By Liz Corry
January got off to a flying start. For the choughs at least. We, however, are still grounded in lockdown.
Jersey has experienced some outstanding days of clear skies and sunshine. The type that provides perfect flying conditions for choughs. Then we’ve had the horrendous downpours. The type that provides perfect conditions for staff and student to question their career choices.
Let’s start the year focusing on the positives!
News from Carteret
After a nervous few days of not seeing her, Yann happily reported Cappy to be alive and well. She is still in the same location. A good sign perhaps if she is confident with her surroundings; familiar with the good foraging spots and has secured a safe roost. We don’t really know right now. Counting down the days until we can visit. January’s skies provided teasing glimpses of French shores.
New year, new bling
There have been three attempts this year to trap choughs in the aviary to replace missing or broken leg rings. Third time’s a charm! We changed tactic for 2021 and sat in front of the aviary posed ready with the hatch wires.
The first time was inevitably going to fail. The birds knew something was afoot and refused to enter the aviary in our presence. Throughout the next week of feeds, observations were carried out from this position without any movement of hatches. By the second attempt the birds were a little more relaxed. A few of the bolder adults like Chewbacca, Lee, and Green went inside. Most of the group would then follow having seen the survival of the ‘sacrificial offerings’. Any sudden movement or unfamiliar noise and the entire flock fled.
Another week of undisturbed feeding meant that the third attempt trapped 24 of the 29 choughs present that day. It still meant a good thirty minutes of sitting patiently in the dead bracken due to hyper-vigilant Bo and Betty. These were two we needed but kept landing on the shelf, walking in and out of the open hatches, always keeping an eye on me.
The weather on that day wasn’t as nice as the photos make out. High winds kept blowing the hand net back in on itself giving the birds the advantage. That said, we achieved a lot. Betty, Flieur and her youngster Iris had their missing colour rings replaced. Betty and Vicq were given fresh red and white striped rings as their existing ones had shattered. We swapped Portlet’s pale blue for a new style of pale blue that makes it easy to distinguish from the whites and greys of the flock.
Finally, Dingle was caught up simply because he was unlucky. Trying to isolate five from a group of 24 in a confined space is guaranteed to result in by-catch. All six looked well and had healthy body weights.
Away from Sorel
A few unidentified choughs evaded capture which was a shame as there are a couple of outstanding cases to deal with. Clearly, with a population of 42, several were absent from Sorel that day.
We are still seeing choughs in Trinity Parish, Plémont, Les Landes, and the south west of the Island. Rather worryingly, we no longer get reports of pairs, just of single birds.
Twice in one week we have seen a chough fly over the Zoo. The first time was in the rain. It looked rather laboured in flight and called frequently. The second visit was again on a damp, grey day. This time it was spotted taking a break perched atop a leafless tree by the macaque enclosure. It was, sadly, unclear if it was the same individual.
Beaker, one half of the Plémont pair has not been seen of late at the feeds like his female has. A roost check confirmed only one bird going in to roost. We need to continue monitoring this as it implies we are down a breeding pair and territory for the 2021 season.
There are growing concerns too for a couple of other birds which may mean we have lost two more breeding pairs.
COVID, and corvid, conundrum in the Zoo
One pair who have not changed are the Zoo pair. Tristan and Penny will want to start nest building towards the end of February. This means we need to move their three juveniles out before Dad gets, well, violent. No other way of putting it.
The default move would be to export them to the UK to join the captive breeding programme supporting the pending Kent reintroduction. COVID travel restrictions set the ferry option back until April and commercial flight option to a similar date.
Plan B then becomes holding them in an aviary at the Zoo until Plan A is feasible. However, thanks to the knock on effect of COVID postponing 2020 exports, and our breeding success of species with similar housing needs (e.g. hornbills) we find ourselves in a Battle Royale for aviary space.
There is a Plan C formulating – release the juveniles. Very much dependent on whether staff can dedicate sufficient time to ensure the best chances of success. Then we have the ongoing rat problem which would really pose a threat if you want to keep birds captive whilst conditioning them for release.
A Jersey supplier has been found for the rodent-proofing aluminium mentioned in the last report. I’m not confident that this can be supplied and fitted in time before Tristan kicks off. Watch this space!