underlying reason for its restricted movements around the asphalt plant? The interesting find was that this wasn’t the ‘runt’, but one of the older, larger chicks.

Choughs are full of surprises. When we went to ring Kevin and Wally’s brood on the 4th we found they had lost a chick pre-fledge. Disheartening as it was they had made up for it in size. They were huge! We remembered tiny, half-naked things. These were fully-feathered beasts. I’m pretty sure there is no literature on choughs feeding protein shakes to their chicks. We certainly didn’t find a nutribullet secreted in the building framework. Whatever they’ve been fed, the chicks survived and by the end of the month they were frequenting the Sorel aviary.

One of Kevin and Wally’s chicks having leg rings fitted. Photo by Liz Corry.

Other fledging news

We are pretty certain that all the chicks have now fledged. Unless any undetected nests along the north coast wish to make a claim – please do so now.

Proud to say we have new choughs flying around Jersey’s north coast from six different families. Somewhat disheartening to know there were broods or individuals that didn’t make it. From what we have seen it is simply a result of life in the wild.

One reason for loss is inter-specific competition within the quarry. I had a joyous moment mid-June watching Green and Black’s recently fledged trio being fed on the east side – where we used to supplemental feed released choughs.

Imagine my surprise as watching through the scope I saw a herring gull appear from nowhere and pin down a chick by the throat. Lots of shouting and wing slapping ensued.

Surprise attack by gulls on the recently fledged chough family. Photo by Liz Corry.

A pair of herring gulls pin down one of the chough chicks by the throat. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

A second gull joined in as did all the choughs in the quarry at the time. The chick managed to escape although I imagine it sustained injuries. Since that day we have only seen the parents with one chick.

The gull’s actions were not fully unjustified. They had a chick about two metres away from where the chough family had been hanging out. They were just doing their job of being good parents. With more choughs and increasing numbers of gull nests we are likely to see more of this behaviour.

Taken several days after the attack, this cute ball of fluff explains what the fight was about. Photo by Liz Corry.

An interesting anecdote from this event was how the other choughs reacted. They didn’t physically attack the gulls (a couple tried) it was more of an audible attack. Once the fighting stopped and one gull returned to their nest, the choughs stayed with the chough family almost like a standoff.

When it looked like matters had calmed down the choughs began breaking away going about their business. One pair returned to their nest in the lower quarry. Choughs truly are a social species.

Zoo chicks

Thankfully choughs raised in the zoo do not need concern themselves with gulls, peregrines, or dangerous rock-crushing machinery. Just their dad!

Tristan remained separated from Penny and the two chicks throughout June. The chicks look really well and have now fledged. We will look at moving Tristan back soon along with Gianna for the summer. 

Dobrodošli v Sloveniji ⁄ Welcome to Slovenia

I was invited to talk at Monticola’s annual meeting held, this year, in the Julian Alps, Slovenia from 11th to 16th June. Monticola is an association of amateur and professional ornithologists specialising in alpine species.

The Julian Alps in Slovenia were once home to red-billed choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

This year’s focus was to discuss the feasibility of reintroducing red-billed choughs to Slovenia. Red-billed choughs disappeared mid-twentieth century from Slovenia (yellow-billed choughs are still numerous). Hunting is attributed to much of the loss. Change in land use and effects of pesticides and/or cattle worming are likely to be the other major players. A large proportion of alpine pastures in the Julian Alps have been lost to the encroaching commercial forest.

Caûvette the chough surveying the habitat. Photo by Liz Corry.

Various day time excursions were planned along with evening talks. Members of BirdLife Slovenia (DOPPS) talked about their work and joined me for a scary panel discussion on reintroducing the chough. I say scary, not because of the stature or responsibility being on this panel. Rather because it was in German…and Slovenian!

Tomaz Mihelic, BirdLife Slovenia, gave talks about monitoring and conservation of various Slovenian species. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

BirdLife Slovenia don’t just work with birds. Photo by Liz Corry.

Monticola members are mainly German or Swiss-German. To add to the fun, the German for red-billed chough is Alpenkräuhe which is not the same as the Alpine chough known in English as yellow-billed choughs.

Promo material handed out to Monticola members. Photo by Liz Corry.

Thankfully I had the lovely Johannes and Arnette Denkinger who took me under their wing. Johannes had invited me to speak after reading about Birds On The Edge. It has been his passion for many years to see the return of the red-billed choughs to the eastern Alps.

Birdlife Slovenia did not appear to be against the idea, but raised the realistic challenge of limited resources and existing government priorities. Using evidence from Jersey, and Durrell’s ethos, we all agreed there was scope to create a similar project to Birds On The Edge in Slovenia whereby the focus is restoring alpine pastures. Support is already there within the German zoo community where a captive-breeding programme has been initiated. Tiergarten Nuernburg are leading the work and have invested in habitat feasibility studies.

At the end of the day this needs the people of Slovenia to be behind it. A challenge Johannes is prepared to take on!

Caûvette the chough taking a break at Lake Bohinji. Photo by Liz Corry.

Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards 2019

Congratulations to Birds On The Edge partner the National Trust for Jersey who were awarded runner’s up prize for their conservation meadow at The Elms. The winners were SCOOP The Sustainable Cooperative for their soon to launch ‘Re-Wild my Plate’ initiative.

Glyn Young presenting Kaspar Wimberley of SCOOP with first prize at this years Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards.

Glyn Young was one of the judges and presented the awards at a ceremony held at the Pomme D’or Hotel. I gave a short presentation explaining how we spent last year’s award money supporting the chough project. We must state for the record there was no vote rigging! 

Wilder Islands Conference – The Inter-Islands Meeting (IIEM), Alderney 2019

Wilder Islands Conference. Alderney 2019

The Inter-Islands Environmental Meeting – IIEM2019

What role do the Islands of the British Isles and Overseas Territories have to play in a world where ecosystem collapse is seen as increasingly inevitable? Often Islands lack the economic or political resources to have a voice on the global environmental stage and they face many of the same pressures on their environments – over-population, development, economic insecurity and resource scarcity – and often have even scarcer resources to protect – yet they are uniquely positioned to help future wildlife recovery. Could our islands act as biodiversity lifeboats, refuges for the unique endemic species they host and as shelters for habitats and species under increasing pressure elsewhere?

The Wilder Islands Conference combines the annual Inter-Islands Environment Meeting with an additional day of talks and discussions, the aim being to enable representatives from not only the Channel Islands, but also from across the British Isles and its Overseas Territories and the wider scientific community, to discuss the role of islands as biodiversity hotspots in a future response to global environmental decline. The Wilder Islands Conference aims to bring scientists, conservationists and policy makers together to focus on what steps these communities might take for a Wilder Future for their islands.

Thursday and Friday 26-27 September – IIEM2019 – A combination of presentations, opportunity for debate and field visits, hosted in a selection of venues making the best of Alderney’s historic and rugged environment. The IIEM has been running since 2000 and this year we are looking to discover more about how the islands of the Crown Dependencies, Overseas Territories and wider British Isles are responding to the growing threat to island/regional ecosystems.

Wilder Islands Day –  We are delighted to be able to offer attendees this additional conference day, chaired by Dr. George McGavin and with Tony Juniper, Bryce Stewart, Jean-Luc Solandt, Sam Turvey and Rob Stoneman (see details of guests here) attending.  We envision this as a day of talks by inspirational speakers who have detailed knowledge of the importance of island biodiversity and the threats faced by our unique communities.  There will be the opportunity for discussion around each presentation, with an emphasis on how islands can secure their environment against a trend of global decline, and the very important role that islands play in retaining biodiversity on a national and global scale.

Download full details of the Wilder Islands Conference 2019 here

We’d be delighted if you would join us for all 3 days so  you have already let us know you are attending please confirm if you will be staying for this exciting days discussion wilderislands@alderneywildlife.org

Attendance

The IIEM2019 and the Wilder Islands Conference have received generous support from a range of sources including the Insurance Corporation and the States of Alderney.  As a result, there will be no attendance charge for delegates, though there will be some small charges towards the cost of food for delegates. We are preparing information on accommodation and travel arrangements for delegates and will accept applications for a limited number of grants to support attendance (please contact us at wilderislands@alderneywildlife.org).

IIEM2019

Presentations

The theme ‘Wilder Islands’ is not restrictive but please consider it as a guide to the tone and intent of any presentation you might give.  Presentation slots will as usual be limited to 20 minutes unless you specifically request a longer session i.e. joint or interactive presentations; please feel free to request a shorter slot. Obviously we are restricted on the number of available slots so we would be grateful if you could let us know if you would like to present and a title of your talk as soon as possible and we will follow up for more details once we have a better idea of numbers and topics.

Please contact us to confirm if you want to give a presentation by 28th June, including an outline title and concept to– wildlerislands@alderneywildlife.org

Please note there will be a review panel made up of the existing hosts and previous hosts who will shortlist the speakers for inclusion, should there be more presentations than time allows.

Posters

We are intending to have a dedicated poster and digital display area for the event this year and also to publish contributions online. Again space is likely to be restricted so if you have an idea for a poster or digital display please let us know so we can provisionally reserve a space by 28th June, with the outline title and concept – wildlerislands@alderneywildlife.org

Schools

We intend to link in with the Island’s school as part of Wilder Islands, with some students invited to attend talks and also to produce their own posters.  We are interested in streaming sections of both IIEM2019 and the Wilder Islands Conference for schools so if you have school links and think there might be an interest in this please get in touch.

REGISTERING AN INTEREST

Download full details of the Wilder Islands Conference 2019 here

For all those wanting to attend we need you to please get in touch and answer the following questions as we have limited space in the venues and accommodation. We will be in touch with all those who have booked in with the accommodation and travel options.

So to help us with our planning and getting the best deals please could you let us know if:

  1. You would like to attend and which days you plan to attend
  2. If you are prepared to travel by sea and/or air, let us know your preference
  3. If you would like to give a presentation, and if so an outline title so we can begin to structure the meeting
  4. If you think you would like to display a poster or a digital display in the form of a short video

Contact us at – wilderislands@alderneywildlife.org or by calling us on 01481 822935 and asking for Roland, Claire or Lindsay and please feel free to forward this information to others who you feel might be interested in attending or speaking.

Many thanks for your time and we hope to see you in Alderney later in the year.

* ‘Wilder Islands’ will also become part of the national ‘Wilder Future’ campaign launched by the UK Wildlife Trust movement earlier this year.

Download full details of the Wilder Islands Conference 2019 here

Banque, hedgerow and tree management. Branchage guidelines updated

By Cassie Horton with Dru Burdon and Dom Wormell

A meeting was held last August last year at the request of Dru Burdon from the Jersey Hedgehog Preservation Group as she was so frustrated and upset at the number of hedgehogs coming in with severe injuries. That meeting was attended by about 20 individuals/environmental organisations together with the Natural Environment Department, the Comité des Connétables and the Jersey Farmers’ Union to revise the branchage practice for the benefit of the Island’s fauna and flora. It was proposed that a small committee be formed to identify how we could improve the situation and myself together with Bob Tompkins, Neil Singleton, Alli Caldeira, Dru Burdon, Rose Anne Mitchell and Chris Perkins put our hands up! We are by no means experts in land management but we have endeavoured to seek advice and input from those in the know. Over recent months we have rewritten the branchage guidelines and hope that the revised version will be easier to understand with clear examples of photos and a diagram of best practice.

A training session was organised on 30 May and hosted by Peter le Maistre, the President of the Jersey Farmers’ Union attended by about 50 farmers and contractors, representatives of environmental organisations and John Pinel, Principal Ecologist and Assistant Director of the Natural Environment Department. It was a very successful event with honest and constructive dialogue between all concerned. One of the farmers stated that this was the first time environmentalists and farmers had come together to discuss these issues and this process should continue as it had been incredibly helpful and positive. He also suggested that results of wildlife monitoring (as a result of the new branchage regime) should be reported back to the farmers.

Peter Le Maistre and Ian Le Brun (Jersey Royal Potato Company) had earlier that week cut three examples of branchaging to demonstrate to those present and provide an opportunity for discussion and a compromise was agreed whereby the lower part of the banque is cut to a minimum height of 10cm but the top is left uncut, as this will give wildlife a chance of survival but still adhere to the branchage law. Revised guidelines on best practice for hedgerow, tree and banque (bank) management have now been agreed and will be published by Natural Environment.

Alastair Christie, the Asian Hornet Coordinator also gave a presentation on signs to look out for when undertaking the branchage process and safe working practices.

Our farmers have a symbiotic relationship with the landscape and the large majority of them (particularly those present at the meeting) consider themselves every bit as much an environmentalist. The planting of trees and hedgerows by farmers over the years has contributed to the health of our countryside and they are supportive of improving the biodiversity of our banques and hedgerows.

The Branchage Law dates back to 1914 when the aim was to improve the safety for road users and pedestrians. This is still the case today, however, a misunderstanding/misinterpretation of the law has been allowed to happen and this idea of a ‘neat and tidy’ landscape needs to be done away with. The law is very specific and, as long as a height of 3.7 metres above roads and 2.4 metres above footpaths is adhered to, then the Connétables are happy with this. The banques do not need to be cut down to the bare soil and, as long as vegetation does not overhang the road/footpaths, then the tops can be left uncut. This will allow the desired vegetation to seed but, more importantly, the protection of animals such as hedgehogs, lizards, slow worms and fledgling birds.

Work needs to continue in making private landowners and landlords aware of the new guidelines. Some tenant farmers have been told they risk having fields taken away from them if they don’t make everything ‘neat and tidy’ and it is disheartening when they adhere to the LEAF (Linking Environment & Farming) guidelines and only cut hedges every two years to then find that neighbours cut everything to the bare soil. John Pinel advised that there is legislation in place to prevent the removal of hedges and he offered support to the farmers in generating positive discussions with landowners regarding best working practices.

One of the issues mentioned at an earlier discussion was that machine operators often suffer abuse from motorists when holding up the traffic and also from home owners if the operators go out early in the morning to avoid the motorists. We sought advice from the Connétables who were present at the meeting and Len Norman advised that the Connétables were willing to close the roads to enable the branchage to be undertaken safely. It’s not easy operating machinery, trying to check where the flail is along the banque and at the same time looking out for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists so, if the level of stress can be reduced, that can only be a good thing.

I was delighted with the outcome of the meeting and, having been involved in this campaign, I have a much deeper understanding and respect for the work that our farmers do.

We have produced two sets of guidelines – a condensed version (which could be kept in the cab of a vehicle to refer to – download this version here) and the more comprehensive version which is still to be formalised by the Natural Environment Department with photos and diagrams (download the draft of this here). Polish and Portuguese versions of the condensed report are available – please check relevant websites or contact Birds On The Edge.

The intention is to distribute these guidelines to private contractors and have them available on Parish and Government of Jersey websites for Island wide use.

Download:

Banque, hedgerow and tree management guidelines on best practice. Draft May 2019

Banque, hedgerow and tree management guidelines on best practice. Condensed version.- May 2019

 

 

Chough report: April 2019

By Liz Corry

Breeding out on the north coast has been in full swing this April. Thirteen nest sites have been recorded, two of which are new. We have a new site within the quarry and for the first time a nest-box installed along the north coast is seeing action. Sadly it looks like a territory in the south-west of the Island has been lost, but with 13 of our 15  males in action things are still looking good.

A pair of choughs copulating at the start of April. Photo by Liz Corry.

Ronez: same sites, different pairs

Working closely with Ronez Quarry staff we have been able to record eleven nests on their property.

Ronez Quarry pit (using a lens filter before you ask). Photo by Liz Corry.

It does look like we have lost Bean and males Q and Duke. Their ‘other halves’ are using the same nest sites they had last year this time with new partners.

All nest-boxes installed in the quarry are now being used and show promise. With help from quarryman Kevin Le Herrisier, Red and Dingle have been encouraged to nest in a box rather than on the hot pipes that cooked their eggs for the past two seasons.

A nest-box installed in the quarry to support the breeding population. Photo by Liz Corry.

Two external boxes are once again in use and are already having more success (now that they’ve evicted the kestrel). One of these boxes is being used by wild-hatched Percy and Icho who was released in 2014.

The really exciting news came from Toby Cabaret, Assistant Operations Manager. He reported hearing chick noises from the box. Considering it took a hydraulic crane to put the box up in the first place, Toby was a little unsure of what he was actually hearing.

You talking to me? Photo by Liz Corry.

I spent an hour observing the nest site from the newly installed viewing platform in the lower quarry. Accompanied by an inquisitive gull, I watched as Percy made four visits to the nest-box within a fifty minute period.

Either Icho is one demanding female or they have chicks. This was on the 11th which meant Jersey’s choughs had started early!

North coast nests

Once again, Earl and Xaviour are nesting out at Plémont. Visitors to Plémont Beach cafe are having regular flypasts if they spare the time to look up from their all-day breakfasts. This is the first nest site away from the quarry and is susceptible to human disturbance. The public cannot access the nest itself, but they can access the headland above even though part of it falls within the Seabird Protection Zone in place March to July. Low tide fishermen, walkers, drone users, and a gentleman in red speedos who takes a folding chair out to the furthest point on a regular basis so he can sunbathe  – the downside to having a good spotting scope – have been noted in the vicinity.

This has not deterred the pair from nesting, in fact we believe Xaviour is incubating eggs. The concern will be around fledging time when chicks are vulnerable and learning to forage on that particular headland.

As well as this natural nest site, we have nest-boxes along the cliffs stretching from Sorel to Devil’s Hole. One of these has been destroyed by rockfall (hopefully not with birds inside). Another has been used for the first time as an actual nest rather than rain shelter. Vicq, one of our foster-reared girls and now fully fledged ‘cougar’, has taken a shine to one year old Osbourne. As  Ronez’s CEO namesake, I guess he was destined to be the first of the 2018 wild-hatched choughs to pair up.

Osbourne taking an interest in what Vicq is doing inside the nest-box. Photo by Liz Corry.

When Vicq and Osbourne were seen for the first time using the box they were very attentive. They had already built the nest. Vicq was clearly very busy inside whilst Osbourne maintained a supervisory role (or didn’t have a clue what was happening). The next day they were still visiting the box albeit less frequently. A visiting student, Rachel Owen, observed the nest for a set time each day for the following week. Nothing! Not a single visit to the box by a chough. Vicq‘s first nest had failed; certainly one to keep an eye on next year.

South-west losses

Another failure this year has been the nest in the south-west of the Island. In fact the pair have not been seen at all this season by staff at Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd. I was beginning to get paranoid having visited the area a few times this year on a chough hunt and returned unsuccessful.

Student Rachel Owen, who was staying with friends in Corbière, spent two mornings walking the coastal path from Gorselands to the sand dunes. Again no choughs. Several other corvids around to test her ID skills, but clearly the pair who tried holding down a territory in this area last year have abandoned. Pleased to say Rachel stayed upbeat about it despite the miles she covered on foot.

Rachel Owen spent a week in Jersey working with the choughs as part of her studies. Photo by Rachel Owen.

Whilst we have no strong scientific data, we do know the pair returned every day to Sorel throughout 2018 to get food before roosting back in the south-west. Compare that to the Plémont pair and you can’t help thinking that the south-west provides a poor food resource. The other factor to consider is the unintentional human disturbance. The number of visitors to Corbière and the dunes meant the choughs were constantly moving around whilst foraging.

The sad news is that the female, Mary, has not been seen since the start of February. Partner Bo had a similar attendance record until we discovered he had just been incognito. He was one of two individuals we reported on last month for having identical leg rings. Bo is currently nesting in the quarry with a different female.

Pastures new

There have been several confirmed reports of choughs exploring the north-east of the Island. On the first Sunday in April, Glyn Young watched a pair fly between la Saie and le Coupe Bays. About an hour earlier, one of our keepers living near the zoo had spotted them flying in Glyn’s direction. The following weekend, a local birder recorded a pair near Anne Port, briefly stopping at Gorey Castle before heading west. The weekend after that I was alerted by a distinct call coming from the skies above my house! Two choughs meandering along on the thermals above Rozel Valley.

Are these weekend visitors? Presumably the same pair, if so which? To add to the mystery, another Durrell colleague reported four flying over her house east of the zoo on a Tuesday morning.

I contacted Jersey Heritage regarding the sighting at Gorey castle. To a pair of passing choughs, the 800-year old building offers numerous potential nesting opportunities.  A volunteer guide at the castle witnessed the same visit, but nothing else before or after. It doesn’t necessarily mean that is the end of the story.

There are plenty of foraging opportunities in the north-east if you look around. Rozel Manor for instance has land grazed by cattle. Nearby there are two smallholdings with pigs which get rotated around (field not pig!) so the land isn’t completely churned up. Plus plenty of large, horse paddocks as well as properties with extensive, well-maintained lawns. Providing pesticides are not being used there could be an untapped source of food for the choughs.

A “chough’s eye view” of the habitat around the north-east of Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sorel aviary ‘spring clean’

Much needed major repair work was carried out this month on the aviary at Sorel. We experienced a few setbacks in suppliers and contractors resulting in Durrell’s own Site Service team carrying out the work with a very short turnaround window.

We called in a favour with the Natural Environment team. States ranger Keiran drove the building materials and equipment to Sorel as we don’t have a suitable vehicle.

The States of Jersey kindly donated their time and vehicle) to help Durrell transport materials to Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Brand new netting has been fitted to the tunnel. Not a simple job as the timber framework it was attached to was rotten. All of the shelving in the tunnel has been replaced and most of the framework. It also meant that the hatches had to be removed, new marine-grade steel hinges fitted, and finally re-wired before fitting.

The aviary under repair. Photo by Liz Corry.

A metal pole has been installed running down the centre of the tunnel to support the hoops.

This was the original intention back when the aviary was first built, but never came to fruition.

Timber was used instead, which of course didn’t weather well and in certain places led to netting fraying.

 

There are still several DIY tasks that need to be completed in order for the aviary to function as a catch-up facility. It is, however, up and running again as a supplemental feed site and roost for those birds that need it.

Jersey Zoo’s breeding group

This year we have just one breeding pair of choughs in the zoo; Tristan and Penny (short for Pendragon). This is their first time together not that you can tell. They have made a perfect nest and began egg-laying on the 19th. Mum is tending to a clutch of four eggs with Tristan keeping her well-fed. We have to wait until May to see if they all hatch.

Gianna is still at the Zoo although now off-show in her foster-rearing aviary. We haven’t broken the news to her yet that we want the other pair to parent-rear their own chicks. Gianna hasn’t built a nest this year which is unusual. I think it is linked to the lack of attention she is receiving. The project has been without a student placement for several months now. Normally they would be visiting Gianna two to three times a day in addition to the keeper visits.

Any other business….YES loads!

April was definitely a busy month. To add to all of the above activities there have been several visitors all wanting to learn how the reintroduction and Birds On The Edge can be of benefit. Below is a summary although really they warrant separate blogs. In no particular order:

Author Patrick Barkham and his family spent the Easter Holidays at the Durrell Wildlife Camp. He managed to include a trip to Sorel where I could explain the work we do and show off the choughs. Inadvertently, Patrick helped with our data collection. As I stood on the cliff tops pointing to a nest-box and commenting on the lack of uptake, Vicq and Osbourne eloquently flew straight inside! Side note: highly recommend reading Patrick’s books, especially Islander and Badgerlands.

Vicq collecting material to build her nest at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Jersey zoo played host to  the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) Directors’ Days conference. Over 130 zoo directors travelled to Jersey for the three-day event. This year’s theme was around leadership in conservation and how to encourage the community to set ambitious targets for greater conservation impact. The Birds On The Edge project was therefore a fitting optional field trip for the final day.

On the same day we also welcomed two guests from the Scottish Chough Study Group – Pat Monaghan, University of Glasgow, and Amanda Trask (now at ZSL). We are assisting in planning a translocation intended to ensure the survival of the remnant Scottish population. Also supported by improved supplemental feeding methods adapted from the lessons learnt with the Jersey choughs.

The two groups met out at Sorel providing Pat and Amanda with a bonus opportunity to network with Scottish EAZA members! Watch this space!

Great minds around a table in a castle – the start of something epic? Photo by Liz Corry.

Lastly, I escaped the rock for 24 hours to attend a workshop at Dover Castle, Kent. A PhD student is currently assessing the feasibility of reintroducing choughs to Kent. Historically, the species resided across the entire south coast of England not just Cornwall where you find them today. Plus choughs feature heavily in Canterbury heraldry.

The workshop was an opportunity to get project partners and experts together to discuss the next steps. Our good friends from Paradise Park were present allowing for a quick catch-up. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the room driven by Kent Wildlife Trust‘s latest goal to develop a wilder Kent. Again watch this space!

In the meantime, watch this video and reward yourself for reaching the end of April’s report!

Jersey’s Great Garden Bird Watch – 18 years of citizen science in Jersey

H Glyn Young and Andrew Koester

No one can have failed to pick up this week that our environment and the biodiversity that we are a part of is under severe threat. Our very future is being debated. The Great Garden Bird Watch in Jersey may seem trivial by comparison but, like its counterparts in the UK (this year’s 40th Big Garden Birdwatch) and elsewhere, it represents a remarkable piece of citizen science that is truly encouraging in the face of such gloom. Each year, supported by the Jersey Evening Post, we encourage people across the Island to spend time on one day over a February weekend to count the birds they see in their garden, typically with the annual threat of atrocious weather, and tell us how many they see.

During this year’s count, our 18th since we started in 2002, 231 households sent us records of their birds. It wasn’t the highest number that we’ve had back but it has been important in establishing very visible trends, showing how those birds that live the closest to us are faring in today’s world. We need this kind of information if we are going to persuade our governments and those around us that Nature needs our help. Don’t forget, if the birds that have chosen to live closest to us are not doing well, what does that say about our own future?

Counts like this are also good for us, we can watch our birds, enjoy their presence and make ourselves happier and healthier. Proximity to and enjoyment of Nature are well known to help our own mental wellbeing (see discussion here) while another study of people who feed and watch birds found that people generally believed that their bird feeding benefits garden birds. They indicated that natural factors (e.g. bird abundance, disease prevalence) and abiotic factors (i.e. cold temperature) had more of an influence on how much they feed birds than internal constraints such as time and money (see link below). We like feeding ‘our’ birds and its good for their survival and its good for our health.

Back to our latest count (here) Jersey’s counters reported 40 different bird species in our gardens. Well 40 birds and red squirrels. Some birds are very rarely counted and hard to analyse so we base or long-term study of population trends of the 16 most reported species, the Big 16. We don’t include herring gulls as many people actively dissuade them so that counts of them may be skewed. See full results for the Big 16 here

Each year, members of The Big 16 may change position in our little table. In 2019, in order of commonness they were:

Species: Average per reporting garden

  1. House sparrow 6.9
  2. Goldfinch 2.8
  3. Chaffinch 1.8
  4. Wood pigeon 1.77
  5. Starling 1.75
  6. Great tit 1.6
  7. Blue tit 1.6
  8. Collared dove 1.4
  9. Magpie 1.4
  10. Robin 1.3
  11. Blackbird 1.0
  12. Greenfinch 0.33
  13. Song thrush 0.26
  14. Pheasant 0.22
  15. Blackcap 0.16
  16. Great spotted woodpecker 0.12

Our honorary bird, the red squirrel, at 0.4 per garden, would have been 12th.

The relative fortunes of the Big 16 over the 18 years of the count can all be seen in our report (here). There has been a slow decline in overall numbers of the 16 with some very obvious losers, species that are losing ground like greenfinch and starling, and winners like goldfinch, wood pigeon and blackcap. One very encouraging trend has been the recovery of the house sparrow, a species inextricably connected with people that had been disappearing from large parts of the British Isles. It’s doing ok in parts of Jersey!

Of further interest to us is this year’s Top 10 in the UK (from RSPB):

Species: Average per reporting UK garden

  1. House sparrow 4.4
  2. Starling 3.1
  3. Blue tit 2.6
  4. Blackbird 2.3
  5. Wood pigeon 2.3
  6. Goldfinch 1.8
  7. Great tit 1.5
  8. Robin 1.0
  9. Chaffinch 1.3
  10. Magpie 1.2.

There are some interesting comparisons. We have more of those lovely house sparrows while starlings and blue tits are definitely missing out in Jersey.

So, in Jersey we can see well how our bird neighbours are doing. And it is undoubtedly a mixed picture. We need to highlight what’s happening, we need to continue to help our garden birds and we need to take part in next year’s count. Watch this space!

Read the report Observations at backyard bird feeders influence the emotions and actions of people that feed birds here

Chough report: March 2019

By Liz Corry

It has been all go this March. Sometimes quite literally as some of the choughs have, well, just gone!

Jersey’s chough population plummets

At least that would be the headline if this was a tabloid site. The less drastic approach is to say that several of the choughs have been unaccounted for since January or February depending on the individual. This means that Jersey’s population might have gone from 46 to 37 choughs over a three-month period.

With all the leg ring issues we have reported on recently, it is possible that some birds are going undetected at Sorel. Two birds have been sporting matching leg rings for the past month. We finally managed to determine that one of these is Gilly. Her metal number was read by zooming in on an opportunistic photo. Through process of elimination, the second bird has to be either Duke or Bo. Neither have been seen for a while.

One of two birds sporting the same leg ring combination after losing a coloured ring. Photo by Liz Corry.

To add to the mystery, both Duke and Bo paired up last year forming territories at Sorel and Les Mielles respectively. Duke’s partner is still very much alive and well at Sorel. Although she now appears to be flying around in a trio with two others. Bo and his partner, Mary, were not identified at Sorel throughout the entire month. Have they permanently moved to the southwest of the Island? Or, has something happened to one or both birds?

Mystery disappearances have also affected two pairs from Ronez Quarry that shared the same building. Our beloved Bean and normally easy to spot Q (bright pink ring) have a zero attendance record for March. Their partners are regularly turning up to the supplemental feed so what does that mean? Did they decide to ditch their trademark monogamous ways and elope to a different part of the Island? Are they dead? Has Bean become agoraphobic and can no longer leave her roost?

What we do know is that we have new pairings generating both good and bad news.

Breeding pairs for 2019

We are not 100% clear on all our pairings this year due to the confusion over which birds are alive and dead. For example, Bean’s partner Kevin is now followed everywhere by two foster-reared females Ubè and Wally. This lends itself to the theory that Bean is no longer at Sorel (or Jersey). Likewise, Pyrrho who was with Duke last year, now appears to hang out with another pair. This pair is one of our new couplings Skywalker and Zennor.

There are a few new pairs at Sorel this breeding season including Skywalker, released last year, and Zennor. Photo by Liz Corry.

On 4th March, Skywalker was observed at Sorel with wool. It wasn’t entirely clear if he was collecting the wool or if the wind had blown it across his face. He carried it around for a bit ultimately ditching it for the supplemental feed. On the same day we found bits of wool inside the aviary – a sign that the pairs had begun lining their nest.

At this stage, we think there are ten pairs and two groups of three attempting to nest at various sites around Jersey. I have to say it….

West is best?

You are now just as likely to see choughs at Les Landes, Grosnez, or Plémont as you are at Sorel these days. There is at least one pair nesting out west, possibly more given the difficulty in tracking individuals.

We have had lots of reports in from the National Trust, States of Jersey rangers, and Durrell staff on their days off.

Choughs hanging out at Plémont. Photo by John Parkes, National Trust for Jersey.

Grantez is being highlighted as a foraging site and/or fly over route. Not to be confused with Grosnez, which is starting to look hopeful as a potential nesting territory. It also appears to be the perfect ‘playground’ for the choughs to practice their aerial acrobatics whilst annoying the resident fulmar population. Note that fulmars (who are very good at spitting) and choughs aren’t always the best of neighbours.

The perils of plastic

We had to catch up Betty this month when she was spotted at the aviary with yellow nylon wire wrapped around her right foot. Betty had most likely picked this up whilst looking for nest liner. Luckily, we were able to trap her in the aviary relatively quickly. It still required a two-day wait whilst hatches were fixed – yep they jammed again – but we cut the material off before it could do any damage.

Betty was caught up in March to remove material wrapped around her foot. Photo by Liz Corry.

Whilst in the hand, there was the opportunity to clear up confusion over a DNA test taken when Betty was a chick. The original sexing result was questioned by the DNA testing company due to an admin error. Betty’s recent behaviour and body weight of 350g implied she was a he. A new DNA sample was taken and sent to the UK. The result came back as a definite male.

This is great news as Betty is paired up with Gilly (female) and this year they look set to nest for the first time.

On a side note, their relationship meant that Gilly followed Betty into the aviary when we trapped him. This allowed us to catch Gilly as well and replace her missing green ring.

Zoo choughs show a promising start

Jersey Zoo has a new pairing this year of Tristan and Pendragon (Penny for short). They are in fact our only pair now due to the sad loss of birds last year. Both are experienced breeders but this will be their first season together.

So far so good. They have been busy adding material to the nest box. Hopefully there will be eggs by April. Staff are monitoring progress closely via the nest cam.

The new pair at Jersey Zoo started building a nest in March. Photo by Liz Corry.

Skills-sharing on a global level

Each year the Durrell Conservation Academy runs the Durrell Endangered Species Management course. The participants, affectionately known as DESMANS, come to Jersey from all over the world to learn practical conservation skills which they can then take back and apply to projects in their own countries.

Birds On The Edge is incorporated into one of their modules where they learn skills in radio-tracking, distance sampling, reintroduction practices, and broaden their knowledge in conservation management.

DESMANS learning how to radio-track at Jersey Zoo. Photo by Izabela Barata.

This month they visited Sorel to see the project up close and personal. Instead of a stuffy indoor lecture, they were treated to my ramblings on about Birds On The Edge and how the choughs have returned to Jersey. They were very impressed with the choughs although the friendly Manx sheep clearly stole the show.

DESMANS 2019 with course leader Tim Wright and facilitator Izabela Barata at Sorel. Photo by Liz Purgal.

 

Climate change is pushing UK wildlife out of sync

From BirdGuides

Climate change has advanced the breeding season of many species in the UK – but just how much varies markedly across the country, according to a major new study.

The first in-depth analysis into the seasonal timing of certain bird and insect behaviours has confirmed that spring is indeed getting earlier each year – but that exactly how much earlier these events now start depends on where in the UK and in which habitat they occur.

The authors of the report have warned these trends could have serious ramifications for ecosystems, as significant variation between groups of animals in the rates of advance means populations are becoming out of sync with the life cycles of their prey. The 50-year study into natural cycles of egg laying and migration has also dashed environmentalists’ hopes that shaded habitats such as forests are shielding some populations from the destabilising effects of global warming.

Lead author Dr James Bell, who heads up the Rothamsted Insect Survey, said: “There was already good evidence that spring is coming earlier each year, but what we didn’t expect to find was that it was advancing as much in forests as it is in open areas such as grassland.

“Equally, in areas where we’d expect to see much greater acceleration, such as urban parkland, the rates of advance appear to be the same.

“This all points to a complex picture emerging under climate change, which makes ecosystem responses hard to predict, and even harder for conservationists to prepare for.”

An earlier study by the group looking at a 30-year period had shown the average rate of advance varied from about a week earlier for birds and a month earlier for aphids, but the new paper reveals an even more complex picture.

Dr Stephen Thackeray of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) explained: “Our previous research has shown that, in the UK, many signs of spring have been shifting earlier over the last few decades and that this is likely to be driven by climatic change.

“However, we have never before had such a detailed picture of how these changes vary across the UK and its major habitats.”

The study charts the seasonal habits of more than 250 UK species of birds and insects, and shows clear evidence that aphids, moths and butterflies are now on the wing, and birds are laying their eggs, much earlier than they were in the middle of the 20th century.

The researchers, including scientists from CEH, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Butterfly Conservation, and Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA), analysed data collected between 1960 and 2010 from three national monitoring networks – the Rothamsted Insect Survey, the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme and the Nest Record Scheme.

The long-term changes they uncovered broadly confirm similar effects being observed the world over – that as global temperatures rise, natural phenomena such as flowering, or emergence from hibernation, are occurring earlier each year. But by looking in detail at this long-term data, the team has revealed that the responses of some species to climate change are not straightforward, nor necessarily predictable.

Moths provide a good example of this. As those species that turn from caterpillars to adults early in the year appear to be doing so much earlier. Professor Tom Brereton of Butterfly Conservation said it was unclear what was behind these specific patterns, nor why butterflies did not show something similar: “Whatever the reasons, we should be concerned about how dramatically climate change is affecting butterfly and moth life cycles.”

Bucking this trend towards earlier onset are those birds and butterflies that inhabit farmland, as well as birds who live in coastal habitats – providing possible evidence that other factors, such as declining food availability, are applying a different pressure on these populations and delaying the onset of breeding.

Dr James Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science at the BTO, said: “Birds are at the top of many food chains, and are sensitive to the impacts of climate change on the availability of their insect prey. This work shows how changing spring conditions may affect the ability of birds to find food, and that those impacts are likely to vary across the country.”

A particularly worrying finding of the study is that the rate at which these seasonal behaviours are shifting is the same in open habitats, such as grasslands, as it is in shady ones, such as forests. It had been thought forests might offer some protection for species against rising temperatures. “The work is important because it shows us that we cannot rely on habitat to slow down climate change impacts, even in woodlands and forests where the conditions are more stable, and which were expected to buffer against adverse changes,” explained Dr Bell.

As well as providing more evidence of the effects of climate change, the study also provides the most detailed assessment yet of how many species’ life cycles are determined by geography and altitude. It shows that rather than tracking the simple north-south trend of increasing temperatures and earlier onset of spring, the date of key behaviours of many species follow more complex patterns. So, while aphid activity simply becomes progressively later the further north you go, the same was only true for birds and butterflies up to the likes of Derry, Gretna or Newcastle.

Beyond that point, butterflies become active earlier in the warmer, wetter west than the colder, drier east, while for birds laying eggs, the opposite is true. Dr Jon Pickup, lead aphid researcher at SASA said: “As pests, it remains a concern that aphid migrations are getting earlier at a dramatic rate, and this piece of work shows us that signal across the UK very clearly.”

The study is the result of many years work analysing and interpreting huge data sets, and now lays the ground work for some urgent new research into what is driving these impacts at habitat levels.

“There is unlikely to be a more comprehensive analysis that address both spatial and habitat variations in seasonal timings,” concluded Dr Bell.

Read or download the paper Spatial and habitat variation in aphid, butterfly, moth and bird phenologies over the last half century here

April volunteer activity

Sunday 14th April 2019 – La Corbière, St Brelade – 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

Please note this task has been changed from the one originally scheduled, and we will be undertaking heathland restoration and footpath work.

Task For the last task of the season join us on the beautiful headland above La Corbière to restore an area of heathland that has been engulfed by bracken. There will be an amount of gorse management to undertake and we are also going repair the badly eroded footpath. The work area is a five minute walk to the north of the Railway Walk.

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

The site Meet at the car park by the Radio Tower behind (south) of Corbière Phare Bars. Google maps here. Jersey Phone Directory Map 12 inset, square D20.

Parking There will be parking available at the meeting place.

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

Tools needed All tools will be provided, but we are short on spades so if you have one it would be helpful to bring it along. Pruning saws and loppers may also be useful to tackle the gorse.

Clothing needed Please check the weather for the day and bring suitable clothing, wet weather gear and wellies may be necessary but fingers crossed for some April sun! We can supply a pair of gardening gloves if you don’t have them, but you may have a favourite pair you’d like to bring.

 Children All are welcome, young or old although we do ask that volunteers under 16 years of age are accompanied by an adult.

Refreshments Kim will be on hand after we have finished to ply us with her homemade cakes and hot drinks

Widespread losses of pollinating insects revealed across Britain

Wild bees and hoverflies lost from a quarter of the places they were found in 1980

From The Guardian

A widespread loss of pollinating insects in recent decades has been revealed by the first national survey in Britain, which study authors say “highlights a fundamental deterioration” in nature.

The analysis of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species found the insects have been lost from a quarter of the places they were found in 1980. A third of the species now occupy smaller ranges, with just one in 10 expanding their extent, and the average number of species found in a square kilometre fell by 11.

A small group of 22 bee species known to be important in pollinating crops such as oilseed rape saw a rise in range, potentially due to farmers increasingly planting wild flowers around fields. However, the scientists found “severe” declines in other bee species from 2007, coinciding with the introduction of a widely used neonicotinoid insecticide, which has since been banned.

Researchers have become increasingly concerned about dramatic drops in populations of insects, which underpin much of nature. Some warned in February that these falls threaten a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, while studies from Germany and Puerto Rico have shown plunging numbers in the last 25 to 35 years.

The latest study is based on more than 700,000 sightings made by volunteers across Britain from 1980 to 2013. These are used to map the range of each species of bee and hoverfly over time. The data did not allow the assessment of numbers of insects, but some researchers think populations have fallen faster than range.

Pollinating insects are vital to human food security, as three-quarters of crops depend on them. They are also crucial to other wildlife, both as food and as pollinators of wild plants. “The declines in Britain can be viewed as a warning about the health of our countryside,” said Gary Powney at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology who led the research.

He called for more volunteers to take part in the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme: “Their contribution is vital for us to understand what is happening in our landscape.” Another recent study found that allotments, weedy corners and fancy gardens can all be urban havens for bees.

The biggest factor in the decline in pollinators is likely to be the destruction of wild habitats and use of pesticides as farming has intensified. But the analysis also revealed a particularly big drop of 55% in the range of upland bee and hoverfly species, and significant falls in northern Britain, which may result from climate change making conditions too warm.

Among the bees whose range has shrunk are the formerly widespread red-shanked carder bee, whose extent fell by 42%, and the large shaggy bee, whose range fell 53%. But the lobe-spurred furrow bee, which was once rare, has expanded its range fivefold and is now considered an important crop pollinator in England.

Powney said the increased range of the bees most commonly pollinating crops is good news and might be a result of more oilseed rape being grown, as well as wildflower margins being planted. But he also warned: “They are a relatively small group of species. Therefore, with species having declined overall, it would be risky to rely on this group to support the long-term food security for our country. If anything happens to them in the future there will be fewer other species to ‘step up’.”

Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex and not part of the latest research, said: “Previous studies have described declines in UK butterflies, moths, carabid beetles, bees and hoverflies – this new study confirms that declines in insects are ongoing.”

If the losses of upland and northern species are due to climate change, “then we can expect far more rapid declines of these species in the future, as climate change has barely got started”, he said. Goulson also said the start of more rapid declines in southern bees after 2007 coincided with the first use of now-banned neonicotinoid pesticides.

Matt Shardlow, of the conservation charity Buglife, said unless the pesticide approval process was improved to help bee safety and green subsidies were targeted to create corridors that connect wild spaces, we can expect the declines to continue or worsen.

Download the study Widespread losses of pollinating insects in Britain here