Chough report: January 2021

Sheep and choughs reunited at Sorel for the new year. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

January got off to a flying start. For the choughs at least. We, however, are still grounded in lockdown.

Jersey has experienced some outstanding days of clear skies and sunshine. The type that provides perfect flying conditions for choughs. Then we’ve had the horrendous downpours. The type that provides perfect conditions for staff and student to question their career choices.

Let’s start the year focusing on the positives!

News from Carteret

After a nervous few days of not seeing her, Yann happily reported Cappy to be alive and well. She is still in the same location. A good sign perhaps if she is confident with her surroundings; familiar with the good foraging spots and has secured a safe roost. We don’t really know right now. Counting down the days until we can visit. January’s skies provided teasing glimpses of French shores.

Coastline of France visible from Sorel car park. Photo by Liz Corry.

Coastline of Normandy visible from my neighbour’s garden. Photo by Liz Corry.

New year, new bling

There have been three attempts this year to trap choughs in the aviary to replace missing or broken leg rings. Third time’s a charm! We changed tactic for 2021 and sat in front of the aviary posed ready with the hatch wires.

The first time was inevitably going to fail. The birds knew something was afoot and refused to enter the aviary in our presence. Throughout the next week of feeds, observations were carried out from this position without any movement of hatches. By the second attempt the birds were a little more relaxed. A few of the bolder adults like Chewbacca, Lee, and Green went inside. Most of the group would then follow having seen the survival of the ‘sacrificial offerings’. Any sudden movement or unfamiliar noise and the entire flock fled.

Another week of undisturbed feeding meant that the third attempt trapped 24 of the 29 choughs present that day. It still meant a good thirty minutes of sitting patiently in the dead bracken due to hyper-vigilant Bo and Betty. These were two we needed but kept landing on the shelf, walking in and out of the open hatches, always keeping an eye on me.

Vicq was caught up to replace her broken Jersey flag ring. Photo by Liz Corry.

The weather on that day wasn’t as nice as the photos make out. High winds kept blowing the hand net back in on itself giving the birds the advantage. That said, we achieved a lot. Betty, Flieur and her youngster Iris had their missing colour rings replaced. Betty and Vicq were given fresh red and white striped rings as their existing ones had shattered. We swapped Portlet’s pale blue for a new style of pale blue that makes it easy to distinguish from the whites and greys of the flock.

Finally, Dingle was caught up simply because he was unlucky. Trying to isolate five from a group of 24 in a confined space is guaranteed to result in by-catch. All six looked well and had healthy body weights.

Away from Sorel

A few unidentified choughs evaded capture which was a shame as there are a couple of outstanding cases to deal with. Clearly, with a population of 42, several were absent from Sorel that day. 

We are still seeing choughs in Trinity Parish, Plémont, Les Landes, and the south west of the Island. Rather worryingly, we no longer get reports of pairs, just of single birds. 

Twice in one week we have seen a chough fly over the Zoo. The first time was in the rain. It looked rather laboured in flight and called frequently. The second visit was again on a damp, grey day. This time it was spotted taking a break perched atop a leafless tree by the macaque enclosure. It was, sadly, unclear if it was the same individual. 

Beaker, one half of the Plémont pair has not been seen of late at the feeds like his female has. A roost check confirmed only one bird going in to roost. We need to continue monitoring this as it implies we are down a breeding pair and territory for the 2021 season.

There are growing concerns too for a couple of other birds which may mean we have lost two more breeding pairs.

COVID, and corvid, conundrum in the Zoo

One pair who have not changed are the Zoo pair. Tristan and Penny will want to start nest building towards the end of February. This means we need to move their three juveniles out before Dad gets, well, violent. No other way of putting it.

The default move would be to export them to the UK to join the captive breeding programme supporting the pending Kent reintroduction. COVID travel restrictions set the ferry option back until April and commercial flight option to a similar date.

Plan B then becomes holding them in an aviary at the Zoo until Plan A is feasible. However, thanks to the knock on effect of COVID postponing 2020 exports, and our breeding success of species with similar housing needs (e.g. hornbills) we find ourselves in a Battle Royale for aviary space.

There is a Plan C formulating – release the juveniles. Very much dependent on whether staff can dedicate sufficient time to ensure the best chances of success. Then we have the ongoing rat problem which would really pose a threat if you want to keep birds captive whilst conditioning them for release.

Rats caught on the camera trap at the aviary (for scale, it climbs half inch squared mesh).

A Jersey supplier has been found for the rodent-proofing aluminium mentioned in the last report. I’m not confident that this can be supplied and fitted in time before Tristan kicks off. Watch this space!

Another month coming to a close at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Cap de Carteret in 2020

Yann Mouchel, the ranger keeping a close eye on our chough in Carteret, has written an article for Birds On The Edge explaining some of the work his group have been doing to conserve bird species on their coast. 

The French Birds On The Edge if you will.

Anaïs Niobey, from Maison de la Normandie et de la Manche in St. Helier, very kindly translated Yann’s article into English. The original French document can be found below.

The Cap de Carteret is visited each year by an increasing number of visitors. Last spring’s lockdown has given nature some breathing space. The eco-counters located in the area to count the number of pedestrians were put on hold – there had, sometimes, been more than 500 people a day counted on the path called “Sentier des Douaniers” (literally: Path of Customs Officers).

Beaten by the wind and the ocean spray with very important sunshine when warmer weather comes back, life on the side of a cliff is not always easy. And yet, plants and animals have been able to develop coping strategies to withstand these extreme living conditions.

At first glance, one could say that the cliffs of Carteret are similar to those of Rozel or Flamanville and the tip of la Hague (all in the North of La Manche County). They are more modest, let’s recognize it, but even though they have a number of animals and plants in common, each of the capes of the Cotentin has its own set of specifications that makes them unique thanks to their geographical orientation or their geology.

The Nez de Carteret can be proud of its cliffs, though lower than those of the Nez de Voidries. It is at the heart of West Cotentin capes’ maritime history and a real ecological gem for Normandy.

And this year, this cape welcomed a new tenant: the peregrine falcon. With a wingspan of 95cm to 115cm, a height of 50cm and a weight of 750 grams to 1.35kg, this raptor is a fearsome predator. The female is a little more robust than the male. It feeds almost exclusively on birds caught in flight (from the size of a blackbird/robin to a pigeon, rarely larger), and its speeds are dizzying because it can fly up to 350 km/h when it dives in the air.

In the 1970s, peregrine falcon populations were severely decimated by the massive use of organochlorine pesticides such as lindane or DDT resulting in a dramatic decline of the species throughout its range. At that time, it only really survived in mountainous areas. However, the ban on these pesticides and efforts made to protect raptors were gradually felt and today we are witnessing, in many places, the return of the peregrine falcon to its areas of origin. In La Manche County, it finds favourable conditions in the sea cliffs or the rocky walls of the quarries.

The peregrine falcon has been seen around the cliffs of Cap de Carteret for several years now. But it quickly finds itself in competition with another rock species: the large raven, which uses the same nesting sites.

From February, every year, the two species compete for nesting sites and it is the pair of large corvids that has been winning the battle. Four young birds were born this year and it’s also not uncommon to see several adult ravens trying to take over the cliff. The known nearby nesting sites are located around Rozel, Diélette and Mount Doville.

After lockdown, we were amazed to discover that the two species had been able to share the cliffs this year; the peregrine falcon’s presence was probably helped by the lack of humans in the area. Nonetheless, these species remain very vulnerable to the disruption caused by outdoor activities. Even more so this year, because everyone naturally had a great need to breathe at the end of lockdown and wanted to go back to nature.

On the Preserved Natural Area, where nature is offered to the public, we decided, with the support of the municipality of Barneville Carteret, volunteers of LPO and an effective watch of the semaphore team, to temporarily close the portion of footpath right above the nesting area and create a diversion, so that the pair of peregrine falcons could raise their three young without any human disturbance. We also temporarily banned the take-off of paragliders and aero-modelling aircraft from the entire site. The paragliders of the “Cotentin Vol Libre” club were invited to the Cape for a presentation on the protection of this natural area and these two emblematic species. 

Information was gradually brought to the visitors and we found that this was generally respected and well understood. Those efforts were rewarded with the fledging of the three young falcons! We reopened the path on 6 July.

When we came out of lockdown, we also intervened in the same way to temporarily protect a small colony of sand martins in the Barneville dunes. Those birds, long-haul travellers, are relatively mobile and settle in different colonies where they dig their burrows in micro sand cliffs of eroded dunes. They can be seen in several places on the shores of the “Côte des Isles” (name of the area around Barneville).

In the future, if necessary, we can collectively reinstate these operations to protect the area and that do not call into question the discovery of these natural sites.

Suffice to say that the Cap de Carteret and the dunes have not yet finished surprising us and that nature is a source of beautiful emotions provided you respect and preserve it. A real challenge is to pass on this legacy to future generations so that they can enjoy it too!

Yann works for the Syndicat Mixte Espaces Littoraux de la Manche (SyMEL) which is responsible for the management of protected coastal sites within the Department of la Manche. 

Map of coastal areas protected by SyMel. Image courtesy of www.SyMEL.fr

 
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Chough report: December 2020

Green, the oldest chough in Jersey's flock, has reared eleven young in the wild since his release in 2013. Photo by Liz Corry

December 2020 has been our quietest month to date. Partly pandemic-related as staff and student make a desperate bid to use up annual leave. A 10-day stint of isolation was thrown in for festive ‘fun’ (direct contact with a positive case).

Moreover, the choughs kept themselves to themselves. No injuries to report. No births, deaths, or marriages. Travel to France on hold – no more chough flights and no human travel either. Condor Ferries cancelled its service until April 2021. Pleased to say Cappy the Carteret chough is still alive! We will have to wait until next year to go visit.

As December draws to a close and we say good riddance 2020, it just leaves me to say a big thank you to the project volunteers for their time and support this year.

Happy New Year!

Sunset at St Ouen’s Bay. Photo by Liz Corry.

Chough report: November 2020

The Jersey chough is still doing well in France. Photo by Yann Mouchel.

Vive la France!

Happy to report that the chough who found her way to France is still there. We will call her Cappy from now on as she appears to be enjoying life at the Cap Carteret. Yann is trying to get a photo of the metal ring in case we can read the number to confirm her identity. She has definitely not been at the November supplemental feeds back here in Jersey.

The other choughs were still travelling around the Island to places such as Noirmont, Corbière, and Les Landes. No reports from Trinity or St Martin’s parish. 

Student observations

As November drew to a close, we were seeing more choughs at the supplemental feed. It made the observations fairly challenging for our student, David, with thirty plus birds to ID in the howling winds.

Whilst we still believe the total population size is in the forties there are concerns for a couple of individuals we haven’t clocked in a while. In particular the female from the Corbière pair.

Honeydew has not been seen at the supplemental feeds, yet her partner Minty has. When David has visited Corbière in the mornings he has been seeing two choughs. One is definitely Minty. Eventually he discovered that the second chough was not Honeydew but another female Yarila.

It seems history has repeated itself and whilst the individuals are different the scenario is the same. A pair spend their summer in the southwest then, as autumn turns to winter, the female is lost and the male spends more time at Sorel. This time round, however, the male is still visiting and possibly even roosting in the south along with a new female.

Honeydew (foreground) disappeared this month and Yarila (behind) has snatched up her man. Photo by Liz Corry.

David has seen two pairs fly west over Devil’s Hole at roost time. One is likely to be the Plémont pair. He thinks the Crabbé site has been abandoned so the other pair could be the Corbière birds.

Connecting islands 10,000km apart.

More damage to report at the Sorel aviary. Rodents again but also tears in the netting higher up likely to be weather related. The Zoo’s Site Services team came up to help with repairs. Frustratingly a day later the rodents had chewed back through.

I have been in contact with the team behind the RSPB Gough Island Restoration work. Their aviaries have to be resistant to killer mice! They shared photos and drawings of their rail aviaries with suggestions of what we could do in Jersey.

Rodent-proof aviary on Gough island. Photo by Richard Switzer.

Fun fact: they based their design on the chough release aviary! Richard Switzer, RSPB aviculturalist, used to teach at the Durrell Academy. Richard also worked for San Diego Zoo’s Conservation team with birds such as the Hawaiian crow, another species linked to the chough project. He has followed the chough reintroduction from the start and visited Sorel which is where he got the idea for the rail aviary.

From discussing ideas, it looks like we need to strip our aviary of the ineffective upturned guttering and replace it with aluminium flashing. If they can get it delivered to an island in the middle of the Atlantic and fit it themselves, it must be super easy to do here in Jersey. Right?!

To find out more about the Gough Island restoration work click here. I must warn you there is graphic content of predation on their website from the get go.

Gorilla on the loose in Jersey!

One unusual visitor to the supplemental feed site this month was a Jersey Gorilla. Don’t worry not a zoo escapee, rather Will Highfield the fundraising legend that is ‘Jersey Gorilla‘. Will has been setting himself crazy challenges since 2019 initially raising funds for the new Jersey Zoo Gorilla enclosure.  He surpassed everyone’s expectations, even his own, and smashed his target. With the onset of the pandemic, Will continued his gallant/insane  efforts (you decide) and started raising funds to support all the work the Zoo do including the chough project.

On 28th November Will set himself a challenge worthy of being committed  – run 100 miles in under 24 hours! On a 9 x 5 mile island! Starting at 4am in St Aubin’s, he ran anticlockwise around the Island’s roads, trails and cliff paths almost two and a half times. And he wasn’t alone, more lunatics, sorry runners, joined him along the way for support.

Speaking of support, when Will reached Sorel he was joined by Fiona Robertson of Performance Physiotherapy Jersey for what has to be the most picturesque clinic setting.

Physio on the go for the Jersey Gorilla. Photo by Fiona Robertson.

Will finally finished the challenge at 9am the next morning after 29 hours and 53 seconds of running. This is a phenomenal achievement. It might not have been within 24 hours, but considering all the miles he has run for charity over the past year and the subsequent injuries that plagued him along the way, 29 hours is equally bonkers.

A huge thank you to Will for his support. Now please go and put your feet up!

Follow Will’s journey via Facebook and Instagram and learn how to support the cause https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/will-highfield5

 

Chough report: October 2020

Sacré bleu!

“Sacré bleu, c’est crave à bec rouge!”…Is what I imagined the Frenchman exclaimed on the morning on the 23rd when a red-billed chough appeared in the skies of Normandy. Why so alarmed? Choughs are only found in three locations in France: the Alps, the Pyrenees, and a tiny population on the north west corner of Brittany. This was a first! Well, a first for a long time.

The man in question is Yann Mouchel a park ranger for the Conservatoire du Littoral, La Manche, based at Cap de Carteret. Yann has followed Birds On The Edge for the last few years after meeting a group of visiting Jersey Botanists. So, whilst surprised by the sight he wasn’t overly shocked. In fact Yann had been dreaming of this moment…and so had we.

For the chough in question was none other than a Jersey chough! Unmistakable from the leg rings adorning the bird. Our first confirmed report of a Jersey chough dispersing off-Island. In France no less. 

Yann first noticed the bird around 10am at the Nez de Carteret. It had lost one of its plastic colour rings which hampered identification. With the remaining rings we could narrow it down to just a few options. We set to work trying to dwindle it down further by confirming which birds were still flying around Jersey.

I think the chough in Carteret is one of this year’s chicks. We had not got round to naming her other than by her ring combo dark blue over mauve.  She has been absent at the Sorel supplemental feed since the 21st.

The alternative option is Bean who went missing over a year ago. Whilst I would love it if our little hand-reared Bean was still alive, it seems more likely that a youngster has dispersed off-Island.

The other news Yann shared was that the chough was lame. He speculated that the resident peregrine pair might be to blame. Having looked after these birds for so long, my initial reaction was a desire to rush over to Carteret with a vet.

Two things put a stop to this: COVID and reality. Travel restrictions and impractical 14-day quarantining (impractical for zookeepers at least) prevent me from leaving the Island. Then of course is the reality. We want the choughs to disperse. It is natural.

For now I’m resigned to stare longingly across the waters and rely on Yann monitoring her progress.

If you want to travel virtually from Jersey to Carteret and learn more about where the chough is choosing to hang out then visit Google Earth. I have put together a presentation which you can access here and click on Presentation. Please be aware you may be asked to download Google Earth if viewing on a tablet or smartphone. 

Domestic flights

The rest of our October news seems relatively boring now. Although at the time it wasn’t as the following happened before the 23rd. In fact, think of it as the prelude to the Carteret story as the flock were well and truly on the move this month.

We had our first Airport sighting. Two birds had been checking out one of the hangers. An interesting choice of residence. Think they might need to find a new estate agent. Airport staff have not seen them since. 

These two could be the same birds we reported on last month flying below the runway. We also know a pair are using the dunes and the sand pits both in close proximity to the airport.

Moving away from the Airport, the pair at Corbière are still doing well. This month they were joined by other choughs who made daily visits to Corbière. One of Durrell’s long term volunteers lives near the lighthouse and kept seeing small groups of four or six flying over her garden.

Another first has been sightings of choughs foraging in the horse fields near the Portlet Inn. Portlet adjoins Noirmont, an area we have seen choughs visit before.

In fact our second release in spring 2014 saw one radio-tracked bird end up by Noirmont Manor. Sadly never seen again, but over the years other choughs have been reported flying around. This month a small group seemed to be targeting the area and clearly finding food.

Chough report: September 2020

Choughs foraging at Les Landes Racecourse. Photo by Liz Corry.

We don’t have much to say for September. Thankfully. The public can’t stop talking about choughs! Whether it be via website, WhatsApp, email, or simply stopping me in the street, the reports have come in thick and fast.

The birds are spending more time flocking together now the pressure of the breeding season is behind them. Quite literally going where the wind takes them, often to areas they already use just in greater numbers. Makes it nice and obvious to onlookers. The chattering of choughs is hard to ignore.

Les Landes Racecourse is once again proving popular. Both with birds and people. Easy access by car, pleasant pathways to stroll or walk dogs off lead, and stunning summer views across to the other Channel Islands. Obviously from the people’s point of view. For choughs, and plenty of other bird species, there appeared to be an abundance of invertebrate food attracting them to the site.

Beanie Baby and Beaker were two such birds visiting Les Landes. One report of the pair described them to be with a third unringed bird. Could this be Xaviour?! If she had lost all the plastic rings the remaining metal can often be hard to see depending on the angle of the sun. Another, more exciting option is that the third was an unringed chick. Sorry Xaviour, but a fledged chick from a wild pair out trumps your card. We’ve not had further sightings to lend support to either theory.

Beaker (left) and Beanie Baby at Grosnez. Photo by Mick Dryden.

Under the category of ‘not surprising, but still a first’

A pair of choughs have been frequenting the fields near The Elms, headquarters of the National Trust for Jersey. Seems only fair. They’ve ticked off Durrell headquarters already. Next month Howard Davis Farm to say hello to the Government of Jersey’s Environment team?

Another pair rested on the chimney of the observer’s home in St Peter’s before heading off. This lane is sandwiched between the Airport and Les Mielles in St Ouen’s Bay. An airport might not sound like the best place for a bird to be, but it is surrounded by chough-friendly habitat. The sand pits, home a pair last year, is very close by. Could this be an indication that a new pair have moved in?   

Choughs have been spotted close to St Ouen’s Bay and Jersey Airport. Image by Google Earth.

Closer to Sorel, a gentleman sent in two reports of choughs at La Tête de Frémont and Bonne Nuit Bay. I’m surprised we don’t get more sightings in this area given the dramatic cliffs and suitable foraging habitat. It is also a likely route for them to take if heading over to Les Platons.

File these under ‘need to know more’

We’ve had a reliable report of chough over Grouville Common. An, historic report from nearby Gorey village was more likely the resident jackdaws. There have been choughs checking out Gorey Castle in past years. Grouville Common is a little too woody to appeal to choughs. It does, however, join up to the Royal Jersey Golf Course. Plenty of short grass and close to the high tide strand line of Longbeach if the choughs fancied a maritime invertebrate mix in their diet.

The fairways of Royal Jersey Golf Club could look very attractive to hungry choughs. Photo by Royal Jersey Golf.

Lastly and very importantly are two sightings from one of our project partners in Trinity Parish. Regular readers will know that we are still trying to solve the mystery of the Trinity pair. Who are they and where do the roost (or nest back in summer)? Don your deerstalker hat, light the Holmes pipe, and ponder the latest clues. On 14th September, two choughs were seen flying over Petit Pré Woods at 19:10. They had been flying around the Royal Jersey Showground and headed off inland. With the sun setting at 19:22 that day it wouldn’t be long before they went to roost. Inland? Or a quick U-turn back to a coastal site? At dawn, on the 16th, two choughs were flying over Victoria Village. The ‘village’ (actually a housing estate) is 100 metres away from the showground as the chough flies. Two sightings in the same area, one going to bed, one leaving for the morning feed? Could we be closer to solving the mystery?

In other news

The choughs have welcomed a pair of jackdaws into their flock. Photo by Liz Corry.

The aviary at Sorel is starting to be used by more than just the choughs and our visiting barn owls and kestrel. A pair of jackdaws have been hanging around at the supplemental feed. They don’t interfere with the choughs or go inside the aviary. Think they just like the company.

Magpies on the other hand are known to go in the aviary. This month, for the first time, we have witnessed juvenile magpies go inside. Much like the chough parents bringing their fledglings to feed, the magpies have done the same. The choughs do not appear bothered and will defend their food supplies when they need to. The problem is with the young magpies who haven’t quite got to grips with how to get out of the aviary. When keepers arrive to feed, the magpies’ stress levels increase and they fling themselves into the netting in panic.

On two occasions the keeper trapped them in the aviary, caught them with a hand net and released them unharmed. It seemed like the best thing to do, but actually they need to learn how to get out by themselves. Otherwise the behaviour pattern happens all over again. The magpie in the video below eventually walked out of the aviary and flew away.

Less welcome at the aviary are rats. Many a curse word has been uttered when keepers find a new hole chewed in the netting. This month the rats stepped up their game. Keepers have seen a rat in the aviary during the daytime when the supplemental feed goes out. This has happened a few times. It poses a disease risk to the choughs as rat droppings and urine can fester harmful bacteria.

We have been extra vigilant when cleaning the water tray and dishes. Surfaces are already cleaned daily. I will be setting up traps and investigating options for rodent proofing. The up-turned guttering clearly isn’t deterring the Sorel rats (think agouti more than average lab rat!).

Corvid-2020

Sign of things to come: bitter winds at Sorel pre-COVID-19. Photo by Liz Corry.

Avid readers may have noticed it has been quiet on the chough front of late. Life has been a little different since the arrival of COVID-19 in Jersey. As it has for everyone around the world.

Jersey’s first case was confirmed on 10th March with the Zoo closing its doors to the public on the 24th. Shortly before that happened, Zoo animal staff were arranged into teams, or bubbles, working a 4 day on 4 day off rota. The Bird Department had two teams, one of which I joined. Glyn Young was shielding but took on the visits to Sorel as his daily activity and where, with his daughter Mairi, he could keep isolated from people, although less so from sheep. 

Suddenly my days were filled with flamingos, Madagascan birds, and pond scrubbing to name a few. Supplemental feeds at Sorel were still factored in, however, time constraints meant observations were limited and not achievable during working hours (which rarely kept to schedule). 

We are very grateful to Sue Müller who, once Government advice permitted, volunteered to monitor nest sites. She helped to confirm all the active nest sites in the quarry. For me, the routine dog walks became chough hunts. Fun times for my furry friends.

The Zoo reopened to the public on the 12th May adhering to the Government of Jersey’s advice. We were the first British Isles zoo to make this call. I’m proud to say that, through staff dedication, volunteer support, and visitor co-operation we were able to become operational again and still remain so.

Social distancing and isolation have become the norm during this pandemic. Photo by Liz Corry.

Our working week returned to normal a few weeks after reopening. Glyn continued to isolate and cover the Sorel feeds along with two volunteers who returned to help. I continue to work on the ground in the Zoo as well as the chough project which hopefully explains the reason for delaying  publication of the monthly reports. 

It has been a very surreal eight months. Our team has been extremely fortunate in terms of the personal impact of COVID. For many of you that might not have been the case. 

Stay safe. Be kind. And remember hands, face, space, read the monthly chough reports. That last one is imperative.

Click on the blue links on the images below to read the monthly chough reports.

Chough report: August 2020

New recruits mixing with the flock. Photo by Liz Corry.

The results are in!

We finally finished ringing the young choughs at Sorel by the second week in August. Part of the ringing process includes collecting DNA samples to send to the UK for identifying sex. The results came back relatively quickly. We have three males and nine females. Overall, this means we still have an imbalance in the population. Roughly one male for every two females. The good news is that, providing they make it through the winter, we could be looking at fifteen pairs for the 2021 season.

Jinxed Mauve

I spoke too soon. One of the 2020 males sadly died this month. He had not shown any indications of being sick until one of the ringing catch-ups. He wasn’t the target, just found himself in the group locked in and had to be hand-netted. Once in the hand we could hear his breathing wasn’t right.

It was Sunday evening and with no vet nearby. I decided to release him and then re-catch the next day with a vet in tow. Big mistake. The weather (thunderstorms), the aviary (jammed hatches), and the bird’s stubbornness all played against me. When I could try catching, he would simply sit outside watching the others go in. Only moving when I walked to the brow of the hill, clear of the hatch doors.

Evading capture. Photo by Liz Corry.

He still wasn’t looking ill, sneezing, or open-mouthed breathing as they would with a Syngamus infection. However, a phone call on the 17th from Ronez proved otherwise. He had been found dead in the bottom quarry. His post mortem revealed no obvious signs of Syngamus or Aspergillus. He had thorny-headed worm present just not in any numbers to cause fatality. Another unsolved mystery for the chough history books.

Chough bling

I order a new a batch of leg rings each year. One leg ring represents year of hatch and each year has a specific colour. We are now in the seventh year of choughs breeding in the wild and the colour options are becoming limited. We also struggle with quality from the supplier hence a lot of replacements are required.

The plastic striped ring and the numbered metal ring provide information that this is a Jersey chough, Photo by Liz Corry.

I invested in a batch of colour rings with text written on. Theoretically, each chick is accessioned with a PP number in the ZIMS database. This PP number would be on their plastic ring so, theoretically, we would need just one ring for year and individual instead of the current two.

Note I keep saying theoretically. The chaos that COVID-19 caused with our monitoring meant this plan was side-tracked. The first batch I ordered arrived in time for the start of ringing. Only we couldn’t use them. The manufacturer had printed the text in black not white on a dark blue ring. Totally illegible.

The next batch (different manufacturer) arrived too late. However, I did end up using one on Danny. Danny, for those who haven’t read July’s report, was given a pale blue leg ring. We already had a chick with pale blue on the other leg. When Danny found himself in a hand-net again this month, I swapped his ring for one of these new ones. It’s a bluer blue than the old pale blue. Stands out a treat.

A new pale blue coded leg ring will make Danny stand out in the crowded flock. Photo by Liz Corry.

I also looked into a new style of plastic ring; clip-on rings. Used widely amongst pigeon fanciers and super easy for a 3D printed mass market. The keepers in the Zoo have started trialling them on the red-breasted geese. For the choughs they look ideal as we can glue the clip shut much like we glue the current wrap-around rings. Alas, I was let down again by delivery times. The fit of the ones that arrived were a millimetre too tight. Sounds negligible yet makes a huge difference. Just the same as the rings we wear.

Back to the drawing board for next season. Will have to add leg rings to the chough’s Christmas wish list.

Home visits

A few noteworthy public sightings came in this month.  Max Allan, retired vet well known to many Islanders, had ten choughs land on his roof in St John. They normally try and avoid vets! Not sure if he charged for their visit.

Durrell’s former CEO, Paul Masterton, emailed in photos of three choughs visiting his neighbour’s house. This was somewhat fortuitous as it might well be the only bit of evidence we have of Trevor and Noirmont having successfully fledged a chick this year.

Choughs stopped by to pay a visit to Durrell’s former CEO this month. Photo by Paul Masterton.

Noirmont and a chick were photographed on the roof of the house. The chick was one that Glyn had caught and still needed the other rings to be fitted. We were having difficulty assigning parents to this chick as we hadn’t seen it being fed by anyone. 

It would seem unlikely for Noirmont to travel without Trevor. If we assume he was the third bird it suggests this chick belongs to them.

North East explorers

A pair of choughs have been sited on several occasions flying over Rozel Valley. The Rozel sightings cluster around la Ferme farm a dairy farm home to 280 Jersey cows. If a pair of choughs are looking for a new home then la Ferme’s buildings and the surrounding  grazed land offer a favourable choice. Neighbouring attractions, if this was an ad in Chough Property Monthly, include horse-grazed paddocks and scenic clifftops.

La Ferme Farm, Trinity, is located in the north east of the island. Image from Google Maps.

Back in February I saw a pair of choughs from my garden flying over Rozel valley.  This month I saw the same thing. Maybe even the same pair? They spent a fair amount of time dipping in and out of sight possibly landing to feed. An hour later they flew by again this time from the direction of Rozel Bay over to White Rock.

These could be the same choughs seen at Farmers Cricket Ground last month and again this month.

Flying further afield

COVID-19 has prevented a lot of zoos from importing and exporting animals as part of their collection management. The two choughs we bred at Jersey Zoo in 2019 were due to travel to Paradise Park, Cornwall. This was put on hold in lockdown and the birds housed in off-show aviaries so Penny and Tristan could start their new family. 

On 25th August, along with several birds of other species, the chicks finally made their way across the channel via ferry. These two girls can now become part of the UK breeding programme.

And, just because they haven’t featured in a while….

Chough report: July 2020

Fledged chough chicks joined the flock at the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.

Summary of the 2020 breeding season

We have ringed a total of twelve chicks this year from seven different broods.  Three chicks have unknown parentage although I can narrow it down to three possible options. We also know that five chicks died bouldering or shortly post-fledge which brings the 2020 total to seventeen chicks. No doubt we would have recorded more if COVID-19 restrictions had not prevented us for checking in nests. In a way it doesn’t matter. The twelve that fledged and continue to fly around Jersey are the important thing.

Last month’s report sounded like we had a handle on which pairs had bred and which chicks had made it to the aviary for supplemental feed. We didn’t. Not entirely. None of the chicks had been ringed in the nest this year thanks to the pandemic situation. On some days there were numerous unringed, identical birds in the flock. 

On 23rd June, Glyn opportunistically caught up two of the unringed chicks to pop on a plastic leg ring. Six days later I caught up four chicks with a licensed ringer including one Glyn had previously caught. We fitted them with the full complement of rings and took DNA for sexing. 

Choughs very quickly wise-up to any catch-up plans. Repeated back to back catch-up attempts result in the birds avoiding the aviary. Which meant it took all of July (and the first week in August) to finish processing all of the unringed chicks.

As the month went on, we started to get a clearer picture on parentage. However, the longer you wait to ring a chick the more independent it becomes, i.e. feeds for itself. You need to see an adult physically feeding a youngster to know it is the parent. Of course, there is another risk with waiting. An unringed chick seen at the start of the month might get predated, fatally injured etc. and won’t be around by the end of the month. We certainly experienced that with Dusty and Chickay’s brood.

The twelve that survived bring the total wild population back up to 44 after the dip in 2019. We look forward to monitoring their progress.

Danny boy

One of the more memorable ringing events occurred on 16th July. I had completely different plans that day taking a film crew to Sorel along with a colleague, Dan, to film a piece for our Love your zoo LIVE event. As we arrived, I spotted an unringed chough in the aviary. Not only that, but it was also a new arrival. You can tell by their naivety when they are inside the aviary. Instead of navigating the open hatches and flying straight out they fumble around in blind panic if spooked. Trapping it and catching it up was super easy. There were no licensed ringers available at short notice to fit the metal ring, so we did the rest.

Dan was very excited especially when he found out he was going to be my glamourous assistance. I let him pick the ring colour with a caution of anything but pale blue or grey (hard to distinguish in the wild). He went with pale blue. Despite that we have named the chick Danny. The sexing result came back as a male just to add to the significance.

We spent two and a half hours filming out at Sorel that day. As expected, a lot ended up on the cutting room floor. Here is the video for those who missed it.

Zoo chicks take flight

The three youngsters left their nest box at the start of July. The first was out on the first! They look really good and follow mum to the ground looking for food. Still insisting mum feeds them, but watching and learning all the time when Penny is foraging for worms, larvae etc. We are lucky that the Zoo aviary is home to a few ant nests. As long as we time it right, we can turn over a stone and have hundreds of eggs available to the choughs. They just have to make sure they get to them before the ants have carried them away.

On of Penny’s chicks contemplating the big leap. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sexing results came back on the 17th confirming we have three males. Two firsts for the Zoo; three chicks fledged, no females. These boys will head to the UK early next year to join either Paradise Park or Wildwood‘s breeding programme.

Chough chicks fledge in the Zoo. Photo by Liz Corry.

Chough travel plans continue despite Covid-19

Beaker and Beanie Baby continue to visit Grosnez and Les Landes whilst roosting at Plémont. They even made an appearance at the Sorel feed on 28th July. Maybe supplies were running low over in the west?

Searching for choughs at Les Landes and Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.

Cliffs adjacent to Les Landes racecourse offer plenty of roosting and nesting opportunities. Photo by Liz Corry.

Someone is certainly enjoying the east of the Island. More reports from Les Platons, Bouley Bay, Trinity, and flying over St Martin’s cricket pitch. We have Dave Buxton to thank for the latter. Licensed ringer and avid cricketer.

The pitch certainly looks inviting to a chough with all that short grass. The question is what lies beneath? Juicy grubs?

Choughs have been spotted flying over Farmers Cricket Club, St Martin. Photo by Farmers CC.

 

Chough report: June 2020

And they’re off… 

This year’s chicks have started to fledge and make their way over to Sorel. First out, and no surprise, were Dusty and Chickay’s chicks on the 9th. The only surprise was the number. Four! This is our largest brood recorded having made it from nest to supplemental feed. 

Kevin and Wally with one of their chicks. Photo by Liz Corry.

Ronez staff reported seeing a chick bouldering next to Lee and Caûvette’s nest and at least one still in the nest. Sadly, on the 15th they recovered a body which we assume was one of these two chicks. We have not seen Lee or Caûvette feed chicks out at Sorel and can only assume the brood failed. This is unusual for the pair. The post mortem on the recovered body was inconclusive. 

Lee and Caûvette’s chicks perished; at least they have each other. Photo by Liz Corry.

Bo and Flieur were caring for two chicks at the supplemental feeds. This is Bo’s first-time parenting. He seems up for the challenge. I wonder if he realises he is set for at least a month of earache post-nest? 

One of Chickay’s four chicks demanding to be fed. Photo by Liz Corry.

Other first timers are Percy and Icho. Last year their first clutch failed. This year they have three youngsters. Two arrived at the aviary with them on the 23rd then a third was noticed on the 26th. 

Our regular breeding pairs had varying success. I’ve already mentioned Dusty. His father, Green, and partner Pyrrho tended to a nest, yet nothing made it across to Sorel. 

Red, one of the original release birds, and Dingle raised two chicks that we know of. Ronez staff reported hearing chick noises coming from the nest box. Then on the 25th they had to intervene when one chick, having left the box, found himself with his first life choicea) face imminent death from construction vehicles b) face imminent death from tons of molten ash pouring on him or c) let the kind hi-viz human pick him up and move him to a safer area. He (we) went for Option C.  

Kevin and Wally fledged two chicks. Straight forward. No drama there. Trevor and Noirmont also fledged two chicks. I saw them bouldering around their nest site mid-June. What happened next is a bit of a mystery. Throughout June, no one observed Trevor or Noirmont feeding chicks at the aviary. They failed then right? Wrong! Although I can’t tell you until July’s report. The power of hindsight. Insert dramatic pause here. 

A chick arriving at the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.

Awkward: the aviary takes a bit of getting used to for new arrivals. Photo by Liz Corry

Embarrassing but we got there. Photo by Liz Corry.

New pairings 

June revealed two new pairings. That of Bee and Mac and Honeydew and Minty. All relatively young (≤3 years old) and no known nestsHowever, back in March Minty was seen carrying nesting material. At the time we reported him having a ‘blossoming’ relationship with a different female. Does this mean he was building a nest with her and it failed? He switched females and started building a nest with Honeydew way back in March? Either way we have no current evidence of Honeydew and Minty caring for a nest at Sorel. 

Plémont 

Without wanting to sound like a broken record, the Plémont update is much the same. No confirmed sign of XaviourBeanie Baby and Beaker are roosting at Plémont. No sign of chicks although monitoring of this site has been minimal. I think I have discovered their nest. It is too late in the year for them to be using it for definitive proof and I can only reach it at low tide. For monitoring purposes, due to Jersey’s amazing tidal range, it needs to be a low, low tide if that makes sense. 

High tide mark black) on the cliffs give you an idea where choughs can and cannot nest. Photo by Liz Corry.

Corbière choughs 

The Corbière mystery has been solved. Early June I managed to get a partial ID on one of the pair. Annoyingly this was on a day I had not planned to go looking and had no scope or long lens camera in the car. I did manage to clock a green ring on the left leg. This narrowed it down to one of six options.  

La Rosiere, Corbière, provides foraging and potential nesting habitat for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry

I returned on the 23rd in unforgiving heat this time armed with equipment. Turns out I didn’t need it as they were right there in front of me. The heat must have made them complacent splitting their time between foraging on open ground for a spell and sheltering in the old quarry ruins

Honeydew and Minty sheltering in the ruins from the intense heat. Photo by Liz Corry.

Quarry ruins used by the choughs as shelter. Photo by Liz Corry.

With an air of smug triumph, I said hello to Minty and Honeydewcracked a culturally inappropriate joke about them being at the Jehovah Witness hall, then decided I had been in the sun for too long.  

The Corbière pair arriving at the Kingdom Hall foraging site. Photo by Liz Corry.

Actually, what I did next was run around Gorselands and la Moye as I thought I heard a second pair calling not far away. When I returned to Minty and Honeydew one of them called out…and it echoed! I had just spent half an hour chasing an echo. I packed up and went off for an ice cream. 

The desalination plant next to the Kingdom Hall may explain the echoing bird calls. Photo by Liz Corry.

From my collective observations and the few public records, it does look like this pair could be roosting in the south west corner of Jersey. They like to use the abandoned Highlands Hotel during the day. It acts as a safe rest stop overlooking the land. They head to the roof then disappear out of sight for several minutes before heading off again to forage. The structure looks to have potential for a roost. The building has apparently been empty for 12-18 months. I would like to get in contact with the owner to see if we can investigate the possibility of roost or nest. If any readers can help with this please do get in contact elizabeth.corry@durrell.org or 860 059. 

Highlands Hotel is a prominent feature of the cliff tops in Jersey’s southwest. Photo by Liz Corry.

Icho

After the feed one Sunday, Icho was sat in the dead hawthorn tree by the aviary looking out of sorts. Percy was off somewhere else. She was very quiet and her feathers were out of place. There looked to be bald patches under her eyes and top of head. It was very easy for me to shut her in the aviary (another cause for concern).

Icho shut in the aviary to be caught up for a health check. Photo by Liz Corry.

Thankfully it was just a case of damp feathers mixing with rock dust. She must have bathed before arriving at the aviary. The right ratio of dust to water acting like ‘hair gel’ on the feathers.

Her subdued nature? Probably the same any mother has who had spent the past seven weeks feeding three hungry mouths?

Zoo chicks

A short yet sweet update. Penny continued to look after her three surviving chicks in the Zoo. We didn’t have to intervene just make sure she continued to get a regular supply of food. We ringed the chicks on the 16th and took DNA samples to send off for sexing. All looked fit and well.

Three very healthy chicks visible on the Zoo nest-cam. Photo by Liz Corry.

 The Malagasy A-Team 

I have been making the most of June’s daylight hours to keep on top of maintenance jobsWell trying to at least. There is the ever-growing grass and surrounding bracken to keep on top off. The rats are still making a meal of the netting in quite an extraordinary way. substantial sized rectangle had been gnawed out of one piece. I’m not sure which I was more alarmed at – the size or the shape.

For one memorable day in June, I had help from a very special volunteer groupFive staff members from Durrell’s Madagascar team have been over here in Jersey since February. They were attending the three-month DESMAN course at our Academy and became ‘stranded on the rock’ thanks to the pandemic.  

Mamy and Henri cut the grass and created enrichment areas inside the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

Students from the other countries had managed to make it homeGetting back to Madagascar was a little trickier. To alleviate lockdown boredom, they offered their assistance around the Zoo where feasible and out at Sorel. They powered through the jobs which helped me immensely.  

Mirana meeting the Manx loaghtans. Photo by Liz Corry.

One task included re-vamping the signage at the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

They managed to get flights home a few days later. They were ecstatic. I wasn’t. I had just lost my best team! I jest. We love our colleagues and lament over not spending more time face to face…unless it is in times of a pandemic. 

Mamy showed off his carpentry skills. Photo by Liz Corry.

From left to right: Mirana, Lova, Helen hiding) and Ny set to work removing the bracken before fixing holes in the netting. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sorel surprise 

As well as an unexpected volunteer team, I was in for another treat at Sorel this month. One evening, as I drove away from the aviary, I noticed a bird of prey sat on the field gate. Not unusual. Kestrel, buzzard, harrier, barn owl all hangout up there. This beauty caught my eye. It looked falcon-esque. Yet as I drove closer, eventually stopping mere metres away, managing to get my camera out of the boot, AND take a photo, I knew this wasn’t your average falcon. Of course the jesses were an early give away. 

Cyrus taking in the scenery on an excursion from St Johns Manor Falconry. Photo by Liz Corry.

With no falconer in sight, I fired off a few social media messages to see who was missing their bird. Within minutes St John’s Manor contacted me to say it was probably their beloved Cyrus. Turns out she had been missing for a day and her GPS tag had failed. I know what it feels like when our choughs go missing so I stayed nearby to keep an eye on her until they arrived. I’d love to tell you there was a happy ending. I don’t know if there was. As soon as the falconer arrived, she flew offNot far and it was approaching roost time so I would like to think she opted for rabbit in the falconer’s hand rather than the ones running around Sorel.