Chough report – September 2022

By Charlotte Dean

Chough breeding pair bonds

This month, the aviary has been surprisingly quiet. Now that the fledgling season and drought is over on the Island; the choughs seem to be less frantic when it comes to gaining sustenance within the aviary. Choughs arrive to the feed in small trickles on the majority of days. The young choughs are arriving earlier than the adults to wing-beg at the keepers and presumably to get their fill before the adults take over feeding stands. The lack of food desperation is allowing adult pairs in the flock to express their affections towards their partners more often as of late. As choughs are generally monogamous, it’s brilliant to see that the parent pairs of this breeding season still have a great bond. This can be observed as pairs allopreen and/or feed one another. Hopefully they will bring more success in their next breeding season.

Queen Elizabeth II

The choughs have seen some big events in Jersey since 2013 and on 8th September they were witness to the passing of HRH Queen Elizabeth after 70 years on the throne. The Queen has been known locally as ‘Duke of Normandy’ and toasted as ‘La Reine, notre duc‘ (‘The Queen, Our Duke’), although this tradition can be very confusing. Jersey had a public holiday for the funeral on 19th September and the Zoo was shut that day; but for the team, and the choughs, life went on.

Eyes, head, legs & feet.

What are we referring to? Ticks of course! They don’t only affect mammals; they affect all species, so that includes birds. It’s come to that time of the year where the ticks become more active. A bite from a tick can spark many detrimental cascading affects in both birds and mammals. This means the keepers need to be extra vigilant when it comes to monitoring their birds. Thankfully, as choughs have a communal based social life it poses less of a threat due to their mutual preening.

Strimming in session

It may still be a hot September so far; but the drop in temperature from the past few months has allowed the keepers to change their priorities to some well needed vegetation clearing. The hedgerow to the right of aviary was becoming so over-grown that the team couldn’t see over the bank to the field behind. The view isn’t a necessity but is useful to see what and/or where the choughs are if they haven’t braved (or bothered?) going inside the aviary for the supplementary feed. But it’s not just the view that this over-grown bank causes as a problem; it also greatly reduces the functionality of the hatch wires. The wires can easily get tangled between the fern and other vegetation on the bank. Now that it’s been cleared, we should be able to carry out more catch-ups in the future if necessary, with ease – if the choughs don’t out smart us!

Rodent activity

Although in Jersey we’re now starting to get some wet weather, it seems that a few furry friends are still making their way into the Sorel aviary to make use of our water tray and likely, some free food. As we have no intention in trapping protected species, the team came up with a great idea to try and identify the culprits, on camera with the use of camera traps. However, we’ve not managed to get any footage of our four-legged friends. So far, the main footage captured has been magpies enjoying a good bathe. The rodent population may have foiled us so far, but the camera traps did make light by capturing some rather elegant footage of two choughs drinking from the water tray in synchronous drinking.

 

A very special guest

On 28th September we were very pleased to show Max Benatar, visiting the Island from Germany for a course at Durrell, the choughs at Sorel. Max is no stranger to the birds; he was our student in 2014 and formed a great affection for the chough flock. While Max was proud to have been part of the project and to learn of its ongoing success, he was possibly most pleased to catch up with an old favourite, Dingle. The photographs show that Max has changed his appearance over the years, while, and take it from us, Dingle looks just the same!

 

 

Chough report – August 2022

By Charlotte Dean

Heatwaves and water supplies

This summer is proving to be a particularly hot one; one which we probably shouldn’t complain about! With rising temperatures and further limited rainfall though, the struggle for water supplies up at the Sorel aviary are beginning to show. At Sorel, it is clear how little rain we’ve received over the past month or so as the water butt, which is usually filled by Jersey’s plentiful rainwater, has been getting topped up by keepers. It may be physically challenging lugging water containers to the aviary in the recent heat but at least the choughs have clean water, and the keepers are becoming that little bit fitter! But, with rainwater being in short supply, lack of water wasn’t the only worry as the ground became hard and compact, potentially making foraging spots for choughs a little sparse; not an ideal start for the choughlets. Our Plémont pair Minty & Rey are normally rarely seen at the aviary but have been very frequent as of late; making us worry more about the state of foraging across the Island.        

Bird flu, captive and wild bird devastation

The other worry on the Island is bird flu. So, what is bird flu? Bird flu is a type of influenza virus which is mainly spread amongst birds. The virus itself can be spread in two ways; directly (through contact) or indirectly (through faecal matter). It can affect mammals, but the risk is very low compared to the transmission between bird species. Bird flu was found on the Island in February this year and has caused quite a stir. This month, the number of cases seen across the Island has increased and the coasts are becoming scattered with many suspected avian flu fatalities, mostly seabirds. It is very important for us to state that the public must help prevent further spread by following the Government of Jersey Natural Environment guidelines and not picking up, touching or going near wild sick or dead birds. However, it is useful for the public to notify Natural Environment about any dead birds; especially if several dead birds are found in close proximity of each other. The most susceptible wild birds seem to be birds of prey, owls, wildfowl and seabirds. Notifying of dead birds will allow Natural Environment to test and confirm any new cases on the Island and set quarantine protocols. Although the photos below show herring gull fatalities across the cliffs at Devil’s Hole (which is very close to Sorel); we’re thankful to announce that the wild chough population is currently stable/unchanged.

Praising mother nature

The keepers couldn’t have been happier to see some much-needed rainfall and accompanying thunderstorms when they came, to clear away some of those high temperatures. We finally had a significant amount of rainfall. The ground around the aviary is still feeling pretty tough but at least it’s gained some form of hydration this month. Once we’d had a few days of rainfall, the grass in the aviary was looking a healthy green again after many months of looking very dried out and brown. But with rainfall comes plant growth, and it is truly amazing how much grass grows after a bit of rain! The keepers are now back into their routine of regularly mowing and strimming the grass inside and outside the aviary – hopefully giving the choughs another great foraging spot for tasty insects.

Choughlet update

As we came closer to the end of August, the aviary became less ‘noisy’ as the youngest chicks belonging to breeding pair Bo & Flieur were becoming independent feeders. Less ‘choughlet’ begging behaviour at their parents and more wing-begging behaviours directed at the keepers! The young choughs are now arriving in their own little flock for the supplementary feed; it’s quite fantastic to see how they’ve learnt, grown and thrive, especially with all this hot weather. Although the feeds may have become quieter in regard to chick begging behaviour, there were still plenty of social hierarchy challenges amongst the young choughs and the adults. Plenty of scrabbles between siblings, young choughs of different parents as well as between some young choughs and adult pairs – the young choughs will soon find their place within the flock’s social structure.

Chough adults

Now that the young choughs are more independent; the parents are becoming less attentive. When the chicks started to feed for themselves the parent pairs would land on a food stand, allow their chicks to join and then move themselves to another stand; almost as if to give the young birds a fighting chance of a free meal before another more dominant pair took over the stand. However, now, the parent pairs will bat away any chicks, including their own! Since the aviary has become quieter, more pairs and other adults that have rarely been seen over the breeding and fledgling season became more frequent visitors such as Corbière pair Danny & Jaune. These two, along with other adults, have been known to avoid the aviary in fledgling season; and I don’t blame them, the choughlets are very noisy and demanding from anyone who will feed them!

                                   

                                                                                          

Chough report: July 2022

By Charlotte Dean

A successful start to the month: Catch ups!
The start of July brought more ‘catch ups’ at the Sorel aviary. Great success as we caught five ‘choughlets’ in the space of two days – we really must have found them off guard! The most recent chicks in the ‘catch up’ belonged to Lee & Caûvette (one), Percy & Icho (one), Green & Pyrrho (two) and Bo & Flieur (two). Only three were left (see below).

Bidding farewell
This month we said goodbye to our second valued team member for the chough project this year. Jane, a fellow chough enthusiast and a chough field volunteer with Durrell who has dedicated five years of her life to the chough project. It’s sad for her time to be over on the project, like the other staff and volunteers who have been involved in the past but, with time comes growth and new career opportunities. They may be relocating but I’m sure they will miss the chatter within our wild flock. If you are a chough enthusiast, don’t forget that you can help by reporting your sightings of any choughs seen around. Anthony Morin took these wonderful photos at Les Landes:

Harvest season
There are eight species of small mammal in Jersey including four rodents. The choughs’ aviary is more active with rodents in different seasons of the year. At current, it is quite clear that, with all the harvesting being carried out in the surrounding fields, there is a greater abundance of rodent activity as of late. This can pose a problem through diseases they may carry and the holes they create around the overall structure of the aviary itself. A few of the small mammals that have been spotted in Sorel are protected under the Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2021 including the Jersey bank vole Myodes (Clethrionomys) glareolus caesarius, lesser white-toothed shrew Crocidura suaveolens and Millet’s shrew Sorex coronatus. The best way for us to keep the rodents out of the aviary is by reinforcing any entry and exits by repairing aviary netting, covering over holes and, the main factor, keeping any food at the aviary out of reach and/or secured in rodent-proof containers.

Drought
This July, Jersey was officially considered to be in a drought. A drought in Jersey is confirmed by 15 consecutive days without measurable rainfall. The last measurable rainfall recorded occurred on Saturday 2nd July. Jersey is known for its limited underground reserves of water and no links to external water networks; therefore, it is important for Islanders to preserve water were possible. Anyone who is environmentally conscious will tell you that we should be using water wisely on a daily basis regardless of the weather; but it is even more important to when the Island is in a drought. There are many ways in which homeowners can reduce their water waste; here are some examples:
• If its yellow, let it mellow – resist the urge to flush a toilet unless completely necessary
• Taking shorter showers, using plugs in sinks to avoid running taps for long periods of time
• Only using the washing machine and/or dishwasher when at full capacity
• Not washing your car (including the ‘choughmobile’) or leaving sprinklers on the grass as often
• Installing ‘low-flow’ equipment to all your water outputs
• Fix your holey clothes instead of throwing them out for new plus shopping in charity shops.

Ok, scrap last month’s “hottest day of the year”
Last month in Jersey we saw soaring temperatures of 33.1°C. However, on Monday 18th July, this was beaten by a scorching temperature of 37.9°! The highest temperature recorded in Jersey previously had been 36°C; this occurred 19 years ago. As summer is still in full swing, we worry what August’s temperatures will bring as things are only getting hotter with global warming. At the Sorel aviary we usually provide just the one water source for the choughs but with these rising temperatures, more water has been provided. The choughs, adults and chicks were all seen gular fluttering at the feed of the 18th; however, it was good to see that they were lining up next to the water trays to make use of the water provided in the aviary.

The last three chicks
It was nearing to the end of the month, and we still had three more un-ringed chicks left to catch up. By this point in chick catch ups; the chicks are getting clever. The choughs know that, when two keepers come to the aviary, they need to be extra cautious, especially those that have been captured recently. But it brings me great joy to state that we caught the last three chicks all together, so now all the chicks that have fledged this year have been captured and colour ringed. We are scheduling a licensed ringer to place Jersey metal rings on the chicks sometime next month. We’ve not seen any more chicks arrive at the aviary now, so our fledged chick count for this year is a very respectable 16. Which is certainly nice as during our Ronez Quarry visit we only counted 14 chicks in the five accessible nests of our breeding pairs.

Table 1. A comparison of chicks found in nests at Ronez Quarry (plus one pair from Plémont), to the number of chicks that have fledged to the aviary this year. 

Chough report: June 2022

By Charlotte Dean

1st June

The choughs greeted the keeper closer than ever! It’s quite clear at this time of year that the choughs recognise the keepers. They spot you on the walk up the coastal path towards the aviary, circling and vocalising loudly, following you along the foot path before finding a place to land. As you can see, the closest and safest spot was the entrance gate to the National Trust’s land. The choughs wing-begged and shouted, they really do know how to welcome their food providers!

Aviary maintenance

Now is an even more important time than ever to be keeping up to date on our aviary maintenance. At this time of year, we are eagerly anticipating the arrival of ‘choughlets’ (chough fledglings) at the aviary. About four weeks after fledging, the chicks’ parents will stop feeding them so it’s essential for the chicks to watch their parents and learn how to forage for themselves. Choughs forage over coastal grasslands; they are often spotted in shorter grass fields, and this is because the insect abundance is generally higher where grass is short. Therefore, mowing the grass, strimming the hedgerows and neatening edges within and outside the aviary is important as it acts as a natural food source for the choughs and chicks that come to the aviary. Along with keeping the grass length short, we also provide ‘enrichment squares’; this is an added foraging obstacle which includes pinecones, slates and branches. These squares engage the choughs to lift and move objects to find the scattered insects – enabling them to work for their ‘free food’.

Is that a ‘choughlet’ I can see?!

Exciting news! We had our first ‘choughlet’ appearance at the Sorel aviary on 10th June! But there wasn’t just one chick, there were three! Our first sighting of the fledglings was in a field opposite the aviary – they were causing quite a stir in the flock. It wasn’t long until they flew in and landed on the aviary roof with Kevin & Wally. We assumed that these three must be theirs as they arrived together, and we had predicted this pair’s fledging dates back in May when we visited their nests to ring and age them! While monitoring the choughs at the aviary, it became clear that these three chicks were definitely from Kevin & Wally’s nest as we’ve witnessed many parent to chick feedings on top of the aviary. It wasn’t long, however, that more fledglings started arriving at the aviary. The next breeding pair’s chicks to arrive at the aviary belonged to Dusty & Chickay – four chicks on the 13th! Dusty & Chickay have always been pretty consistent with four chicks in the past; but it’s exciting to see the chicks that we saw in the nest arrive at the aviary happy and healthy!

Since those first arrivals, we’ve had Trevor & Noirmont’s chick, Manitou arrive at the aviary being very vocal, much like the majority of the chicks. It’s good to see the one chick we managed to ring at the nest arrive safely. By mid-month we started to see other breeding pairs bringing their chicks too, including Green & Pyrrho and Percy & Icho with their two chicks and Lee & Cauvette seen with one chick so far. It’s safe to say that the supplementary feeds at the aviary have been very loud and eventful this month! We may not have seen all of the chicks that were viewed at the quarry nests yet; we are still hopeful for more arrivals!

Time flies

The past few weeks have been pretty hectic, but our former colleague Paul has been very useful in helping us monitor our chough activity in Ronez Quarry. We had our estimated fledging dates but hadn’t seen all chicks arrive at the aviary. But sure, enough there were plenty of chicks flying around the Sorel Lighthouse and quarry as acknowledged by Paul. The chicks will practice their flying before they are strong enough and brave enough to join their parents at the aviary for the supplementary feeds. We greatly appreciate the many chough enthusiasts that help us with our chough project; but don’t forget that anyone can help.

Follow this link and you can do your bit by sending in public sightings of any choughs you see around Jersey Island!

Catch up time!

As the chough chicks keep arriving; it was time to take action and loosen up the hatch wires for the first chick ‘catch ups’ at the aviary. Why are we catching them up you ask? It’s to be able to identify each individual for monitoring with the use of colour-rings (which in turn allows us to know which breeding pair the chick belongs to through observations – see below), to indicate that they are owned and thrive in Jersey, to measure their bills, tarsus and weight. This is essential information we collect and keep records of for all the individuals in the wild free-flying flock. We haven’t needed to ‘catch up’ any choughs in quite some time so it took a few tries to loosen the hatch wires! But between the team, we’ve currently caught eight of the current fifteen chicks floating around with their parents.

Not something we want to see

One of Kevin & Wally’s fledglings had been limping since the first time it was seen arriving at the aviary. It was clear it had quite a large laceration to its left tarsus; but to be able to examine it properly we had to wait until the fledglings were more confident in going in and out of the aviary to carry out a ‘catch up’. We closely monitored the chick until we could catch it up within the aviary. On close examination it was clear how large the injury was but thankfully it had already scabbed over nicely and had no sign of infection, therefore, no additional action was needed. Fledglings are not always the most agile in flight and/or landing at first, something that is learnt over time. One can only assume that it crash-landed somewhere causing itself an injury. But one thing is for sure, it’s now a much better flier!

During these catch-ups we also quickly put the temporary, coloured plastic, rings on the chicks. We only have a short window of opportunity to see exactly which chick belongs to which pair of adults. After only a fairly short time, the chicks start to feed themselves, beg from their parents less and join groups of other juveniles. Groups who take great delight in begging from any passing adults (adults who aren’t fooled) and confusing the patient observer. As opportunities to catch newly arriving chicks inside the aviary are hard to predict, we do these catch-ups fairly randomly – often with long frustrating periods of watching a chick stare imploringly at their parents through the netting, through an open hatch, field etc and our sitting in the bracken or lying in a spot on a field that the sheep have only recently vacated. With everyone identified and, in a few weeks’ time, more likely to go into the aviary when we want them to, we will ask the licenced ringers from the Channel Islands Ringing Scheme to put permanent, numbered metal rings on.

Hottest day on record since 1894!

Between our catch ups, on Friday 17th June 2022, we had the highest June temperature in Jersey since records began in 1894. The temperatures hit a scorching 33.1 degrees Celsius. It’s not surprising that on this day most of the choughs were seen with their beaks wide open. This is because unlike most mammals; birds lack sweat glands and, therefore, they cool themselves down by keeping their beaks open. This is called ‘gular fluttering’ it is the avian equivalent of panting. Gular fluttering is just one of the few behaviours bird species express to stay cool in those hot weather days. Birds also submerge themselves in water either to swim and/or bathe. Sometimes you’ll catch a chough all wet and puffed up sitting on top of the aviary; this is their way of letting the breeze through their wet feathers to help them stay cool. As much as the choughs distinct jet-black plumage and striking red beak are beautiful; I do not envy them their plumage in that heat!



The Pen Llŷn & Iveragh Chough Count

By Fiach Byrne

Jersey Island’s striking landscape shares many similarities with the Llŷn Peninsula in northwest Wales and the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland. Each of these regions are popular tourist destinations that are heavily influenced by agriculture and their connection to the sea. Their coastal landscapes are also extremely important to many forms of wildlife, not least our favourite corvid, the red-billed chough. The choughs’ iconic call, coupled with their bright red beaks and legs are a staple of the Llŷn and Iveragh Peninsulas. And these birds are clearly held in high regard on Jersey since their reintroduction in 2013.

On the Llŷn and Iveragh Peninsulas, choughs nest within mines, quarries, farm buildings and along cliff faces. A short distance from these nest sites, choughs have access to a mix of foraging habitats such as beach, sand dune, earth banks, coastal and agricultural grasslands, coastal heath and some well-grazed upland sites. Here, choughs can find their favourite food items such as beetles, ants and spiders, as well as the larvae of beetles, butterflies and moths. The importance of Llŷn and Iveragh for choughs is one of the primary reasons why ‘Special Protection Areas’ (SPAs) have been designated on both peninsulas.

The most recent national chough censuses indicated that chough populations across the UK and Ireland are relatively stable, although there were some concerning declines in certain regions. These national surveys are usually conducted every ten years in the UK. However, there was nearly two decades of a gap between Ireland’s 2002/03 national chough census and the most recent census carried out in 2021. Although these censuses provide invaluable insights into the health of national and regional chough populations, more frequent updates would help us determine how our choughs are faring in the years between censuses.With this in mind, the University College Cork-led LIVE Project, in collaboration with the National Trust in Wales and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) organised a cross-border ‘Chough Count’ on the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland and the Llŷn Peninsula in northwest Wales on 12th March 2022. This initiative typifies one of LIVE’s main objectives – the sharing of knowledge and best practice between our two peninsulas.

The Llŷn Peninsula’s second ‘Chough Count’ saw 51 volunteers record 254 choughs as the sun shone in north Wales. Iveragh’s inaugural count saw twenty-six volunteers record 64 choughs in quite challenging weather conditions. By conducting annual counts of Llŷn & Iveragh’s choughs, we can detect trends in these populations in the years between censuses and we can identify important habitats for this protected species. The 2022 chough count also gave our surveyors the opportunity to record some of our other native birds such as skylarks, fulmars, white-tailed sea eagles and a hen harrier in Iveragh, as well as red kites, peregrine falcons and a green woodpecker on Pen Llŷn.

Distribution of records during Pen Llŷn’s second ‘Chough Count’ held on 12th March 2022.

The LIVE Project (ecomuseumlive.eu) has received funding from the European Regional Development Fund through its Ireland Wales cooperation programme. Led by the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences in University College Cork, LIVE works to enable the coastal communities of Llŷn and Iveragh to promote their natural and cultural assets, with the aim of encouraging more sustainable tourism opportunities in these rural regions of Ireland and Wales.

Chough report: May 2022

By Charlotte Dean

Bon voyage to Liz

The sun has set on the Red-billed Chough Project officer’s time here in Jersey with Birds On The Edge and with Durrell. Her absence from Jersey Zoo Bird Department and at the Sorel aviary is undeniable. We can only strive to be as dedicated to the Jersey free-flying choughs as she once was. But despite this saddening farewell; the chough show must go on! Updates on the choughs will continue; and what an exciting month it has been!

Native reptile sightings

While the Island’s starting to heat up with all this fantastic summery weather; there have been many green lizard sightings. Jersey is the only place in the British Isles where green lizards occur naturally and are one of the three species of lizards which are protected under the Conservation Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2021. Green lizards can be seen between spring and summer. Green lizards are sexually dimorphic; meaning, they encompass differences in appearance, shape and/or size between the sexes, they are easily distinguishable: the male green lizard (as seen in the image) is bright green with a bright blue throat but is also larger than the female. In contrast, the female lizard is smaller, less vibrant and has creamy and/or brown lines running down the body. So, now that we’re in May, it is the perfect time to keep your eyes peeled when walking in and around any of the Island’s coastal paths. If you happen to spot a green lizard or the other lizards native to Jersey; Jersey Amphibian and Reptile Group (JARG) and Jersey Biodiversity Centre (JBC) would love to know, so make sure you send your sighting details to them as it will help with the protection and monitoring of the reptile species on the Island.

Butterfly season

If reptiles aren’t your ‘cup of tea’ then not to worry, the summer also brings out our beautiful butterflies. Between the months of April and September you’ll find butterflies are very abundant across the whole of the countryside. We’ve already come across some dedicated volunteers conducting butterfly surveys for Jersey Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (JBMS) along the coastal path from Sorel Point carpark. Butterflies are used as great environmental indicators; this is because they live in specific habitats and can indicate the general health of the land by their presence or absence. As Butterflies are generally a widely abundant terrestrial insect that are often admired for their large size and distinct appearances; they are the ideal insect for surveying. In and around Sorel we’ve seen butterflies such as: speckled wood, small heath and small copper. All three of these butterflies’ ideal habitat is semi-natural heaths and agricultural environments; indicating that the area around the Sorel aviary is relatively adequate land for foraging habitat for our red-billed choughs.

Moulting time for non-breeders

But, enough about the Island’s non-chough native wildlife, what about the birds themselves?! It’s that time of year again when the non-breeding choughs start to moult – this is becoming readily apparent by all the feathers we can now collect from the Sorel aviary and by the less than perfect looking feathering on some of the non-breeding choughs. Choughs generally start their moult between May and/or early June. They start moulting their central tail feathers first working outwards. They then start moulting and growing their wing feathers, the primaries, around the same time as their tail; but complete their tail moult first. The moulting process for an adult chough can take up to 152 days.Monday, 9th May

On 9th May, Jersey celebrates Liberation Day and Jersey puts on quite a show with flags at many houses and businesses as well a spectacular parade. But Jersey Zoo had another cause of celebration, the bird flu restrictions were finally dropped by the Government. Therefore, Jersey Zoo was given the green light to move any of birds temporarily sheltered back out into their original enclosures; enabling the public to enjoy some missing birds from the collection. It was good to see all the Chilean flamingos and red-breasted geese back in their valley. But this brought the chough project good news too; as it meant the arranged Ronez Quarry visit could go forward and this year’s hatched chicks could potentially be ringed!

Ronez Quarry visit

Jerseys free-flying choughs have had another productive nesting season. There are eleven breeding pairs in the group this year and with help from Ronez Quarry we discovered twelve nests in the quarry buildings. Unfortunately, from the twelve nests there were only hungry chick vocalizations from seven out of the twelve nests. But worry not! Some of the other breeding pairs have settled in other locations around Jersey. These seven nests are owned by the known breeding pairs that have been presumed incubating (absentees at supplementary feeds can be a give-away). Choughs are well-known for being faithful when it comes to their nest sites; but it’s always worth a check of the new nests. None of the new nests found by quarry personnel this year were being used by our breeding pairs. This could indicate that some of the younger choughs are practicing for when they start nesting in the near future! Once the incubation period is over, the female will still spend the majority of her time on the nest but as the chicks get older and/or gain vital feathering she spends less time sat on the nest; allowing us to see both the female and male take alternate feeding trips to the aviary. A good indication that the chough chicks will be of good size is the appearance of the female within the breeding pair also leaving the nest to forage, or in our case, visit the aviary for the supplementary feed. As we’ve been seeing both sexes of each breeding pair of late and have estimated all the breeding pairs’ end of incubation dates, we knew that most would have chicks old enough to ring around the end of May.

With help of loaned equipment provided by 4Hire, Ronez’s Assistant Operations Manager, Toby and Durrell Chough Intern, Charlotte were able to reach great heights and see into five of the seven nests in the quarry. Two of these nests were inaccessible due to high winds and/or the position of nests in buildings. But worry not, when visiting the quarry, we could clearly hear hungry chicks from all seven active nests!

The first nest we checked was Lee & Caûvette’s. They had three chicks, no older than nine days old! This meant they were not old enough to be ringed, but at least we knew that this breeding pair has been successful in hatching three chicks this year. The second nest we visited was Trevor & Noirmont’s which only had one chick inside, but it was old enough to be removed from the nest to be health-checked and become the first chick to be given temporary rings this year. This chick was ringed with this year’s ringing colour; dark green and will be identified as ‘white over dark green’ and/or Manitou (named after the cherry-picker which gave us access to the nest).

Our third nest site to visit was going to be Percy & Icho’s nest; however, high winds picked up and both the quarry staff and Durrell staff knew it was going to be too dangerous for us and the chicks to attempt to visit their nest box. It was clear though that the breeding pair were visiting this nest and there were definite sounds of hungry chicks coming from inside; the big question will be how many will we greet around their fledging date! The fourth nest we looked at was Kevin & Wally’s. We had previously been sent a photo of this nest from Toby – in this picture, we thought there were only two chicks but while at the quarry we got a lovely surprise from the video we took of inside the nest. There were definitely three of the oldest chicks we’d seen in a nest around the quarry so far! Due to the nest being out of sight; we did not attempt to ring these chicks for their own safety – but we hope to see them all at the start of June at Sorel aviary!

The fifth nest visited, that of Green & Pyrrho, was accessed with the stair lift; they had three chicks which were also old enough to ring. However, again, due to the positioning of the nest and the supporting beams of the building, we could not get up high enough to reach into their nest box – and again, the chicks were left alone. The sixth nest visited was Bo & Flieur’s, in a very noisy and dusty building; surprising how the adults and/or chicks survive inside it! There was no way of accessing this nest but we could hear some very noisy chicks indicating their reproductive success. We may not know how many chicks are in this nest; but we know to expect some to arrive in the coming month. The seventh and final nest we visited was Dusty & Chickay’s. They have four hungry chicks in their nest but because of their placement in the building, this nest was inaccessible to cherry-pickers and stair lift equipment. It’s almost as if the choughs build their nests so that no one can access them!As much as our visit didn’t go completely to plan, thanks to mother nature and the breeding pairs’ chicks’ ability to latch onto their nests making us unable to remove them to ring them before they fledge’ it’s clear that this year our choughs have been very productive; most if not all have had three or more chicks. We currently know of 14 chicks in the quarry; but let’s not forget that we still have an unknown number of chicks from two other breeding pairs! Going from our breeding population’s clutch sizes in the past (our choughs usually lay up to four eggs), there could be at least three or four chicks in each of the other two nests that were inaccessible. Which could bring this year’s hatched chick count to 22!! This may be wishful thinking, but it’s always good to expect the unexpected!

Nest

Nest location

Pair

Chicks

1

Ronez Quarry

Lee & Cauvette

Three chicks

2

Ronez Quarry

Trevor & Noirmont

One chick

3

Ronez Quarry

Percy & Icho

Noisy chicks but no visual

4

Ronez Quarry

Kevin & Wally

Three chicks

5

Ronez Quarry

Green & Pyrrho

Three chicks

6

Ronez Quarry

Bo & Flieur

Noisy chicks but no visuals

7

Ronez Quarry

Dusty & Chickay

Four chicks

8

Ronez Quarry

Red & Dingle

No sign of nesting this year

9

Ronez Quarry

Nest built but unused

None

10

Ronez Quarry

Nest built but unused

None

11

Ronez Quarry

Nest half built and unused

None

12

Ronez Quarry

Unused nesting site this year

None

13

Plémont

Minty & Rey

Three chicks

14

Trinity

Vicq & Pinel

None

15

Corbière

Danny & Jaune

Unknown

Chough report: April 2022

By Liz Corry

Success at Plémont!

For a second year in a row the chough pair at Plémont have successfully hatched three chicks. We discovered the happy news at the end of the month. Using a very, very, very, long lens we were able to get photos of the chicks’ heads whilst begging for food.

It is hard to give a precise age without seeing the rest of their body, but best guess is a week-old give or take a day. This would also match up with nest observations we made over April; our estimated hatch date was the 22nd.  Returning the following week further confirmed our age estimate as their little heads were still relatively bald.

Both Plémont parents are now out and about in search of food for their young. Concerns were raised when we started seeing both parents at the Sorel supplemental feed desperate for food. Choughs nesting at Plémont do not normally return to Sorel until their chicks fledge or the nest fails. This was the first time in five years. Chough chicks devour a lot of insects whilst in the nest, so chough parents tend to forage close-by to conserve their energy.

Petit Plémont and grassland above the cliff path are used by choughs searching for food. Photo by Liz Corry.

There has been a big increase in footfall at Plémont this month which could deter the choughs from foraging close-by. It has also been relatively dry so the soils around Plémont are not as favourable to soil-dwelling invertebrates. There are many other reasons why the parents might be visiting Sorel, the good news is that the chicks are still alive and begging well.

All being well the chicks should fledge at the end of May, start of June. We will be monitoring more closely this year around the fledging period. Last year we knew that two of the three chicks fledged, but don’t know what happened to the third. Then one disappeared within the first week of being out. If that happens again this year, it would be good to try and understand why.

Potential success at Ronez once again

We believe at least five of the eight nests in the quarry have chicks. This is based on behaviour of the pairs at the feeds and in the quarry. The females had been suspiciously absent. Then when they did turn up, they were very noisy. Pyrrho and Icho in particular would fly in vocalising, then follow their partner like a noisy shadow demanding food and being fed instantly. It’s quite an interesting sound they make trying to beg and swallow the food at the same time!

Ronez Quarry continues to be a successful breeding site for choughs in Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.

At the end of the month, we were then seeing the male and female in a pair making repeat trips between aviary and nest site. This tends to be when they are feeding chicks although we have no definitive proof yet. We are trying to arrange a quarry visit for May.

Zoo chicks

Our Jersey Zoo pair also had success this month with their first chick hatching on the 28th followed by number two the next day and number three shortly after.

Nest cam footage showed the moment the first chick hatched whilst mum looked on. Photo credit Durrell.

There was a fourth egg…spoiler alert…it failed to hatch. The nest camera shows the parents still holding out hope until May 2nd. Mum took the executive decision to remove the egg from the nest around lunchtime. You can see this in the video below around 40 seconds in.

We may send the chicks over to the UK shortly after they fledge so they can become part of the release project in Kent. This is very much dependent on the Jersey and UK Government’s rulings over exports and imports of birds from a bird flu protection zone. Restrictions for indoor housing of poultry will be lifted in Jersey on May 9th.

No success in the new territories

The Trinity pair appear to have abandoned their nest and are spending more time at Sorel. They still visit the stables but the nest is now being used by doves. We had hoped that the choughs had found a more favourable site in the Parish yet their casual behaviour at the aviary suggests they’ve given up.

An article will be published in the summer edition of the Trinity Tattler magazine asking residents to report any sightings. This might shed some retrospective light on the situation. I’m not holding out hope that there will be a surprise nest discovered.

In similar circumstances, we are now seeing the ‘Corbière pair’ back at Sorel. Their suspected nest was last seen being used by pigeons. We are used to seeing choughs fail at establishing territories in the south west. Food supply, or lack thereof, may play a role in this. The cliff tops are choked with invasive sour fig (or Hottentot fig) (Carpobrotus edulis) and the exposed ground isn’t very accommodating to soil invertebrates.

Cliffs around Corbière could offer potential nest sites for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sour fig (Hottentot fig) might look pretty when flowering, but its choking Jersey’s cliff tops in the south west. Photo by Liz Corry.

Return visit to Guernsey

We have seen another report of chough posted on the Guernsey Birdwatching Facebook group. Dated 16th April, it is clear that the bird is one of ours from the red and white striped ring, but that is all we know unfortunately. They were foraging at Pleinmont again. Clearly a popular site.

A chough was spotted at Pleinmont, Guernsey this month. Photo by Chris Wilkinson/Facebook

It just so happens that Portelet and Archirondel were missing from the Sorel feed that day. Coincidence? This is very exciting news if they have made a second round trip between islands to forage.

Sark and Guernsey can be seen on the horizon from Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Aviary maintenance

Boring but necessary aviary stuff. April has brought sea fog, hail, downpours of rain, but mainly sunny days perfect for grass growing which means we do lots of grass mowing; weekly almost daily depending on how much time we have spare and how long the strimmer battery lasts.

Keeping the grass short inside the aviary has multiple benefits. Photo by Liz Corry.

The holes in the netting we had repaired earlier in the year have reopened with extra wear and tear. Nothing to do with rodents just weathering and strain on the netting. We need to get the henchman ladder back up to Sorel to carry out the repairs.

We have replaced a couple of rotting hatches, rusted door bolts, replaced food stands and repaired benches for accessing hatches.

Holes have reappeared in the netting along the central pole. Photo by Liz Corry.

Random fact

Park House Thai restaurant in St. Helier, Jersey, appear to feature red-billed choughs in their interior décor…

Unexpected restaurant décor in Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.

And finally

This will be my last chough report for Birds On The Edge and Durrell.  I’ve been with Durrell for eighteen years and worked with the choughs since they arrived in the Zoo in 2010. It was a hard decision to make as I’m leaving both my job and the island I’ve called home for the last sixteen years.

I’m not quite leaving the choughs though as I will be taking up a new role as chough release supervisor in Kent for The Wildwood Trust. No doubt I will keep popping up from time to time on Birds On The Edge or at the Inter-Island Environment meetings. Like Where’s Wally minus the red and white striped top.

I’m extremely proud of what the team has achieved over the years, and I often forget letting the day to day stresses of running the project take over. Plémont is the perfect place to remind me. When I first visited the bay in 2006, I didn’t know the Channel Islands were once home to choughs. Eight years later I remember visiting Plémont café with friends and musing over the idea of one day seeing the then recently released choughs utilise the cliff tops and caves. And now, well why don’t you find out for yourself. Head to the café (I recommend the waffles), sit outside, soak up the rays, and listen… 

 

Chough report: March 2022

By Liz Corry

Archirondel went on a ‘girls’ trip’ to Guernsey at the end of March. Photo by Chris Wilkinson/Facebook.

Channel Island Choughs 

The dream finally became a reality this month when two Jersey choughs were photographed in Guernsey. We first discovered the birds had left the island through a post on social media. A post on Guernsey Birdwatching’s Facebook page showed a selection of images and video from a very excited birdwatcher. The images clearly showed the leg rings enabling us to identify Archirondel and Portelet as the two tourists. These are two young, non-breeding females and as such have the freedom to explore.

The last time we recorded  Archie and Portelet at the supplemental feed was on 22nd March. After some frantic armchair detective work we discovered that they visited Sark too on 23rd March and were then next seen on the 25th in Guernsey. 

The report from Sark is a wonderful description of what it’s like when you spot a chough in flight for the first time:

“I went out to do the mowing at 3.30 pm and thought I heard a jackdaw which we do not usually see in Sark. I looked up and saw a black bird disappearing over towards Derrible Bay (fingers on wings were visible) but it was only a fleeting sighting. A bit later at 4.45 pm when I had finished the mowing I heard the call again and two choughs flew right above me and I realised that it wasn’t a jackdaw but a chough’s call. The red bill of one could be clearly seen but because of the shaded light I could not see whether rings were present on the legs. An altogether more slender bird than the crow and smaller. They turned right and flew down the meadow as if heading off east towards the harbour in a tumbling flight and then veered abruptly and flew off towards the north but heading back towards the east coast.” 

A Jersey chough flying high in Guernsey. Photo by Dan Scott/Facebook.

The pair stayed in Guernsey over the weekend foraging around Pleinmont near Portelet Bay! Portelet, the chough, returned to Jersey along with Archirondel on Monday the 28th. Quite literally a girls weekend away in the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

Image from Google Earth.

We envisaged this could happen when we first planned the reintroduction. It’s not unheard of for UK choughs to spend time foraging on both mainland and a nearby offshore island. This trip might have been a one off, equally it could be the start of a new foraging pattern for Jersey’s choughs. 

There is certainly suitable foraging habitat on offer in Guernsey. Pleinmont looks very similar to Les Landes and Grosnez in many respects, but it is too soon to talk breeding opportunities. We need more males for that to happen. No pressure on the breeding pairs then!

Pleinmont in Guernsey appears to provide suitable foraging habitat for choughs. Image from Google Earth.

The 2022 breeding season is underway

March madness came into full force when the breeding choughs began nest building, or nest refreshing for the experienced pairs. Ex-volunteer, Neil Singleton and his wife Ali were treated to an impressive display of ‘flying wool’ when they visited Sorel towards the end of the month. Timed well with the return of the sheep.

Choughs collecting wool for their nests at Sorel. Photo by Neil Singleton

I suspect these birds were heading to the quarry although the Plémont pair could have been involved too. They tend to stay local and collect horse hair or wool for Grosnez to Grève de Lecq. It might look like easy cargo, but I have seen a fair few accidentally drop their wool between Sorel and the quarry. Usually when they get distracted by a peregrine or gull or keeper walking below carrying insects!

Blurry but the intentions are clear. Photo by Neil Singleton.

Plémont sea crows return

Minty and Rey have returned to Plémont to refresh last year’s nest before Rey begins egg laying. The sea crows (to use an old Greek nickname) can often be heard foraging around Plémont headland and seen flying to and fro in search of food. During the nesting season, French choughs are known to spend most of their time within 300 metres of the nest site. If the habitat is suitable, i.e. lots of soil and/or dung invertebrates, the chough pair will be successful.

Minty can afford to spend some time chilling out right now. Once Rey starts incubating, he has the responsibility of finding food for the both of them. Maybe that is why he was happy to do a bit of sunbathing down at Plémont.

Minty taking time out from nest building to sunbathe. Photo by Charlotte Dean.

The Troublesome Trinity Two

Pinel has returned to Trinity taking his new female, Vicq, with him. They have been visiting the same places as last year such as Peacock Farm and East Ridings Stables. They appear to have chosen to nest in the same building he used the year before with his previous partner. Maybe he sees the potential in the property to become a family home?

Last year the pair abandoned early and weeks later the female disappeared. Hopefully he will have more success this time with Vicq who hatched three chicks in 2021. Sadly, the chicks died before fledging but it shows she can do it.

We are working with the property owner to monitor the situation and see if we need to assist in any way. The owner is very wildlife-friendly which is a big bonus and we have set up a camera-trap in the building, swapping out memory cards on a weekly basis. 

Playing in the sand pits

Another chough pair we are keeping an eye on are Danny and Jaune. We had reports of choughs in Simon Sand and Gravel Ltd. down on the west coast. Choughs have also been seen around Corbière this month so the assumption is that they are looking for a suitable nest site but since they are still sub-adults it is doubtful that they will breed this year.

 

Chough report: February 2022

By Liz Corry

Jersey’s annual Great Garden Bird Watch returned some interesting results this year. Held on 5th and 6th February, Islanders were asked to spend an hour in their garden and list all the birds they could see.

For the first time in its twenty-one year history, choughs were recorded. Not only that, they were spotted on a bird feeder filled with peanuts, sunflower hearts,  maize, pinhead oatmeal and millet.

A pair of choughs demonstrating how resourceful corvids can be. Photo by Robert Graiger.

After digging a little deeper, we discovered that some of the choughs have been visiting this garden since 2020. The photos submitted identified breeding pair Trevor and Noirmont, prior to that, we know a young female has also visited with the pair.

Whilst surprising, it is not unheard of for wild choughs to use bird feeders. There are a few of reports from Cornwall and Wales of chough opportunistically feeding from garden bird feeders. In each case including Jersey, the gardens are not your typical urban estate fenced-in garden. Trevor and Noir have been visiting property at Grantez which surrounded by grazed land (sheep, horses, and donkeys). From Grantez’s vantage point, you can see the entire west coast from L’Étacq to Corbière, both areas favoured by choughs.

Donkey-grazed grassland is not your typical garden view. Photo by Liz Corry.

The interesting information from this report is the type of food they are eating. Pinhead oatmeal forms part of the supplementary diet provided to Scottish choughs in Islay. Its not considered as typical wild chough diet, but does suggests there is something in the mix that the birds are looking for. We are hoping to carry out research into diet preferences in the near future. This exciting discovery is certainly food for thought.

Sorry.

Foraging further afield

As mentioned above, the choughs have been visiting Grantez. In addition to the garden report, the National Trust Rangers have seen choughs foraging near the dolmen on Grantez headland. 

Choughs are also visiting Corbière, Les Mielles dunes, and potentially back at Crabbé where a pair roosted in 2020. The gun range, sheep-grazing, and now goat-grazing, provide great habitat for choughs to find food. Farm structures and cliff faces offer ample nesting opportunity for a pair looking to setup a new territory. 

Someone looks very warm out at Crabbé on a cold February morning. Photo by Liz Corry.

We are also keeping our eyes peeled around Trinity again. There is a good chance Pinel might try to set up a territory again this time with his new female. The roost site used in 2021 is surrounded by horse paddocks which provide foraging opportunities and nesting material – choughs sometimes use horse hair!

Choughs have been visiting the dolmen at Grantez. Photo by Liz Corry.

Catch-ups with the choughs

We finally managed to trap the elusive Bo and Flieur in the aviary to replace their leg rings. I say elusive, but I could equally use stubborn/clever/annoying/uncooperative… This is the pair who always fly to the aviary with the others yet refuse to go inside when they know we are trying to catch choughs. Bo in particular keeps both eyes firmly fixed on staff. Flieur might break once in a while and tempt fate, but flees at the first inclination that the hatches might be about to close.

I struck lucky on Monday 7th when all thirty choughs turned up for the feed all showing signs they were hungry. Typically had to be the day I was working alone although maybe that is why Bo’s guard was down.

I replaced Bo’s missing plastic ring and swapped Flieur’s faded pale grey for something more obvious. It felt wrong. No one likes change. Flieur has been grey since she arrived at Sorel. Grey is her identity.

It’s also a really stupid colour to use in the wild in a climate where grey skies prevail. So out with the grey in with the mauve.

Flieur’s new mauve leg ring sets her apart from the other 2014 (blue) hatched birds. Photo by Liz Corry.

Storm damage at Sorel

The Island has seen its fair share of storms this year. February’s Storm Eunice and Franklin delivering devilishly strong winds (55-63 mph or 89-102 km/h). Yet somehow the aviary miraculously remains standing. 

Choughs arriving for the supplemental food. Photo by Liz Corry.

The winds did create new rips in the netting and annoyingly re-opened ones we had sealed last month. Another trip to Sorel with the Henchmen ladder is in the pipeline. We have budgeted for new netting to be fitted later in the year. Hopefully the current net will hold out until then.

What didn’t remain standing was the Birds On The Edge sign at Sorel car park. Cue a phone call on my morning off followed by a spot of coastal ‘carpentry’. I couldn’t unscrew the sign from the posts to fit it in the car so the logical solution…saw off the posts! In my defence, they were rotten at the base, and we reused the wood at the aviary. The sign and fencing will be replaced by the Countryside Rangers in the near future.

It was like that when I got there your honour! Photo by Liz Corry.

Grazing returns to Sorel

Very pleased to see the return of the Manx loaghtans to Sorel this month. Perfect timing for the choughs who will soon need wool to line their nests.

The sheep have returned to graze Sorel and Devil’s Hole. Photo by Liz Corry.

It also means we should hopefully see the return of dung invertebrates (aka chough food) who depend on the sheep faeces. Not sure which made me more excited, the choughs foraging in amongst the sheep or the return of mating dung flies. If you haven’t already, please checkout our article about Dung Beetles for Farmers

A pair of yellow dung fly making the most of the fresh dung. Photo by Liz Corry.

Avian influenzas confirmed in Jersey

Two wild buzzards have tested positive for avian influenza: the first confirmed cases in Jersey. This was followed shortly by the death of a red-breasted goose in the Zoo who also tested positive for the strain H5N1. 

Choughs are considered to be at low risk of infection, and we do not foresee any major changes in how we manage the supplementary feeds. To reduce the chance of transmission between field sites and the Zoo, we have set up a disinfectant foot bath at the aviary with dedicated footwear. We continue to maintain high hygiene standards at the aviary and have separate footwear for in the Zoo and out in the field.

We will of course monitor the situation and consult with the States Vet if any changes occur.

Dung Beetles for farmers

By Liz Corry

Mention ‘dung beetle’ to most people and the first thing they picture is a giant ball of dung being rolled around by a seemingly impractical sized beetle. Yet those minuscule muck movers are just the tip of the dung pile. Literally!

There are over 7,000 species of dung beetle (Scarabaeidae) worldwide, 43 of which are native to Jersey. Some roll, some tunnel, others live amongst the faeces. Its all to do with how their life-cycle has evolved and how, in turn, they give back to the natural world. And we don’t just mean as food for choughs!

A dung beetle in South Africa. Photo by Travel Local.

Another feature often overlooked is the dung beetle’s ability to fly.  They can disperse long distances and fly at speeds of 18 miles per hour (which means they could be breaking the law along Jersey’s green lanes!). They have evolved to be either day-time flyers or night-time flyers which in turn means they can be a great food source for birds as well as bats.

Some favour sheep or cattle dung, some have a penchant for deer droppings. The point is they are diverse and in turn require a diverse ecosystem to thrive.

Having a diverse range of ‘faeces farmers’ in an ecosystem provides enormous benefits including reduced greenhouse emissions, reduced parasite levels in pastures, increased soil organic matter, and reduced farming costs.

Dung beetles can be surprisingly colourful. Photo: Dung Beetles for Farmers

Sadly, 52% of the UK’s dung beetles are classed as under threat and it’s largely down to how we humans use (and abuse) the environment. The good news is that we can make a difference and for farmers, it can end up pocketing them a bit of money in the process.

At the recent Oxford Real Farming Conference, dairy farmer Bruce Thompson gave a talk about his beetle-friendly livestock management and how he is seeing tangible benefits. Since 2017, he has been researching and implementing alternative methods to using anthelmintics, drugs used to rid cattle of parasites, the use of which has been found to have detrimental impacts on dung invertebrates and the animals which rely on them such as red-billed choughs.

Bruce Thompson with his beetle-friendly dairy herd. Photo: Irish Dairy Farmer Magazine 2019

Bruce’s hard work has paid off. Literally. The cost of using traditional methods on his herd was an eye-watering €3,857. Bruce’s beetle friendly approach cost €859 and most importantly the dairy herd is performing equally well.

Bruce is a member of Dung Beetles for Farmers along with Sally-Ann Spence, entomologist research fellow and friend of Birds On The Edge. Sally-Ann (see here) and her colleagues from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History visited Jersey in 2015 to survey for beetles and assist the Société with specimen ID.

Bruce’s talk, along with others from Dung Beetles for Farmers, is available on YouTube and linked below. I urge you to watch it as it is very engaging, you will learn a lot, and you may even come away with a newfound passion for dung!

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