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!

Follow Dung Beetles for Farmers on Facebook Twitter, and Instagram

 

 

Sheep on Les Blanches Banques

Plans to return sheep to the sand dunes of Les Blanches Banques and grazing to revitalise the grasslands

By Tim Liddiard

Les Blanches Banques

The sand dunes of Les Blanches Banques, set in and around St Ouen’s Bay in St Brelade and at the heart of the Jersey National Park is recognised biologically as being one the richest sites of its kind in the Island and has been described as ‘undoubtedly one of the premier dune systems in Europe for its scientific interest’. As the most extensive area of sandy soils in Jersey, the dunes support good populations of many animals and plants on the Island that are not found elsewhere.

During the Medieval period, the dune grasslands were used for sheep grazing and stacking sea weed to dry, the latter was used as fertiliser, or was burnt on the dunes to produce potash.

In the absence of a grazing regime on the sand dunes in recent years, due to the processes of seral succession it is evident that the important grasslands habitats are being subsumed by the spread of mixed scrub.

Currently an amount of grazing is being provided by rabbits but not at a level sufficient to halt or reverse the loss of the important dune grasslands, a key habitat in the Biodiversity Strategy for Jersey 2000 and home to a number of notable plants and a host of other wildlife.

A total of over 400 plant species have been recorded on Les Blanches Banques, many being unique or special to our shores.

Some of the plants found on the sand dunes which are recognised as being of scientific interest include the lizard orchid, with its flower resembling its reptile namesake; the dwarf pansy, in Great Britain only found on the Isles of Scilly and the Channel Islands, the heath dog violet which is Near Threatened in the UK and the sand crocus with its diminutive mauve flower.

Amphibians and reptiles enjoy life on the sand dunes, which harbours five of Jersey’s seven species. Palmate newt and slow worm are present but a visitor from mainland Britain will perhaps be more excited by the exotic looking green lizard with its emerald and aquamarine colouring. Also the western toad is found here rather than the common toad of Britain and northern Europe. The grass snake can be seen here on occasion, they are one of Jersey’s rarest animals and the sand dunes remains one of their few strongholds.

The blue winged grasshopper, the firebug, the Queen of Spain fritillary butterfly, the lesser bloody-nosed beetle, exuding a minute drop of blood when alarmed and the sand bear wolf spider which ambushes its prey from the entrance of its burrow are all invertebrates of particular interest to Jersey and our sand dunes.

 

The skylark, a ground nesting bird with an enchanting song is in decline across Europe and is a local Action Plan species, as is the stonechat, a bird whose call resembles the sound of two pebbles being knocked together. The chough, one of the great successes of the Birds On The Edge partnership is known to forage on the sand dunes and the conservation of the grasslands along with the addition of dung and its associated invertebrates will help provide these wonderful birds with an ongoing food source.

Grazing Plans

It is accepted best conservation practice to graze stabilised dune systems with livestock and the purpose of this project is to trial the grazing of Manx loaghtan sheep in scrub habitats and adjacent grasslands. These habitats have an abundance of burnet rose and other plant species which are becoming dominant over the more desirable dune vegetation which includes orchids, dwarf pansies, sand crocus and much more.

The area selected for initial grazing trials is on the escarpment north of La Moye Golf Club in an area known as Le Carriere. A combination of winter and summer grazing is the ideal, providing the chance to control holm oaks and other evergreens during the winter months and stripping foliage from other target plants (including privet, blackthorn and burnet rose) during the summer. Throughout the project the sheep’s food preferences will be constantly monitored with the hope that they will target the more undesirable plant species.

The sheep are planned to be on site from late February until May 2022.

Importantly, this area currently attracts a low level of public access and will not have a large impact on where people are able to walk.

Our thanks are extended to La Moye Golf Club for allowing the fenceline to tie into their existing fence which allows for a larger area to be grazed.

Benefits to habitats

• To prevent and reverse grassland succession towards mixed scrub within areas being grazed
• To maintain and increase plant species diversity within these areas and encourage some bare ground
• To introduce and maintain age mosaics throughout gorse and scrub dominated communities
• To encourage the reinstatement of species rich grassland especially in grassland ‘islands’ which are contained within the scrub area which are being lost to scrub
• To trial which plant species the Manx loaghtans forage on the most, thereby identifying their effectiveness in the control of scrub intrusion onto dune grassland habitats.

Benefits to species

• To provide bare ground for seed germination of dune grassland associated herbs and grasses
• To provide bare ground for associated invertebrate species
• To identify the effects of Manx loaghtan foraging behaviour on particular plant species , notably burnet rose, bracken, privet and blackthorn
• This area is recognised as being important for grass snakes and the creation of grass glades amongst the scrub will provide welcome basking areas for them
• There is a strong association and reliance between foraging choughs and short grassland, especially when grazing livestock and their dunging encourage the presence of dung beetles.

Chough report: January 2022

Winter sun at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

New year new start. At least for Vicq our breeding female who was ditched by her partner for the ‘other woman’. We have seen Vicq allopreening Pinel a wild-hatched male from 2020. This could mean a new pairing for the 2022 breeding season. She has lost the nest site in the quarry, and we are not clear on where she roosts. In 2019, her first nest attempt was out on the cliffs at Sorel. She might try again if she can hold on to Pinel.

Another new pairing is emerging between two wild-hatched birds Danny and Jaune. The female will be coming into breeding age and looking for a suitable site to lay. We will be eagerly following the progress of this pair.

We have only received a few public sightings this month, all from known foraging sites. Maybe the flock are thinking it’s time to knuckle down and work on getting through winter. There is not much point in them investigating new sites at the moment considering how waterlogged it has been. 

Several fields in Grouville become flooded at this time of year. Photo by Liz Corry.

Aviary maintenance

With the assistance of Neil, Government Countryside Ranger, we transported the Henchmen ladder to Sorel to repair the netting. The work took a couple of days to due to a lot of faffing around adjusting all four legs each time the ladder was repositioned. The joys of working at height on uneven surfaces. We also had to deal with the interchangeable weather. From sun, to fog, to rain, and back to sun. 

A feeding stand temporarily turned into a Henchmen workstation. Photo by Liz Corry.

The fog actually increased the visibility of the rips in the netting. Photo by Liz Corry.

We started replacing the rotten steps to reach the hatches. Next month’s job looks set to be replacing the hatches themselves as the wood is giving way. One has already had a quick patch-up job as we have been trying to shut in a couple of birds to replace leg rings.

The first attempt failed when the hatch broke and scared off the flock. The second attempt the following week failed because we had lost their trust…and it started raining.

Nest monitoring

We still need to replace a couple of nest boxes in the quarry. Ronez have been experiencing technical difficulties and staff levels impacted by contact tracing. It has somewhat worked in our favour, as two data loggers arrived in the post this month for monitoring temperature and humidity levels in nest boxes.

Blue Maestro Tempo disc records temperature and humidity. Photo by Liz Corry.

The Blue Maestro Tempo disc stores data and sends it via Bluetooth to a smartphone app. Battery life should last the duration of the nesting season. We can fit them in the boxes now before installing the boxes. There are no glowing lights to distract the birds so hopefully they will not interfere. 

‘Extra-curricular’ activity

I decided January wasn’t challenging enough so ramped things up by attending a Data Analysis with R course and threw in a BIAZA-IUCN workshop on native species conservation to the same week.

I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone who tried to have a conversation or ask me a question that week. Head to any R forum chat site to appreciate why I had the appearance of a recently lobotomized patient each time I emerged from the office.

That being said, I highly recommend the online course run by Eco-Explore.co.uk for anyone who needs to use R. They make it less painful than it sounds.

Excerpt from Thomas, R., et al. (2017) Data Analysis with R Statistical Software.

The overall aim of the BIAZA-IUCN workshop overall aim was to help inform a new framework for a more collaborative and holistic approach to UK native species conservation, linking stakeholders and identifying priority gaps.

There is already a lot of work going by zoos and aquaria in the UK to support native species. Just take a look at the incredible pine hoverfly breeding and restoration work by the RZSS. And of course, our very own chough and agile frog work featured in the Top 10 BIAZA list.

We could achieve a lot more, with greater success, if we work together as institutions and more closely with stakeholders.

A way of assisting this is to document what you have done, both the successes and the lessons learnt. We recently published online at PANORAMA, a partnership initiative to document and promote examples of inspiring, replicable solutions across a range of conservation and sustainable development topics, enabling cross-sectoral learning and inspiration (I copied that bit). It is led by IUCN and a German organisation called GIZ. Other partners include Rare, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Bank.

Click here to read the case study for Jersey’s choughs.

 

Chough report: December 2021

By Liz Corry

Sorel in the bleak midwinter. Photo by Liz Corry.

December was wet and wild, but that didn’t stop the choughs from making the most of Jersey. We had several sightings covering the north and south of the Island.

Jersey choughs have been foraging in the fields along le Canibut. Photo by Liz Corry.

The fields around Le Canibut lane in St John provided daily sustenance for a bit. Corbière became an early morning jaunt for several birds. Eight were spotted one morning searching for insects amongst the stony ground around the headland. We were able to identify the birds as a mix of this year’s juveniles and non-breeding sub-adults.

Monvie and Jaune searching for invertebrates on the south coast. Photo by Mick Dryden.

Historically, choughs in Jersey were known to nest along the stretch of coast running from Corbière to Beauport. The coastline clearly still holds it appeal for the species although not enough to support a chough independently from Sorel and the supplemental feed.

The south west corner of Jersey was historically home to breeding pairs of chough. Image taken from Google Earth 2022.

December catch-ups

An ‘epic’ event happened this month at Sorel. I finally managed to outsmart the choughs and trap them in the aviary on the first attempt. Ok, so it’s not climbing Kilimanjaro or turning rainwater into wine. But in our books, it’s pretty impressive. Especially given the fact myself and the student shut in 14 of the 24 choughs present, hand-netted and weighed seven, replaced missing rings on three, and solved a medical mystery for one. All within an hour and time to spare before sunset. 

No, before you ask, there was no pear tree and/or partridge in sight.

Student Charlotte Dean got the rare opportunity to hold a wild chough whilst learning about ringing. Photo by Liz Corry.

Minty, our Plémont male, now has brand new green and red rings. It should make him more obvious when he is flying between Grosnez and Plémont during the breeding season. In the process of replacing Lee’s missing white ring we noticed wear along the top edge of his metal ring. This was only fitted six years ago.

 

Lee’s metal ring fitted in 2015 is showing wear and tear. Photo by Liz Corry.

The medical mystery concerned Minty who was observed limping one afternoon at Sorel. There also looked to be swelling on one of his feet. Once in the hand, it was clear to see his hind digit on the left foot was swollen. In consultation with the vet, it was decided that it was likely to be fibrous scar tissue or a cold abscess. The limping seen the week before was unrelated and has not been observed since. We will continue to monitor him as closely as we can as with all the choughs. We will take him to the vet to be X-rayed if his condition worsens.

Swelling on the hind digit looks to be scar tissue or a cold abscess. Phot by Liz Corry.

Essential Maintenance

Ever since that catch-up on the 22nd, the choughs have been on the defensive, reluctant to enter the aviary if we are present. They might hate us even more when we set up the Henchman ladder to repair the tears in the netting.

Tears in the netting are appearing once again along the metal support pole. Photo by Charlotte Dean.

We tried to do the work on 9th December with the assistance of the Government Countryside Rangers. The ladders are too big for our Dacia and the condition of the farm track called for the Rangers’ high clearance Land Rover.

After our best Chuckle Brothers impression getting the ladder into the aviary whilst being pelted with hail, the Henchman was too tall to stand upright inside. We had borrowed Site Services’ Henchman because the Bird Department’s one was in use, not realising it was a different model until it arrived at Sorel car park.

We rescheduled for the New Year and set to work repairing the holes we could reach unaided.

We also had to reschedule installing new nest boxes in Ronez Quarry. Emergencies at Ronez postponed the two planned visits in December. I’m hoping it will be a case of third time lucky in January.

We kept ourselves busy in the meantime. The student created Christmas themed enrichment for the choughs using reclaimed wood, old perching, and non-toxic paints. A well-deserved Blue Peter badge is winging its way to her.

December in Jersey…must be time for a visit to Hawai’i

I participated in two online planning workshops this month to discuss ideas for the ‘Alalā reintroduction plans (aka the Hawaiian crow). The ‘Alalā Project team and the Jersey chough team have had on and off contact over the last ten years sharing a common goal and using similar practices we can both learn from.

Hawaiian crows are tool users. Photo by Ken Bohn/San Diego Global

Release efforts between 2016 and 2019 saw captive bred ‘alalā living free in Puʻ u Makaʻ ala Natural Area Reserve on Hawai’i Island. Sadly, after several losses, the team decided to re-capture the surviving birds and return them to the safety of captivity whilst they set to work on Plan B.

‘Alalā face a very complicated situation which is why the team are looking for help and ideas from far and wide including the Mariana crow, Puerto Rican parrot projects, and the Jersey chough project. Getting all four teams in one virtual room was a challenge in itself given the time zones. The first meeting was at 10pm (GMT) the second a more respectable 6pm.

It was very motivational to hear people sharing experiences that resonated across species and countries. Often when helping others you end up learning something yourself. And it reminded me just how lucky Jersey has been to have had success so early on with a species recovery project.

               

Blue Islands flight JECH0U9H

The four juvenile choughs bred at the Zoo this year were exported on the 16th to Paradise Park via Blue Islands. It was a true team effort requiring all Bird Department staff in that day to help catch the four out of the aviary in the afternoon of the 15th. They were then held in a quarantine aviary overnight ready for a 6am wake up call. The birds were caught and crated ready for a 7am departure in the dark heading to the airport. Blue Islands flew them to Exeter where they were met by Paradise Park staff and driven on to Hayle, Cornwall.

And finally…

As we bring December and 2021 to a close, we would like to thank everyone who has been involved in the project this year and all our supporters for their generosity and enthusiasm. It’s been another hard year for choughs dodging peregrines and humans dodging COVID, but we made it. Happy New Year! Here’s to a year full of leatherjackets, dung beetles, larvae and whatever else makes you choughing happy.

Sunsetting on another year at Sorel. Photo by Charlotte Dean.

Chough report: November 2021

November afternoons at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

At the start of November, I was still wearing shorts to work. By the end, several layers, gloves, a woolly hat, and the obligatory waterproofs. The choughs also noticed the change in weather. The entire flock are now waiting for supplemental food each afternoon. Some birds even wing-begging for food. Clearly, wild supplies of invertebrates were not meeting energy demands for birds battling winds and trying to stay warm.

The sheep left. Not necessarily related to the weather, I think they have been moved to St Ouen. This might add to the choughs’ hunger if there are less dung invertebrates around Sorel in the sheeps’ absence.

Hungry choughs waiting for the supplemental food. Photo by Liz Corry.

Storm Arwen caused more minor damaged at the aviary. Of note, the keeper door had been blown wide open when the force of the wind bent the bolt out of place!

I was quite surprised we didn’t suffer more, especially considering last month’s gale damage. Luckily, I managed to fix the damaged panelling before Storm Arwen hit.

Lily leaves the flock

Lily, a three-year old female, appears to have either perished or left the Island. She was last seen on 5th November at Sorel. She has not been reported elsewhere.

Lily is an example of how post-release management has played an important role in the project’s success. Lily hatched in the wild in 2018. We had to catch her up in December that year when we spotted her digit caught in her ring. Durrell vets had to intervene as the toe needed amputating (click here to learn more). She was released back into the wild the same day and formed a partnership with another female looking out for each other over the years.

Lily and Vicq hanging out together this summer. Photo by Liz Corry.

New partnerships

Since Lily disappeared, her ‘partner’ Vicq has been seen preening Pinel. He is a wild hatched bird from 2020. If this new partnership continues over winter, it could mean a new breeding pair. 

Likewise, Danny and Portelet are also showing promising signs of being a new pair for 2022. Both pairings will need to find a nest site and establish a new breeding territory. No doubt keeping the project team on their toes next season.

Roost monitoring

We have been without a student placement all November which has restricted certain tasks, one being the biannual roost checks. I’ve not been able to check all the known roost sites due to sunset times clashing with the supplemental feed.

I have been able to monitor the aviary and, as suspected, several of the quarry birds are roosting at the aviary again. I suspect they will switch back to the quarry once sunset times start occurring after Ronez have clocked off for the day.

Leg rings

We finally managed to trap Monvie in the aviary to fit her metal ring. This is engraved with details of Jersey Museum in case the bird is recovered by a member of the public. Also, it comes in really useful when a plastic colour ring drops off and we can’t be sure on identity. Case in point, Archirondel, who we also managed to catch the same day and replace her white ring.

Monvie having a metal leg ring fitted by a licensed ringer. Photo by Liz Corry.

Bo and Minty evaded several catch-up attempts this month. We will keep trying although, at least for now, we can still distinguish them in the flock. Then on the 29th, Lee arrived missing one of his rings so he gets added to the ‘to do’ list for December. 

French news

Our friend Yann commented on last months’ report to say he has not seen Cappy since spring. Disappointing if she has perished although not a surprise. It would be nice to think she has moved south, along the coast towards Brittany under the radar of French birders. 

And finally

Camera trap footage at Sorel often throws up a few surprises. This month it was the camera itself with the surprise. I found an orb weaver (spider) and ladybird ‘hiding’ behind the camera. The spider’s full name is Nuctenea umbratica, commonly known as a walnut orb-weaver. Apparently also known as the toad spider although I’m not sure why – a tendency to hide behind things?

I logged the find with the Jersey Biodiversity Centre using the iRecord app. Both are common species but it is still important to record when you can.

Camera traps throw up all sorts of surprises at the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.