Chough report: November 2018

Chough monitoring can be really easy some days. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

November was a quiet month for the choughs. Correction, November was a quiet month for staff at Sorel. For all we know the choughs have been having wild parties, hanging out in camper vans down at St Ouen, and wading in on the Brexit debate.

This is the time of year the birds allow me have a break, so I took the opportunity to use up holiday allowance. Staff still visited Sorel to provide the supplemental food in the afternoons. Other than that monitoring and management was kept to a minimum.

Thanks to global warming, Jersey has had a relatively warm autumn. Entering the latter half of November, ‘normal’ service resumed with frosty nights and gale force winds. Roosting time crept forward with the sun setting before 4.30pm.

Flying to roost. Photo for Liz Corry

These combined conditions meant that we were seeing more choughs at the supplemental feed in need of those extra calories: 44 out of 46 choughs on one day. Then again, we would still have days when just 2 or 8 showed up.

The only noteworthy news has been confirmation from Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd that Mary and Bo have started roosting onsite again. They have been joined by two others: we don’t know their identity, but suspect it is the other pair seen foraging around Corbière. Mary and Bo are still visiting Sorel for the feed as they did at the start of the breeding season. Making a round trip of 14km for supper suggests that they are not finding enough food down in the south of the Island.

And that’s it. Nothing else to report.

Unless you want me to write about the Rewilding conference I attended whilst on holiday? Leave a comment if you do; see if we bow to public pressure.

Chough report: October 2018

A pair of choughs have been foraging at this site in Corbière (can you spot them?) Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

The choughs continued their travels around the Island this October with reports from Corbière, Noirmont and Wolf’s Lair.

Corbière lighthouse. Photo by Liz Corry.

Bo and Mary returned to Corbière this month. Photo by Liz Corry.

There have been several reports from La Pulente, the south end of St Ouen’s Bay. However, this may be a case of misidentification. This end of the bay often attracts large numbers of crows due to the rich pickings available at low tide. In amongst those are another corvid relative, the jackdaw. See our guide to corvid identification here

As the tide goes out at La Pulente the birds come in to feed. Photo by Liz Corry.

Jackdaws have a distinctly different call to crows. They are not as prolific in Jersey as they are in the UK. Understandably, if you are not used to hearing the calls of jackdaws and choughs together you could easily misidentify the two species. Of course there is one obvious way of telling the difference; one has a red bill, the other doesn’t. Not easy to spot when driving – most of the reports came from birders in cars.

Jackdaw calls are often misidentified as chough calls by Jersey residents. Photo by Liz Corry.

The difficult thing with all this is that birds can travel around the coast of Jersey much faster than humans. The birders out recording autumn migration numbers will attest to that. It is quite feasible that choughs were at Pulente, but nipped round the corner to Corbière before I had chance to follow-up the report.

View of La Pulente at the south end of St Ouen’s Bay (bottom left) and Corbière on the southwest corner of Jersey. Image from Google Earth.

End of British Summer Time…and the choughs’ travel plans?

When the clocks changed at the end of October so too did the attendance record at the aviary. We are now seeing more choughs at the supplemental feed. Forty-one being the highest on the eve of the clocks going back. That included Earl and Xaviour who have been living out at Plémont all year.

The increase in numbers is likely due to the cold snap and the reduction in wild food resources. Leatherjackets, a chough favourite, emerged as cranefly and spread their own wings removing themselves from the menu. The choughs reliance on the free food at the aviary will likely increase as we go into winter.

A leatherjacket casing in a coastal garden. Photo by Liz Corry.

The choughs appear to be spending more time foraging around Devil’s Hole and Mourier Valley. At least when the whistle blows for food at 3pm, the majority of the choughs fly in from that direction. They could be fooling us. Probably all are at La Pulente until 2.50pm!

Replacing lost rings

The return of certain choughs to the supplemental feed has made it easier to see who has lost which rings. A catch-up of birds on 28th October attempted to correct this. It took a while to trap the birds in the aviary; the hatches had seized up again despite a check the day before.

It was also a lot harder now there are so many. We managed to lock in about two-thirds of the group and went about the process of hand-netting individuals to check rings.

Bird Keeper Bea Detnon and a very compliant Mauve waiting in line for new leg rings. Photo by Hannah Clarke.

There are several birds we knew needed rings such as Green who had lost all but his original metal ring. Then there were others like Mauve who, on closer inspection, had broken rings creating sharp, hazardous, edges.

All the birds we caught in the nets were weighed and checked over prior to release. There were twelve who got locked in the aviary that we didn’t need.

In amongst this last group was Xaviour who has been missing her orange rings since the start of summer. Unfortunately, she evaded capture. Clearly living out at Plémont has improved her flying skills in close quarters. Since we had already spent an hour catching and processing everyone we called it a day to avoid excessive stress on the group.

Five others still require ring replacements. Weather permitting; we can do that in November.

Feeding stations

A new design of feeder to ensure the choughs get food and nothing else does. Photo by Liz Corry.

Work on the new and improved magpie-proof feeders continues. A quick trip home to see family turned into a research and development trip for the choughs. B&M Bargains, Hobbycraft, Aldi, Lidl….ah the joys of mainland shopping…all threw up some new ideas.

The latest and most successful is a rather unusual choice – flower urns. With slight modification to the container depth, they make the perfect magpie-proof feeder. At the cost of £5.99 for two, salvaged wood and paint (hence the colour choice), they are relatively cheap and easy to make.

To end on a non-bird related note…

At the start of October, the waters around Sorel were graced with the presence of bottle-nosed dolphins. Clearly visible from the cliffpath, the small pod followed alongside a Jersey Seafaris rib as passengers toured the north coast. I tried to capture an image of both choughs and dolphins, but, let’s face it, with my long lens focused on the dolphins; the choughs never stood a chance.

Jersey Seafaris tour joined by bottle-nosed dolphins at Sorel Point. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

Chough report: September 2018

By Liz Corry

Time for a holiday

With the breeding season behind them for another year the choughs decided it was time for some well-earned R&R. In the video below it is obvious to pick out the pairs who, after months of nest attendance and chick feeding, can now focus on themselves.

Handy from the observers point of view as confirmation of old and new pairings was achievable. Pyrrho, for example, had been involved with a young male (and his sister!) although two seasons of nest-building had got her nowhere. Now she is preening and foraging with Duke. Lets hope she will have more success next year.

Pyrrho evidently has a new ‘man’ in her life -Duke. Photo by Liz Corry.

Having more time on their hands allows them to explore the Island. With the run of good weather making winter still feel like a distant memory, the choughs have been visiting their favourite spots as well as discovering some new ones. Well at least new to our knowledge.

Les Landes is their go to for guaranteed sun, sea, and soil invertebrates. A bounty of leatherjackets and dung beetles has meant that half the group have not bothered to return to Sorel for supplemental feed. We may even have a new roost site or two on the north-west coast.

Crows and choughs foraging together on the sidelines. Photo by Liz Corry.

Les Landes Racecourse gets 5 stars from the choughs on Trip Advisor. Photo by Liz Corry.

A record number of 31 choughs were spotted this month at Les Landes (please let us know if you think you have seen more). On the ground they are difficult to count when mixed in with crows. Once in the air they can reach heights the crows can’t, or at least can’t be bothered to. There are not many places in the British Isles where you can see 31 choughs circling on the thermals.

Choughs rising high on the thermals above Les Landes. Trust the red arrow or enlarge the photo and look for black dots. Photo by Liz Corry.

Two were at Petit Plémont at the same time as the Les Landes group leaving 13 unaccounted for. Confirmation of all 46 choughs alive and well has not been possible this month. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It marks a turning point in the project. The birds are finding new areas to forage, possibly new territories. Supplemental food is, at present time, not essential for every individual. The crucial thing is that it is there waiting at Sorel in case they need it.

View of Petit Plémont headland from Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.

Improving supplemental feeding methods

The choughs have been trying out different designs of food-hoppers over the past month. Up until now we have used either traditional ceramic dishes or guttering (yes guttering) to hold the supplemental feed. Whilst the latter was an improvement, in terms of reducing competition between the choughs, it still had drawbacks.

A new design is needed to address the ‘3 R’s of Sorel’: rain, rodents, and ruddy magpies. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against magpies per se. The problem is that they need to understand the concept of sharing equally.

Taking advantage of a choughs’ slender bill to design a magpie proof feeder. Photo by Liz Corry.

We can take advantage of the choughs’ slender bill to get around the magpie problem.

Holes of varying sizes were drilled into boxes filled with pellet and mealworms then filmed to see which were used by the choughs.

The design also needs to account for the length of the bill. Optimal sward height for foraging choughs is 5cm. The feeders need to be slightly less than this.

Understandably the larger holes are favoured as they allow quick easy access. They can use the smaller holes evident by the empty boxes the next day. The magpies can’t. Images of perplexed magpies were caught on camera.

Camera trap images have shown the magpie-proof designs working so far. Photo taken on Apeman camera trap.

To date we have no images or videos of rodents trying their luck. If they do have a go there are simple solutions to stop them.

Placing feeders off the ground using materials they cannot grip prevents rodents from climbing onto the boxes. Plumbing pipes come in handy for that sort of thing…and gives a shopper in a DIY store a whole new perspective on things. 

Prototype chough feeder raised off the ground to stop rodent access. Photo by Liz Corry.

A timed-release hopper would be advantageous from a staffing point of view; it wouldn’t require someone going up every day of the year.

An automated pet feeder was a hit with the choughs…and magpies! Photo by Liz Corry.

The choughs took to a model of cat feeder straight away. Camera trap footage shows them waiting around for the lids to open. It also shows them  going back at dawn to check in case it magically refilled overnight.

A combination of the above designs would be most efficient. Especially one that could cope with the coastal weather. Oh and barn owls….

Inter-Island Environment Meeting

The Inter-Island Environment Meeting (IIEM) was held in Jersey this year. The two-day event took place at Crabbé on the 20th and 21st with optional field trips around the north coast.

A field trip to Sorel on the Thursday afternoon allowed the delegates to see first-hand the work undertaken by Birds On The Edge. Annoyingly most of the choughs were having far too much fun over at Les Landes.

This year’s meeting theme was partnerships and their importance in the success (or failure) of conservation work. A poster was presented showing how stakeholders, such as Ronez Quarry, have played a role in the chough reintroduction.

All the presentations demonstrated just how well effective partnerships can benefit conservation work both on land and sea. With talks about turning the tide on plastic waste, monitoring human disturbance at the Écréhous, and how Guernsey’s gardens are providing a lifeline for pollinators.

There was even a talk on Montserrat by the UK Overseas Territories As someone who has lived and worked in Montserrat it was a nice surprise. It was also nice to see some familiar faces in the video shown by Alderney Wildlife Trust highlighting the benefits of a good volunteer programme. Two of those volunteers were past chough project students!

Poster presentation by Alderney Wildlife Trust. Photo by Liz Corry.

Red-billed choughs in Greece

Glyn Young missed out on the IIEM. Don’t feel sorry for him. He was attending the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) annual conference in Athens. Several of Jersey Zoo’s staff travelled to Attica Zoological Park for the four-day conference. Glyn gave a presentation on the chough reintroduction and the successes to date.

Chough names

Thank you for all those who suggested names for this year’s chicks. Some suggestions have already been used, sadly on birds no longer with us. We have gone with Bumble and Bee for one brother and sister clutch. Nothing to do with a secret love of Transformer toys,rather their black and yellow leg rings. We also liked the suggestion giving recognition to Jersey’s Lily Langtry and have gone with Lily and Lotte (her middle name was Charlotte) for the two unnamed sisters.

Parents Chicks 
Dusty & Chickay Clem (male) Toby (male) Ossy (male)
Kevin & Bean Lily (female) Lotte (female)
Lee & Caûvette Bee (female) Bumble (male)
Q & Flieur Honeydew (female) Beaker (male)

 

What is a “cough”?: A study into childrens’ awareness of Jersey’s chough project

By Catherine Firth

Public awareness is essential if a conservation project is to succeed, particularly with species reintroductions. There was initial concern from the public when the idea of reintroducing choughs to Jersey was mentioned. Crows and magpies, close relatives of choughs, are considered pests by a lot of Islanders and can be controlled under Jersey law in order to protect agricultural produce. Choughs are highly specialised feeders only eating insects you tend to find in soil or animal dung.

A chough eating a dung beetle in Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.

Public understanding and acceptance of choughs was, therefore, needed to ensure success.  In addition, support for the choughs should lead to support for the wider Birds On The Edge project. In turn attracting funding and resources such as public volunteers.

It has now been five years since the first choughs were released into Jersey. We wanted to find out if the Jersey public were aware and what they thought of the species. Two studies were conducted this summer by visiting graduate students; one focused on children, the other on adults.

I focused on children as they are a key demographic group at Jersey Zoo.  By engaging children in conservation education, they can be inspired to make well informed decisions affecting sustainability in the future, and in this case help to protect the red-billed choughs in Jersey.

To conduct the study, I visited eleven of Jersey’s primary schools with a questionnaire for the children to complete before and after an educational presentation on the  choughs and  Birds On The Edge. Being a Nottinghamshire lass, navigating the back roads of Jersey on a rusty borrowed bike was a challenge in itself!  But after a lot of wrong turns and frantic pedalling up and down hills, I manged to interview 16 teachers and 330 children across the Island. Teachers were generally very enthusiastic about including their classes in the study and the children seemed excited to learn about a new mysterious animal.

Reintroduced choughs and sheep in Jersey have been working together to improve the Island’s biodiversity. Photo by Liz Corry.

The results showed that only a very small percentage of the children interviewed were aware of the red-billed choughs in Jersey.  A proportion of the children guessed that it was a bird, but hardly any knew that choughs were living on the same island as them.  In fact, I had a lot of children reading their questionnaire and asking me “what is a cough?” accompanied by some fantastic drawings of what the children believed the choughs to look like including sloths, hedgehogs, monkeys and even a unicorn!  Likewise, most teachers confessed that they did not know about the project.

After the educational presentation, the results showed a huge increase in knowledge and understanding both of the choughs as a species and its history in Jersey. In their post-taught questionnaires, many children mentioned how the choughs became locally extinct, the habitat and resource needs of the choughs and what Birds On The Edge is doing to help. In addition, after the visits, there was some evidence of children sharing their new found knowledge of the red-billed choughs with other parties. This included two boys attending the chough keeper talk at Jersey Zoo, given that day by the Head of Birds, and practically presenting it for him!

There were other cases of children telling their parents and one child even identifying a chough on a family walk in St John!  This is very encouraging news, demonstrating how children can act as a catalyst for change by sharing their knowledge to influence their friends’ and family’s actions which affect conservation matters and help protect the choughs.

Moving forward, it would be fantastic to do more in-school workshops. Only a small percentage of the children in Jersey took part in the study but it showed how children can be massive assets for increasing awareness. It would also be great for teachers to include the choughs in more of their own lessons; a fantastic example of animals and their habitats which is a part of the Year’s 3, 4, 5 and 6 science curriculums.  However,  teachers had concerns about the time available to them to teach their classes about the choughs (particularly Year 6 teachers who face the pressure of SATs). To overcome this, we could provide schools with more resources, for instance red-billed chough reading comprehension resources: infiltrating classes without directly teaching about choughs whilst remaining focussed on the children’s upcoming exams.

As part of my workshops the children created posters to inform the public of Jersey all about the red-billed chough population, all completed posters were entered into a competition and were judged by a member of the Jersey Zoo education team. Grouville Primary School had the winning poster and the class had the opportunity to visit the choughs at Sorel.

The winning poster designed by a group of children at Grouville Primary School. Photo by Catherine Firth.

All entries were fantastic and can be seen here.  A big thank you to all the children who took part and the teachers who sent in all the entries!  Everyone at the Zoo particularly enjoyed this poster from Grouville:

Grouville children are clearly cut out for careers in conservation! Photo by Catherine Firth.

If only conservation were that easy!

Catherine Firth carried out this research for her MSc in Endangered Species Recovery and Conservation at Nottingham Trent University. She is currently working as a Conservation Knowledge intern at Jersey Zoo.

 

Fifth International Red-billed Chough Meeting. Segovia, Spain, 10-11 October, 2019

At the Fourth International Workshop on the Conservation of the Red-billed Chough held in October 2013 in Vila Real (Portugal), it was unanimously expressed that the next workshop should take place in Segovia, Spain. Segovia is not only beautiful but it is also full of choughs amongst the famous buildings. What better place?

Foro GeoBiosfera in collaboration with the National Museum of Natural Sciences of Madrid (CSIC) and with the support of the City Council of Segovia, announces the holding of this next Workshop, inviting all interested parts to participate.

This is the first call of the Workshop. In the near future there will be complete information on aspects of the event including the precise location of the meeting, communications by road, bus, train and plane, places of accommodation, registration fees and scope of services offered. The organisers will also answer questions that the participants may generate.

This Workshop is open to all interested people, professionals and those from public and private institutions alike who are keen on choughs, both red-billed and Alpine (yellow-billed) choughs.

Communications from any part of the world are welcome covering different aspects related to choughs, including:

  • Research and monitoring
  • Conservation
  • Cultural: literature, history, music and exhibitions of painting, photography, crafts.
  • Education and dissemination
  • Protection and legislation.

By Björn S... - Alpine chough - Pyrrhocorax graculus, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40039369

The organisers have developed two committees to oversee the event structure:  an organizing committee from Foro GeoBiosfera and a scientific committee composed of researchers.

Please contact the Organization of the Congress for all information at comunicación@forogeobiosfera.org

We hope that this event will be an outstanding success in the scientific and conservation worlds of these unique bird species.

More details of the Workshop can be found here

Chough report: August 2018

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

By Liz Corry

Zoo choughs

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

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

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

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

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

Wild chicks update

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

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

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

This is great news for the Jersey population because:

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

and

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

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

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

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

Spreading their wings

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

Choughs flying over Plémont headland. Photo by Anne Gray.

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

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

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

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

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

Now you sheep me, now you don’t

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chough report: July 2018

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

By Liz Corry

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

Who’s the daddy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dusty regretting parenthood? Photo by Liz Corry.

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

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

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

Star wars saga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heatwave

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insect shortages

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

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

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

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

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

ReWild the People

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

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

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

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

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

Lights, camera, action

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

Filming the choughs at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

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

Chough report: June 2018

By Liz Corry

Breeding success

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

How naive we were.

Fledged chough chicks reach the aviary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Plémont pair

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

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

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

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

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

Star Wars saga continues

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May the force be with them.

Aviary maintenance

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

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

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

Supplemental feeds

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

Lights, camera, action

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

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

Choughs claim top prize for conservation

By Liz Corry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chough report: May 2018

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By Liz Corry

Spoiler alert! Ronez Quarry found the first hatched egg shell of the year on 23rd May. However, there are so many more things to report about from May that we will leave that golden nugget of information for later.

Spreading their wings

Reports continue to come in from both the south-west and north-west corners of the island. The pair roosting in St Ouen’s Bay repeatedly foraged around Corbière Lighthouse, the desalination plant, and the sand dunes. And they are just the places we know about. I suspect they have taken a cheeky gander at the golf courses that lie to the north and south of their roost.

Choughs foraging by the old radio tower at Corbiere. Photo by Liz Corry.

Mary and Bo searching for found near the lighthouse. Photo by Liz Corry.

Looking at the hard granite around Corbière you would think it slim pickings on the menu for the chough pair. However, if you watch closely they are quite adept at finding tasty morsels. Take a look at this video for example. Not entirely sure what it is they have found, but obviously in high demand.

There is plenty of food on offer closer to the release site. Thanks to a local resident sending in a photo, we found a group of choughs hanging out at a ‘secret’ spot behind Sorel Farm. A horse field currently vacant except for rabbits, pheasant, swooping house martins, and aforementioned choughs. Short pasture, dung, and very little disturbance. Idyllic. For choughs at least.

This is a video of a few in a different horse field by the quarry.

The pair at Plémont are still going strong. They abandoned their nest in a sea cave and relocated to a crevice outside. We have not seen them at Sorel for a very long time. They appear to be finding plenty of food where they are. As the swifts start their summer residency in the same area we could be in for some interesting interactions. It is certainly an impressive sight to see the acrobatic flights of both species together.

Chough exchange

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On 22nd May four choughs from Jersey Zoo were caught up and transported to Paradise Park as part of our animal collection exchange. The birds travelled by boat in the Zoo van driven by our Head of Operations and a senior mammal keeper.

None of the choughs hold a valid license.

Gwinny, one of the four, has been with us at the Zoo since the very beginning. However, she failed to find a partner who shared her chick rearing aspirations. Maybe she will find her Mr Right in Cornwall.

On the return trip the van was loaded up with four different choughs, two Namaqua doves and a Madagascar partridge (pear tree to follow). They travelled on the freight ferry which meant a 4am, repeat 4AM!!, arrival in Jersey – a fog covered Jersey to boot.

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Two new arrivals to a fog bound Jersey at sunrise (not that you can tell). Photo by Liz Corry.

Two of the choughs headed to Sorel where they will spend a month in quarantine acclimatising to life on the coast. We moved Han Solo, Jersey Zoo’s male, to the aviary the day before they arrived.

All three looked to be in good condition. We discovered Han Solo had a new claw growing through suggesting damage at an earlier date. He clearly has not been in any discomfort so no need to treat him.

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A new claw growing out after previous damage resulted in loss of the old claw. Photo by Liz Corry.

The three boys will be housed separately to the free-ranging choughs during quarantine with opportunity to socialise (between ‘bars’) at feed times. In fact the first meeting between the two groups happened within minutes of reaching Sorel. Lots of shouting and displaying from the outside group at first thought to be directed at the newbies. After ten minutes of observations it became apparent they were just after the food locked away inside!

If all goes to plan the two males from Paradise Park and Han Solo from the Zoo will be released at the start of July.

In case any of you were curious as to the names of Han’s new friends…Chewbacca and Skywalker of course.

solo

 Let the judging commence

Capture

Judges visited Jersey’s short-listed contenders for this year’s Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards on May 23rd.

Ronez Quarry nominated our chough project for the work we do in collaboration with them to monitor and protect the wild population.

The quarry has been home to the choughs since the first soft-release back in 2013. This season we had at least eight pairs trying to raise chicks in the quarry.

Winners will be announced on 27th June. There are several awards up grabs with a total prize fund of £3,750. One of the awards is a People’s Choice Award worth £500. Social media voting will begin in June – get clicking!

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Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards judges at Ronez Quarry. 23rd May 2018. Photo by Liz Corry.

If we are fortunate enough to receive any money it would go towards providing an educational experience for school groups visiting the quarry. A chance to learn about natural resources, coastal conservation, and of course the choughs. Any remaining money would go towards covering the costs involved in ringing and DNA sexing chicks (approximately £18 per chick).

Ronez quarry viewpoint image

Ronez Quarry

Wild nest updates

If all goes well then Han Solo and the boys will be joined by several wild-hatched fledglings in July. The day the judges visited the quarry was the same day we discovered the first chicks of 2018 had hatched.

Toby Caberet had found hatched egg shell near one of the known nest sites. Using a handheld endoscope camera we were able to confirm a record number of four chicks in a single nest.

Four recently hatched chough chicks in a nest at the quarry. Photo taken under licence by Toby Caberet.

This is amazing news as this particular pair are first time parents. The chicks are very young. They have a further six weeks before leaving the nest and, as we learnt last year, that still doesn’t guarantee they will make it to Sorel. As long as the parents can find enough insects they stand a good chance.

All the more reason to rejoice in the next bit of news.

(St) Mary had a little lamb, and St John and St Peter…

This month the Manx loaghtan lambs were moved from the farm in St Catherine’s to the grazing site at Sorel. They are now old enough to roam the cliff tops. Still very vulnerable. Bleating can be heard far and wide from ‘lost’ lambs whose mothers are two feet away hidden in the gorse. Please remember to close gates and keep dogs under control. Any mountain bikers, be alert! It might not be a brown rock on the path that you are about to ride over.

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Ewes and their lambs are now out roaming free at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

A new grazing site in St Peter’s Valley has become home to another flock of Manx loaghtan sheep brought in to graze the meadows and hopefully improve biodiversity in the area. You can see them if you visit Quetivel Mill, a National Trust property open every Monday and Tuesday (10am-4pm).

Lambs are now out and about at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

And finally, we couldn’t sign off without including the following picture taken by Mick Dryden at Sorel Point. A rare spring migrant to the Island, a honey-buzzard, flying alongside one of our choughs. I bet that was a sight no one predicted they would see five years ago!

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Honey-buzzard and chough at Sorel Point. Photo by Mick Dryden.