Choughs and staff have been battling storm-force gales this month. With fewer insects around most, if not all, of the birds have been appearing at the supplemental feed fuelling their travels around Jersey’s coastline.
Here is what else we’ve been getting up to in December…
Cosmetic surgery on Wally’s Christmas wishlist?
Wally is currently sporting an overgrown upper mandible. Photo by Liz Corry.
Wally and juvenile Dary both have overgrown bills. From observations it looks to be the upper mandible that has overgrown rather than the tip of the lower mandible breaking off. This should not be a major problem, however, it may reduce the effectiveness of their foraging skills. Hopefully natural wear and tear will eventually rectify the situation. Watch this space.
Dary currently has an overgrown upper mandible. Photo by Liz Corry.
Habitat use in December
Plémont pond at the restored headland. Photo by Liz Corry
Observations at Plémont over the Christmas period suggest that the area is no longer being used by choughs as a roost site. To be expected with the disappearance of Earl although it would have been nice for Xaviour to remain there with her new partner. We could do with finding out where she is roosting as it may tell us where she will nest in 2020.
There could be ‘new’ roost sites around the Island that we are not aware of. One chough was observed flying west after the supplemental feed roughly 30 minutes before sunset. Annoyingly, having just come from a fruitless search of Le Pulec to Plémont, all I could do was watch as it disappeared behind the tree line at Crabbé. From there it could have gone in any direction…including back to Sorel.
Watching from the Devil’s Hole cliff path as a lone chough flies off into the sunset. Photo by Liz Corry.
We have had a couple more reports of a pair of choughs around Grantez and the adjacent coastline. One sighting from an ex-chough keeper referenced the land behind St Ouen’s Scout Centre.
Two choughs spotted at the back of St Ouen’s Scout Centre. Photo by Kathryn Smith.
It is impossible to see leg rings in the photo, but it does show the type of habitat the choughs are willing to explore in Jersey looking for food. There are several houses nearby and the area is a popular spot with dog walkers. Let’s hope we get more sightings reported and the pair’s identity solved. Remember you can send in sightings by clicking here.
Aerial image of the Jersey Scout Centre in St Ouen and surrounding area. Image taken from Google Earth.
Kevin has lost his yellow ID ring so for now he is just white left. We will try and rectify this in the New Year when the force 9-10 gales hopefully die down making the catch up less like Mission Impossible.
Kevin can only be identified from his white 2015 year ring after losing his yellow ID ring. Photo by Liz Corry.
Luckily he is easy to spot as he is normally with his partner Wally. A couple of the other choughs are proving harder to ID despite having all their leg rings. Take Morris, he has a grey over cerise ring whilst Baie has pale blue over cerise leg rings. It’s not easy to distinguish the two colours especially when the low winter sun is beaming directly on the birds. There are three of us who work out at Sorel and we have all mistaken one for the other at some point.
All this means we might not realise a bird is missing/dead straight away. As the month (and year) draws to a close we have been trying to determine exact numbers. Where possible both myself and Flavio have headed out to the coast; one staying at Sorel whilst the other heads to a different known foraging site(s). It feels a bit like a wild goose chase…but with choughs.
Counting choughs…or is it sheep? Photo by Liz Corry
Our best guess is that there are now thirty-five choughs living free in Jersey; twenty captive-reared, fifteen hatched in the wild. We have not been able to account for any extras at Sorel throughout December.
December’s persistent gales have taken their toll on the aviary. So much so that an external hatch door came off its hinges and landed inside the aviary. The cable-ties securing plastic side panels in place to provide shelter from the winds) snapped off. Not once, but three times. The vertical anti-rodent guttering snapped off. And to top it off, holes appeared in the netting along the top. Possibly rodent-related although this could also be because the netting rubs on the support pole in the winds.
Still, despite the Force 10 battering, it has fared better than the Motocross track whose observation tower and trailer blew over!
Christmas Day at Sorel was a very different picture to the last three weeks of wind, rain, and hail. Photo by Liz Corry.
The one upside to all the rain appears to be how useful the dirt tracks have become to the choughs. Birds were spotted probing the muddy ruts for insects, drinking from the puddles, and hanging out on the field gate.
Sorel farm track has attracted the attention of the birds this month. Photo by Liz Corry.
Heard of a kissing gate? Well this is a choughing gate. Photo by Liz Corry.
Kentish chough developments
At the start of December (when the ferries were still sailing!) I was invited over to Kent to assist with planning the Kentish chough reintroduction. My first day was spent with the team visiting potential aviary locations and discussing suitability.
A view of Dover Harbour from the White Cliffs. Photo by Liz Corry.
Several landowners already work towards restoring habitats that will benefit choughs. The National Trust for example graze ponies to improve the flower-rich grassland. Short grass and insect-attracting dung – what more could a chough ask for? The challenge Kent face is working in such a densely populated area. Dover is a smidge different to Sorel.
The National Trust are just one of the many stakeholders involved in the project. Photo by Liz Corry.
Kirsty Swinnerton, Kent Wildlife Trust (and well known to BOTE through her long involvement), pointing out the boundaries of a current grazing project using Shetland cattle. Photo by Liz Corry.
My second day was at Wildwood Trust, home to the captive choughs. A morning of meetings resulted in potential research collaborations and a few ideas for how to manage the Kent releases.
Signage at Wildwood mentions the success of our chough work. Photo by Liz Corry.
Wildwood are also involved in exciting projects to rewild nearby forest as well as several exciting projects around the UK. It was nice to see behind the scenes and talk about something other than choughs! The photo gallery at the bottom shows just a few of the species Wildwood conserve.
I gave a lunchtime talk to staff about the Jersey project and the lessons we have learnt. I gave the same talk on the final day for the Kent Wildlife Trust. That talk was held at the Tyland Barn Centre and streamed live to staff at their other reserve centres. The trust are heavily involved in the public engagement side and particularly interested in how the Jersey community have reacted to the choughs.
Talking to staff at Kent Wildlife Trust about Birds On The Edge and the choughs. Photo by KWT
It is with a heavy heart that we report on the passing of Gianna the tame chough at Jersey Zoo. Last month she was rushed to the Zoo’s Vet Centre after being found on the floor soaking wet from the rain and motionless. After a couple of hours under a heat lamp she showed improvement and began taking food from keepers.
Immediate action was taken to modify her enclosure. Site Services added an extra shelter on the roof and keepers added new perching and extra shelter boxes. The keepers and students covered the floor with a tonne of fresh sand in case the mud bath created by the heavy rains was harbouring any nasty germs.
Sadly all this was in vain. Despite eating and interacting with keepers Gianna seemed to be struggling. The difficulty with treating any animal is that they can’t tell you what is wrong. Our vet team carried out several tests each one not really providing the solution. Sadly despite medication and a lot of love, Gianna slipped away on 11th November.
Gianna arrived in Jersey seven years ago from Turin, Italy. She had been rescued by staff at the Universita di Medicina Veterinaria after being found injured on a balcony of a block of flats. Staff looked after her that summer at their facilities, but needed to re-home her. They recognised something in her, something special, and thought she could serve a greater purpose by joining the Jersey chough project. Or simply put she was far too imprinted to be released! They suspected she had been hand-reared and kept as a pet. They guessed her age at around three years old based on examination.
I’m ready for my close up. Photo by Liz Corry.
Gianna integrated well into the captive flock, but it was clear her love of human attention meant she was never going to pair up with another chough. We did try her with a hand-reared male. She attacked him in a jealous rage when keepers started showing him attention. Prima donna!
In 2015 we changed tactic. This time we would ‘pair’ with her! Gianna was moved to a bespoke aviary allowing staff easy access to the nest-box. Immediately she built a nest with material we provided. She even laid her own eggs. Not that they were fertile. However, it meant that when the time came we could swap her eggs for fertile ones to foster incubate or chicks that Gianna and staff could raise together.
She foster-reared her first chick that season and the following year raised four more. These four were released at Sorel that summer. Two have since had chicks of their own, one nesting in the quarry, the other out at Plémont.
Gianna’s impact on the success of the project doesn’t end there. During her time at Jersey Zoo she has acted as an ambassador for the choughs. Her friendly demeanour meant she always came to the front of the aviary for the keeper talks. In recent years her confidence grew and she would allow certain visitors to tickle her through the mesh under my supervision. This simple interaction made people suddenly appreciate that birds have personalities.
Gianna and staff kept regular checks on the foster chicks’ weights. Photo by Liz Corry.
Any student that worked with her couldn’t help falling for her charms…even the ones that thought they didn’t like birds! She returned the admiration especially if said student provided her with insect-filled enrichment. The video below was filmed by the current project student Flavio in October after he had created new enrichment using bamboo.
Frustratingly we don’t have any answers yet to why she died. The vet team are waiting on results from the UK lab. Even then it is likely that several factors acted together to cause her ill health.
What we do know is that Gianna has helped expand people’s knowledge about red-billed choughs, developed foster-rearing techniques for conservation management, and trained numerous students in captive husbandry. Most of all she was loved and will forever be in our hearts.
Other veterinary news
We are still waiting on lab results from the UK to shed light on the reason why Lotte was found dead in the quarry. Until the histology is known the post-mortem remains inconclusive.
On a positive note, the bird treated for a suspected syngamus infection last month is still doing well. No further issues have arisen within the group.
War and Peace
I have no evidence of a bitter love rivalry or lightsaber joust to the death, but if we assume as such it makes this next bit more bearable. Or at least entertaining.
As alluded to last month, it does appear that we have lost two breeding males. Earl and Skywalker have not been seen at Sorel, or anywhere else in Jersey, since August and September respectively. Their females have re-paired and, in both cases, the new partnership has arisen at the same time the ‘old’ male disappears. Implying the ‘old’ male was pushed out.
Skywalker’s partner Pyrrho is now preening and cuddling up to Betty (a male). Betty’s ex has not been recorded at the feed since summer. We can only assume she is dead.
Betty has his eyes set on a new female and could well breed for the first time next year. Photo by Liz Corry.
Earl’s partner Xaviour is now with wild-hatched Beaker. We had seen this male with another wild-hatched female giving hope to having our first truly wild Jersey chick in 2020. Whilst this now looks unlikely it still looks like Plémont will remain a breeding site. If Xaviour stays in good health!
Xaviour (far left) preening Beaker which lets the others know she belongs to him now. Photo by Liz Corry.
Update on the 2019 fledglings
From the ‘chough register’ we keep at the supplemental feeds we know that three youngsters have not been present since the end of July. Initially you assume that you are just not seeing their leg rings in the mayhem of birds at the feeds. Or that they are not returning to Sorel because they are with a breakaway group finding food elsewhere on the Island. The report of a possible chough in Sark also adds to the doubt; maybe the lone chick from Plémont decided the odds looked better across the waters?
Now winter is upon us and with no confirmed sightings we are recording Cliff, Cerise, and Pallot as missing presumed dead. Those of you who follow regularly maybe wondering why you have never heard of those three before. You have, but as PP046, PP041, and PP048. We finally named the 2019 youngsters!
Baie pays a visit to the supplemental feed site. Photo by Liz Corry.
Of note, we have named one clutch after two St John households who have supported the project since the start. A small token of our appreciation. Morris and Dary regularly visit the aviary for food and make trips out west having learnt the best foraging spots from their parents.
We turned to the Jèrriais dictionary for two names. Jaune, meaning yellow, was given to a female with a yellow leg ring. Baie is the only surviving chick from the ‘Dust bay’ building in the quarry (also located in the bay at Ronez).
We’ve also kept the Star Wars theme alive with naming Skywalker’s offspring. I had to turn to an uber-geek for help. There is a prize to the first person who guesses correctly and knows the reasoning behind the choices.
A few leg ring issues needed addressing this month. One was Flieur, who had lost her blue plastic ring and need a replacement. One youngster still needs a metal ring. She is proving tricky to catch; at least her colour ring combo makes her easy to spot.
The birds can make it really hard to read leg rings, super easy, or somewhere in between. Photo by Liz Corry.
If you manage to read and/or photograph any leg rings on a chough whilst out and about in Jersey, you can now identify which bird it is. Or at least have a go before they fly off. Click here for the list of Jersey’s choughs.
I have also updated our website to include a new chough sighting form. Hopefully this will make it easier to report your sightings and provide the team with the data we need.
You can find a new guide to show the differences between a chough and some of its corvid cousins in Jersey. As well as a couple of distant relations that have been misidentified in the past (there are more videos of choughs here too).
We are still experiencing a few technical glitches since we went back online. For a while comments were being blocked. That should now be resolved, but please do get in touch if you experience any problems. Forays into the Matrix are few and far between so faults easily go unnoticed unless reported by users.
Chough movements and public sightings
We have had several public sightings this month, more so than last month. The dip in temperatures and heavy rains will be forcing the birds to look further afield for food. None of the sightings have been from anywhere unexpected. Places like Le Pulec (Stinky Bay), Crabbé, and St Ouen’s Bay have been visited before albeit infrequently. The interesting information from these sightings is the time of day and numbers. We clearly have a pair using the west coast independent from the others. We could really do with establishing who these two are.
A chough in flight over Crabbé. Photo by Trevor Biddle.
Group activity close to roost time is being cited more particularly over Grève de Lecq. Again, this might be linked to the weather; birds trying to stock up on calories before bed as overnight frosts creep in.
Numbers at the supplemental feed have varied this month. The register shows that on average 75% of the group are present when we put the food out. The rest either don’t need it or swing by just before roosting. Some days it has been the reverse with less than 25% at the feed. These are the drier days when the winds and sunshine are in the birds’ favour.
These patterns of behaviour are what you expect to see at your garden bird feeder. The choughs are no different. Yes there is food out there for them to find naturally, but due to human impacts on the environment they need a helping hand.
Mud, mud, glorious mud. Photo by Liz Corry.
One thing the choughs don’t need from us this month is fresh water. They are getting plenty of that thanks to the endless rainy days. A few of the birds have been spotted drinking and bathing in the puddles formed up by the motocross much to the delight of onlookers.
Icho drinking from a puddle at the Motocross. Photo by Liz Corry.
Percy watches over his partner Icho whilst she is down on the ground bathing. Photo by Liz Corry.
This year’s Inter-Island Environment Meeting (IIEM) was held in Alderney hosted by the Alderney Wildlife Trust and the States of Alderney. We had two days of presentations, participatory bioblitzs, and workshops. A new Wilder Islands conference ran on the third day bringing scientists, conservation practitioners, and policy makers together. This extra day was used to discuss the role of islands as biodiversity hot spots in a response to global environmental decline. Each day was introduced by AWT’s indefatigable Roland Gauvain.
There were over 120 delegates in attendance representing the Channel Islands, UK, British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies and France. Quite a crowd and quite a diversity of subjects.
For an island just shy of 8km2 Alderney did pretty well to accommodate us all. We took over the independent cinema and Island Hall for presentations and workshops, nipping into the Georgian House for coffee breaks and sustenance (there was also a divine three-course meal cooked by The Blonde Hedgehog staff using locally sourced products. We won’t talk about that since Glyn was only there for Day 3).
Topics included invasive species control, citizen science, rewilding, and species monitoring. We will just mention a few to give you a flavour of the event.
Bob Tompkins talked about how Jersey is tackling the Asian hornet problem. We also heard from delegates about the Bailiwick of Guernsey’s approach. It is a daunting task; one that depends enormously on volunteers and public awareness. One take-home message, maybe unintentional, was just how amazing and socially intricate hornets are.
Bob Tompkins explaining the intricate architecture of a late stage Asian hornet nest. Photo by Liz Corry.
Asian hornets are considered a pest because they predate honey bees; a species already in peril. As are many of our pollinating species be it bird, bat, or beetle.
At last years IIEM we heard from Barry Wells about the success of the newly created Pollinator Project. His team’s efforts (and enthusiasm) are now being replicated in Jersey in order to connect the Channel Islands together to achieve greater success.
Barry Wells talking about the success of the Pollinator Project. Photo by Liz Corry.
Barry highlighted an interesting fact – around 27% of Guernsey is designated as gardens. If you can convince homeowners to set aside just 10% of that land to pollinating plants it would be the equivalent of 200 football pitches. On one tiny island! Think how many insects that would help.
This is another example of how volunteers can be a huge benefit to biodiversity by making subtle changes. Sometimes a huge shift in public attitudes is needed and is harder to achieve. Cristina Sellarés touched upon this when she discussed the impact of dogs chasing wading birds on beaches.
Cristina Sellarés discussed the concept of islands within islands. Photo by Liz Corry.
Some impacts are harder to notice unless you dedicate your time to monitoring them. Take eelgrass for example. It is considered a priority marine habitat in the Channel Islands due to the wonderful array of ecological functions that it has. Yet we don’t really know anything about our own eelgrass.
Pacific halibut resting on a bed of eelgrass. Photo by Adam Obaza (NOAA)
Step forward Dr Melanie Broadhurst-Allen (member of the Guernsey Seasearch team) positively glowing with passion for the sheer number of species eelgrass supports (including brent geese).
Just some of the invertebrates that rely on eelgrass.
Lack of public awareness has meant urban development, dredging, pollution, and sediment runoff has significantly degraded this habitat. A joint collaboration between partners from Guernsey and Alderney led to a citizen science project to monitor eelgrass. Data from this will hopefully be used by policy makers to apply protection and conserve eelgrass beds.
How to segway from eelgrass to choughs? Monitoring – sea eagles – reintroductions – choughs. Seamless.
Jamie Marsh, Reserves Manager for Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, talked about the white-tailed sea eagle recent release on the Isle of Wight. Three-pairs of birds were released in August as part of a reintroduction project. With an 8ft (2.5m) wingspan it is not surprising that the birds’ GPS trackers have shown some interesting results. One eagle, named Culver, excelled itself and was spotted by a father and son in London! Jamie shared the tracking data which confirmed Culver flew over Westminster at the end of August, over to Essex, before returning to Hampshire.
Movements of a reintroduced white-tailed eagle marked in red) across the south west of England. Photo by Liz Corry.
If this particular project is successful it will help pave the way for other reintroductions on the Isle of Wight; cirl bunting? beaver? chough?!
Potential reintroductions in the Isle of Wight will help boost biodiversity. Photo by Liz Corry.
Public opinion has been divided over returning sea eagles to England. Not helped by the often skewed and in some cases fake news coverage. Something Dr George McGavin raised in his lecture on the first evening.
George McGavin gave the keynote speech of the Inter-Island Meeting. Photo by Liz Corry.
George’s talk entitled Where have all the insects gone? touched upon the tendency for the media to extrapolate headline grabbing facts from reports and not consider the finer detail. Audience members were treated to a brief lesson in statistical significance and bias in survey sampling. Luckily George went about it in an engaging manner.
On the subject of insect numbers, George referenced the 2004 Big Bug Count led by the RSPB. Similar to their Big Garden Birdwatch, people were asked to count the number of insects seen on their vehicle registration plate using a ‘Splatometer’. It made people reminisce of days gone by when you would have to stop the car to wipe splattered flying insects off your windscreen.
Of course windscreens are different from number plates. Maybe the ‘splats’ are more likely on a larger, higher up surface? We won’t know unless the survey is repeated on an annual basis allowing us to see trends. We do it for birds, why not for insects? Well if you live in Kent you can! Kent Wildlife Trust reinstated the scheme this summer. What results would we get for Jersey? An island with more cars than people!
On the third day, the conference took on a new role and focused on the role islands have to play in a rapidly changing world where ecosystem collapse seems inevitable and considered how we can work together to meet this challenge. Again hosted by Dr George McGavin, each session involved a series of short presentations putting forward the speaker’s position with the speakers then forming a panel to debate the issue, with questions and input from the floor.
The keynote speaker today was Tony Juniper, Chairman of Natural England who talked on why islands and island biodiversity are so important globally and for the UK.
Session 1 looked at how we prioritise our response to the impacts of climate change on island ecosystems with Rob Stoneman (Rewilding Europe), Glyn Young (Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Birds On The Edge) and Dr Louise Soanes (University of Roehampton).
Glyn’s talk was nattily entitled Islands: threatened engines of evolution and covered the importance of islands in the ‘creation’ of new species, current threats to the world’s islands and novel solutions looking at Durrell’s work in the Galápagos Islands.
Blue Islands Charter
Political representatives at the conference stepped out to take part in the Blue Island Summit, to sign a charter committing islands to work together in their response to the environmental threats they face.
The signed Blue Islands Charter. Photo by David Nash
The natural environment knows no boundaries
Acknowledging that the natural environment has no boundaries, Ministers and other representatives from the UK family of small islands agreed the Blue Island Charter. The Charter provides a statement of principle on a number of initiatives previously discussed by the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies Environment Ministers Council as well as other islands. These stressed working together on common issues which we all face.
Some key issues which the UK family of territories intend to pursue include moving towards a ban on single use plastics and, in general, controlling the impact of the Island’s activities upon the terrestrial and marine environment. Crucially, this would be facilitated by supporting each other through open communication and education.
The various territories are further actively exploring the possibility of creating a joint biodiversity fund to support inter-island work. This fund would also be open to contributions from other parties, including governmental, corporate and private sources.
This charter demonstrates the will and intent of islands to work together for the benefit of all, to safeguard the environment and promote active collaboration on matters such as climate change. It portrays a level of commitment in promoting environmental governance in a manner rarely seen on a global scale. See the media release here
And finally, the outcome of the Blue Islands Summit was announced by delegates from Alderney (Andrew Muter, CEO) and Gibraltar (Dr Liesl Mesilio, Director of the Environment) to the room at large and attendees were asked to approve as a whole a statement of unity and a request for collaborative working.
And so, on a wet and very windy Sunday we returned home to Jersey, our flight home in doubt until the last minute. Thank you Aurigny. Before the flight I took time to walk down to Braye and watch the weather, to quietly thank our hosts, AWT and particularly Roland, Lindsay and Justin and listen to Wales beat Australia. What better way to end a great and productive weekend.
A blog post about cute pigs?! Nah. I’m just throwing you off the scent. Click bait. It is the monthly chough report of course with everything that happened in September.
Scoping out the racecourse
The chough flock spent at lot of time in September foraging around Les Landes Racecourse. There appeared to be plenty of insects available in the soil. Leatherjackets (cranefly larvae) from the looks of things although viewing through a scope a some distance adds uncertainty.
We still have a fair few turn up at the supplemental feed. The noticeable difference is that they are taking less food. Instead of finding empty food dishes within an hour of food being put out we find leftover pellet. Presumably because they have eaten so well out and about in the mornings.
Our rodent-proof food stands mean we can leave the leftovers for the choughs to snack on later. Hunger should not be a problem for Jersey’s choughs this month!
Class of 2019 suffer another setback
Another dead juvenile has been found out on the north coast. The body was found by a dog walker near Devil’s Hole. The lady regularly visits Sorel and knew when we would be feeding so kindly handed over the remains. We identified the bird as PP042 who fledged this year in the quarry. Not a huge surprise as they were on the missing birds list.
The surprise was the condition of the bird…headless and, on X-ray, very broken. You can see shattered bone in the left humerus (circled red in the image below). Our vet was a bit baffled at the post-mortem. The injuries sustained are something he is more familiar with seeing from a bird that had been hit by a car. Plus we don’t know if all this happened after the bird died or before.
We do know this means there are only 11 juveniles remaining. Three of those have not been seen in a long time. If they are still unaccounted for in October we will have to assume the worse.
PP035 is one juvenile very much alive and kicking. She was caught up mid-September because one of her plastic rings was unraveling. Not an easy thing to do for a bird to do. It would have required force. The ring was replaced and this time a lot of glue was used to seal the overlapping edges. She looked in good health and was released straight away.
The flock of sheep at Sorel were moved off site this month as part of their management plan.
There was, however, one little sheep who avoided the round-up. We found her merrily grazing away at the aviary. She had pushed through the fencing and entered the hedgerow bank rather cunningly hiding in the hedgerow when the shepherd was around and reappearing at the chough feed.
With a bit a team work and a lot of patience she was eventually moved out (it gave our push-mower a bit of a break!).
After seven years of working out at Sorel it felt quite eerie to visit and have no sheep and no choughs*. You can still find the sheep in various locations around Jersey doing their bit for conservation grazing. Maybe it could become the next rewilding game #whereswoolly?
*don’t worry we haven’t removed the birds, they do that themselves by flying off during the day.
Flocking season in the Zoo
At this time of year, with breeding over, we normally move all the Zoo choughs back into one aviary. This mimics the flocking behaviour you see in choughs over winter. However, this year was a bit different.
This is the first year we have had only one breeding pair at Jersey Zoo. It is also the first year we haven’t released parent-reared chicks. So that means trying to mix a family of four with the only other chough we have – Gianna.
Normally the other choughs ignore Gianna, but with one family and an uninvited guest in their territory things are a little different. We have made three attempts to mix Gianna with the group this month. The first time we assumed tensions were high because the male in the family had only just been moved back. He had been housed separately for the past two months due to bad behaviour. We gave him some more time to settle in and calm down before the next attempt. No change. We waited again. Surely the hormones had settled? Nope.
As soon as I leave the aviary the pair fly over and shout loudly at Gianna. If I then walk away from Gianna, they dive-bomb her and it gets physical. Thankfully, Gianna is thick skinned and once I’m back inside with her she returns to preening and picking out insects.
Sadly for Gianna I can’t live in the aviary and be 24-hr bodyguard (although the rent would be free). She has been moved back to her off-show aviary and might have to stay in there over winter.
New placement student
If Gianna does have to stay off-show she will receive lots of attention because….fanfare please…we have a student placement again! After more than a year with a vacant position, Flavio has joined the project.
He is with us until March and has already got stuck in to the task at hand. As evident in the video below. Faceal sampling for health checks, camera trap reviews for roost ID, and dealing with a dead chough all in Week 1.
Flavio has previously worked on a beetle conservation project in the UK so we are hoping to put his survey skills to use in Jersey. His mode of transport is a bicycle so be sure to give him a wide berth if you are overtaking – he has an expensive scope in his bag. I wouldn’t want it damaged!
The annual Inter-Islands Environmental Meeting was held in Alderney this year hosted by the Alderney Wildlife Trust. With the theme of Wilder Islands, delegates attended a two day symposium highlighting work carried out across the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and islands of the British Overseas Territories. Birds On The Edge was represented by myself and Cristina Sellares with Glyn Young joining on the challenging third day.
The third day was a mixture of talks and working groups tackling the challenges islanders face with biodiversity and climate change. Tony Juniper gave the introductory keynote speech.
We were also treated to an evening lecture from Dr George McGavin the esteemed entomologist and patron of the Alderney Wildlife Trust.
A separate blog will be posted going into more detail. The highlights for this report include the mention we got in Jamie Marsh’s talk on the white-tailed sea eagle reintroduction in the Isle of Wight. Guess where we might be taking choughs next? And our first possible sighting of a Jersey chough visiting Sark! Suffice to say our holidays work plans for 2020 are quickly filling up.
Building on the success of the Jersey choughs, can reintroduced choughs help restore Kent’s chalk grasslands? Could we eventually join the Cornish population and Kentish population to bring back this charismatic bird to England’s entire south coast as in days gone by? Ok, that last bit is jumping the gun. Although it is early days, the KCP are certainly working hard to make sure the first aim is achievable.
You can click the link here to read about Kent Wildlife Trust’s vision for a Wilder Kent.
Belle-Île, nine miles (15km) off the coast of the Gulf of Morbihan, is Brittany’s largest island and a popular place for visitors. Birds On The Edge correspondent Regis Perdriat took his family over to this beautiful island (pun fully intended) in May but wasn’t content with just relaxing on the island’s many beaches. Belle-Île has red-billed choughs.
At 32 miles² (84 kilometres²), Belle-Île is smaller than Jersey (45.6 miles²) and, with a truly rugged coastline, it has far fewer residents, only 4,920 in the 2009 census. This human population may increase to a whopping 35,000 in summer – Jersey has nearly 107,000 residents. Anyway, plenty of nice chough-friendly coastline and although an important site for Brittany’s choughs there may sadly not be many these days. Maybe there are only around 20 birds; however, as Regis was able to confirm, they are breeding.
August has been a relatively quiet month. The youngsters are showing increasing signs of independence and the flock is spending more time exploring the island.
The parents have stopped feeding their young as the three-month-old chicks are independent…well almost. Photo by Liz Corry.
The results are in
Results came back from the UK lab regarding the DNA sexing samples. From the twelve we sent off, three are male and five are female. And one was Chewbacca (see below). We need to re-sample three birds due to a mix up in the lab and we still have the Plémont chick to catch.
DNA sexing results have shown ‘PB-CS‘ is one of at least five females hatched this year. Photo by Liz Corry.
There is growing concern for four birds as they have not been seen in a long time. We receive reports from Plémont of 2, 3, 5 birds, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Earl, Xaviour, or their chick are present in that group.
Chough travels around the north coast
On the occasions when I have been able to go on a ‘chough hunt’ around Jersey, I fail to see the missing chicks. In fact, quite often I fail to see any choughs!
I did watch Earl and Xaviour at Plémont one evening. Lovely to see them foraging around the cliffs; Earl looked to have been bathing in the intertidal zone. No sign of a third chough on that occasion.
Chough or rabbit hole? A favourite pastime of chough watchers at Plémont. Photo by Liz Corry.
Over at Les Landes, the only choughs I have seen there this month were Beanie Baby and Beaker. A surprise pairing and a delight to see. They kept me on my toes, literally, as I only heard them after completing a lap of the racecourse. They were over by the MP3 tower foraging on the cliffs above a group of rock climbers. As I reached the cliffs they decided to fly over to….the racecourse, so back I went. They waited for me to arrive, perched on the railings so I could see their leg rings, then flew mockingly over to Le Pinacle.
Two choughs picking out insects from the soil on the far end of Les Landes Racecourse. Photo by Liz Corry
Anyone who knows the area is fully aware of how the footpaths are interwoven into the heather and gorse landscape. The only straight lines belong to the model aircraft runway to the south. Cue WW2 fighter planes ducking and diving overhead as I navigate over to Le Pinacle, a Neolithic site with the ruins of an old temple (200 AD), to find two choughs perched on top of the granite stack.
You must navigate the heather and gorse to reach the MP3 tower in the distance. Photo by Liz Corry.
For the visitor, it is breathtaking scenery. For the chough monitor, it is breath-holding for this area is synonymous with peregrines. The choughs were risking life and limb. I didn’t have to hold my breath for long as they moved on again. This time I lost them as they followed the cliff face obscured from my view.
Le Pinacle is a granite stack where Neolithic treasures have been unearthed as well as the visible ruins of a temple dating back to 200 AD. Photo by Liz Corry.
Of course, just because I have not seen them doesn’t mean the choughs are not around. A tourist spotted two choughs at Les Landes and emailed the few photos she managed to snap before they flew away (bird not tourist). Squinting at the leg rings I think she saw Beaker and guessing the second was Beanie Baby!
A visitor to Jersey managed to spot Beaker whilst out on a walk at Les Landes. Photo by Susan Mueller.
We have also had three confirmed sightings from Le Pulec this month. None when I visited of course. The same for Grosnez and at Grantez.
Beanie Baby and Beaker visiting Le Pinacle. Photo by Liz Corry.
All of the sightings away from Sorel are of pairs or small groups in the single figures. We are only seeing numbers in the 20s or 30s at the supplemental feeds compared to the 30s or 40s last month. This is because the pairs no longer need to find food for their chicks as well as themselves. The independence is allowing them to spend more time away from Sorel which makes it harder for us to monitor.
It is now hard to spot the juveniles in the flock unless you can read their leg rings. Photo by Liz Corry.
Of course they could just be sulking over the fact we have not been able to provide as many live mealworms this month. The UK supplier has had a few problems and a change in delivery policy to the Island has resulted in delays. Delays for live food tend to result in death; the correct temperatures are not maintained and the insects don’t get fresh air. We have had to send most of our monthly order straight to the compost bin.
I will end August’s report as it started with the sexing results. The chicks were not the only ones to be tested. We sent a sample from Chewbacca, a two-year-old, parent-reared bird.
The lab came back with female whereas the first test back in 2017 said male. Judging by size and behaviour this Chewbacca is definitely a girl.
A chough family out and about at Grosnez. Photo by Mick Dryden.
By Liz Corry
The choughlets finally made it across to Sorel this month to join the flock at the supplemental feed. Some are flying further afield following their parents to the west coast. They now face the same challenges life throws at all choughs; finding food, avoiding predators, and putting up with those pesky folk who keep wanting to put leg rings on them.
Attendance records at Sorel on the rise.
The choughs are finding plenty to eat around Mourier Valley. Photo by Liz Corry.
With nest sites vacated for another year, the adults are spending more time together at Sorel. The addition of hungry mouths to feed has seen attendance records at the supplemental feeds increase. It has allowed us to get a better understanding of total population size. More on that later.
This year sixteen choughs fledged from various nest sites at Sorel and Plémont. Sadly, as reported last month, three died within a week of fledging all injury related. That still leaves thirteen hungry mouths to feed.
It has been quieter this year at Sorel compared to 2018. The broods fledged at different times. Families were arriving at Sorel days, sometimes weeks, apart giving the youngsters time to adjust. Last year they all fledged within a relatively close time frame. I guess it was noisy because the chicks had to compete with each other for attention.
The surprising news came from Skywalker and Pyrrho who casually rocked up to the supplemental feed one afternoon with two chicks in tow. Quarry staff thought this nest had failed. As first time parents, we had also written off the clutch. Wrong! One of the few times you are happy to be proven wrong.
Earl of Plémont returns triumphant
Rather a grand title yet justified for the next snippet of news. Earl and Xaviour are returning to Sorel for supplemental food. And so is their chick! On 4th July I found 40 choughs waiting for me near the aviary. As I started going through the roll call, I stared down to find two familiar faces (well leg ring combos) staring back.
Earl and Xaviour (middle two) returned to Sorel this month along with their new chick. Photo by Liz Corry.
I had to work my way through the flock to finally discover which, if any, was their chick. It was positioned at the back of the group, silently getting on with life, foraging for food.
The Plémont chick getting down to business. Photo by Liz Corry.
We expected the family to make an appearance at some point; the hot dry summer has hardened off the soil making it impossible to extract insects. Their reliance on the supplemental feed naturally increases at this time. We have also learnt that the cows grazing at Les Landes, a chough favourite, have been removed due to the farmer having to make cut backs. These provided another source of food for the birds especially Earl and his family at neighbouring Plémont.
Work with me on this pun as I’m trying to make light of a tragedy. One of Jerseys licensed ringers, Ian Buxton, contacted me this month with regards to a specimen submitted to the Société Jersiaise. Somebody found the remains of a bird whilst out on the cliffs around Sorel Point. On seeing an address stamped on the metal leg ring they thoughtfully bagged the remains and took them to the museum.
This is how Ian became involved and then sent me the following image…
The remains of chough PP036 hatched this year at Ronez. Photo by Liz Corry.
The legs belong(ed) to one of this year’s chicks – PP036 also known as ‘White over Cerise’.
A peregrine falcon hanging out at Sorel Point. Photo by Liz Corry.
We do like to wind up our vets at Durrell, but I wasn’t about to submit this for a post-mortem. It is quite likely that the youngster fell foul to the resident peregrine falcon.
PP036 had been absent from the feeds since 13th July and discovered on the 17th. We have three more youngsters on our watchlist who haven’t been seen in awhile. They could simply be with their parents over at Les Landes or Crabbé. Although the recovered legs makes me suspicious.
I have contacted the Jersey Climbing Club to ask members to keep an eye out whilst dangling from granite. They are more likely to come across remains than we are.
Big catch up
To ensure each chough has a unique ring combination we had to plan several catches this month. As well as some unplanned, carpe diem moments. Four broods remained unringed and several adults had lost one or more plastic ring.
Making use of the overgrown bracken to operate the hatches. Photo by Liz Corry.
The parents of the unringed chicks were understandably protective. They were on the alert whenever we called the group over for food in the aviary. Often they would land on top of the netting and just stare at us until we gave in and left. If they did go inside, they would immediately fly out as soon as one of us merely thought about closing the hatches!
The added complication was trying to time it when enough staff were available to help out. We only needed certain individuals from a group of potentially 48 birds. Trying to hand net and process that many in a confined space is stressful to the birds. You want to be able to minimise time spent inside.
On the odd occasion the youngsters were helpful. I would arrive to find one or two chicks already inside. In their naivety and panic, they would forget how to fly out of the hatches giving me enough time to reach the handles and close them.
The big catch-up came on 19th July when I managed to lock in 34 choughs. Three escaped the hatches in an Indiana Jones style – one of which was an unringed chick. We’ll gloss over that. With the help of a volunteer and a licensed ringer, I hand-netted 28 of the birds, we weighed them, and fitted or replaced leg rings as necessary. All birds were released back into the wild once we had processed them.
Whilst in the hand, we discovered one of this year’s youngsters had a clump of matted feathers around the neck. It was dried blood. There was no obvious wound, no fresh bleeding, but clearly something had happened since it’s first catch up three weeks ago. One to keep an eye on.
The big catch up and recent numbers at the feeds are evidence to suggest we have lost eleven choughs since January of this year. This is not including the deceased fledged chicks.
We know the reason for one bird was aspergillosis because we had a body to post-mortem. Around two thirds of the lost birds were in pairs. Their partners have re-paired with a younger male or female. Was that before or after the disappearance? Cue the EastEnders theme tune.
Captive or Wild-hatched?
* if wild-hatched this is year it fledged.
Bracken bashing for charity
Whilst the sheep do a grand job of grazing the National Trust land at Le Don Paton they have their limits. They don’t actually eat the bracken, certainly not in any quantities to make a difference. At least once a year the rangers take a tractor up to clear certain areas. Understandably, the slopes of Mourier Valley aren’t practical even for the most skilled of drivers.
A Manx loaghtan sheep grazing in Mourier Valley. Photo by Liz Corry.
The wonderful staff at HSBC rose to the challenge and volunteered their time to bash some bracken. Despite July’s scorching temperatures the team joined the National Trust’s rangers and did a great job and clearing the vegetation.
HSBC volunteers helping clear the bracken in Mourier Valley. Photo by National Trust for Jersey.
The sheep can now take over and make sure it stays low. This is how it would have been centuries ago when farmers kept livestock around the coast. Although I assume with less corporate branding. HSBC also helped the rangers at woodland on Mont Fallu and clearing the alien invasive succulent, purple dew plant, from the salt marsh habitat of St Ouen’s Bay coastal strip.
Plémont bay – a new territory for the choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
A lot of ups and downs this month for the Channel Island choughs; literally in some cases! The nests have fledged with some surprising outcomes. Whilst the chicks were escaping their nests, I escaped the Island to Slovenia to talk all about choughs to Germans.
In a first, on record, a wild-hatched chough has fledged at Plémont! The pair responsible were on their second season of trying and are the first to successfully breed away from Sorel.
The success is largely due to the pair’s ability to find food in the wild. They have not been seen at the supplemental feeds for a long time implying they don’t need it. Instead they forage around Plémont, Grosnez, and Les Landes.
The Plémont chick is a fast learner. It even picked up some cave art skills! Photo by Liz Corry.
It has been quite challenging to keep up with the youngster. When first bouldering outside of the nest it would hide behind rocks when mum and dad were off finding food. We didn’t manage to get any clear photos of it at this age.
Born into the wind, the chick was quick to develop its flying skills. None of this hanging around the quarry clinging to the safety of girders and stairways.
There have been a few sightings of the family at Plémont. We probably won’t be able to give the chick an identity (leg rings, DNA sexing) until they start returning to the Sorel feeds. If they return!
The ones that got away
We returned to the quarry on 4th June to ring chicks too young to ring when we visited last month. The first nest belonged to Red and Dingle using a box in the asphalt plant. You may remember they had two young chicks. Now there were three!
Licensed ringer Dave Buxton discovered three chicks in the nest- box. Photo by Liz Corry.
The newcomer was 23 grams lighter than it’s siblings. Having hatched last, it had time to catch up. On 25th June the quarry reported all three chicks had fledged with parents attentive as ever.
Staff soon began to realise one of the chicks was in trouble. Whilst two had positioned themselves on the purlins of the building, the third was out and exposed to the risk of mechanical harm. Staff left doors to the building open hoping the parents would encourage the chick back to safety. Apparently the parents were shouting at it quite a lot; one assumes that is what they were trying to do!
Onsite CCTV allowed staff to keep watch on the chick; it appeared to be doing ok. After two days it wasn’t moving – at all. Sadly it had died. A post-mortem revealed a healed fracture in one wing. An underlying reason for its restricted movements around the asphalt plant? The interesting find was that this wasn’t the ‘runt’, but one of the older, larger chicks.
Choughs are full of surprises. When we went to ring Kevin and Wally’s brood on the 4th we found they had lost a chick pre-fledge. Disheartening as it was they had made up for it in size. They were huge! We remembered tiny, half-naked things. These were fully-feathered beasts. I’m pretty sure there is no literature on choughs feeding protein shakes to their chicks. We certainly didn’t find a nutribullet secreted in the building framework. Whatever they’ve been fed, the chicks survived and by the end of the month they were frequenting the Sorel aviary.
One of Kevin and Wally’s chicks having leg rings fitted. Photo by Liz Corry.
Other fledging news
We are pretty certain that all the chicks have now fledged. Unless any undetected nests along the north coast wish to make a claim – please do so now.
Proud to say we have new choughs flying around Jersey’s north coast from six different families. Somewhat disheartening to know there were broods or individuals that didn’t make it. From what we have seen it is simply a result of life in the wild.
One reason for loss is inter-specific competition within the quarry. I had a joyous moment mid-June watching Green and Black’s recently fledged trio being fed on the east side – where we used to supplemental feed released choughs.
Imagine my surprise as watching through the scope I saw a herring gull appear from nowhere and pin down a chick by the throat. Lots of shouting and wing slapping ensued.
Surprise attack by gulls on the recently fledged chough family. Photo by Liz Corry.
A pair of herring gulls pin down one of the chough chicks by the throat. Photo by Liz Corry.
A second gull joined in as did all the choughs in the quarry at the time. The chick managed to escape although I imagine it sustained injuries. Since that day we have only seen the parents with one chick.
The gull’s actions were not fully unjustified. They had a chick about two metres away from where the chough family had been hanging out. They were just doing their job of being good parents. With more choughs and increasing numbers of gull nests we are likely to see more of this behaviour.
Taken several days after the attack, this cute ball of fluff explains what the fight was about. Photo by Liz Corry.
An interesting anecdote from this event was how the other choughs reacted. They didn’t physically attack the gulls (a couple tried) it was more of an audible attack. Once the fighting stopped and one gull returned to their nest, the choughs stayed with the chough family almost like a standoff.
When it looked like matters had calmed down the choughs began breaking away going about their business. One pair returned to their nest in the lower quarry. Choughs truly are a social species.
Thankfully choughs raised in the zoo do not need concern themselves with gulls, peregrines, or dangerous rock-crushing machinery. Just their dad!
Tristan remained separated from Penny and the two chicks throughout June. The chicks look really well and have now fledged. We will look at moving Tristan back soon along with Gianna for the summer.
Dobrodošli v Sloveniji ⁄ Welcome to Slovenia
I was invited to talk at Monticola’s annual meeting held, this year, in the Julian Alps, Slovenia from 11th to 16th June. Monticola is an association of amateur and professional ornithologists specialising in alpine species.
The Julian Alps in Slovenia were once home to red-billed choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
This year’s focus was to discuss the feasibility of reintroducing red-billed choughs to Slovenia. Red-billed choughs disappeared mid-twentieth century from Slovenia (yellow-billed choughs are still numerous). Hunting is attributed to much of the loss. Change in land use and effects of pesticides and/or cattle worming are likely to be the other major players. A large proportion of alpine pastures in the Julian Alps have been lost to the encroaching commercial forest.
Caûvette the chough surveying the habitat. Photo by Liz Corry.
Various day time excursions were planned along with evening talks. Members of BirdLife Slovenia (DOPPS) talked about their work and joined me for a scary panel discussion on reintroducing the chough. I say scary, not because of the stature or responsibility being on this panel. Rather because it was in German…and Slovenian!
Tomaz Mihelic, BirdLife Slovenia, gave talks about monitoring and conservation of various Slovenian species. Photo by Liz Corry.
BirdLife Slovenia don’t just work with birds. Photo by Liz Corry.
Monticola members are mainly German or Swiss-German. To add to the fun, the German for red-billed chough is Alpenkräuhe which is not the same as the Alpine chough known in English as yellow-billed choughs.
Promo material handed out to Monticola members. Photo by Liz Corry.
Thankfully I had the lovely Johannes and Arnette Denkinger who took me under their wing. Johannes had invited me to speak after reading about Birds On The Edge. It has been his passion for many years to see the return of the red-billed choughs to the eastern Alps.
Birdlife Slovenia did not appear to be against the idea, but raised the realistic challenge of limited resources and existing government priorities. Using evidence from Jersey, and Durrell’s ethos, we all agreed there was scope to create a similar project to Birds On The Edge in Slovenia whereby the focus is restoring alpine pastures. Support is already there within the German zoo community where a captive-breeding programme has been initiated. Tiergarten Nuernburg are leading the work and have invested in habitat feasibility studies.
At the end of the day this needs the people of Slovenia to be behind it. A challenge Johannes is prepared to take on!
Caûvette the chough taking a break at Lake Bohinji. Photo by Liz Corry.
Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards 2019
Congratulations to Birds On The Edge partner the National Trust for Jersey who were awarded runner’s up prize for their conservation meadow at The Elms. The winners were SCOOP The Sustainable Cooperative for their soon to launch ‘Re-Wild my Plate’ initiative.
Glyn Young presenting Kaspar Wimberley of SCOOP with first prize at this years Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards.
Glyn Young was one of the judges and presented the awards at a ceremony held at the Pomme D’or Hotel. I gave a short presentation explaining how we spent last year’s award money supporting the chough project. We must state for the record there was no vote rigging!
Breeding out on the north coast has been in full swing this April. Thirteen nest sites have been recorded, two of which are new. We have a new site within the quarry and for the first time a nest-box installed along the north coast is seeing action. Sadly it looks like a territory in the south-west of the Island has been lost, but with 13 of our 15 males in action things are still looking good.
A pair of choughs copulating at the start of April. Photo by Liz Corry.
Ronez: same sites, different pairs
Working closely with Ronez Quarry staff we have been able to record eleven nests on their property.
Ronez Quarry pit (using a lens filter before you ask). Photo by Liz Corry.
It does look like we have lost Bean and males Q and Duke. Their ‘other halves’ are using the same nest sites they had last year this time with new partners.
All nest-boxes installed in the quarry are now being used and show promise. With help from quarryman Kevin Le Herrisier, Red and Dingle have been encouraged to nest in a box rather than on the hot pipes that cooked their eggs for the past two seasons.
A nest-box installed in the quarry to support the breeding population. Photo by Liz Corry.
Two external boxes are once again in use and are already having more success (now that they’ve evicted the kestrel). One of these boxes is being used by wild-hatched Percy and Icho who was released in 2014.
The really exciting news came from Toby Cabaret, Assistant Operations Manager. He reported hearing chick noises from the box. Considering it took a hydraulic crane to put the box up in the first place, Toby was a little unsure of what he was actually hearing.
You talking to me? Photo by Liz Corry.
I spent an hour observing the nest site from the newly installed viewing platform in the lower quarry. Accompanied by an inquisitive gull, I watched as Percy made four visits to the nest-box within a fifty minute period.
Either Icho is one demanding female or they have chicks. This was on the 11th which meant Jersey’s choughs had started early!
North coast nests
Once again, Earl and Xaviour are nesting out at Plémont. Visitors to Plémont Beach cafe are having regular flypasts if they spare the time to look up from their all-day breakfasts. This is the first nest site away from the quarry and is susceptible to human disturbance. The public cannot access the nest itself, but they can access the headland above even though part of it falls within the Seabird Protection Zone in place March to July. Low tide fishermen, walkers, drone users, and a gentleman in red speedos who takes a folding chair out to the furthest point on a regular basis so he can sunbathe – the downside to having a good spotting scope – have been noted in the vicinity.
This has not deterred the pair from nesting, in fact we believe Xaviour is incubating eggs. The concern will be around fledging time when chicks are vulnerable and learning to forage on that particular headland.
As well as this natural nest site, we have nest-boxes along the cliffs stretching from Sorel to Devil’s Hole. One of these has been destroyed by rockfall (hopefully not with birds inside). Another has been used for the first time as an actual nest rather than rain shelter. Vicq, one of our foster-reared girls and now fully fledged ‘cougar’, has taken a shine to one year old Osbourne. As Ronez’s CEO namesake, I guess he was destined to be the first of the 2018 wild-hatched choughs to pair up.
Osbourne taking an interest in what Vicq is doing inside the nest-box. Photo by Liz Corry.
When Vicq and Osbourne were seen for the first time using the box they were very attentive. They had already built the nest. Vicq was clearly very busy inside whilst Osbourne maintained a supervisory role (or didn’t have a clue what was happening). The next day they were still visiting the box albeit less frequently. A visiting student, Rachel Owen, observed the nest for a set time each day for the following week. Nothing! Not a single visit to the box by a chough. Vicq‘s first nest had failed; certainly one to keep an eye on next year.
Another failure this year has been the nest in the south-west of the Island. In fact the pair have not been seen at all this season by staff at Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd. I was beginning to get paranoid having visited the area a few times this year on a chough hunt and returned unsuccessful.
Student Rachel Owen, who was staying with friends in Corbière, spent two mornings walking the coastal path from Gorselands to the sand dunes. Again no choughs. Several other corvids around to test her ID skills, but clearly the pair who tried holding down a territory in this area last year have abandoned. Pleased to say Rachel stayed upbeat about it despite the miles she covered on foot.
Rachel Owen spent a week in Jersey working with the choughs as part of her studies. Photo by Rachel Owen.
Whilst we have no strong scientific data, we do know the pair returned every day to Sorel throughout 2018 to get food before roosting back in the south-west. Compare that to the Plémont pair and you can’t help thinking that the south-west provides a poor food resource. The other factor to consider is the unintentional human disturbance. The number of visitors to Corbière and the dunes meant the choughs were constantly moving around whilst foraging.
The sad news is that the female, Mary, has not been seen since the start of February. Partner Bo had a similar attendance record until we discovered he had just been incognito. He was one of two individuals we reported on last month for having identical leg rings. Bo is currently nesting in the quarry with a different female.
There have been several confirmed reports of choughs exploring the north-east of the Island. On the first Sunday in April, Glyn Young watched a pair fly between la Saie and le Coupe Bays. About an hour earlier, one of our keepers living near the zoo had spotted them flying in Glyn’s direction. The following weekend, a local birder recorded a pair near Anne Port, briefly stopping at Gorey Castle before heading west. The weekend after that I was alerted by a distinct call coming from the skies above my house! Two choughs meandering along on the thermals above Rozel Valley.
Are these weekend visitors? Presumably the same pair, if so which? To add to the mystery, another Durrell colleague reported four flying over her house east of the zoo on a Tuesday morning.
I contacted Jersey Heritage regarding the sighting at Gorey castle. To a pair of passing choughs, the 800-year old building offers numerous potential nesting opportunities. A volunteer guide at the castle witnessed the same visit, but nothing else before or after. It doesn’t necessarily mean that is the end of the story.
There are plenty of foraging opportunities in the north-east if you look around. Rozel Manor for instance has land grazed by cattle. Nearby there are two smallholdings with pigs which get rotated around (field not pig!) so the land isn’t completely churned up. Plus plenty of large, horse paddocks as well as properties with extensive, well-maintained lawns. Providing pesticides are not being used there could be an untapped source of food for the choughs.
A “chough’s eye view” of the habitat around the north-east of Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.
Sorel aviary ‘spring clean’
Much needed major repair work was carried out this month on the aviary at Sorel. We experienced a few setbacks in suppliers and contractors resulting in Durrell’s own Site Service team carrying out the work with a very short turnaround window.
We called in a favour with the Natural Environment team. States ranger Keiran drove the building materials and equipment to Sorel as we don’t have a suitable vehicle.
The States of Jersey kindly donated their time and vehicle) to help Durrell transport materials to Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
Brand new netting has been fitted to the tunnel. Not a simple job as the timber framework it was attached to was rotten. All of the shelving in the tunnel has been replaced and most of the framework. It also meant that the hatches had to be removed, new marine-grade steel hinges fitted, and finally re-wired before fitting.
The aviary under repair. Photo by Liz Corry.
A metal pole has been installed running down the centre of the tunnel to support the hoops.
This was the original intention back when the aviary was first built, but never came to fruition.
Timber was used instead, which of course didn’t weather well and in certain places led to netting fraying.
There are still several DIY tasks that need to be completed in order for the aviary to function as a catch-up facility. It is, however, up and running again as a supplemental feed site and roost for those birds that need it.
Jersey Zoo’s breeding group
This year we have just one breeding pair of choughs in the zoo; Tristan and Penny (short for Pendragon). This is their first time together not that you can tell. They have made a perfect nest and began egg-laying on the 19th. Mum is tending to a clutch of four eggs with Tristan keeping her well-fed. We have to wait until May to see if they all hatch.
Gianna is still at the Zoo although now off-show in her foster-rearing aviary. We haven’t broken the news to her yet that we want the other pair to parent-rear their own chicks. Gianna hasn’t built a nest this year which is unusual. I think it is linked to the lack of attention she is receiving. The project has been without a student placement for several months now. Normally they would be visiting Gianna two to three times a day in addition to the keeper visits.
Any other business….YES loads!
April was definitely a busy month. To add to all of the above activities there have been several visitors all wanting to learn how the reintroduction and Birds On The Edge can be of benefit. Below is a summary although really they warrant separate blogs. In no particular order:
Author Patrick Barkham and his family spent the Easter Holidays at the Durrell Wildlife Camp. He managed to include a trip to Sorel where I could explain the work we do and show off the choughs. Inadvertently, Patrick helped with our data collection. As I stood on the cliff tops pointing to a nest-box and commenting on the lack of uptake, Vicq and Osbourne eloquently flew straight inside! Side note: highly recommend reading Patrick’s books, especially Islander and Badgerlands.
Vicq collecting material to build her nest at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
Jersey zoo played host to the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA)Directors’ Days conference. Over 130 zoo directors travelled to Jersey for the three-day event. This year’s theme was around leadership in conservation and how to encourage the community to set ambitious targets for greater conservation impact. The Birds On The Edge project was therefore a fitting optional field trip for the final day.
On the same day we also welcomed two guests from the Scottish Chough Study Group – Pat Monaghan, University of Glasgow, and Amanda Trask (now at ZSL). We are assisting in planning a translocation intended to ensure the survival of the remnant Scottish population. Also supported by improved supplemental feeding methods adapted from the lessons learnt with the Jersey choughs.
The two groups met out at Sorel providing Pat and Amanda with a bonus opportunity to network with Scottish EAZA members! Watch this space!
Great minds around a table in a castle – the start of something epic? Photo by Liz Corry.
Lastly, I escaped the rock for 24 hours to attend a workshop at Dover Castle, Kent. A PhD student is currently assessing the feasibility of reintroducing choughs to Kent. Historically, the species resided across the entire south coast of England not just Cornwall where you find them today. Plus choughs feature heavily in Canterbury heraldry.
The workshop was an opportunity to get project partners and experts together to discuss the next steps. Our good friends from Paradise Park were present allowing for a quick catch-up. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the room driven by Kent Wildlife Trust‘s latest goal to develop a wilder Kent. Again watch this space!
In the meantime, watch this video and reward yourself for reaching the end of April’s report!
It has been all go this March. Sometimes quite literally as some of the choughs have, well, just gone!
Jersey’s chough population plummets
At least that would be the headline if this was a tabloid site. The less drastic approach is to say that several of the choughs have been unaccounted for since January or February depending on the individual. This means that Jersey’s population might have gone from 46 to 37 choughs over a three-month period.
With all the leg ring issues we have reported on recently, it is possible that some birds are going undetected at Sorel. Two birds have been sporting matching leg rings for the past month. We finally managed to determine that one of these is Gilly. Her metal number was read by zooming in on an opportunistic photo. Through process of elimination, the second bird has to be either Duke or Bo. Neither have been seen for a while.
One of two birds sporting the same leg ring combination after losing a coloured ring. Photo by Liz Corry.
To add to the mystery, both Duke and Bo paired up last year forming territories at Sorel and Les Mielles respectively. Duke’s partner is still very much alive and well at Sorel. Although she now appears to be flying around in a trio with two others. Bo and his partner, Mary, were not identified at Sorel throughout the entire month. Have they permanently moved to the southwest of the Island? Or, has something happened to one or both birds?
Mystery disappearances have also affected two pairs from Ronez Quarry that shared the same building. Our beloved Bean and normally easy to spot Q (bright pink ring) have a zero attendance record for March. Their partners are regularly turning up to the supplemental feed so what does that mean? Did they decide to ditch their trademark monogamous ways and elope to a different part of the Island? Are they dead? Has Bean become agoraphobic and can no longer leave her roost?
What we do know is that we have new pairings generating both good and bad news.
Breeding pairs for 2019
We are not 100% clear on all our pairings this year due to the confusion over which birds are alive and dead. For example, Bean’s partner Kevin is now followed everywhere by two foster-reared females Ubè and Wally. This lends itself to the theory that Bean is no longer at Sorel (or Jersey). Likewise, Pyrrho who was with Duke last year, now appears to hang out with another pair. This pair is one of our new couplings Skywalker and Zennor.
There are a few new pairs at Sorel this breeding season including Skywalker, released last year, and Zennor. Photo by Liz Corry.
On 4th March, Skywalker was observed at Sorel with wool. It wasn’t entirely clear if he was collecting the wool or if the wind had blown it across his face. He carried it around for a bit ultimately ditching it for the supplemental feed. On the same day we found bits of wool inside the aviary – a sign that the pairs had begun lining their nest.
At this stage, we think there are ten pairs and two groups of three attempting to nest at various sites around Jersey. I have to say it….
West is best?
You are now just as likely to see choughs at Les Landes, Grosnez, or Plémont as you are at Sorel these days. There is at least one pair nesting out west, possibly more given the difficulty in tracking individuals.
We have had lots of reports in from the National Trust, States of Jersey rangers, and Durrell staff on their days off.
Choughs hanging out at Plémont. Photo by John Parkes, National Trust for Jersey.
Grantez is being highlighted as a foraging site and/or fly over route. Not to be confused with Grosnez, which is starting to look hopeful as a potential nesting territory. It also appears to be the perfect ‘playground’ for the choughs to practice their aerial acrobatics whilst annoying the resident fulmar population. Note that fulmars (who are very good at spitting) and choughs aren’t always the best of neighbours.
The perils of plastic
We had to catch up Betty this month when she was spotted at the aviary with yellow nylon wire wrapped around her right foot. Betty had most likely picked this up whilst looking for nest liner. Luckily, we were able to trap her in the aviary relatively quickly. It still required a two-day wait whilst hatches were fixed – yep they jammed again – but we cut the material off before it could do any damage.
Betty was caught up in March to remove material wrapped around her foot. Photo by Liz Corry.
Whilst in the hand, there was the opportunity to clear up confusion over a DNA test taken when Betty was a chick. The original sexing result was questioned by the DNA testing company due to an admin error. Betty’s recent behaviour and body weight of 350g implied she was a he. A new DNA sample was taken and sent to the UK. The result came back as a definite male.
This is great news as Betty is paired up with Gilly (female) and this year they look set to nest for the first time.
On a side note, their relationship meant that Gilly followed Betty into the aviary when we trapped him. This allowed us to catch Gilly as well and replace her missing green ring.
Zoo choughs show a promising start
Jersey Zoo has a new pairing this year of Tristan and Pendragon (Penny for short). They are in fact our only pair now due to the sad loss of birds last year. Both are experienced breeders but this will be their first season together.
So far so good. They have been busy adding material to the nest box. Hopefully there will be eggs by April. Staff are monitoring progress closely via the nest cam.
The new pair at Jersey Zoo started building a nest in March. Photo by Liz Corry.
Birds On The Edge is incorporated into one of their modules where they learn skills in radio-tracking, distance sampling, reintroduction practices, and broaden their knowledge in conservation management.
DESMANS learning how to radio-track at Jersey Zoo. Photo by Izabela Barata.
This month they visited Sorel to see the project up close and personal. Instead of a stuffy indoor lecture, they were treated to my ramblings on about Birds On The Edge and how the choughs have returned to Jersey. They were very impressed with the choughs although the friendly Manx sheep clearly stole the show.
DESMANS 2019 with course leader Tim Wright and facilitator Izabela Barata at Sorel. Photo by Liz Purgal.