Choughs claim top prize for conservation

By Liz Corry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chough report: May 2018

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By Liz Corry

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

Spreading their wings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chough exchange

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

None of the choughs hold a valid license.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 Let the judging commence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronez quarry viewpoint image

Ronez Quarry

Wild nest updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Voting is open for the Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards 2018

by Liz Corry

Choosing how you vote should not be a snap verdict based on a few minutes of television.   

Simon Cowell

Somewhat ironic, but a perfect opener. Voting is now open for the Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards 2018. The Peter Walpole People’s Choice Award recognises conservation efforts of individuals and groups working in Jersey.

The Insurance Corporation’s Managing Director Mandy Hunt says “whether it is a school who enter a large project or a young individual with a tiny project on their window sill, both are making a contribution to the protection of our valuable green spaces and our local flora and fauna. We award money to our successful entrants because we believe it is important to help with the funding as well as celebrate their diligence and hard work.”

We can’t make you vote for the chough project. Gianna on the other hand…

As previously reported, Ronez Quarry nominated the chough project to try and raise funding to monitor chicks in the nest. This includes a leg ringing kit and DNA sexing tests as you cannot visually distinguish males from females.

If awarded, the money would also provide an educational package for school groups visiting the quarry. This would include child-friendly binoculars, identification cards and other educational material. The quarry is home to several species of birds not just the choughs. Instead of just learning about Jersey’s natural resources they could also learn about it’s biodiversity, develop field skills in bird observation, and learn how they can contribute to the conservation of choughs.

Each project short-listed for the award has been filmed and shown via the Insurance Corporation’s Facebook page. Watch each short clip then vote for the project of your choice at the bottom of their page.

In all fairness, I should also mention that one of our very first chough volunteers is also in the running. Since leaving the project, Neil Singleton has gone on to set up Birding Tours – Jersey. Both visitors and residents delight in Neil’s talks and walks. A very committed and passionate naturalist.

You can vote more than once! All of the applicants are deserving of this award. Just watch and vote at the bottom of their page or here.

The winner will be announced at the awards ceremony on 20th June 2018 and will receive £500 to go towards their project.

 

Chough report: April 2018

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Choughs are now frequently foraging on the southwest tip of Jersey. Photo by Dave Warncken .

by Liz Corry

There is a hashtag floating around the social media stratosphere at the moment, #conservationoptimism, which pretty much sums up this month’s chough report.

When the reintroduced choughs started breeding in the wild in 2015 there were just two males and four females. Three years later we have twelve pairs all eager to contribute to the growing population. Furthermore, two of those pairs have decided to branch out and nest in other parts of the Island.

Nesting ambitions of Jersey’s choughs

A male displaying to his female to encourage ‘sexy time’. The female reciprocating with a suitably unimpressed look. Photo by Elin Cunningham.

We have been able to identify a record number of ten nest sites this year.

Specific details of nest localities will remain guarded in order to protect the pairs. I can, however, let you in on some of the ‘highlights’ we have witnessed in April.

All of last year’s sites in Ronez Quarry are being used again with slight tweaks here and there.

There is concern for Red and Dingle as they are using the nest located on hot piping again. Ronez Quarry are helping us look into ways of raising the nest off the pipes without destroying the integrity of the nest. We wouldn’t want their eggs to overheat like last year.

Red and Dingle’s nest guarantees chicks won’t fall out – providing the eggs survive the heat from pipe work underneath. Photo by Liz Corry.

Dusty has strengthened his bond with Chickay after Egg died and continues to use the upper quarry away from the hubbub of the other nest sites. They have built a very nice nest which should be easy for us to monitor.

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Ronez Quarry with Sark in the background. Photo by Liz Corry.

The first nest located away from Sorel was discovered by one of our zoo keepers on their day off. Anyone visiting Plémont in April will more than likely have heard if not seen a chough or two. In the months leading up to the breeding season we had assumed it was the Les Landes pair. And more often than not it had been. However, on reading the leg rings of the twig-carrying choughs it was clear we had a different pair.

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Plémont Headland. Sorel Point lighthouse just about visible in the background. Photo by Liz Corry.

Finding the nest was a little trickier and not for the faint hearted. It is within the Plémont seabird protection zone which imposes public access restrictions from March to July. Plémont’s cliffs, notorious amongst Jersey’s rock climbers, are described as being ‘Weetabix’ like in structure and to be avoided at all costs. All in all there should be little human disturbance at this site adding to our growing optimism.

Not only is this the first nest discovered away from the release site, it is the first to belong to one of our foster-reared females – Xaviour! She has partnered with a male of her own age, Earl, and as such we are not expecting too much from them. At two-years old they are first timers with no knowledge of exactly what is involved in parenthood.

Regardless, this is a small victory for the project; foster-reared birds can pair up, they can build nests, and not just any nest, a truly wild nest. Fingers (and primaries) crossed for the next few weeks.

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A male chough displaying his ‘excitement’. Photo by Liz Corry.

The record-breaking didn’t stop there. The choughs added a third parish to their tick list of breeding sites. Mary and a wild-hatched male from 2016 were found to have moved roost site 7km to the parish of St Peter. They have been a fairly permanent feature of Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd since last year. Jason Simon, Managing Director, reports seeing three choughs around, but of late one had been ‘pushed out’ by the pair.

Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd located in St Ouen’s Bay is home to sand martins and now choughs too. Photo by Liz Corry.

Two choughs have taken up residence at Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd in St Ouen’s Bay. Photo by Elin Cunningham.

Twigs are visible in the location where the pair roost. It could be a red herring as the site is also used by pigeons. From observations, Mary appear’s quite faithful to that particular spot.

The pair continue making the return trip to Sorel for the supplemental feed. You would assume from this that they are not finding what they need in the wild travelling at least 14km a day for the guarantee of food.

Not so. Thanks to several public sightings, and wonderful photographs, we know that this pair are frequenting Corbière, the southwest tip of the Island.

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Wild-hatched chough hanging out at Corbière 21st April 2018. Photo by Dave Warncken.

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Mary and a wild-hatched chough have become permanent residents of the southwest corner of Jersey. Photo by Dave Warncken.

Funding for nest monitoring awarded by the Ecology Trust Fund.

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We are very proud to receive funding this month from the Ecology Trust Fund.

This is a Jersey-based  fund established in March 1991 by the States of Jersey with a sum of money received in an insurance settlement from the Amoco Cadiz oil tanker disaster of 1978. Annual interest accrued is used to finance multiple projects each year within the environmental sector.

The money will be used to purchase equipment to help the team monitor chough nests around Jersey. Increasingly important as our birds ‘leave the nest’ and set up home around the Island.

Island Insurance Corporation awards

CaptureStaying on a funding and monitoring theme, we are very honoured to hear that Ronez Quarry have nominated the chough project for the Islands Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards. The choughs have frequented the quarry since the trial release in 2013 which is now permanent residence for several pairs.

There are prizes to the value of £1000 and £500 available. If awarded, we will be able to cover the costs of monitoring, ringing, and sexing the wild-hatched chicks. DNA sexing tests, for example, cost £14 per bird.

With 10 potential clutches this year the costs could soon spiral.

Judges will visit the short-listed projects in May after which voting will open for the People’s Choice Award. We will circulate details as soon as voting opens.

Replacement rings

This chough had lost both plastic leg rings. The unique metal ring is impossible to read at a distance. Photo by Liz Corry.

As previously reported, several of the choughs have been losing their plastic rings. Or in the case of Zennor switching them around. As if the team needed more of a challenge to monitor breeding pairs!

On 26th April a group of choughs were caught up at the supplemental feed. Nine of the 25 birds arriving for food were caught up, weighed, and given new replacement rings. White was the only exception in that we had run out of white rings and given grey instead. Off-White if you like.

They all looked to be in good health. None of the females sported brood patches to suggest they had started incubating. I suspect that will have happened towards the end of the month or early May.

We still have two birds requiring replacement rings. They happen to be two of the four now living away from Sorel. Unlikely we wil get them in the aviary anytime soon.

Zoo news

Change is afoot with the Zoo choughs. We are exchanging chough pairs with Paradise Park, Cornwall, as part of our wider departmental collection plan. Paradise Park have kindly agreed to take Lucifer back after loaning him to us in 2012. Hopefully they can address his egg-smashing behaviour.

Jersey Zoo will continue to house two breeding pairs; Tristan and Issy and a new established pair. The move has been delayed until May which will disrupt the breeding season. With a quarantine period of thirty days it is unlikely the new pair will breed at Jersey this year.

Tristan and Issy remain in the Zoo’s on-show aviary and have already started nest building. Keepers found a discarded egg and the nest-liner on the floor of the aviary towards the end of April. Something obviously unsettled them, but they have started gathering wool again to repair their nest.

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Tristan and Issy collect wool to line their nest in the Zoo. Photo by Liz Corry.

Foster rearing might not be on the cards this year

Gianna is making good progress since her cataract operations. It was clear that she had regained sight post-op, but she was not her normal self. At lot was due to a knock in confidence. Living in the dark for several months and then placed in a different enclosure must be disorientating. She also behaved in a way that suggested her depth perception was a little off. Over time she has improved although it could take a couple more months to be fully adjusted.

 

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Gianna enjoying her morning preen. Photo by Liz Corry.

She is now in the off-show foster aviary allowing her to go through the motions of nest-building and such. A great deal of enthusiasm has been expressed although she still doesn’t have a complete nest. By now she would have finished and be eager to start laying.

Tristan and Issy did not need any assistance last year with raising their chick. As the only active breeding pair this year it is unlikely we will need Gianna’s help. Only time will tell.

That, and May’s monthly report!

Syngamus, Sorel, and sh*t: insights into a student placement

By Elin Cunningham

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Hi, I’m Elin, the chough student (and chief breaker of Jersey cars – four so far!). I’m here on a six-month placement with Durrell working with the re-introduced choughs. I spend a couple of days in the Bird Department of the Zoo too, making friends with teals and hornbills, which balances everything out nicely.

I’m enrolled on the BSc Bioveterinary Science course at Harper Adams University. Each student has to do a placement year in industry; I spent the first half in South Africa trying not to get volunteers squashed by elephants, but alas I left the sun and the noisy lions for a quieter time in Jersey (I was not expecting the snow which made me question my life decisions a bit; but it’s all fine now).

The first of four to suffer the Cunningham curse. Photo by Elin Cunningham.

I have to complete an honours research project for my degree, and the opportunity of working at the Zoo with the choughs was perfect for this. As a person who stresses an unhealthy amount, being able to collect data and write my project up whilst I’m in Jersey is the perfect solution to relieve final year pressures of university life. Also it means I can hide inside on the computer on rainy days instead of chasing choughs and not feel bad about it.

I decided to focus my research on the issue of parasites in the choughs. The biggest threat to the Jersey wild-born chicks last year was Syngamus trachea as Lil’ Wheezy will tell you (read the report here). Syngamus trachea (also known as gapeworm) is a parasitic nematode that lives in the trachea and bronchi of birds. The eggs of the nematode develop in insects. Birds unknowingly ingest the nematode when they feed on infected insects. Since choughs are specialist invertebrates feeders they are highly likely to harbour the parasite; I’m very proud of my lifecycle map which should explain everything nicely! Below is a simplified image. The full pdf I created can be found here.

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Syngamus has been reported in wild and captive choughs across the UK, but it is incredibly hard to treat in wild birds. Daily monitoring of behaviour and parasites in the population is a perfect way to understand the sub-clinical levels before they manifest as physical symptoms in the birds.

Using the digital microscope at the Zoo’s lab to look for parasites in poo. Photo by Kayleigh Meek.

I take a daily sample of faeces (poo to the unintiated) from the birds after they have eaten at the aviary (if you see me running around Sorel with a blue pot, no I haven’t lost my marbles…) and analyse them in the Zoo laboratory. I use what’s called a McMaster slide to count the parasite eggs under the microscope after I’ve mixed the poo with a saturated sugar solution and filtered it.

A x50 view of a syngamus ova (the circles are air bubbles). Photo by Elin Cunningham.

I’m doing the same thing to the choughs in the zoo, as without eating loads of insects contaminated from the wild they shouldn’t have any parasites. Hopefully this will give a good idea of when the problem times are for certain parasites, and when the choughs should be watched for clinical signs. This can be mapped against other data such as temperature and rainfall to hopefully find triggers for the emergence of parasites.

Preparing the McMaster slides. Photo by Kayleigh Meek.

I finish the research in July and will have until May 2019 to write and submit it. Gulp. I’ll be sure to post an update on my findings. So far, I have found Coccidia and cestodes (tapeworms) in the samples as well as a tiny number of Syngamus. The levels of these parasites aren’t of any clinical significance to warrant treatment.

A x50 view of a cestode ova (the bits in the background are urates). Photo by Elin Cunningham.

There is a worldwide problem with antimicrobial and anthelmintic (wormer) resistance. Blanket treating every chough on the basis of a parasite present in a faecal sample is only going to encourage that resistance. Combining laboratory analysis with observations of physical symptoms improves efficiency and reduces the potential for resistance.  I did a bunch of research on this last year in university for those who are interested in worming and resistance.

Sheep and choughs at Sorel sharing parasites. Photo by Liz Corry.

You can find me making friends with the sheep at Sorel most afternoons. I have found loads of ruminant parasite eggs, proving that as the birds pick through the faeces of other animals for bugs, they can pick up parasite eggs. These are all specific to ruminants and won’t affect the birds at all so they just pass straight through. It’s a good relationship: the choughs pick through the sheep droppings for tasty invertebrates, and pinch bits of wool to line their nests with. I’m not sure the sheep see the benefit but I made friends with one who wanted ear scratches a lot, so there’s one positive.

Sometimes the excitement in the lab gets too much when I find a whole female parasite containing eggs (I’m constantly kept in check by the lab manager Ann and the other students who don’t find 8mm long sheep parasites nearly as exciting as I do). Farmers treating stock with high doses of anthelmintics have contributed inadvertently to a decrease in chough numbers across the UK, as the levels of insects and larvae for the choughs to feed on decreases with anthelmintic use. Luckily the farmers in chough areas are more aware of this now.

Finally, with all the faecal data collected, I’m also hoping to map any trends in excretion patterns, such as time of year, weather, and important times such as egg laying and fledging. This may highlight times of the year the birds are more susceptible and warrant change in management practices. I will write again at the end of my placement to let you know the results. If the research is good enough and I ask really nicely it may be published for the world to read, but I’ll give a copy to whoever wants it regardless!

A nematode found in chough faeces from Birds On The Edge on Vimeo.

 

Chough report: March 2018

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A chough collecting nest material for the 2018 breeding season. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Nesting underway with the wild choughs

The choughs started nest-building this month. Established pairs returning to their faithful nest sites and younger pairs setting up in new locations. Green and Black were the first pair seen taking wool and dry grass from Sorel across into the Quarry. Rather apt at Easter time. Yes Green & Blacks we will accept sponsorship. Yes payment can be in the form of chocolate (sustainable/palm oil free).

Whilst we have only witnessed a few individuals carrying nesting material we suspect all twelve males will attempt to breed. Some may simply carry twigs following the lead of the female. We hope the majority will go all the way and raise chicks. A lot of the success is dependent on age; three-years old being the average age females start laying eggs.

Trying to follow twelve males around Jersey is proving challenging for myself and our student Elin. We are being helped by Ronez Quarry staff and reports from the public (including zoo keepers on their days off – no rest for the wicked). We do suspect a small group of choughs are flying under the radar exploring new parts of the island.

We had our first confirmed sighting of choughs over the Zoo. Five were spotted by our Conservation Learning manager flying in a westerly direction over the car park. This was the same week we had an unconfirmed sighting by a member of the public of two choughs sat on a roof top in Gorey.

It definitely looks set to be an interesting breeding season. As always please do send in your sightings to bote@gmail.com or phone 01534 860059.

Gianna undergoes her cataract operation

Gianna, our ‘foster mum’ for the captive breeding programme, had developed cataracts in both eyes. We called in specialists from the UK to assess Gianna’s condition with the view to operate. Ophthalmologist Claudia Hartley and nurse Kelly Shackleton from Langford Vets, Bristol, flew over at the end of February. Claudia has previously helped Jersey Zoo to save the sight of one of our lemurs so we knew Gianna was in good hands.

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Operating theatre at Jersey Zoo. Photo by Liz Corry.

As you can imagine cataract removal is a very delicate operation. The delivery and maintenance of anaesthetic in a patient weighing less than 300g is equally sensitive. The operation had to be aborted on the first two attempts due to equipment malfunctions in the operating theatre. Understandably staff did not want to chance anything. The operation was postponed until March.

Langford Vets and the Durrell vet team attempt to remove cataracts from Gianna’s eyes. Photo by Liz Corry.

They say “third time lucky”, but luck had nothing to do with it. Perseverance, dedication, and immense skill meant that the third attempt was successful. Gianna’s operation took nearly three hours from ‘knockdown’ (going under anaesthetic) to stitching and waking up.

Now for the technical bit…Durrell Vet Alberto Barbon who assisted with the op said that Gianna underwent a bilateral phacoemulsification to remove cataracts. Surgery and anaesthesia went well, although she developed a hyphaema in the right eye following the surgery, we are hoping that this will resolve over the next two weeks”. In simple terms she has a sore eye, but it will heal and she will regain full sight.

Bird Department staff have taken good care of her providing medication and much needed TLC. Hester Whitehead, Senior Keeper, reports that Gianna is “clearly able to see much better already – in fact her demeanour was different as soon as she was returned to her aviary. She is on a course of daily anti-inflammatories, and really appreciates the extra attention the team has been giving her during her recovery.”

We are very grateful to Claudia and Kelly for helping Jersey Zoo once again. They also found time to perform sight-saving surgery on seven dogs and two horses at New Era vets before they left Jersey!

****WARNING: Image from Gianna’s operation below. Scroll down to ‘Rodent proofing at Sorel’ if you are squeamish about eyes and needles*****

 

Cataract removal in a chough at Jersey Zoo. Photo by Alberto Barbon.

Rodent proofing at Sorel

Upturned guttering fixed to the polytunnel to deter rodents climbing up and chewing holes in the netting. Photo by Liz Corry.

Up-turned guttering has been fitted around the edges of the netting at the release aviary. In theory, the slippy plastic and angle of guttering prevents rodents from reaching the net.

We have already noticed a difference and are now working on making sure there are no rodents trapped inside the aviary through adding this.

We are very grateful to the Royal Bank of Canada who provided funding for the guttering and fixtures.

The enclosed food tray mentioned in last month’s report has not met with approval from the choughs. This would have alleviated the rodent problem by preventing food spillage. We will have to come up with another design.

Ecological restoration expert visits Sorel and the Birds On The Edge project

Dr Robert Pal, director of restoration at Montana Tech of the University of Montana recently visited Jersey as part of his whirlwind tour of the UK. He was invited over by his friend Lee Durrell and kindly gave a talk to staff and volunteers at Jersey Zoo.

Dr Pal’s main research focus has always been the study of the flora and vegetation of disturbed habitats, including agricultural and urban areas. Terrestrial restoration to native communities and ecosystems is often hampered by exotic invasive species. The talk entitled “Exotic invasions and restoration – parallel paths in ecology” explained how fundamental ecology, restoration, and exotic invasion can be jointly interpreted and merged into an integrated framework.

The Manx Loaghtans contribute to the ecological restoration of Jersey. Photo by Robert Pal.

Naturally he was inquisitive about the Birds On The Edge project and managed to squeeze in a visit to Sorel before his flight left. Dr Pal said “It was fantastic to see this project and have first hand experiences on it, congratulations.

Dr Robert Pal with Durrell student Elin Cunningham. Photo by Judit Nyulasi.

Student Research
We always encourage students to consider the Birds On The Edge project when they are deciding on their dissertation projects both undergraduate and postgraduate. This year has seen quite a bit of attention with three projects either underway or in the pipeline.
The current chough placement student, Elin Cunningham, is studying Bioveterinary science at Harper Adams University. Whilst she assists with day-to-day management of the chough project she is also collecting and analysing faecal samples from captive and wild choughs to assess parasite levels. More to follow when she writes her blog for this site.
Miriam Lord, from Oxford University, visited this month to do some scoping work for her dissertation. Miriam will be assessing public awareness and attitudes to the chough reintroduction. She plans to return in summer to conduct questionnaires with people in the Zoo and in St Helier town centre.
A similar project will be undertaken by Catherine Firth, Nottingham Trent University. Her focal group will be primary schools. As well as gathering information Catherine hopes to provide educational talks to schools willing to participate. This will commence in June before schools break for summer.

Cauvette the chough will be making an appearance this summer – which lucky student will get the privilege? Photo by Tiffany Lang.

Cornish choughs, Channel Island choughs, and Kentish choughs?

Canterbury coat of arms circa 1925. From www.Heraldry-wiki.com

Continuing the student theme, we had a visit from Jack Slattery who has started his PhD looking into the feasibility of reintroducing choughs to Kent. This is with the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) based in Canterbury, Kent.
As a bird enthusiast Jack was impressed with the project in Jersey. His interest, as part of the study, is less about how we reintroduced the choughs and more about stakeholders involvement and attitudes. Stakeholders include a wide range of people such as our project partners, landowners, and the general public. We have been quite fortunate in Jersey to receive a lot of positive support. Jack has to predict whether or not Kent will see the same.

Chough report: February 2018

By Liz Corry

Chough update

February – the shortest month of the year and the shortest report to date. The chough population has remained at 35 birds. None have shown signs of being sick. We have not witnessed any fights within the group or with any other species.

Not all are present for the afternoon feeds, but that is not unusual. The breeding season is upon us and pairs are starting to spend more time away from the group. A breakaway pair at Les Landes feed there during the day, returning to Sorel to roost.

Choughs at Les Landes. February 2018 (2). Photo by Liz Corry

Birds in foreground are choughs foraging at Les Landes (see below). February 2018. Photo by Liz Corry

Cauvette with (we suspect) Lee foraging at Les Landes Racecourse. Photo by Liz Corry.

There has also been an unconfirmed report of four choughs over Gorey Village. This is the east side of the Island and, while it’s uncommon to see choughs there, it’s not impossible.

The one afternoon when we did have all 35 choughs at the feed was the coldest of the month. The wind chill factor brought the temperatures down to -10°C and not surprisingly the birds wanted to stock up their energy stores with free food.

So all in all February was underwhelming.

I have now seriously jinxed March.

Planning Permission

As we reported here in November, permission was sought from Jersey’s Department of the Environment Planning and Building Services to extend the life of the Sorel aviary for another five years. We received approval for this extension on 6th February and are grateful to Planning for this. You can see details of the application and approval here.

DIY rodent control

With a further five years of the aviary we have been kept busy trying to rodent proof as best as possible. Guttering has been fitted along the edges of he aviary where the netting meets the timber. Rats are good climbers and we suspect they have been climbing the half-inch weldmesh along the polytunnel to get to the netting, chew holes, and enter the aviary. The slippy surface of the half round guttering should be of suitable size and shape to deter the rats. This technique is successful with our polytunnel aviaries at the zoo. The question is, will it work with the Sorel rats?

Upturned half-round guttering added to the aviary as a rodent deterrent. Photo by Liz Corry.

The inner partition dividing the tunnel into two sections has also been modified. There are several holes running along the ground where the rats have tunnelled or chewed through once inside. We have sunk half inch mesh into the ground and added plastic panels.

There are new food stands to replace the picnic tables which finally broke after five years. The stands have covers around the bases to deter rodents.

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The best way to deter the rodents is to remove the food source they are seeking inside the aviary. Choughs are messy eaters when it comes to the supplemental feed. They flick pellet around looking for mealworms first, before going back to the pellet.

We are trying out a new enclosed feeder intended for chickens. If the choughs take to it we can look at adapting the existing feeders.

Chough report: January 2018

Flieur (grey over blue leg rings) a four year old female chough. Photo by Elin Cunningham

by Liz Corry

It was a wet and windy start to 2018 with storms Eleanor, Fionn, David, and Georgina all battering Jersey within a span of 24 days. Not surprisingly then, there is little to report in terms of chough antics. Even less in the way of photos since cameras were kept locked away in the dry.

Storm damage

Wind speeds, rarely falling below F8 throughout January, took their toll on the aviary. The poly-tunnel netting suffered the most. Constant rubbing along the metal poles wore down the threads and cable ties snapped. In some areas joins in the netting opened up or came away from the wooden frame and overnight a large split in the middle of the poly-tunnel appeared. Obviously reducing the effectiveness of trapping birds in the aviary if we had a need to do so. An ostrich could escape from that, never mind a chough!

Netting ripped open and posts broken as storm after storm pounded the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

Easily rectified by sewing and patching with extra netting, the tricky part was finding a day when weather conditions permitted use of a ladder for the harder to reach areas. Other damage has or will take longer to repair. Again this is because we are reliant on weather conditions favouring truck access to the site to take new timber and scaffolding.

As exemplified by this little incident on the one day it didn’t rain…

Toby from Ronez Quarry answered the chough SOS after the student’s 4WD failed miserably. Photo by Elin Cunningham.

Yes we did have 4WD on. No it obviously wasn’t working and we are eternally grateful to staff at Ronez Quarry.

My aviary and other animals

The aviary still functions as a supplemental feed station and roost site. As mentioned in past monthlies it is favoured by other wildlife. We probably have the complete compliment of Jersey’s small mammals visiting the aviary. This has pros and cons depending on your viewpoint. The owls and kestrels are very much in the ‘pro’ camp.

One afternoon our volunteer was shocked to find an owl flying around inside the aviary. As were the choughs! Normally we just find pellets. Earlier this month we thought we had stumbled upon a lost Damien Hirst masterpiece. Turns out it was just the neatly displayed insides of a rat.

We have also managed to film the culprit responsible for the defecation and destruction found in the keeper porch. Measures are underway to deter this behaviour.

We are experiencing problems using camera traps. A lot of the time they failed to even record chough activity. Fingers crossed we get more footage of the owl(s) if it or they return.

Camera trap photo taken at dawn of the choughs who chose to roost at the aviary.

Sign of the times

Despite the wind and rain the chough pairings are still clear to see. We are not far away from the time of year that the pairs start nesting. We are keeping a close eye on the existing pairs as well as the blossoming ones. Our two trios from last year will or have changed.

The death of Egg has forced Dusty to consider whether he becomes closer with Chickay or ditches her and starts afresh. Our young trio of Pyrrho and two wild siblings remains a close friendship. Pyrrho wants more. Will the young male feel the same this year now he is a year older with his hormones beginning to kick in?

Pyrrho (right) with her young male. Photo by Elin Cunningham

Who ewe looking at?

Apologies, but how else to entitle this section? The sheep are still confined to the field adjacent to the aviary. They started to take a keen interest in the grass surrounding the aviary but weren’t invited in! They have now been partitioned off to the next field. The choughs, however, make the most of the sheep’s field and the soil, dung, and hay there teeming with invertebrates.

The grass IS greener. Photo by Liz Corry.

The field gates are currently padlocked if you are to go and visit. Please be respectful of the sheep whilst they are up there: they are very friendly, but spook easily which tends to result in Usain Bolt sprints in all directions.

Advances in aviary design

Finally this month we have to thank John Corder, a follower of the monthly report, who answered a plea in December’s report. I had asked if anyone had suggestions for a more efficient way of building and operating release hatches. John linked us to a presentation made at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums 2016 conference describing the use of remote bird traps. These homemade traps incorporate remote central-locking systems used in cars and run off a 12v battery. A quick visit to eBay and a local hardware store soon had me set up to finally put my A-level in Technology to good use. The kit cost around £30. All that is needed now is to find a way of making it weather-proof and workable at Sorel. We hope to test this out in our zoo aviary first. Many thanks to John once again.

Efficient release hatches? We think not! Photo by Elin Cunningham

Chough report: December 2017

by Liz Corry

As the year drew to a close and daylight hours dwindled to their annual low, the choughs spent more and more time at Sorel close to their roost sites.

Chough movements in December

There was one intriguing public report at the start of December suggesting a new roost site. Farm workers at West Point Farm, St Ouen, had been seeing a pair of choughs in their barns around 7am each morning. At that time of year sunrise occurs around 7.40am. Was the pair roosting in the barns or being ‘the early bird that catches the worm’ and leaving Sorel before everyone else to find food out west?

Choughs leaving the feed site at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

The day of the report, and each day since, there have been 35 choughs at Sorel for the feed. The sun sets not long after with a dozen or so choughs staying at the aviary and the rest heading east, presumably to the quarry.

Taking in the last rays of a December day. Photo by Liz Corry.

Another reason to stay close to Sorel is the supplemetal feed. Now that winter has set in the availability of wild food is low and the need for calories high. December has not been particularly cold – in fact there have been a few balmy days where shorts were an option (for keeper not bird).

An unusually warm day in December enjoyed by the choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

However, our tiny island has taken a constant battering over the past weeks with gale force winds of 40 to 60 mph. It is bad enough walking or driving in it. Imagine being a 300g bird trying to fly or trying to stay grounded whilst searching for food in the soil.

24 hours later! (note the choughs on the roof) Photo by Liz Corry.

Apart from a demand for more food the choughs have on the whole faired ok so far with the bad weather. They are making the most of the sheep being confined to the aviary field. It is tupping season with one lucky ram confined to two fields with a flock of ewes. Lots of dung with maybe the odd tasty insect morsel inside.

One lucky ram confined to the aviary field at Sorel for tupping season. Photo by Liz Corry.

The choughs have been foraging in amongst the sheep confined to the field adjacent to the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

Syngamus strikes again

There have been two cases of syngamus infection this month. Luckily I was able to trap the birds, Lee and Duke, within a couple of days of symptoms showing. They evaded capture on the first day of trying, partly due to the hatches not budging when released (if anyone can come up with a better release hatch design I will pay you! albeit in chocolate coins). The second day their hunger in the increasingly cold wet weather spurred on their motivation for staying inside the aviary and the hatches closed. Much to the relief of the vet on call over Christmas as it was the 23rd December.

Never easy trying to trap choughs who refuse to go inside. Photo by Liz Corry.

Whilst Lee had been our major cause for concern due to gaping and repeated sneezing, it was Duke who sounded the most congested once we had him in the hand. He also had a lot of mucus around his nares which we rarely see.

Duke presented with mucus coming from his nares as a result of infection. Photo by Liz Corry.

Once they had received their wormer injection they were released and left to feed on the pellet and insects at the aviary. Remarkably there have been no observations of sneezing since that day. However, do bear in mind the gales/fog/heavy rain/sleet (often in the same day) have meant that there is little incentive to hang around at Sorel observing birds.

We have tried. Body weights have been obtained for several of the birds. Not consistently to show any trends, but enough to know the choughs getting on the scales are not underweight. These of course will be the more confident individuals and/or ones that have low parasite loads. We have a new type of scale that the birds will use. A lot cheaper than the flat Kern scales (£20 versus £150).

Prototype weighing station using digital kitchen scales. Photo by Liz Corry.

They are not intended as outdoor scales so I have had a few attempts at weather-proofing. The current one needs improving as the birds are unsure. Once they have approved the design plans we can make several weighing stations to place around the aviary ensuring we cater to all of the choughs.

Gianna’s dilemma

Towards the end of November keepers at the zoo started to notice Gianna our foster mum having issues. She was crash landing when flying. Gianna is tame and she lets keepers get extremely close. She lets me open her bill to check for infections or blockages if needed. It was easy to see that the source of Gianna’s mobility problems was her eyes.

Gianna’s left eye was starting to show signs of cataract. Furthermore, there was no reaction in her right eye. She was taken to the Vet Department for further examination. Photos were sent to a UK specialist who confirmed she had cataracts in both eyes.

Jess Maxwell with Head Vet Andrew Routh examining Gianna’s eyes. Photo by Bea Detnon.

Since the initial assessment there has been a noticably downturn in her ability to move around. Understandably as her vision deteriorates her confidence in everyday things like hopping from rock to rock has decreased. She has been moved to an off-show aviary close to the Vet Department so she can receive the best attention from keepers.

Cataract forming in Gianna’s left eye at the start of December. Photo by Liz Corry.

The cataract in Gianna’s left eye by the end of December. Photo by Bea Detnon.

Despite everyone’s love for Gianna we have to accept that her future is murky. There is the option of an operation to remove the cataracts. As you can imagine this is very specialised, expensive, and relies on the individual being strong enough to undergo the operation. For those of you interested in avian ophthalmology click here. If the operation option is not feasible her quality of life will then need to be carefully considered.

Season’s greetings

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From all of us at chough HQ we hope you enjoyed your Christmas holidays and wish you all the best for 2018. Thank you for your continued support.

Chough report: November 2017

Choughs took flight this month to explore the west coast of Jersey. Photo by Trevor Biddle.

By Liz Corry

Having spent most of November on holiday or in bed overdosing on Lemsip, I thought I would get away with not having to write anything this month. However, as is now tradition, it is times like these when the choughs start hitting the headlines. So, thanks entirely to public sightings, I have the following news to share.

New sightings for November

There have been a couple of positive sightings of choughs at Petit Port and Corbiere once again. We never know every individual involved, but we do get at least one or two positive sightings of choughs in the area each year around this time and this year we have had some positive identification like Roy Filleul’s photo of PP003 at Corbiere and Mary with friend in the NT Field, St Ouen’s Bay.

Staff at Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd had a surprise sighting of two choughs flying around their buildings on 3rd November. They managed to film it and post on their Facebook site, see below. Since then we have been receiving reports of choughs making the most of St Ouen’s Bay. It tends to be 2 to 3 birds at a time, no large groups, and they are seen in the same places (although there could be observer bias in that).

We had a report of a chough drinking from the water’s edge at the St Ouen’s Pond Scrape (in front of the Eddie Buxton hide) which is personally very exciting as I’ve only ever seen them drink from the aviary water tray and the sheep bowsers.

Kempt Tower and Les Mielles nature reserve are becoming popular with at least three of the choughs. Thanks to Trevor Biddle’s photo of them down at the Scrape (south of St Ouen’s Pond) we know the identities of the three explorers; Pyrrho and wild-hatched siblings known to us as PP004 and PP005. Rather interestingly these three have been a trio since the start of this year and observed carrying nesting material towards the quarry back in spring.

Three sub-adult choughs spotted by a member of the public near the Scrape, St Ouen’s Bay. Photo by Trevor Biddle.

It is likely that people are seeing the same three in the area, but without leg ring information this cannot be confirmed. Understandably that information is hard to obtain, it is amazing just to get photos. All this knowledge feeds back into their long-term management plan so if you do spot choughs out and about in Jersey please do send in your report to birdsote@gmail.com or call 01534 860059 and leave the details.

Red-billed choughs in NT Field. 5-11-2017. HGYoung

Two choughs in the NT Field, St Ouen’s Bay. 5-11-2017. Photo by Glyn Young

Chough numbers in Jersey dealt another blow

One chough who will not be venturing further afield anymore is Egg. We had a rather sad report from Ronez Quarry of a dead chough found behind the door inside one of their buildings. On collection of the body the leg rings told us the bird was a captive-raised female known as Egg. What we did not know was the cause of death since the body looked to be in good condition and time of death fairly recent. She was taken to the Zoo’s veterinary team for post-mortem analysis.

X-rays ruled out any kind of trauma. She was underweight, but there was no evidence that she starved to death. Syngamus was present, but at a very low encounter rate. Internal investigation showed problems in her lungs and presence of acanthocephalans, a type of parasitic worm also known as thorny-headed worm. Once again we cannot say for sure that these factors caused the death, but certainly played a part in her demise. We are waiting on histology results for further information.

Captive-reared chough, Egg, collecting nesting material at Sorel back in April. Photo by Liz Corry.

This brings the chough population down to 35 individuals; 12 males, 23 females. It also means we have lost a potential breeding female. Egg was partnered with Dusty and for a second year in a row had made a nest although nothing came of it. We will now need to keep watch on Dusty. Will he form a new pairing in time for the next breeding season only a couple of months away? Will Chickay finally get her chance after spending two loyal years following him? More importantly was Egg‘s cause of death a one-off or is something sinister afoot?

Julian Hume

Julian Hume and Lindsey Hubbard visited the aviary on 13th November. Julian, better known for his work with extinct bird species was excited to watch such an exuberant, and very much living, species!

Julian Hume and Lindsey 13-11-2017 (1). HGYoung

Extension request for release aviary

The release aviary at Sorel was originally granted a five-year lease of life under States of Jersey planning regulations. As this comes to an end this month we have submitted a request to extend permission a further five years.

We still have a a group of choughs using the aviary as a roost site (not to mention kestrels and barn owls). There is still a need to recapture birds for veterinary treatment as demonstrated in last month’s report. The aviary facilitates this need.

In the long term we are also looking at introducing new blood lines into the population which would require soft-release of captive reared individuals. We still aim to remove the aviary at some point in the future, but for now there is still a clear need for the structure.

More information and opportunity for public comment can be found on the States website by clicking here.

The required planning notification went up at the aviary on 9th November and has, thanks to high winds, been replaced four times!

Sorel -Site Notice 12-11-2017. Jane De St Croix