Rising temperatures implicated in decline of the willow warbler

From Rare Bird Alert

New research from BTO implicates rising temperatures in the steep decline of the willow warbler, one of the UK’s most tuneful harbingers of spring.

The study shows that willow warblers are doing better in Scotland, where temperatures are cooler. Evidence is building to suggest the population in southern Britain is a casualty of recent anthropogenic climate change.

BTO researchers used volunteer bird counts and habitat data from the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey to separate the impacts of climate change and habitat change on willow warbler and chiffchaff populations. The analysis revealed that willow warbler numbers across the UK fell by 41% between 1994 and 2018, while those of the closely related chiffchaff grew by 133%. The picture was very different in Scotland, where temperatures are cooler than the UK average. North of the border, willow warblers increased by 77% and chiffchaffs by 244%.

During the period studied, the mean breeding season temperature was 12.7°C in England and 10.2°C in Scotland, close to the optimum breeding temperatures for chiffchaff (13.5°C) and willow warbler (11°C), respectively. However, UK Met Office data show that UK temperatures in the last 30 years have been about 1°C warmer than those during the three preceding decades. Changes like these can have impacts including producing a mismatch between young birds’ food requirements and insect abundance, an overall reduction in food abundance and shifts in habitat suitability.

The BBS habitat data showed that woodland and scrub, the preferred habitat for willow warblers and chiffchaffs, increased across the UK, with more habitat improvements in Scotland. However, this study showed that the increases in Scotland were more likely to be linked to climate change than habitat change.

Its UK decline means willow warbler has been on the Birds of Conservation Concern Amber List since 2002. With global temperatures forecast to keep rising, studies like this demonstrate the importance of long-term monitoring to ensure conservation measures are targeted effectively. More woodland and scrub, for example, would be more likely to be taken up by breeding willow warblers if it were concentrated in cooler areas of the UK.

Blaise Martay, BTO lead author on the paper, said: ‘We’ve discovered that these two superficially similar warblers have quite different temperature requirements during the breeding season. Climate change means willow warblers are now faring worse in warmer parts of the country, something that has implications for future conservation measures, such as habitat creation. The connection we’ve uncovered between temperature and breeding success suggests that conservation interventions for this species should be targeted in cooler parts of the UK.

She added, “I’d like to thank all the volunteers who take part in the BTO/JNCC/RSPB Breeding Bird Survey. Their records allow scientists like me to undertake analyses like this one and help us understand the pressures birds face as a result of climate change.’

In Jersey we have lost willow warbler as a breeding species although we still see birds in spring and autumn on migration. The annual north coast bird survey carried out in May or June each year when willow warblers and chiffchaffs would be nesting highlights the status of both these species. In Jersey, willow warbler is on the Red List

See the abstract of Breeding ground temperature rises, more than habitat change, are associated with spatially variable population trends in two species of migratory bird here

Infrastructure, hunting and climate change linked to huge migratory bird declines

From Rare Bird Alert

Migratory birds are declining globally because of the way that humans have modified the landscape over recent decades – according to new research.

The new study reveals that population declines have been greatest among species that migrate to areas with more human infrastructure – roads, buildings, power lines, wind turbines – as well as higher population densities and hunting levels.

Habitat degradation and climate change have also played a part in driving long-term declines.

The research team hope their work will help inform how best to target conservation efforts. James Gilroy, from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “We know that migratory birds are in greater decline than non-migratory species, but it’s not clear why.

“We wanted to find out where in their life cycles these migratory species are most exposed to human impacts.”

The team identified 16 human-induced threats to migratory birds, including infrastructure associated with bird disturbance and collisions, conversion of land from natural habitat to human land use, and climate change. Advances in satellite imagery allowed the team to map each of the 16 threats across Europe, Africa and Western Asia. The team also created the first ever large-scale map of hunting pressure across the region.

A total of 103 species of migrating birds were studied, including many rapidly declining species like turtle dove and the common cuckoo, using large-scale datasets.

The team calculated “threat scores” for factors such as habitat loss and climate change, across breeding locations, as well as non-breeding ranges. They then explored the relationships between these threat scores and bird population trends calculated from 1985 to 2018 by the Pan-European Common Bird Monitoring Scheme (PECBMS).

Claire Buchan from UEA, said: “One of the biggest impacts seems to be caused by things that would kill a bird outright – for example flying into a wind turbine, a building, being electrocuted on a powerline, hit by a vehicle or hunted. We found that exposure to these human-induced ‘direct mortality’ threats in the bird’s wintering ranges are reflected in population decreases in breeding birds.”

Aldina Franco, also from UEA, said: “Our findings are important because we need to understand where declining species are being most impacted by humans across their seasonal migrations. Pinpointing where birds are most exposed to these threats could help us target conservation actions.”

Download the paper Spatially explicit risk mapping reveals direct anthropogenic impacts on migratory birds here

The Pen Llŷn & Iveragh Chough Count

By Fiach Byrne

Jersey Island’s striking landscape shares many similarities with the Llŷn Peninsula in northwest Wales and the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland. Each of these regions are popular tourist destinations that are heavily influenced by agriculture and their connection to the sea. Their coastal landscapes are also extremely important to many forms of wildlife, not least our favourite corvid, the red-billed chough. The choughs’ iconic call, coupled with their bright red beaks and legs are a staple of the Llŷn and Iveragh Peninsulas. And these birds are clearly held in high regard on Jersey since their reintroduction in 2013.

On the Llŷn and Iveragh Peninsulas, choughs nest within mines, quarries, farm buildings and along cliff faces. A short distance from these nest sites, choughs have access to a mix of foraging habitats such as beach, sand dune, earth banks, coastal and agricultural grasslands, coastal heath and some well-grazed upland sites. Here, choughs can find their favourite food items such as beetles, ants and spiders, as well as the larvae of beetles, butterflies and moths. The importance of Llŷn and Iveragh for choughs is one of the primary reasons why ‘Special Protection Areas’ (SPAs) have been designated on both peninsulas.

The most recent national chough censuses indicated that chough populations across the UK and Ireland are relatively stable, although there were some concerning declines in certain regions. These national surveys are usually conducted every ten years in the UK. However, there was nearly two decades of a gap between Ireland’s 2002/03 national chough census and the most recent census carried out in 2021. Although these censuses provide invaluable insights into the health of national and regional chough populations, more frequent updates would help us determine how our choughs are faring in the years between censuses.With this in mind, the University College Cork-led LIVE Project, in collaboration with the National Trust in Wales and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) organised a cross-border ‘Chough Count’ on the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland and the Llŷn Peninsula in northwest Wales on 12th March 2022. This initiative typifies one of LIVE’s main objectives – the sharing of knowledge and best practice between our two peninsulas.

The Llŷn Peninsula’s second ‘Chough Count’ saw 51 volunteers record 254 choughs as the sun shone in north Wales. Iveragh’s inaugural count saw twenty-six volunteers record 64 choughs in quite challenging weather conditions. By conducting annual counts of Llŷn & Iveragh’s choughs, we can detect trends in these populations in the years between censuses and we can identify important habitats for this protected species. The 2022 chough count also gave our surveyors the opportunity to record some of our other native birds such as skylarks, fulmars, white-tailed sea eagles and a hen harrier in Iveragh, as well as red kites, peregrine falcons and a green woodpecker on Pen Llŷn.

Distribution of records during Pen Llŷn’s second ‘Chough Count’ held on 12th March 2022.

The LIVE Project (ecomuseumlive.eu) has received funding from the European Regional Development Fund through its Ireland Wales cooperation programme. Led by the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences in University College Cork, LIVE works to enable the coastal communities of Llŷn and Iveragh to promote their natural and cultural assets, with the aim of encouraging more sustainable tourism opportunities in these rural regions of Ireland and Wales.

Chough report: April 2022

By Liz Corry

Success at Plémont!

For a second year in a row the chough pair at Plémont have successfully hatched three chicks. We discovered the happy news at the end of the month. Using a very, very, very, long lens we were able to get photos of the chicks’ heads whilst begging for food.

It is hard to give a precise age without seeing the rest of their body, but best guess is a week-old give or take a day. This would also match up with nest observations we made over April; our estimated hatch date was the 22nd.  Returning the following week further confirmed our age estimate as their little heads were still relatively bald.

Both Plémont parents are now out and about in search of food for their young. Concerns were raised when we started seeing both parents at the Sorel supplemental feed desperate for food. Choughs nesting at Plémont do not normally return to Sorel until their chicks fledge or the nest fails. This was the first time in five years. Chough chicks devour a lot of insects whilst in the nest, so chough parents tend to forage close-by to conserve their energy.

Petit Plémont and grassland above the cliff path are used by choughs searching for food. Photo by Liz Corry.

There has been a big increase in footfall at Plémont this month which could deter the choughs from foraging close-by. It has also been relatively dry so the soils around Plémont are not as favourable to soil-dwelling invertebrates. There are many other reasons why the parents might be visiting Sorel, the good news is that the chicks are still alive and begging well.

All being well the chicks should fledge at the end of May, start of June. We will be monitoring more closely this year around the fledging period. Last year we knew that two of the three chicks fledged, but don’t know what happened to the third. Then one disappeared within the first week of being out. If that happens again this year, it would be good to try and understand why.

Potential success at Ronez once again

We believe at least five of the eight nests in the quarry have chicks. This is based on behaviour of the pairs at the feeds and in the quarry. The females had been suspiciously absent. Then when they did turn up, they were very noisy. Pyrrho and Icho in particular would fly in vocalising, then follow their partner like a noisy shadow demanding food and being fed instantly. It’s quite an interesting sound they make trying to beg and swallow the food at the same time!

Ronez Quarry continues to be a successful breeding site for choughs in Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.

At the end of the month, we were then seeing the male and female in a pair making repeat trips between aviary and nest site. This tends to be when they are feeding chicks although we have no definitive proof yet. We are trying to arrange a quarry visit for May.

Zoo chicks

Our Jersey Zoo pair also had success this month with their first chick hatching on the 28th followed by number two the next day and number three shortly after.

Nest cam footage showed the moment the first chick hatched whilst mum looked on. Photo credit Durrell.

There was a fourth egg…spoiler alert…it failed to hatch. The nest camera shows the parents still holding out hope until May 2nd. Mum took the executive decision to remove the egg from the nest around lunchtime. You can see this in the video below around 40 seconds in.

We may send the chicks over to the UK shortly after they fledge so they can become part of the release project in Kent. This is very much dependent on the Jersey and UK Government’s rulings over exports and imports of birds from a bird flu protection zone. Restrictions for indoor housing of poultry will be lifted in Jersey on May 9th.

No success in the new territories

The Trinity pair appear to have abandoned their nest and are spending more time at Sorel. They still visit the stables but the nest is now being used by doves. We had hoped that the choughs had found a more favourable site in the Parish yet their casual behaviour at the aviary suggests they’ve given up.

An article will be published in the summer edition of the Trinity Tattler magazine asking residents to report any sightings. This might shed some retrospective light on the situation. I’m not holding out hope that there will be a surprise nest discovered.

In similar circumstances, we are now seeing the ‘Corbière pair’ back at Sorel. Their suspected nest was last seen being used by pigeons. We are used to seeing choughs fail at establishing territories in the south west. Food supply, or lack thereof, may play a role in this. The cliff tops are choked with invasive sour fig (or Hottentot fig) (Carpobrotus edulis) and the exposed ground isn’t very accommodating to soil invertebrates.

Cliffs around Corbière could offer potential nest sites for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sour fig (Hottentot fig) might look pretty when flowering, but its choking Jersey’s cliff tops in the south west. Photo by Liz Corry.

Return visit to Guernsey

We have seen another report of chough posted on the Guernsey Birdwatching Facebook group. Dated 16th April, it is clear that the bird is one of ours from the red and white striped ring, but that is all we know unfortunately. They were foraging at Pleinmont again. Clearly a popular site.

A chough was spotted at Pleinmont, Guernsey this month. Photo by Chris Wilkinson/Facebook

It just so happens that Portelet and Archirondel were missing from the Sorel feed that day. Coincidence? This is very exciting news if they have made a second round trip between islands to forage.

Sark and Guernsey can be seen on the horizon from Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Aviary maintenance

Boring but necessary aviary stuff. April has brought sea fog, hail, downpours of rain, but mainly sunny days perfect for grass growing which means we do lots of grass mowing; weekly almost daily depending on how much time we have spare and how long the strimmer battery lasts.

Keeping the grass short inside the aviary has multiple benefits. Photo by Liz Corry.

The holes in the netting we had repaired earlier in the year have reopened with extra wear and tear. Nothing to do with rodents just weathering and strain on the netting. We need to get the henchman ladder back up to Sorel to carry out the repairs.

We have replaced a couple of rotting hatches, rusted door bolts, replaced food stands and repaired benches for accessing hatches.

Holes have reappeared in the netting along the central pole. Photo by Liz Corry.

Random fact

Park House Thai restaurant in St. Helier, Jersey, appear to feature red-billed choughs in their interior décor…

Unexpected restaurant décor in Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.

And finally

This will be my last chough report for Birds On The Edge and Durrell.  I’ve been with Durrell for eighteen years and worked with the choughs since they arrived in the Zoo in 2010. It was a hard decision to make as I’m leaving both my job and the island I’ve called home for the last sixteen years.

I’m not quite leaving the choughs though as I will be taking up a new role as chough release supervisor in Kent for The Wildwood Trust. No doubt I will keep popping up from time to time on Birds On The Edge or at the Inter-Island Environment meetings. Like Where’s Wally minus the red and white striped top.

I’m extremely proud of what the team has achieved over the years, and I often forget letting the day to day stresses of running the project take over. Plémont is the perfect place to remind me. When I first visited the bay in 2006, I didn’t know the Channel Islands were once home to choughs. Eight years later I remember visiting Plémont café with friends and musing over the idea of one day seeing the then recently released choughs utilise the cliff tops and caves. And now, well why don’t you find out for yourself. Head to the café (I recommend the waffles), sit outside, soak up the rays, and listen… 

 

Around the world with invasive species

By Glyn Young for Jersey Invasive Species Week 2022

I cannot remember not being interested in (ok, obsessed with) the world’s birds. I’ve long wanted to see as many as I can, wherever I can. I’ve been very lucky in that I’ve been able to get close to birds as a profession too. In fact, my profession has changed my involvement with birds from simply watching them to wanting to save them from dying out, to help the rarest of the rare from becoming extinct. Working at Durrell has involved me with some serious problems and three times I’ve worked with birds considered the rarest on earth. That they aren’t the rarest now is not because they died out but because Durrell and its partners succeeded in getting them through the crisis. They are still rare but there is hope.

At Durrell, we typically become involved with a species when it is already very rare and it is considered that our involvement can help it turn the corner. Planning a recovery project requires us to look at three key things: pressure, state and response. That is, why is our bird so rare and what are the drivers of its decline? How many are there and exactly where do they live? And then, what can we do to change the future for the species? However, while we need to map our species’ current distribution, count how many there are and then determine what we can do for them and who we will work with, we generally have a pretty good idea what is making them so rare.

We think of habitat loss and conversion, of hunting and persecution as drivers of bird decline. But inevitably, invasive alien species (IAS) are going to be in there somewhere. So many of the world’s animals and plants are now being pushed towards extinction by alien species, the ones we call invasives or often, quite correctly, exotic species. All species that are not native and have come from somewhere else, introduced either deliberately or accidentally, are exotic, whereas only those that have a negative impact on native species by outcompeting with them or directly killing them or their eggs and young are called invasive species. The trouble is, it’s often very hard to tell whether an exotic species is harmless or whether you just haven’t looked closely enough (ruddy ducks in the UK were once considered a benign introduction and we know what happened with them).

At Durrell, my work has been to look at the pressures on and the state of a bird population and then use the findings towards establishing the responses. The first bits we might lead on, but the responses are more likely to involve a wider group, partners with their own particular skills like Island Conservation. Increasingly, where the role of one or more invasive species is key to our bird’s situation, we will work with partners who may be directly involved with reduction, or hopefully total eradication, of the invasive threat. If our bird lives on a small island, threatened by rats, or cats or a whole host of other invasives, its best chance of survival will be the complete removal of all the invasives. And here, Durrell may work to ensure the survival of the native species while its habitat is made safe by our partners. This is where we’ve been involved in recent years in the Galápagos.

I first cut my teeth in Mauritius in the 1980s where I joined our small team on the island working with birds on the very edge of extinction. My tasks were in observing and recording nesting echo parakeets (less than 20 birds in the world) and taking young into captivity. This was the first known nest in many years. I also made notes on pink pigeons and Mauritius kestrels, two further species with wild populations of under 20. Although a dire history of habitat loss, hunting and pesticide use had pushed these birds into ever smaller areas of forest it was the non-native rats, cats, mongooses, monkeys, mynahs and dense thickets of privet and guava in the forest remnants that would finish the job. Today, these birds can be found in much healthier numbers through some serious hard work and the establishment of captive populations. I also made trips out to Round Island shortly after the removal of goats and rabbits, animals put out there as food for ships and responsible for the near extinction of several reptiles and plant species extinct on the main island, and the last populations in the country of several seabirds. The mammals went in the nick of time and the saved reptiles and plants have gone on to repopulate other recovered islets.

From Mauritius, in 1989, I searched a lake system in Madagascar for Madagascar pochard. This lake, Alaotra, was the only known site of the duck which, although formerly widespread, had been considered common here only a few years before. But that was before a whole series of exotic fish were released into the lake. Fish that went on to see the loss of many native species as they out-competed many and disastrously altered the habitat needed for many others. We couldn’t find the previously common pochard or find any hope of its survival and declared it ‘probably extinct’ in 2004 despite constant effort. To say that I was excited on its rediscovery in 2006 would be an understatement!

Changing emphasis to Madagascar’s west coast in 1992 I began to focus on the Madagascar teal. Even this mangrove specialist faced threats from rats and cats – we found cat tracks in mangrove islands cut off at high tide. Through this work I was sponsored by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation (DOC) to visit many of their bird restoration projects in 1996. New Zealand has a long and awful history of invasive species and so each programme included work with invasives – some expected like brown teal (rats, cats, stoats etc), some more specialised like blue duck (rainbow trout) and some much less obvious like black stilt (lupins). Who would have guessed that lupins could be such a threat! 

I was quickly on the scene when around 20 wild Madagascar pochards were found in a distant, fish-free, mountain lake in 2006. With little hope of long term survival, with partners including Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust we collected eggs in 2009 to start a captive population in Madagascar. The Durrell run breeding centres have bred many ducks and we began to return birds to another lake in 2018, a lake that they’ve been breeding at ever since.

In 2006 I also spent time surveying the remnant population of Saint Lucia’s white-breasted thrasher. A species that had also been considered extinct in the past until found in areas of eastern dry forest earmarked for development. While the final straw for this species might have been the development, it was the introduction of mongooses that had pushed it towards oblivion. The mongooses had done a good job on a lot of other native animals too.

The year before, in 2005, I began working in Isabela in the Galápagos. Durrell had been invited to look at the mangrove finch, the rarest bird in the islands and one that had not been recorded breeding in several years. The entire population of this finch, well under 100 birds, was living in a couple of tiny mangrove patches. Mangroves full of rats which we quickly proved were eating the eggs. The rats were removed, and the finches bred again. Our excitement was, however, short-lived as another invasive species, the parasitic vampire fly took over and killed chicks that the rats had previously prevented from ever hatching. No one has yet stopped the flies but they are working on control methods. In the meantime, other agencies in the Galápagos have taken on our work and the mangrove finch is still there. Isabela is a very big island and despite an incredible effort to remove a large and destructive population of goats, rats can only be kept out of the mangroves and survive elsewhere on the island.

In 2007 I was asked by the Galápagos authorities to look at the Floreana mockingbird. This incredible bird was the inspiration behind Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection. However, since Darwin met the mockingbirds on Floreana, the population had died out through loss of natural vegetation, eaten by cattle, goats and donkeys and predation of nests by rats and of adults by cats. The loss was not complete though as a few mockingbirds remained on two tiny islets. The challenge, to get them back safely on to the main island. We took on the challenge but, despite some great plans and plenty of research, only the complete removal of Floreana’s unwelcome mammals would allow the return. And that’s where we are right now, the removal is scheduled although it was delayed by the pandemic. Durrell has taken on safeguarding Floreana’s many native finch populations to make sure that they aren’t caught up in the rodent and cat programmes. We have two aviary complexes ready on the island and have trialled catching large numbers of finches, holding them in the aviaries, releasing them and tracking them later. All bodes well for Floreana, the mockingbird and other native animals and plants. Later in 2022 we will start drawing up plans for the return of 13 missing animal species.

So, that’s work. What about free time? Well, it’s surprising how the two can meet and it’s lucky that I have a family happy to go along. And that they like seeing wild bird populations (often puffins it seems) and learning what it takes to ensure that these will survive. We don’t dislike rats, cats, mongooses, cichlid fishes and lupins etc but we know we need to keep them away from the birds.

 

Chough report: March 2022

By Liz Corry

Archirondel went on a ‘girls’ trip’ to Guernsey at the end of March. Photo by Chris Wilkinson/Facebook.

Channel Island Choughs 

The dream finally became a reality this month when two Jersey choughs were photographed in Guernsey. We first discovered the birds had left the island through a post on social media. A post on Guernsey Birdwatching’s Facebook page showed a selection of images and video from a very excited birdwatcher. The images clearly showed the leg rings enabling us to identify Archirondel and Portelet as the two tourists. These are two young, non-breeding females and as such have the freedom to explore.

The last time we recorded  Archie and Portelet at the supplemental feed was on 22nd March. After some frantic armchair detective work we discovered that they visited Sark too on 23rd March and were then next seen on the 25th in Guernsey. 

The report from Sark is a wonderful description of what it’s like when you spot a chough in flight for the first time:

“I went out to do the mowing at 3.30 pm and thought I heard a jackdaw which we do not usually see in Sark. I looked up and saw a black bird disappearing over towards Derrible Bay (fingers on wings were visible) but it was only a fleeting sighting. A bit later at 4.45 pm when I had finished the mowing I heard the call again and two choughs flew right above me and I realised that it wasn’t a jackdaw but a chough’s call. The red bill of one could be clearly seen but because of the shaded light I could not see whether rings were present on the legs. An altogether more slender bird than the crow and smaller. They turned right and flew down the meadow as if heading off east towards the harbour in a tumbling flight and then veered abruptly and flew off towards the north but heading back towards the east coast.” 

A Jersey chough flying high in Guernsey. Photo by Dan Scott/Facebook.

The pair stayed in Guernsey over the weekend foraging around Pleinmont near Portelet Bay! Portelet, the chough, returned to Jersey along with Archirondel on Monday the 28th. Quite literally a girls weekend away in the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

Image from Google Earth.

We envisaged this could happen when we first planned the reintroduction. It’s not unheard of for UK choughs to spend time foraging on both mainland and a nearby offshore island. This trip might have been a one off, equally it could be the start of a new foraging pattern for Jersey’s choughs. 

There is certainly suitable foraging habitat on offer in Guernsey. Pleinmont looks very similar to Les Landes and Grosnez in many respects, but it is too soon to talk breeding opportunities. We need more males for that to happen. No pressure on the breeding pairs then!

Pleinmont in Guernsey appears to provide suitable foraging habitat for choughs. Image from Google Earth.

The 2022 breeding season is underway

March madness came into full force when the breeding choughs began nest building, or nest refreshing for the experienced pairs. Ex-volunteer, Neil Singleton and his wife Ali were treated to an impressive display of ‘flying wool’ when they visited Sorel towards the end of the month. Timed well with the return of the sheep.

Choughs collecting wool for their nests at Sorel. Photo by Neil Singleton

I suspect these birds were heading to the quarry although the Plémont pair could have been involved too. They tend to stay local and collect horse hair or wool for Grosnez to Grève de Lecq. It might look like easy cargo, but I have seen a fair few accidentally drop their wool between Sorel and the quarry. Usually when they get distracted by a peregrine or gull or keeper walking below carrying insects!

Blurry but the intentions are clear. Photo by Neil Singleton.

Plémont sea crows return

Minty and Rey have returned to Plémont to refresh last year’s nest before Rey begins egg laying. The sea crows (to use an old Greek nickname) can often be heard foraging around Plémont headland and seen flying to and fro in search of food. During the nesting season, French choughs are known to spend most of their time within 300 metres of the nest site. If the habitat is suitable, i.e. lots of soil and/or dung invertebrates, the chough pair will be successful.

Minty can afford to spend some time chilling out right now. Once Rey starts incubating, he has the responsibility of finding food for the both of them. Maybe that is why he was happy to do a bit of sunbathing down at Plémont.

Minty taking time out from nest building to sunbathe. Photo by Charlotte Dean.

The Troublesome Trinity Two

Pinel has returned to Trinity taking his new female, Vicq, with him. They have been visiting the same places as last year such as Peacock Farm and East Ridings Stables. They appear to have chosen to nest in the same building he used the year before with his previous partner. Maybe he sees the potential in the property to become a family home?

Last year the pair abandoned early and weeks later the female disappeared. Hopefully he will have more success this time with Vicq who hatched three chicks in 2021. Sadly, the chicks died before fledging but it shows she can do it.

We are working with the property owner to monitor the situation and see if we need to assist in any way. The owner is very wildlife-friendly which is a big bonus and we have set up a camera-trap in the building, swapping out memory cards on a weekly basis. 

Playing in the sand pits

Another chough pair we are keeping an eye on are Danny and Jaune. We had reports of choughs in Simon Sand and Gravel Ltd. down on the west coast. Choughs have also been seen around Corbière this month so the assumption is that they are looking for a suitable nest site but since they are still sub-adults it is doubtful that they will breed this year.

 

Reptilewatch 2022 training event


1300-1600, 23rd April 2022 at Frances Le Sueur Centre, La Mielle de Morville JE3 2FN

Book your free place now via Eventbrite

We are delighted to be running this training session in person again and to be joined by Dr Robert Ward, Data and GIS Officer, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation who will be presenting at this event. Rob studied our local grass snakes for his PhD. He is extremely knowledgeable on Jersey reptiles and how to get the best chance of seeing reptiles locally.


What is Reptilewatch JE?

Reptilewatch JE is the successor to the National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (NARRS) which ran in Jersey from 2007 to 2018. During this time volunteers provided a great deal of information which has been used to inform the design of Reptilewatch as well as influence efforts to protect the species.

Reptilewatch JE is a project that aims to gather sightings of Jersey’s reptiles to help assess their conservation status, distribution and habitat requirements.

By taking part in the Reptilewatch scheme, you will be contributing important data to inform the ongoing conservation of these incredible creatures and helping inform future policies.

How can you help?
There are opportunities for everyone to get involved. Depending on your interest, available time and experience you can currently get involved in two ways.
Level 1 – spend 30 minutes looking for reptiles No experience or training is required.
Level 2 Wall lizard – carry out six visual surveys, each taking 30 minutes No previous experience needed but attendance at this training session is required.

Schedule of the day (provisional):
• Welcome and Introduction
• Reptile Identification – how to identify reptiles and some of the other animals you might encounter
• How to get involved Level 1 and how to record your findings
• How to get involved Level 2 -Wall Lizard and how to record your findings
• Field Session
• Opportunity to sign up and network with other volunteers.

Light refreshments will be provided.

Find out more about Reptilewatch JE or the other Wild About Jersey initiatives on gov.je.

Book your free place now via Eventbrite

Please don’t forget to wear appropriate clothing and footwear for the field session.

If we are lucky enough to have good weather on the day, please bring a hat and appropriate sun protection and some drinking water. Also, if you have any close focusing binoculars, please bring these with you.

Please take a COVID lateral flow test before attending. Please don’t attend if you feel unwell or have a positive COVID test result.

The arrival of the puffins

Plémont 10th April 11am-1pm

From National Trust Jersey

The Arrival of the Puffins is a unique festival that highlights the plight of these wonderful birds and the key role Jersey has to play in in order to protect and save the puffins and other seabirds.

Join us to celebrate the arrival of the puffins of Jersey back to their breeding cliffs, as well as the arrival of the willow puffins to the National Trust grounds at Plémont.

There are a series of activities as well us the unveiling of the magnificent puffin – willow sculptures that have been created to highlight these challenges. This event is open to everyone so please come along and join us!

You can drop by anytime between 11am and 1pm and you will find opportunities to watch puffins and other seabirds (if they are about!), walks of the Seabird Trail, and live music to celebrate the puffins and other sea folk.

Programme:
– Between 11am and 1pm: Puffin Watch at the Stone Circle – with Alli and Neil from Birding Tours Jersey. Just drop by, scopes and binoculars will be provided.
– At 11h and at 12h: Live music next to the willow puffins, with Aureole Choir and local folk band Sonneux. Be ready to sing along, lyrics will be provided!
– At 11.30h and 12.30h: Seabird Trail taster walks with local birding expert and photographer Romano da Costa. Bring your binoculars and cameras if you have them.

See you at Plémont on Sunday, and hopefully the real puffins will be there too!

Sculptures built in partnership with Geomarine. Event kindly supported by JDC (Jersey Development Company).

Chough report: February 2022

By Liz Corry

Jersey’s annual Great Garden Bird Watch returned some interesting results this year. Held on 5th and 6th February, Islanders were asked to spend an hour in their garden and list all the birds they could see.

For the first time in its twenty-one year history, choughs were recorded. Not only that, they were spotted on a bird feeder filled with peanuts, sunflower hearts,  maize, pinhead oatmeal and millet.

A pair of choughs demonstrating how resourceful corvids can be. Photo by Robert Graiger.

After digging a little deeper, we discovered that some of the choughs have been visiting this garden since 2020. The photos submitted identified breeding pair Trevor and Noirmont, prior to that, we know a young female has also visited with the pair.

Whilst surprising, it is not unheard of for wild choughs to use bird feeders. There are a few of reports from Cornwall and Wales of chough opportunistically feeding from garden bird feeders. In each case including Jersey, the gardens are not your typical urban estate fenced-in garden. Trevor and Noir have been visiting property at Grantez which surrounded by grazed land (sheep, horses, and donkeys). From Grantez’s vantage point, you can see the entire west coast from L’Étacq to Corbière, both areas favoured by choughs.

Donkey-grazed grassland is not your typical garden view. Photo by Liz Corry.

The interesting information from this report is the type of food they are eating. Pinhead oatmeal forms part of the supplementary diet provided to Scottish choughs in Islay. Its not considered as typical wild chough diet, but does suggests there is something in the mix that the birds are looking for. We are hoping to carry out research into diet preferences in the near future. This exciting discovery is certainly food for thought.

Sorry.

Foraging further afield

As mentioned above, the choughs have been visiting Grantez. In addition to the garden report, the National Trust Rangers have seen choughs foraging near the dolmen on Grantez headland. 

Choughs are also visiting Corbière, Les Mielles dunes, and potentially back at Crabbé where a pair roosted in 2020. The gun range, sheep-grazing, and now goat-grazing, provide great habitat for choughs to find food. Farm structures and cliff faces offer ample nesting opportunity for a pair looking to setup a new territory. 

Someone looks very warm out at Crabbé on a cold February morning. Photo by Liz Corry.

We are also keeping our eyes peeled around Trinity again. There is a good chance Pinel might try to set up a territory again this time with his new female. The roost site used in 2021 is surrounded by horse paddocks which provide foraging opportunities and nesting material – choughs sometimes use horse hair!

Choughs have been visiting the dolmen at Grantez. Photo by Liz Corry.

Catch-ups with the choughs

We finally managed to trap the elusive Bo and Flieur in the aviary to replace their leg rings. I say elusive, but I could equally use stubborn/clever/annoying/uncooperative… This is the pair who always fly to the aviary with the others yet refuse to go inside when they know we are trying to catch choughs. Bo in particular keeps both eyes firmly fixed on staff. Flieur might break once in a while and tempt fate, but flees at the first inclination that the hatches might be about to close.

I struck lucky on Monday 7th when all thirty choughs turned up for the feed all showing signs they were hungry. Typically had to be the day I was working alone although maybe that is why Bo’s guard was down.

I replaced Bo’s missing plastic ring and swapped Flieur’s faded pale grey for something more obvious. It felt wrong. No one likes change. Flieur has been grey since she arrived at Sorel. Grey is her identity.

It’s also a really stupid colour to use in the wild in a climate where grey skies prevail. So out with the grey in with the mauve.

Flieur’s new mauve leg ring sets her apart from the other 2014 (blue) hatched birds. Photo by Liz Corry.

Storm damage at Sorel

The Island has seen its fair share of storms this year. February’s Storm Eunice and Franklin delivering devilishly strong winds (55-63 mph or 89-102 km/h). Yet somehow the aviary miraculously remains standing. 

Choughs arriving for the supplemental food. Photo by Liz Corry.

The winds did create new rips in the netting and annoyingly re-opened ones we had sealed last month. Another trip to Sorel with the Henchmen ladder is in the pipeline. We have budgeted for new netting to be fitted later in the year. Hopefully the current net will hold out until then.

What didn’t remain standing was the Birds On The Edge sign at Sorel car park. Cue a phone call on my morning off followed by a spot of coastal ‘carpentry’. I couldn’t unscrew the sign from the posts to fit it in the car so the logical solution…saw off the posts! In my defence, they were rotten at the base, and we reused the wood at the aviary. The sign and fencing will be replaced by the Countryside Rangers in the near future.

It was like that when I got there your honour! Photo by Liz Corry.

Grazing returns to Sorel

Very pleased to see the return of the Manx loaghtans to Sorel this month. Perfect timing for the choughs who will soon need wool to line their nests.

The sheep have returned to graze Sorel and Devil’s Hole. Photo by Liz Corry.

It also means we should hopefully see the return of dung invertebrates (aka chough food) who depend on the sheep faeces. Not sure which made me more excited, the choughs foraging in amongst the sheep or the return of mating dung flies. If you haven’t already, please checkout our article about Dung Beetles for Farmers

A pair of yellow dung fly making the most of the fresh dung. Photo by Liz Corry.

Avian influenzas confirmed in Jersey

Two wild buzzards have tested positive for avian influenza: the first confirmed cases in Jersey. This was followed shortly by the death of a red-breasted goose in the Zoo who also tested positive for the strain H5N1. 

Choughs are considered to be at low risk of infection, and we do not foresee any major changes in how we manage the supplementary feeds. To reduce the chance of transmission between field sites and the Zoo, we have set up a disinfectant foot bath at the aviary with dedicated footwear. We continue to maintain high hygiene standards at the aviary and have separate footwear for in the Zoo and out in the field.

We will of course monitor the situation and consult with the States Vet if any changes occur.

Dung Beetles for farmers

By Liz Corry

Mention ‘dung beetle’ to most people and the first thing they picture is a giant ball of dung being rolled around by a seemingly impractical sized beetle. Yet those minuscule muck movers are just the tip of the dung pile. Literally!

There are over 7,000 species of dung beetle (Scarabaeidae) worldwide, 43 of which are native to Jersey. Some roll, some tunnel, others live amongst the faeces. Its all to do with how their life-cycle has evolved and how, in turn, they give back to the natural world. And we don’t just mean as food for choughs!

A dung beetle in South Africa. Photo by Travel Local.

Another feature often overlooked is the dung beetle’s ability to fly.  They can disperse long distances and fly at speeds of 18 miles per hour (which means they could be breaking the law along Jersey’s green lanes!). They have evolved to be either day-time flyers or night-time flyers which in turn means they can be a great food source for birds as well as bats.

Some favour sheep or cattle dung, some have a penchant for deer droppings. The point is they are diverse and in turn require a diverse ecosystem to thrive.

Having a diverse range of ‘faeces farmers’ in an ecosystem provides enormous benefits including reduced greenhouse emissions, reduced parasite levels in pastures, increased soil organic matter, and reduced farming costs.

Dung beetles can be surprisingly colourful. Photo: Dung Beetles for Farmers

Sadly, 52% of the UK’s dung beetles are classed as under threat and it’s largely down to how we humans use (and abuse) the environment. The good news is that we can make a difference and for farmers, it can end up pocketing them a bit of money in the process.

At the recent Oxford Real Farming Conference, dairy farmer Bruce Thompson gave a talk about his beetle-friendly livestock management and how he is seeing tangible benefits. Since 2017, he has been researching and implementing alternative methods to using anthelmintics, drugs used to rid cattle of parasites, the use of which has been found to have detrimental impacts on dung invertebrates and the animals which rely on them such as red-billed choughs.

Bruce Thompson with his beetle-friendly dairy herd. Photo: Irish Dairy Farmer Magazine 2019

Bruce’s hard work has paid off. Literally. The cost of using traditional methods on his herd was an eye-watering €3,857. Bruce’s beetle friendly approach cost €859 and most importantly the dairy herd is performing equally well.

Bruce is a member of Dung Beetles for Farmers along with Sally-Ann Spence, entomologist research fellow and friend of Birds On The Edge. Sally-Ann (see here) and her colleagues from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History visited Jersey in 2015 to survey for beetles and assist the Société with specimen ID.

Bruce’s talk, along with others from Dung Beetles for Farmers, is available on YouTube and linked below. I urge you to watch it as it is very engaging, you will learn a lot, and you may even come away with a newfound passion for dung!

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