Chough report: November 2018

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

By Liz Corry

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

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

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

Flying to roost. Photo for Liz Corry

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

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

And that’s it. Nothing else to report.

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

Want nesting petrels or puffins? Get rid of invasive mammals from their colonies!

It’s long been known that nesting seabirds and mammals don’t mix well. That’s why most species choose islands free of rodents and carnivores to nest. Smaller seabirds and those that nest down burrows are particularly vulnerable. And, if mammals get to those otherwise safe seabird colonies, you can expect the pretty rapid disappearance of the birds – they are either killed and eaten or they just don’t even try and nest. Unwanted species like this are called invasive and you can read all about this well studied issue through some titles below.

Birds On The Edge has covered several successful projects to remove unwanted mammals from seabird sites around the British Isles in Lundy Island, the Isles of Scilly, Calf of Man and the Shiant Isles. In Jersey we believe that mammals currently prevent breeding of storm petrel (they breed in good numbers in Alderney) and Manx shearwater and severely suppress our tiny Atlantic puffin population.

Storm petrel chick calling on the Shiant Isles from RSPB

A storm petrel chick has been recorded calling on the Shiant Isles for the very first time. This is an important step for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project as it’s the first known breeding of these seabirds on the islands. The EU LIFE+ funded project played an artificial call of an adult storm petrel outside the suspected burrow nest site to record the chick’s reply call and confirm its presence.

The project, a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Nicolson family, the custodians of the islands, has been working over the last four years to make these islands, five miles off the coast of Harris, a safer place for Scotland’s globally threatened seabirds to breed. Island restoration projects such as this one are a key part of helping Scotland’s struggling seabird populations develop resilience to ensure their long term survival.

Storm petrels were not able to breed successfully at the Shiants because of their vulnerability to predation from the islands’ population of invasive non-native black rats. These were eradicated over the winter of 2015/16 and the islands were officially declared free of rats earlier this year.

Following the eradication, the project has been working to attract storm petrels to breed on the islands as it has ideal habitat for their nests in the many areas of boulders around the islands. These birds are little bigger than sparrows and only come to land in summer to breed. Scotland’s internationally important population currently nests at only a few offshore islands because of the presence of ground predators at other potential sites.

During the summer of 2017, calling storm petrels were recorded on the Shiants for the first time.

Dr Charlie Main, Senior Project Manager for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project said: “It’s fantastic that this storm petrel chick has been recorded on the Shiants. After the adult was recorded last year we thought it highly likely that they were breeding so to have this confirmed now is great for the project and for the species in Scotland. It’s also another vital step for making these islands a safer place for Scotland’s internationally important seabirds, many of which are struggling to cope with the impact of climate change and a lack of suitable secure breeding sites.

“We’ve strong hopes for the future that more storm petrels will breed here and a colony will be established. Three other calling adults were recorded this summer suggesting that there may have been more breeding attempts. This one chick is incredibly special to everyone who has been involved in the project since 2014; it means that all the work we’ve been doing to make and keep these islands free of invasive predators is paying off. It also shows just how quickly island restoration can make a difference to seabirds which is really positive for future projects like this one.”

And in Jersey?

In 2017, Kirsty Swinnerton, with Piers Sangan, undertook a preliminary review of the conditions available for nesting seabirds on Jersey’s north coast for Birds On The Edge. Kirsty’s report is now available here.

The recent establishment of the Jersey National Park and the acquisition of land at Plémont by the National Trust for Jersey has created some unique opportunities for seabird and habitat restoration. Historically, the north-west coast from La Tête de Plémont to Douët de la Mer supported 200-300 breeding pairs of Atlantic puffin but which have dwindled today to less than 10 pairs at most. The decline has probably been a result of an overall decline in the species’ southern range combined with the impacts of invasive species on Jersey including the brown rat, feral polecat/ferret, European hedgehog, European rabbit, and free ranging/feral cats. In addition, domestic dogs and agricultural stock (sheep and cows) could also prevent the re-establishment of puffins if not carefully managed at seabird nesting sites.

The report provides an overview of existing seabird recovery tools proven to re-establish breeding seabird colonies around the world. The primary focus is on the control of invasive vertebrates to increase the size and distribution of breeding colonies and reproductive success, and on hands-on species recovery techniques used to encourage seabirds to recolonise the area. However, during the study, it became apparent that much of the potential seabird recovery area does not support suitable habitat for puffins or other ground-nesting seabirds. The sites are choked with dense stands of bracken, and this may be the primary factor currently limiting colony growth of puffins and other burrow-nesting seabirds.

To understand more fully the impacts and interactions of invasive species, lack of suitable breeding habitat, and human disturbance on puffin colony re-establishment, the study recommended a pilot project combining species recovery techniques with research and monitoring. It further recommends initial small steps to maximise opportunities for feedback into recovery project development and the development of Species Action Plans for puffins and other seabirds by working groups in order to guide recovery efforts to include local seabird experts and stakeholders, and ensure best practices.

Download Kirsty’s full report Options for the recovery of nesting seabirds on Jersey, Channel Islands

Further reading on invasive mammals and seabirds:

Invasive mammal eradication on islands results in substantial conservation gains (2016)

Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss (2016)

Underlying impacts of invasive cats on islands: not only a question of predation (2014)

Severity of the Effects of Invasive Rats on Seabirds: A Global Review (2008)

Influences on recovery of seabirds on islands where invasive predators have been eradicated,with a focus on Procellariiformes (2016)

Chough report: October 2018

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

By Liz Corry

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

Corbière lighthouse. Photo by Liz Corry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replacing lost rings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feeding stations

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

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

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

To end on a non-bird related note…

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

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

 

Human-driven mass extinction is imminent

From BirdGuides and WWF

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)’s latest Living Planet Report finds that humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970. Policy makers are urged to set revised targets for sustainable development in the report, which documents a mass loss of wildlife and pending ecological meltdown, explaining that the Earth is losing biodiversity at a rate seen only during mass extinctions.

Fifty nine scientists from across the globe were involved with the compilation of the report, which finds that the huge and constantly growing consumption of food and resources by humans is the lead threat to the web of life – billions of years in the making – on which the global population depends for clean water and air.

High Plateau, Madagascar 2004. Where have all the trees gone? Photo by Glyn Young

Mike Barrett, Executive Director of Science and Conservation at WWF, commented: “We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff.

“If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done. This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is. This is actually now jeopardising the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is our life-support system.”

Only a quarter of the world’s land area is now exempt from the impact of human activity, according to the report (and that’s without global climate change), and this is forecast to fall to just a tenth by 2050. Ever-rising food production and an increased demand for energy, land and water are the main drivers behind this obliteration of land and the life it holds. Many scientists believe a sixth mass extinction has begun on Earth, and is the first to be caused be a single species.

The report uses data on 16,704 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, representing more than 4,000 species, to track the decline of wildlife. It found that South and Central America suffered the most dramatic decline in vertebrate populations – an 89% loss in populations compared with 1970. Marine freshwater species are particularly at risk, and plastic pollution has been detected in the deepest parts of the world’s oceans, including the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific.

Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, called for immediate change, saying: “We can no longer ignore the impact of current unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles”, with Barrett adding: “We need a new global deal for nature and people and we have this narrow window of less than two years to get it. This really is the last chance. We have to get it right this time.”

The Living Planet Report documents the state of the planet—including biodiversity, ecosystems, and demand on natural resources—and what it means for humans and wildlife. Published by WWF every two years, the report brings together a variety of research to provide a comprehensive view of the health of the Earth. Download the latest report here

Chough report: September 2018

By Liz Corry

Time for a holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Improving supplemental feeding methods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inter-Island Environment Meeting

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red-billed choughs in Greece

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

Chough names

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

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

 

Fifth International Red-billed Chough Meeting. Segovia, Spain, 10-11 October, 2019

At the Fourth International Workshop on the Conservation of the Red-billed Chough held in October 2013 in Vila Real (Portugal), it was unanimously expressed that the next workshop should take place in Segovia, Spain. Segovia is not only beautiful but it is also full of choughs amongst the famous buildings. What better place?

Foro GeoBiosfera in collaboration with the National Museum of Natural Sciences of Madrid (CSIC) and with the support of the City Council of Segovia, announces the holding of this next Workshop, inviting all interested parts to participate.

This is the first call of the Workshop. In the near future there will be complete information on aspects of the event including the precise location of the meeting, communications by road, bus, train and plane, places of accommodation, registration fees and scope of services offered. The organisers will also answer questions that the participants may generate.

This Workshop is open to all interested people, professionals and those from public and private institutions alike who are keen on choughs, both red-billed and Alpine (yellow-billed) choughs.

Communications from any part of the world are welcome covering different aspects related to choughs, including:

  • Research and monitoring
  • Conservation
  • Cultural: literature, history, music and exhibitions of painting, photography, crafts.
  • Education and dissemination
  • Protection and legislation.

By Björn S... - Alpine chough - Pyrrhocorax graculus, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40039369

The organisers have developed two committees to oversee the event structure:  an organizing committee from Foro GeoBiosfera and a scientific committee composed of researchers.

Please contact the Organization of the Congress for all information at comunicación@forogeobiosfera.org

We hope that this event will be an outstanding success in the scientific and conservation worlds of these unique bird species.

More details of the Workshop can be found here

Jersey’s favourite farmland birds – on stamps

As part of its Links with China series, Jersey Post issued a new set of commemorative stamps this month featuring farmland birds common to both China and Jersey. Amongst the old favourites like goldfinch and swallow we are proud that four of the species most important to Birds On The Edge, stonechat, yellowhammer, linnet and red-billed chough have been included.

That the red-billed chough should feature on a stamp only five years after its ‘return’ to the Island in 2013 is testament to a lot of very hard work from a lot of people in the Birds On The Edge partnership and even more people who have been enthused by the project to help Jersey’s declining farmland birds. We must now hope that the yellowhammer, which last bred in Jersey in 2005, will also one day be a feature of our north coast again.

Other stamps in Jersey’s Links with China series include butterflies, garden flowers and waterfowl. See the full range of farmland bird stamp products available here

Chough report: August 2018

One of this year’s chicks in need of a name. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Zoo choughs

Keepers were in shock this month after the loss of two choughs in the Zoo. On 8th August a male was discovered by a keeper on the floor of the aviary. From his physical appearance, staff assumed the chough had been in a fight with Tristan, the only other male in the group, and lost.

The male chough had x-rays taken to assess injuries. Photo by Liz Corry.

When a second chough, Issy our breeding female, became ill we suspected there was more to it. The male’s condition gradually worsened despite efforts and eventually the bird had to be euthanased. Sadly, the female died a few days later.

Andrew Routh, Head Vet, explains “We took blood samples that were analysed in-house, at our usual diagnostic laboratory in the UK and, additionally, forwarded on by them to a specialist also in the UK. We will be re-sampling the remaining three birds in the collection. Full post mortem examinations were carried out on both birds and a comprehensive set of tissues from each sent for analysis by board-certified pathologists in the UK. No conclusions yet on the cause though further tests are pending.”

The remaining three birds have been taken off-show to individual enclosures for close monitoring. So far, they have shown no signs of ill health, are eating well and chatting loudly. Gianna, the Italian diva that she is, is a tad miffed we have taken her away from her public. Hopefully we can return them soon at which point the chough keeper talks will resume.

Wild chicks update

The last unringed wild chick was caught up on 1st August to be fitted with leg rings. Whilst in the hand, the chick made noises we’ve never heard before. And no, it wasn’t because we were squeezing too hard! There is debate as to whether the sounds were more gull-like or goose-like. Either way the ‘meeping’ chick became the first of the 2018 group to be named – Beaker.

The last of 2018’s chicks to be ringed (left!) and his namesake Beaker (right) – both emit unusual sounds. Photo by Elin Cunningham.

Two weeks later the DNA results returned form the UK lab. Whilst teenagers across the land were jumping for joy over their exam results, we beamed with delight upon hearing we have five males and four females.

This is great news for the Jersey population because:

(1) The sex ratio for wild-hatched choughs in Jersey is now 1:1. For the entire flock, it is more like three females for every two males. Not quite as catchy. Still a good result;

and

(2) We can name the new chicks! Aside from Beaker we had names lined up for Dusty’s chicks. In honour of Ronez’s assistance with the project, the three boys are now known as Clem (who found the chicks), Toby, and Osbourne (Ossy for short).

Tempting as it might be to call Beaker’s sister Dr Honeydew, her name is still open to debateWe are still searching for appropriate Jersey-related names for four females and a male. Please use the comments box to put forward any suggestions.

Parents Chicks 
Dusty & Chickay Clem (male) Toby (male) Ossy (male)
Kevin & Bean Green (female) Orange (female)
Lee & Caûvette Yellow (female) Black (male)
Q & Flieur Mauve (female) Beaker (male)

The 2018 chicks now have the adult colouring in their legs and bills (adult behind the chick). Photo by Liz Corry.

Spreading their wings

The flock have shown a distinct change in behaviour this month. After the chaos over June and July when chicks had to be fed and wild food supplies had dried up, the adults are relaxing back into their normal routines. One fortunate member of the public snapped a photo of 30 choughs flying over Plémont. On the back of this, social media reported seeing ‘large’ groups back at Les Landes.

Choughs flying over Plémont headland. Photo by Anne Gray.

The change is partly due to the chicks becoming independent and feeding themselves.

A major factor will be the rise in wild food supplies thanks to the shift in weather. Leatherjackets in the soil and dung-loving insects will provide the calories needed to fly back and forth around the north-west coast.

We are seeing an average of 24 choughs at the supplemental feeds. They appear to be the same individuals; all families bar Lee and Caûvette‘s making up half the group. Their willingness to enter the aviary has taken a knock since the recent spate of catch-ups. We have to reassure them that entering the aviary does not always result in humans waving nets around.

Having a wild food source around provides them with options. Great for them. For staff not so much, as it means the birds are less likely to hang around the aviary. Health screening, weight checks etc. are not as easy.

Chough chick photographed back in July at Sorel. Photo by Peter G. Hiatt.

Now you sheep me, now you don’t

Lack of choughs at the aviary is being compensated by appearances of sheep within the perimeter fence. The first sighting was on one of the hottest, driest days of the summer. A young sheep was happily curled up in the shade of the aviary sheds munching on lush green grass whilst the others were lined up along the hedgerows competing for shade. Much to the sheep’s dismay it was returned to the flock.

The next day it was back! And once again returned to the flock. A day or so later a different sheep was present. Neither student or I could figure out how on earth they were getting through the locked gate and wire fencing.

Days passed, sheep were absent. Or so we thought. Camera-trap footage to investigate chough roost activity threw up a different mystery. A ewe present in the morning, had gone by the afternoon. Clearly they were playing games with us.

Camera trap image inside the aviary showing a sheep within the aviary perimeter.

They upped the stakes in the last days of August. Having hidden in the bracken, ‘Houdini’ found her way inside the aviary. True magicians never reveal their secrets – except when their hooves and horns knocking equipment over in the keeper-porch give them away. I had left both doors open, not expecting her to follow me in, but it meant she could safely hang out in the aviary until the shepherd reached Sorel. And saved me a job with the lawnmower.

Yet another prime example of how the conservation of one species can benefit others.

Birds in the Channel Islands: annual update

For several years now we have compiled a combined list of all birds recorded in the Channel Islands thanks to the recorders from Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark. Each year we’ve seen the lists grow longer and the order the species are listed in keep changing. Today we launch the updated list, updated to the end of 2017 (the Islands don’t review any year’s birds until after the next one starts). Download the list here.

The updated list includes four (well, five) new species, three of which, excitingly, were recorded on two islands each: marsh sandpiper (Alderney and Jersey), (American) royal tern (Guernsey and Alderney) and Iberian chiffchaff (Alderney and Jersey). In fact, the royal tern became quite a celebrity in Guernsey, Alderney and even in Sussex. The tern went just about everywhere. Except Jersey that is. Editor’s note its been around in 2018. And still not been to Jersey!

The other obvious feature for regular readers of this or any other bird list is the changes to the order, relationships and even the birds’ scientific names. Many of us grew up with long held understanding of the order we put the birds in (start with divers and end with crows) and how they were related (divers and grebes, herons and storks). However, new technologies have made it much easier to look closely at every species and get a much better idea of who’s who and where they sit in the order. Wildfowl are first, and not just because they’re very cool but because they and the gamebirds are not that closely related to every other bird. And hawks and falcons aren’t related? No, and strangely that split should have been obvious before.

The list actually includes one, or two, other new species. That goose formerly known as the bean goose has become two species: taiga bean goose and tundra bean goose. Luckily for the list compilers, the Islands’ ornithologists had in recent years recorded which of the two bean geese, then considered the lower rank of subspecies, were being seen. The split, and upgrade to full species status, wasn’t hard to fit in. If everything was always so easy. Our other new bird was a Caspian gull. This eastern version of the herring gull was once considered just herring gull until analysis found that it was quite distinct. Only unlike the geese it doesn’t always look distinct and takes a real enthusiast to pick one out of the flock. Luckily this one’s finder and photographer not only knows his gulls but got a little assist in that it was ringed!

And the totals? Well, overall we’ve recorded 376 species with Jersey still edging in front with 335. So enjoy the new list, tick off your sightings and try to fill the gaps in each Island’s list. And play ‘what will be Alderney’s 300th species’ (I’m going with little bunting). Why not check out the gaps in the list and try to fill them (we’d recommend seawatching in Sark first). But remember, if you visit the islands please send in your records to the relevant recorder – they’re all there on the list. 

A Working List of the Birds of the Channel Islands (updated to December 2017) can be downloaded here

 

 

Chough report: July 2018

A two-month old chough chick exploring Grosnez headland. Photo by Mick Dryden.

By Liz Corry

Jersey now has 46 choughs flying free thanks to a brilliant breeding season and release efforts by Jersey Zoo staff. Details of how that came to be this month are explained below.

Who’s the daddy?

Determined to crack the mystery over the wild chick lineage, we began catching birds to fit leg rings. It took a couple of weeks and help from Ian Buxton and Cristina Sellarés  (licensed bird ringers). By the end of July we had nine chicks fitted with leg rings and no birds left unringed. A total of nine birds.

Tarsus length being measured on a wild-hatched chick. This can be an indicator for sex. Photo by Elin Cunningham.

Plastic leg rings on a wild-hatched chough to identify individual (pink) and year of hatch (green). Photo by Elin Cunningham.

What we are not clear on, and may never know, is whether we had ten or eleven chicks at one stage. On 4th July Q and Flieur were seen feeding two unringed chicks. When we checked their nest on 16th June it was empty. Judging by the age of the chicks at the aviary they could not have fledged before the 16th. Did Q and Flieur nest elsewhere? Are they responsible for the mystery nest we found in the quarry?

Trevor and Noir were also seen feeding one or two unringed chicks at the start of July. Are they responsible for the mystery nest? Are these chicks in addition to Q and Flieur’s?

Noirmont feeding an unringed chick with partner Trevor looking on. Photo by Liz Corry.

We knew for certain Lee and Caûvette had two chicks and were happily taking them to Grosnez each day. Kevin and Bean had fledged three chicks. Yet, by the start of July, they were clearly only feeding two unringed chicks. Had one of the other pairs adopted the third chick over the course of the feeding frenzies at the aviary?

Lee feeding one of his two chicks at Grosnez. Photo by Mick Dryden.

By the time we had fitted all the leg rings, Trevor and Noir had stopped feeding a chick(s). Was this because they had died or because they never had them in the first place? The blood samples we send off only inform us about gender. There is a lot more involved to test for lineage.

For now, all that matters is that we have nine chicks being fed and nurtured out at Sorel. The wild chicks are named according to their leg rings until we can think of better names.

Dusty & Chickay Red White Blue
Kevin & Bean Green Orange
Lee & Caûvette Yellow Black
Q & Flieur Mauve Pink

You can already see a difference in the chicks as they get older. Bill colour is changing. More importantly they are picking up crucial skills from the adults, whether parents or not. We have seen them drinking from the water tray and lifting the broken slate enrichment area in the aviary looking for insects.

A recently fledged chick chilling with the flock at Sorel back in June. Photo by Liz Corry.

Chough chicks can be very forceful with their begging. Photo by Liz Corry.

Mega-beast: Dusty feeding one of his chicks. Photo by Liz Corry.

Dusty regretting parenthood? Photo by Liz Corry.

An unringed chick begging at Yarila (non-breeding bird) eventually pushing her off the stand. Photo by Liz Corry.

Dusty feeding one of his chicks whilst Chickay (mum) goes about her business. Photo by Liz Corry.

Chickay pretending not to see or hear her chick. Photo by Liz Corry.

Star wars saga

The three males – Han Solo, Skywalker, and Chewy – held in the aviary for a month have been officially released.

Release day saw 45 choughs turn up to wish the newbies well or steal their food. 50:50 really. Photo by Liz Corry.

Skywalker’s brief adventure outside in June meant it came as no surprise to see him leave first. Albeit to the roof of the aviary where he sat preening Zennor.

Skywalker’s (on the left) first hour of freedom spent with his new love of his life, Zennor. Photo by Liz Corry.

Han Solo and Chewy were not as quick to venture outside; once they did they appeared at ease, making friends with the free-living group. Although less at ease with the wild chicks who had decided to test the newbies’ untapped parenting skills by begging in their faces.

An unringed chick following Skywalker around in the misguided hope of free food. Photo by Liz Corry.

After a few days Han stopped showing up at the feeds. Since group attendance rate was around 80-90% it was hard to know if he was in trouble or not. He made a reappearance four days later and looked to be fine, feeding happily with the group.

The next disappearing act was after 5th July. This time he failed to reappear. There was a sighting on the 28th at the aviary. Although chances are the leg rings were misread for Caûvette’s (his year-colour is black, hers is dark blue).

As he was showing no obvious signs of ill health, a possible theory behind his disappearance is lack of food. If he struggled to find food in the wild (whether due to lack of foraging skills or the foreboding heat) and wasn’t making it to the supplemental feed, he could have easily starved. If he was made weaker by the lack of food, he would become increasingly susceptible to peregrine attacks.

In fact, on one of the post-release roost checks, only one chough could be seen at Sorel as the sun set. The presence of a peregrine perched on the adjacent cliff face may account for the absence of the other choughs.

Peregrine perched below an unused chough nest box on the cliffs at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Theories aside, we have had to conclude that Han Solo is  presumed missing at this stage. Gone to a galaxy far, far away.

Heatwave

Jersey’s north coast is being hit hard by the summer heatwave. The coastal grassland has lost its lush green colour and the sheep have temporarily vacated; there just isn’t enough vegetation for them. The choughs have been fairing ok; the supplemental food compensates for the rock-hard ground.

The release site back in May before the heatwave. Photo by Liz Corry.

The release site in July feeling the effect of the heatwave. Photo by Liz Corry.

The biggest concern for them (and us) is water. The stream in Mourier Valley is currently hidden by bracken and fresh water sources in the quarry depleted. With an absolute drought declared on the Island we were concerned the choughs would turn to hazardous water troughs. Horse troughs in particular tend to be designed with smooth steep sides. A bird or small mammal can’t climb out if they fall in whilst drinking.

The stream in Mourier Valley runs almost parallel to the footpath – not that you can see it for the bracken. Photo by Liz Corry.

We always provide drinking water for the choughs in the aviary. However, the water butt dried up in back in June. Cleaning duties have been reduced to a minimum and fresh water is carried up each day for the choughs. In mid-July we had help from a few Durrell staff to get extra containers up to Sorel. Two days later it rained!

The rain didn’t last long though. We are back to rationing water until the heatwave breaks.

Insect shortages

In addition to water shortages, we have been struggling with commercial insect supplies. The company who supply the Zoo with livefood ran out of mealworms – a natural glitch in the breeding process.

When they have managed to supply mealworms, the hot weather has led to the insects over-heating in the packaging they are sent in. Trust me the smell of dead and/or dying mealworms is not a pleasant one.

Rather than a photo of dead mealworms, here is a sheep instead! Photo by Liz Corry.

The alternative of dried mealworms has not worked in the past for birds in the Zoo. They refuse point blank, some writing an angry worded tweet to the CEO. Out of desperation, we gave them a try at Sorel along with suet pellet (made with insect protein). The pressures of begging chicks and lack of wild food meant the adults had no reservations over taking the dry food.

We are still struggling with insect supplies although the order of Remiline pellet finally arrived at the end of July. Swings and roundabouts.

ReWild the People

ReWild the People circular walk from Devil’s Hole held on the 15th July. Photo by Dave Evans.

As part of Jess Pinel’s fundraising challenge of 31 activities in 31 days we hosted a circular walk from Devil’s Hole to Sorel. This was a free event open to all. Whilst taking in the sea air we discussed the Birds On The Edge project and the benefits to the public.

Aaron le Couteur, shepherd, explaining how sheep help to restore Jersey’s coastal habitats. Photo by Dave Evans.

Aaron le Couteur, the shepherd, gave a very informative talk and the choughs showed up for a bonus feed. The event was enjoyed by all and hopefully gained a few new fans to spread the word across the Island. More information about the other activities undertaken can be found here.

Choughs getting a bonus feed for the Rewild the People walk. Photo by Dave Evans.

Lights, camera, action

The choughs took part in two media projects this month. They are clearly getting used to the cameras as they were not phased by the go-pros at the feed. We hope to share some of the footage soon.

Filming the choughs at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Both filming projects will be detailed further very soon so watch this space!