Chough report: June 2019

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. 

Rewilding Plémont

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. 

Research by BirdWatch Ireland showed choughs in Donegal have a preference of wind-swept, maritime grassland within a 1 km range from the nest. Petit Plémont headland matches this description perfectly. In addition, the wonderful restoration work of the derelict Pontins site by the National Trust for Jersey a few years ago has really paid off.

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.

Zoo chicks

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! 

Chough report: April 2019

By Liz Corry

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.

South-west losses

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.

Pastures new

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!

Chough report: March 2019

By Liz Corry

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.

Skills-sharing on a global level

Each year the Durrell Conservation Academy runs the Durrell Endangered Species Management course. The participants, affectionately known as DESMANS, come to Jersey from all over the world to learn practical conservation skills which they can then take back and apply to projects in their own countries.

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.

 

Chough report: February 2019

White died this month due to health complications. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Where to begin? The start seems a good place, but this start begins with an end. Two in fact, maybe three. Following? You will.

Wild breeding population suffers a setback

We sadly have to report the death of two choughs and a highly likely third. At the start of February, White was flying around with tatty feathers looking rough. He soon started showing symptoms of a syngamus issue despite ‘clean’ faecal samples. At the same time we noticed that Mauve, his partner, was not being recorded at the feeds. It is easy to lose an individual in a large flock, but pairs stick together.

White began to deteriorate so he was caught up and checked by the Vet. It took two days to trap him because the entire flock are now wise to our methods. Once locked in the aviary it was clear he was in trouble.

His was surprisingly good weight for a sick bird, which in itself was a concern. He has always been a larger bird, you can spot him in the flock based on size alone, but you would expect a slight weight loss.

Worming proved futile and he died a few days later. Post mortem results showed that his airways had become blocked by plaques of pus that had dislodged in the trachea. Why he had the plaques in the first place is unknown.

Whilst all this was going on Mauve was still absent. By the end of February, we had to conclude that Mauve was no longer with us.

White preening his partner Mauve in 2015 – their first season together. Photo by Liz Corry.

Mauve was one of the original group released in 2013. She had an interesting start to her free-flying life in Jersey as recounted in several of the earlier reports. White was brought to Jersey at the end of 2013 and released in 2014. They paired up in 2015 and a year later they had chicks of their own out on the north coast.

Cold case: chough PP012

On the same day that White passed, I was informed of a dead chough found in a garden at Grosnez. As Mauve had been missing I naturally assumed it was her.

On Sunday 17th, members from the Birds On The Edge team ran a stall at the annual Seedy Sunday & Wild About Jersey event (see below). Within an hour of the doors opening to the public I was approached by a lady from Grosnez. Seeing Lynne, our volunteer dressed as a chough, reminded her – she had a dead chough in her freezer!

The next 24 hours in the story were filled with twists and turns. In a nutshell, the lady had found the dead bird on her property in September 2017! At the time she wasn’t aware of the chough project, but had carefully double-bagged the body with a descriptive note attached. Nowadays she regularly sees the choughs flying over her land and knows what they are. As we all know, time ticks on and we forget things. Until you bump into a lady dressed as a giant chough!

Clearly this bird was not Mauve. The chough in question was Carmine, a wild chick hatched in 2017 belonging to Q and Flieur. She was one of the juveniles with syngamus who we had trouble trapping in the aviary. Since she was never medicated she probably succumbed to the infestation whilst flying around Grosnez with her parents.

A juvenile red-billed chough. Photo by Liz Corry.

We are very grateful to the lady for preserving Carmine and reporting it as we now have closure on a case. We can add this info to our dataset which aids future management plans.

If you do find a dead or injured chough in Jersey please call 01534 860059 or contact any of the project partners. We can come to you and collect the bird. All of our birds have metal leg rings on with a unique number. This will tell us who they are even if they have lost their plastic rings.

Replacement rings

Replacing missing rings on the choughs is turning into a never-ending challenge. Not helped by the birds either not showing at the feed or not staying inside when we try to shut the hatches.

A plastic leg ring found in grassland near the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

When White was trapped inside, I had the opportunity to replace Green’s missing rings. I could not fit the black gull-ring used with Green and the original release cohort. These need to be heated in hot water to open them without the material snapping; also tricky to fit one-handed. Since I was working alone without a thermos I made an on-the-spot decision. I fitted a black and white striped ring we happened to have in the ringing box.

These rings are normally used in the UK to identify a Cornish chough. As we don’t expect many of these to turn up in Jersey over the next few months I’m sure it will do as a temporary measure.

To get around the struggle of trapping the birds I tried the route of shutting the hatches after the birds had gone to roost. Fingers crossed at least one of the birds who still roost in the aviary would be a bird we needed. There were ten birds still at the aviary as the sun set. Two, maybe three, used the external roost boxes. The others went inside. The plan almost failed when the hatches didn’t close. I climbed the framework, silently cursing so as not to spook the birds, and manually closed the broken hatches.

Returning in the morning I was met with an interesting find. Earl and Xaviour had slept at the aviary. We thought they were back at Plémont having regularly been seen there before sunset. It now appears they are there for supper before flying back to Sorel to sleep. This finally meant Xaviour could have her two orange rings returned. Annoyingly she was the only bird in that group needing rings. We still have two Orange-right-only birds flying around. We need to see who if any they are partnered with to know who they are.

Potential new breeding pairs for 2019

Despite the sad loss of a breeding pair there is good news for the 2019 season. We have at least four new pairings thanks to the birds maturing. Zennor’s love for Skywalker is still going strong from the first moment she set eyes on him at Sorel last summer to a very exciting moment I can’t reveal until the March report!

Vicq, a foster-reared female has caught the eye of wild-hatched Osbourne. He isn’t even a year old yet, but it appears Vicq has staked her claim. And of course there is her clutch-mate Xaviour whose second year at Plémont may prove fruitful.

At present we have fourteen potential breeding pairs for 2019. I’m not sure how possible it will be for me to monitor them all throughout the season. I’m really hoping not to repeat the fiasco of last year when we miss-timed the hatch dates and were too late to ring the chicks. I may well be looking for volunteers.

Population census

The 2019 attendance record at the supplemental feeds has been relatively poor; around 60%. There are a few consistent absentees such as Earl and Xaviour who are spending more time back at Plémont. Other absentees have not been as easy to determine. The death of White obviously made us uneasy. What if we have lost more?

The dolmen at Grantez is one area choughs have been spotted this month. Photo by Liz Corry.

When possible, I have travelled around to known foraging sites to try and count the choughs. Of course to count them, I need to see them and I appear to be having issues with that. First off, Jersey’s potato fields are currently covered in plastic sheeting. In a way searching is easier because there are swathes of land where the choughs won’t be going. However, it also makes it hard to see anything when the morning sun reflects off the plastic.

Potato fields at L’Étacq covered to protect and encourage new growth. Photo by Liz Corry.

More fields near Grantez giving the illusion of water bodies when viewed from afar. Photo by Liz Corry.

I had a report sent in from one of the States’ rangers of two choughs in a field at Grantez one morning. Grantez is a perfect stop off for choughs with grazing sheep, a high vantage point to look over St Ouen’s Bay, two large fields grazed by donkeys, and a dolmen. Choughs love a bit of neolithic architecture. Of course, when I go up they aren’t there.

The same can be said for Le Pulec, Les Landes, and Plémont. All places I have had confirmed sightings this month. Fortunately we have a report of 13 at Les Landes at the same time we had 28 at Sorel. So at least we know we still have at least 41 choughs.

Not a chough – but perfect chough foraging habitat. Photo by Liz Corry.

Wild About Jersey

This year’s Wild About Jersey teamed up with Seedy Sunday a free seed exchange event. Le Rocquier School hosted the weekend with the Saturday (16th) dedicated to volunteer survey training for butterflies, bats, reptiles and the new Pond Watch scheme (takes over from Toad Watch). Sunday (17th) was the Seedy Sunday open day with various stalls, talks, interactive exhibits, and a guest speaker Alan Gardner, The Autistic Gardener.

Birds On The Edge had a stall staffed by Cris Sellares, Tim Liddiard, and myself. Conservation crops, a chough nest, and a dung beetle (soft toy) were laid out so the public could learn more about our work. I gave a talk entitled ‘Witches and Unicorns: how saving one species helps another‘. Trust me there is a link!

Drumming up support for Birds On The Edge. Photo by Liz Corry.

Not only did the event raise the profile of Birds On The Edge and bring to light the fate of Carmine, it managed to raise £1248.62 for Jersey Trees for Life. The money will be used to maintain and create more red squirrel bridges, across our Jersey’s roads.

Small mammal, big pain

Mice attempted to break into the chough feed-twice! Photo by Liz Corry.

The much ‘loved’ rodents struck again at the aviary. Droppings covered almost every surface in the keeper porch. Anything with the slight whiff of food about it had been nibbled including the first aid box! And then of course there was the ‘heavy duty’ storage box for the chough food.

Mice are smart. As evidenced by the fact the only place they chewed the box was the hinge – the weakest point. They didn’t succeed in reaching the pellet, but they did contaminate it with plastic shavings which meant it couldn’t be fed to the birds. As a temporary measure, I taped the hinge whilst I went to the local hardware store. It bought some time at least.

Plasterers metalwork is being use to add extra rodent-proofing to the aviary doors. Photo by Liz Corry.

With my zoo keeper thinking hat on I wandered around the store looking for an easy, cheap, will-fit-inside-my-Hyundai, solution.

Plasterers beading! At just over £2 a strip it made for a cheap and easy to fit edging strip to the door frame to stop mice and shrews from getting in. The metal work is flexible enough for a human to bend it by hand but sturdy enough to deter a mouse.

I also salvaged some builders metal work from the skip. Durrell’s HQ is currently undergoing repairs and the builders had just that week ditched some scraps. All I need now is for them to ditch their cutting tools as my Leatherman doesn’t fair well with the more robust stuff.

A metal bin has been donated to the project to stop the mice eating our supplies. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

Thanks to a charitable donation we were given a metal storage box for the chough food. The mice and shrews can only get into this if they work together to form ladder and flip the lid.

I wouldn’t put it past them. Just take a look at the camera trap image below from inside the aviary.

Spot the Mission Impossible mouse trying to reach the chough food. Photo taken using Moultrie camera trap.

Magpie-proof feeders mark II

A new design of chough-feeder. Photo by Liz Corry.

We now have another design of chough feeder in use at the aviary. The choughs successfully probe for food reaching every nook and cranny. Magpies are limited by their bill shape and length.

It doesn’t stay that clean for long and has room for improvement in terms of ease of cleaning. We also have to remember to screw the lid back properly.

I was lazy one evening, and screwed it back by hand. The next day I returned to find the choughs had freed the bracket and opened the lid!

Clearly their idea of slow-release feeding is not the same as mine.

 

Chough report: January 2019

A chatter of choughs following the keeper along the cliff path. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

January was a pretty standard month for the choughs; forage, fly, try not to freeze. The weather is still mild considering the time of year although we have experienced gales, sleet, and hail*. The choughs don’t appear to be desperately hungry for their supplemental food which can only be a good thing. Even if it does make the staff feel a little redundant.

Take, for example, the day the choughs were not at the aviary for the supplemental feed. I trudged back to the car park only to find them hanging out at the motocross track. Their reaction was more pet dog trying its luck than wild bird in need of food for survival.

*an amendment was needed prior to publishing; we had snow! Not quite the polar vortex that North America are experiencing, but snow nevertheless. 

Replacement rings

We continue trying to catch up birds to check their leg rings and replace where necessary. We have two birds sporting identical leg ring combinations right now making it difficult to distinguish individuals. Even harder when the sheep muscle in on the action.

Sheep doing their best chough impressions at the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.

Since the birds are not desperate for the supplemental food they lack the motivation to go inside the aviary when we call them. They fly over to look then just sit on the roof preening and staring at staff who are poised ready to drop the hatches. The wet windy weather has also hampered plans.

Ubé being fitted with a replacement grey ring by keeper Hannah. Photo by Liz Corry.

We managed to catch one group this month. Of the twelve birds trapped inside only three needed new rings; Kevin, Wally, and Ubé. Each bird is weighed before being released so at least we came away with some useful data. All the birds fell into the healthy weight range for a chough, which again shows that they are doing well in the wild.

Preparations for the breeding season

As January came to an end the breeding pairs started to gear up for the new breeding season ahead. Lots of preening and pair-bonding on show at Sorel and Les Landes. Earl and Xaviour are frequenting Plémont again no doubt scouting out a suitable nest site.

I met with Ronez’s Toby Carteret and Paul Pinel to discuss plans for this season down in the quarry. Toby and his team will try and adapt the nest-boxes so we can have a better viewing angle from the nest cameras and allow more air to circulate inside for the nest. We have identified last year’s nest sites and co-ordinated planned maintenance work at the site to reduce disturbance to a minimum. We could have twelve to fourteen pairs trying to breed this year so it will definitely take a coordinated effort to find and monitor all the nests.

Preparations underway at Ronez for the start of the new breeding season. Photo by Liz Corry.

I was also pleased to hand over several sets of child-friendly binoculars for the school groups who visit the quarry. These were bought with money from the Insurance Corporation Award we received last year. Along with the use of a spotting scope, staff are hoping the children will see there is more to a life in a quarry than blasting rocks (admittedly the latter is way more exciting). The pupils can look out for choughs, peregrines and a penguin (apparently there is one!). Hopefully we can inspire the next generation of conservation-focused quarry workers.

Carbon-friendly choughs

We have always been conscientious about our impact on the environment when working on the north coast. The aviary, for example, is a temporary structure that will be removed and ‘recycled’ when no longer needed. Food waste is removed from the site, rusty hinges sent to scrap metal, used batteries sent for recycling etc.

Thanks to a small grant from the Jersey Ecology Trust Fund (ETF) we have stepped up our eco-friendly status for 2019. Firstly, we purchased a battery powered strimmer from Eastern Garden Machinery along with the necessary safety gear. The EGO strimmer is powered by a lithium battery. The same battery can be used in different attachments such as hedge trimmer, leaf blower, flame thrower…..ok last one made up, but you get the idea.

The EGO Powerplus is an environmentally friendly power tool (Its a little hard to take a selfie whilst strimming).

Up until now we have been using a petrol strimmer and push lawn mower to maintain the short grass in and around the aviary. Not only is ditching fossil fuel better for the environment, the battery-powered strimmer is quieter. Important for the birds (and the neighbours in Mourier Valley!).

Our capacity for rainwater storage at the aviary is increasing thanks to money from the ETF. Photo by Liz Corry.

The second element of our upgrade focuses on water sustainability. We already collect rainwater for use at the aviary. However, the container often overflows after just one downpour; in summer it runs dry.

Fed up of dragging jerry cans along the cliff path, we will install a second water butt outside and have an extra 25 litre container in the keeper porch.

Staying inside, we have switched to biodegradable bin liners and have a two year supply stock-piled thanks to the grant (nothing to do with Brexit).

Finally, we purchased a solar-powered charger for phones, tablets, the trail camera, and GoPro used by project staff. Smartphones are increasingly important in fieldwork. From the safety aspect of staying in touch, to ever-developing apps allowing in-field data recording. Sorel’s solar power will reduce electricity demands and save the pennies.

RAV Power solar charger soaking up the sun on the observation bench. Photo by Liz Corry.

Waiting for the clouds to break with the RAVPower solar charger. Photo by Liz Corry.

New year, new sign

Walkers at Sorel will have noticed we have replaced the sign at the car park. Long overdue, we needed to update the text to reflect the fact that Jersey has a resident population of choughs once again. It also details why we have sheep grazing the north coast and the other areas around Jersey you can spot the choughs. We are hoping this will encourage visitors to explore Jersey’s National Park. Thanks go to Durrell’s graphic designer Rich Howell and Site Services’ Trevor Smith for installing it.

Return of the Birds On The Edge sign to Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Student participation at Sorel

Speaking of visitors, we have seen our first university field trips of the year visit Sorel to learn about Birds On The Edge first hand. Accompanied by a talk in the warmth of Durrell Academy’s lecture theatre, the undergraduate and postgraduate students are taken to Sorel and shown the supplemental feed, grazing sheep, and conservation fields. The rest of their week is spent in the zoo or lecture theatre.

From these visits we often have students interested in taking up projects for their dissertations. We already have three students lined up to visit Jersey and take part in research to benefit the project. We are still lacking a student placement to help with the daily running of the work. As student debts and the cost of living rises we have to be realistic – Jersey is not the most practical of places to relocate to for a student project. Especially the chough project which requires transportation around the Island. Plans are afoot to try and rectify this. We cannot simply rely on the appeal of the choughs and the experienced gained to attract student placements.

Although come on, who wouldn’t want to work with these guys….

 

Chough report: December 2018

By Liz Corry

Not to be outdone by the other eleven months, December was eventful. Prospects of a white Christmas were slim to none unless ‘white’ meant fog, misty rain, and strong gales.

A ‘white’ Christmas on the north coast. Photo by Liz Corry.

The first weekend in December was a tough one with birds being blown about in 40mph winds or more. Most of the chough clan were already at the supplemental feed site waiting for the keeper on Sunday 9th. Birds were keeping low to the ground to avoid being blown sideways whilst eating.

Great expectations. Photo by Liz Corry.

One of the choughs was  lying down, more worryingly it was not joining in with the others at the feed. Lily, identified by leg rings, was having trouble walking despite flying fine. She did eat, a positive sign, but waited for the initial feeding frenzy to die down (less chance of being pushed around). It was possible she had been blown into something and just needed time to recoup.

The next day, however, she was still presenting in the same way. There were a few choughs still in need of replacement leg rings so a catch up was planned. You know the saying, two birds, one stone…fingers crossed no killing.

It took several attempts for the group to settle in the aviary allowing the hatches to be shut. Not helped by three of the hatches breaking. We managed to trap over twenty choughs inside. First in the hand-net was Lil’ Wheezy. After weighing and fitted with a replacement plastic ring she was released back into the wild. Next to be caught was Lily. Once in the hand her problem was alarmingly obvious.

Lily’s foot had become wedged in her plastic ring. Photo by Liz Corry.

The longer red and white striped ring (identifies them as Jersey choughs) had moved down over her foot pushing her digits together. Blood flow had been restricted for some time resulting in permanent damage to the fourth digit.

Close up of damaged fourth digit. Photo by Bea Detnon.

We have not seen this before in the choughs. It usually occurs due to ill-fitting rings. In captivity, it is easier to spot and can be corrected before any permanent damage occurs.

Smartphone technology allowed for a video and photo to be sent to Durrell’s vet on duty. As it was close to roost time, Lily was confined to a section of the aviary along with several other choughs for company. The vet would visit the following morning to assess what treatment, with permission from the States Vet. Lily is a wild-hatched Jersey chough falling under States licensing laws.

Unfortunately the fourth digit was necrotic and had to be removed to reduce the chance of infection in the other digits. Wednesday morning, Lily was taken to the vets at the Zoo for the operation. Under sedation, the digit was swiftly and expertly removed by the vet (Alberto). Lily was allowed to recover in the warmth of the operating room, then transported back to Sorel. She was kept locked away receiving medication via her food for the next seven days. Lily recovered without further complications.

Lily out with the flock post-treatment. Photo by Liz Corry.

When released back into the wild, nine days after the initial catch up, she rejoined the flock as if nothing had happened. The design of the aviary allows any bird(s) in confinement to remain in visual and audio contact with the flock. This unfortunate event is one reason why the release aviary remains present at Sorel.

We will need to continue catching birds to replace leg rings. The day Lily returned to the flock, Flieur was seen with a broken leg ring; the plastic has weathered. There is a possibility of this causing harm. As ever we will do our best to see it doesn’t come to that.

Flieur kindly points out a problem to staff at the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

Closer inspection shows a break at the top of the red and white ring. Photo by Liz Corry.

Aviary repairs

As mentioned, Lily was not the only one with ‘injuries’ in December. The broken release hatches were taken away for repair once Lily had finished treatment. I replaced the rotten wooden frames and fixtures pulled out in the catch up. We have inherent problems with rust and T-bar hinges bending out of shape. I’m hoping to address this with marine-grade steel fixtures ordered after visiting Jersey’s chandlery shops.

The aviary also suffered damages in the storms due to its age. Worn netting, pulled back and forth in the winds, snapped leaving large gaps in various places. Most could be patched up with sewing or cable ties. Plans are afoot for brand new netting in the new year once it has been made and shipped from Denmark!

Come to Jersey, they said. Spend Christmas with your daughter, they said! Photo by Liz Corry.

A free-standing shelter box was taken down before it fell down, much to the dismay of the pair roosting in there. Provisions have been made for alternative roost spots inside the aviary. The box itself is now acting as a rain shelter for food dishes until we can remove it from the site.

Owl pellet. Photo by Liz Corry.

Lastly the water-butt stand needed to be replaced. Again this was more wear and tear than storm damage.

I am still finding owl pellets in and around the aviary. We might not be getting owls on the camera trap, but we sure know they have visited.

Happy days (unless you are a small mammal).

 

Ending on a high

To end on a cheery note and pass on New Year positivity to all our readers here are some images taken over the festive period.

Dusty and pals catching the last rays of sun. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sark as seen from the cliff path at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

The names Bond, Manx Bond. Photo by Liz Corry.

Seeing out the end of the 2018 at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Chough report: November 2018

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

By Liz Corry

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

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

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

Flying to roost. Photo for Liz Corry

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

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

And that’s it. Nothing else to report.

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

Chough report: October 2018

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

By Liz Corry

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

Corbière lighthouse. Photo by Liz Corry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replacing lost rings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeding stations

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

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

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

To end on a non-bird related note…

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

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

 

Chough report: September 2018

By Liz Corry

Time for a holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improving supplemental feeding methods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inter-Island Environment Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red-billed choughs in Greece

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

Chough names

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

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

 

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

By Catherine Firth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If only conservation were that easy!

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