Channel Islands peregrines – not safe yet

Peregrine falcon, a highly skilled predator of flying birds and famous speed star of the skies is one of the most widespread birds on the planet. It sadly became threatened with extinction across most of its range as its numbers plummeted in the 20th century through persecution and the residual effects of organochlorine pesticides. Breeding on each of the main Channel Islands, peregrines became locally extinct in the 1950s.

We are now, however, in more enlightened times. Surely. With persecution outlawed and pesticides like aldrin, dieldrin and DDT banned, the highly adaptable peregrine began to stage a remarkable comeback. Seemingly again a regular sight on every cliff and city cathedral in the UK, the falcon returned too to our islands. After a pair bred in Sark in 1994, the other islands were recolonised, and the first chicks hatched in Jersey after 42 years in 2000. Quickly the wandering bandit (peregrine comes from the word peregrinate, to wander, and it does have wonderful mask) was back and old eyries were reoccupied. Jersey now hosts several pairs with equal numbers across the other islands. We don’t have a cathedral, so they have to make do with St Thomas’ Church although they may not be there every year as all of our pairs regularly move nest sites within their territories.

Poisoned in Guernsey

Now it seems that everyone’s favourite bird of prey (well, it is popularly considered as the ‘fastest animal on earth’) is not quite as safe as we thought. Last year several peregrines, and a buzzard, were found poisoned in Guernsey. Had DDT returned? No, these birds had apparently been directly poisoned, killed, not accidentally, but because they were, well, peregrines. Who would do this? Actually, peregrines have not really been everyone’s favourite bird. People who keep pigeons in particular often don’t like them. Yes, our peregrines do hunt and kill pigeons and although there are lots of wild pigeons on the cliffs and in the town where they live, it is the hunting of owned, racing pigeons that draws ire in certain quarters.

Jamie Hooper sums it up ‘I am saddened that some of our native bird species are still at risk of being killed illegally by a misguided minority. Although birds of prey have slowly recovered from historical persecution, this process of re-colonisation has been significantly impeded by those who wrongly think that raptors should be removed from our natural environment. The scale of the recent killings of peregrines in Guernsey has been particularly devastating to the small local population and we remain keen to eliminate such criminal activity from our island.’

We don’t actually know who poisoned Guernsey’s falcons, despite an offer of a reward, but, as it seems deliberate, the list of suspects can be considered fairly short. That people would deliberately kill a wild bird that only hunts to eat and feed its young when high losses are tolerated among amongst pigeons that get lost, die in storms or simply decide that living wild is much more fun (an estimated 86% of the racing pigeons lost each year fail to return for reasons other than predation by birds of prey) should rule this group out. Of course, it should.

Shot in Jersey

In Jersey, people are sometimes quick to criticise their neighbours so the news that here we had a two-year old, ringed, peregrine shot will come as a shock, I hope. In 2020 a ‘feisty’ but poorly falcon was picked up in December near Ouaisné and died in care at the JSPCA. Examination by Senior Veterinary Surgeon Jo McAllister showed lead shot on X-ray, not enough to kill it outright but enough to prevent it hunting, letting it starve to death instead. Again, we don’t know who shot it but shot it was, and it may have been mistaken for some other bird. A pigeon again? It does show that peregrines are still at risk from people who may not like them and have unilaterally decided to return them to that late 20th century level of threat.

 

In the way of aircraft

Peregrines often seek out their prey by circling high in the sky, above their flying dinners down below. Any good, rising, air current helps them keep airborne and in ‘station’ without them wasting energy. Has using winds blowing up the escarpment along St Ouen’s Bay, been the reason that several have been hit and killed by aircraft as they approach or leave Jersey’s airfield? At least six have been found dead or dying in recent years, most or all juveniles. Juvenile peregrines are, while they are young, larger than adults as they have a lot to learn before they can master the skies like their parents and slowly moult in shorter feathers and keep out of the way of aircraft. While very unfortunate, at least these deaths were accidental, and the bodies have gone for research at the National Museum of Scotland.

Its Jersey’s 20th Great Garden Bird Watch!

The 20th Jersey Great Garden Bird Watch will be held over the weekend of 6th and 7th February

20 years? Yes, the annual Action for Wildlife Jersey and Birds On The Edge garden bird count has reached this significant milestone. Although, it won’t have been undertaken in circumstances quite like these before! Last year, little did we know what was coming. The count has a long tradition of seeming to encourage bad weather so our fear was of the Pest From the West. Did it happen? Does anyone remember February 2020? Well, you warmed up with the RSPB’s UK garden bird watch last weekend so now take part in Jersey’s own watch, one with great significance to our understanding our closest bird neighbours. We really do need as many households to take part as possible. And what else were you planning on doing? 

Song thrushes, who gave us cause for alarm only a few years ago as populations dropped rapidly, show signs that they may be recovering in Jersey. This rather strident singer is getting warmed up around now so, while half their number seem to quietly go about searching for worms on the lawn, the other half sit up in the leafless trees and belt out their (and I’m going to say it) rather monotonous song. Let’s hope that song thrushes feature in this year’s count.

Method for recording

The method of the count is very straight forward. Basically you just need to choose one of the two weekend dates (6th or 7th February), look out into the garden for a few minutes, or as long as you like (I just look out the kitchen window) and write down what birds you see and the maximum number of each species. And, of course, red squirrels count again as birds this year. Just for one weekend!

Once you’ve counted the birds (and squirrels) on your chosen day please fill out the form online here.  Alternatively you can download a form here and email to birdsote@gmail.com or fill out the form in the JEP. This year, we unfortunately won’t be involving the garden centres because of the pandemic restrictions. 

Your observations are of great importance in our understanding of the situation with the birds that we live closest too. Don’t forget, how these birds are fairing in the 21st century says a lot about our own lives and our own environment. You can read about the results of our survey to date in the Jersey Garden Birdwatch Report 2002-2020 here

 

Impacts of human activities on Britain’s birds revealed

From Rare Bird Alert

A new study has shown how human activities such as agriculture, deforestation, and the drainage of wetlands have shaped where bird species are found in Great Britain today potentially providing a new approach to setting conservation priorities.

Researchers used data on the geographical distributions of bird species alongside simulation models to predict where bird species would exist today if the effects of human activities on the landscape were removed. In this scenario there were winners and losers among different bird species due to the impact of humans. The study found that 42% of the 183 breeding bird species considered were more widely distributed today than they would be in a human-free world, particularly birds associated with farmland habitats.

Conversely, 28% of species, particularly moorland and upland bird species, were much rarer today than they would be if they were not impacted by human activities.

The researchers say their findings could apply to other parts of the world, too. Dr Tom Mason, previously of Durham University’s Department of Biosciences, but now based at the Swiss Ornithological Institute, said: “Our study suggests that farmland bird species, such as turtle dove and grey partridge, would be less widespread without the open habitats created by agriculture while moorland species, such as golden eagle and greenshank, have probably been negatively affected by the long-term, extractive human use of moorlands by grazing, burning, hunting and forestry.

“We also found that species found in dense woodlands, such as goshawk and capercaillie, would be much more widespread in a ‘human-free’ Great Britain, which would be much more forested than the present day.”

The study produced human-free range-size estimates which were compared against current bird distributions. Conservation managers often use target population sizes, based on past distributions, to guide species’ recovery programmes. The impact of conservation activities can then be assessed by comparing current numbers to historical numbers of bird species.

The authors argue that their approach, which instead uses simulated potential range-sizes as baselines, could complement indicators of short-term extinction risk such as the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Professor Stephen Willis, of Durham’s Department of Biosciences said: “Our results could lead to reassessments of current conservation priorities. We identified 21 species that were not classified as threatened by the IUCN Red List for Great Britain but which had much smaller current distributions than we predict them to have in the absence of human activities.

 

“This suggests that their ranges are in a more degraded state than currently recognized. Some of these species, such as greenshank, golden eagle and whinchat, are not under active conservation management and could be candidates for higher prioritization.”

The researchers say that considering only recent changes in species’ state can lead to a phenomenon known as ‘shifting baseline syndrome,’ where people set their expectations based on experiences in their lifetime, this can underestimate the plight of species that have declined due to human activities a long time ago. Previous studies have tried to combat this by using historical baselines from past centuries; however, historic species’ records tend to be sparse and are difficult to apply across different species.

The study also identified 10 species that are not currently found in Great Britain, but which might have established themselves in the country in the absence of past human activities. For example, the researchers say that the Kentish plover, which has not bred in Great Britain since the middle of the 20th century, was projected to be found across south-east England in the absence of damaging human activity.

Similarly, the white-tailed eagle, which currently has a small presence, and the black-winged stilt, which is a very rare breeder in Great Britain, would also be expected to be much more widespread than they are now.

The authors believe that their approach could be used to identify areas that are climatically suitable, but where habitat may have been degraded by human activities. The RSPB plans to use this new research as one of a number of measures of how ‘favourable’ breeding bird populations are in Great Britain as it provides an objective measure against which to assess species’ ranges or distributions.

This is important as it helps the RSPB to quantify Favourable Conservation Status and standardize methodology for its assessment. Favourable Conservation Status is an important political standard set for the conservation of migratory species under the Bonn Convention, and for habitats and species protected by EU Nature Directives.

Dr Gillian Gilbert, of the RSPB and one of the study’s co-authors, said, “This work could help to target where habitat and species restoration actions might lead to the return of historically lost species, or even to novel colonists.”

The authors are now planning to extend their approach to also evaluate species’ population sizes, which they hope will lead to lead to unified population targets for species across Great Britain.

Download or read the paper Using indices of species’ potential range to inform conservation status here

The State of the UK’s Birds 2020

From BTO

The State of UK’s Birds reports have provided an annual overview of the status of breeding and non-breeding bird species in the UK and its Overseas Territories since 1999. This year’s report highlights the continuing poor fortunes of the UK’s woodland birds.

SUKB collates data from annual, periodic and one-off surveys and monitoring studies of birds, such as the Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), Rare Breeding Birds Panel (RBBP), the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS), Seabird Monitoring Programme (SMP) and Goose and Swan Monitoring Programme (GSMP). In addition, the 2020 report also includes results from the Nest Record Scheme, Constant Effort Sites (CES) Scheme and Re-trapping Adults for Survival (RAS) Scheme, the latter two schemes collecting demographic information through the efforts of bird ringers.

The report takes information from these and other schemes, research and surveys and delivers information at a country-specific scale, as well as providing an overview for the UK as a whole.

Volunteers play an essential role in bird monitoring in the UK, by donating their time, energy and expertise. The data they collect are vital for conservation, tracking changes in populations and supporting policy development. This year, many monitoring schemes have been adversely affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic and we want to say a special thank you to all of our volunteers for their continued support through this difficult time. Their skill, effort and dedication deserve huge recognition.

Woodland species

This year’s report highlights the continuing poor fortunes of the UK’s woodland birds. The UK Wild Bird Populations Indicator for woodland species show a long-term decline of 27% since the early 1970s, with declines of 7% evident over just the last five years. More worryingly, when looking at individual trends within the report, some specialist woodland birds have declined dramatically, including willow tit with a 94% decline since 1970 as illustrated by the joint Common Birds Census / Breeding Bird Survey UK-wide trend.

After worrying declines in breeding tawny owl populations were flagged-up by the Breeding Bird Survey, BTO launched targeted survey work on this species during 2018 and 2019. SUKB reports on some of the results from this research, which revealed a decline in site occupancy from 65% in 2005 to 53% in 2018/19. The BTO work has also sought to understand some of the reasons for this change in fortunes.

Results at different scales

Data from many of the surveys covered in SUKB also feed into European-wide schemes and the SUKB report goes from celebrating the publication of the latest European Breeding Bird Atlas, through to finer-scale country-specific results and research. Not bad for an 80-page report!

Country-specific headlines include increases in house sparrow populations in Wales, where work is also taking place to address the pronounced decline in curlew numbers. In Scotland, the fragile status of corncrake is highlighted, alongside increases in farmland species such as tree sparrow and yellowhammer. The Northern Ireland pages look into changing fortunes of seabirds and explore how proposed marine Special Protection Areas may be used to tackling the observed decline. The Northern Ireland pages also examine declines in wintering geese, such as light-bellied brent goose. Finally, over to England and promising results for stone curlew conservation work, as well as reporting back on the English Winter Bird Survey for which 1,485 sites were surveyed by volunteers to help us understand the value of agri-environment options.

As in previous reports, we hear about species from 14 UK Overseas Territories and three Crown Dependencies – including black-browed albatross, St Helena plover and South Georgia pipit, about the Gough Island Restoration Programme, and discover that 69 species in the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are now Globally Threatened.

Closer to home, 25 years of BTO Garden BirdWatch is also celebrated, with goldfinch now the 8th most commonly recorded garden bird, up from 20th back in 1995.

Volunteers

There is a common theme in this report: volunteers. The sheer enormity of their contributions to bird monitoring as a whole is evident throughout this report. Most of the surveys and schemes covered here are only possible thanks to the dedication and skills of the thousands of volunteers who give up their time to help monitor birds and in turn, inform conservation action. Thank you.

Who produces this report?

SUKB 2020 is produced by a coalition of three NGOs: the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), together with the UK’s statutory nature conservation bodies: Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland (DAERA), the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), Natural England (NE), Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and NatureScot.

Download The State of the UK’s Birds 2020 here 

 

A Christmas card to all our supporters

This Christmas is going to a bit different for everyone. One thing that has not changed though is our gratitude for your support over the year.

Below is an eCard from us to you. To see the festive animation, click on the link and download to view in PowerPoint.

https://www.slideshare.net/ElizabethCorry/birds-on-the-edge-christmas-2020

Alternatively click through the slides below whilst humming a festive tune and let you imagination run wild.

Chough report: October 2020

Sacré bleu!

“Sacré bleu, c’est crave à bec rouge!”…Is what I imagined the Frenchman exclaimed on the morning on the 23rd when a red-billed chough appeared in the skies of Normandy. Why so alarmed? Choughs are only found in three locations in France: the Alps, the Pyrenees, and a tiny population on the north west corner of Brittany. This was a first! Well, a first for a long time.

The man in question is Yann Mouchel a park ranger for the Conservatoire du Littoral, La Manche, based at Cap de Carteret. Yann has followed Birds On The Edge for the last few years after meeting a group of visiting Jersey Botanists. So, whilst surprised by the sight he wasn’t overly shocked. In fact Yann had been dreaming of this moment…and so had we.

For the chough in question was none other than a Jersey chough! Unmistakable from the leg rings adorning the bird. Our first confirmed report of a Jersey chough dispersing off-Island. In France no less. 

Yann first noticed the bird around 10am at the Nez de Carteret. It had lost one of its plastic colour rings which hampered identification. With the remaining rings we could narrow it down to just a few options. We set to work trying to dwindle it down further by confirming which birds were still flying around Jersey.

I think the chough in Carteret is one of this year’s chicks. We had not got round to naming her other than by her ring combo dark blue over mauve.  She has been absent at the Sorel supplemental feed since the 21st.

The alternative option is Bean who went missing over a year ago. Whilst I would love it if our little hand-reared Bean was still alive, it seems more likely that a youngster has dispersed off-Island.

The other news Yann shared was that the chough was lame. He speculated that the resident peregrine pair might be to blame. Having looked after these birds for so long, my initial reaction was a desire to rush over to Carteret with a vet.

Two things put a stop to this: COVID and reality. Travel restrictions and impractical 14-day quarantining (impractical for zookeepers at least) prevent me from leaving the Island. Then of course is the reality. We want the choughs to disperse. It is natural.

For now I’m resigned to stare longingly across the waters and rely on Yann monitoring her progress.

If you want to travel virtually from Jersey to Carteret and learn more about where the chough is choosing to hang out then visit Google Earth. I have put together a presentation which you can access here and click on Presentation. Please be aware you may be asked to download Google Earth if viewing on a tablet or smartphone. 

Domestic flights

The rest of our October news seems relatively boring now. Although at the time it wasn’t as the following happened before the 23rd. In fact, think of it as the prelude to the Carteret story as the flock were well and truly on the move this month.

We had our first Airport sighting. Two birds had been checking out one of the hangers. An interesting choice of residence. Think they might need to find a new estate agent. Airport staff have not seen them since. 

These two could be the same birds we reported on last month flying below the runway. We also know a pair are using the dunes and the sand pits both in close proximity to the airport.

Moving away from the Airport, the pair at Corbière are still doing well. This month they were joined by other choughs who made daily visits to Corbière. One of Durrell’s long term volunteers lives near the lighthouse and kept seeing small groups of four or six flying over her garden.

Another first has been sightings of choughs foraging in the horse fields near the Portlet Inn. Portlet adjoins Noirmont, an area we have seen choughs visit before.

In fact our second release in spring 2014 saw one radio-tracked bird end up by Noirmont Manor. Sadly never seen again, but over the years other choughs have been reported flying around. This month a small group seemed to be targeting the area and clearly finding food.

Biological diversity evokes human happiness

From PHYS.ORG 

Researchers have found that more bird species in the vicinity increase the life contentment of Europeans at least as much as a comparable increase in income.

Under the current pandemic conditions, activities out in nature are a popular pastime. The beneficial effects of a diverse nature on people’s mental health have already been documented by studies on a smaller scale. Scientists of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and the University of Kiel examined for the first time whether a diverse nature also increases human well-being on a Europe-wide scale.

To this end, the researchers used the data from the “2012 European quality of Life Survey” to study the connection between the species diversity in their surroundings and the life satisfaction in more than 26,000 adults from 26 European countries. Species diversity was measured based on the diversity of avian species, as documented in the European breeding bird atlas.

“Europeans are particularly satisfied with their lives if their immediate surroundings host a high species diversity,” explains the study’s lead author, Joel Methorst, from the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center, the iDiv, and the Goethe University in Frankfurt, and he continues, “According to our findings, the happiest Europeans are those who can experience numerous different bird species in their daily life, or who live in near-natural surroundings that are home to many species.”

Birds are well-suited as indicators of biological diversity, since they are among the most visible elements of the animate nature—particularly in urban areas. Moreover, their song can often be heard even if the bird itself is not visible, and most birds are popular, and people like to watch them. But there is also a second aspect that affects life satisfaction: the surroundings. A particularly high number of bird species can be found in areas with a high proportion of near-natural and diverse landscapes that hold numerous greenspaces and bodies of water.

“We also examined the socio-economic data of the people that were surveyed, and, much to our surprise, we found that avian diversity is as important for their life satisfaction as is their income,” explains Prof. Katrin Böhning-Gaese, director of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center. This result becomes particularly obvious when both values increase by ten percent. Fourteen additional bird species in the vicinity raise the level of life satisfaction at least as much as an extra 124 Euros per month in the household account, based on an average income of 1,237 Euro per month in Europe.

According to the study, a diverse nature, therefore, plays an important role for human well-being across Europe—even beyond its material services. At the same time, the researchers draw attention to impending health-related problems. “The Global Assessment 2019 by the World Biodiversity Council IPBES and studies of avian species in agricultural landscapes in Europe clearly show that the biological diversity is currently undergoing a dramatic decline. This poses the risk that human well-being will also suffer from an impoverished nature. Nature conservation, therefore, not only ensures our material basis of life, but it also constitutes an investment in the well-being of us all,” adds Methorst in conclusion.

Download the paper The importance of species diversity for human well-being in Europe here

Corvid-2020

Sign of things to come: bitter winds at Sorel pre-COVID-19. Photo by Liz Corry.

Avid readers may have noticed it has been quiet on the chough front of late. Life has been a little different since the arrival of COVID-19 in Jersey. As it has for everyone around the world.

Jersey’s first case was confirmed on 10th March with the Zoo closing its doors to the public on the 24th. Shortly before that happened, Zoo animal staff were arranged into teams, or bubbles, working a 4 day on 4 day off rota. The Bird Department had two teams, one of which I joined. Glyn Young was shielding but took on the visits to Sorel as his daily activity and where, with his daughter Mairi, he could keep isolated from people, although less so from sheep. 

Suddenly my days were filled with flamingos, Madagascan birds, and pond scrubbing to name a few. Supplemental feeds at Sorel were still factored in, however, time constraints meant observations were limited and not achievable during working hours (which rarely kept to schedule). 

We are very grateful to Sue Müller who, once Government advice permitted, volunteered to monitor nest sites. She helped to confirm all the active nest sites in the quarry. For me, the routine dog walks became chough hunts. Fun times for my furry friends.

The Zoo reopened to the public on the 12th May adhering to the Government of Jersey’s advice. We were the first British Isles zoo to make this call. I’m proud to say that, through staff dedication, volunteer support, and visitor co-operation we were able to become operational again and still remain so.

Social distancing and isolation have become the norm during this pandemic. Photo by Liz Corry.

Our working week returned to normal a few weeks after reopening. Glyn continued to isolate and cover the Sorel feeds along with two volunteers who returned to help. I continue to work on the ground in the Zoo as well as the chough project which hopefully explains the reason for delaying  publication of the monthly reports. 

It has been a very surreal eight months. Our team has been extremely fortunate in terms of the personal impact of COVID. For many of you that might not have been the case. 

Stay safe. Be kind. And remember hands, face, space, read the monthly chough reports. That last one is imperative.

Click on the blue links on the images below to read the monthly chough reports.

Chough report: May 2020

View of Ronez quarry across from the waters in Egypte (Jersey’s Egytpe!) Photo by Liz Corry.

BOLD-ering one step too far

Ronez Quarry had me on speed dial this month. On the 19th, staff found the body of Aude at the asphalt plant. She had become wedged inside the building and likely starved to death. Red and Dingle hold territory at this site. Had there been a confrontation or simply a tragic accident?

Then on the 28th Dusty and Chickay’s nest grabbed the headlines. One of their chicks had prematurely found its way outside of the building. Staff had been keeping an eye on it and noticed that the parents were not feeding it.

As I drove from my house to the quarry, thoughts of juggling hand-rearing at Sorel whilst doing the 10-12hr days of the Bird Department at the Zoo filled me with dread. Luckily, on a 9 by 5 mile island, I didn’t have to drive for long. And once I had assessed the situation I was a little more optimistic.

This choughlet stepped out of it’s comfort zone a little too soon. Photo by Liz Corry.

The chick looked to be about 4-5 weeks old. He had most likely been bouldering inside the building, hopping in and out of the nest. This morning he ‘bouldered’ a little too far heading down the staircase and on to the floor. A scary place for any chough with cement trucks driving by and gulls flying overhead. The parents were clearly aware of the chicks’ predicament and frequently flew passed to feed the chicks inside the building. They just weren’t prepared to put themselves in the same danger.

I intervened, carefully scooped up the chick, and moved it back inside near to the nest. Glyn then came down to take over observations as Mairi, at Sorel, warned him that the fed parents were heading back to the quarry. We had a camera trap at the ready for when the quarry closed and we had to leave. Not that it was necessary as Dusty flew in after the supplementary feed was put out and fed the chick. A happy end to the day. Hopefully the next time it decides to brave the outdoors the chick will know what its doing.

Zoo news

Penny had started incubating a clutch of four eggs at the start of the month. The first two had hatched overnight and during the 21st. The next chick emerged on the 22nd and the final chick on the 23rd. Amazing achievement for this pair. 

Tristan immediately spoilt the fun by turning on Penny the day the fourth chick hatched. His aggression threatened both mum and chicks so we intervened and put Tristan in a ‘time out’. We moved him to an off-show aviary where he will stay for at least two months, waiting for the chicks to fledge.

Sadly one of those chicks died early on. The other three continue to thrive.

Corbière choughs

More reports of the ‘Corbière pair’ have come in, including one with leg rings colours. This allowed us to produce a shortlist of who they might be. Slight hitch. We don’t have individuals with those specific colour combinations.

Checking out the chough on the roof of the Highlands Hotel, Corbière. Photo by Liz Corry.

The sunlight may have played tricks on the observer. Alternatively one of the missing birds is alive and well hiding out in the south. I tried to follow up on this, but found my other work commitments took over. The pair continue to be a mystery.

The entire west coast of Jersey is visible from Corbière. Photo by Liz Corry.

Trinity choughs

A pair of choughs are still active in and around Les Platons. Less so at the Zoo. Maybe their membership expired. If the pair are staying closer to the cliffs maybe they have a nest ? Or is lockdown making me delusional?

So much potential for choughs if the bracken on Trinity’s stretch of coast could be managed. Photo by Liz Corry.

Bracken covered coastline with Ronez quarry visible (furthest headland). Photo by Liz Corry.

I’m fully prepared to own the latter. On one ‘chough hunt’, I stepped out of Egypte woods onto the cliff path above Wolf’s Lair to the evoking melodies of bagpipes drifting across the bay. I thought I had finally lost it. Turns out Wolf’s Lair is simply the easiest place to practice your bagpipes without neighbours complaining.

I finally spotted one half of the Trinity twosome on the 12th.  Returning to my car from a thankless chough hunt, a single chough call caught my attention. The bird was casually flying eastwards from the direction of Wolf’s Lair along the cliffs. It made a graceful U-turn then disappeared out of sight. Are corvids capable of mockery?

Small coves on the north east coast could be home to our mystery choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

Plémont news

Don’t get excited. We still have no concrete nesting evidence or of Xaviour’s status. Beaker and Beanie Baby turned up at the supplemental feed on the 31st; the first time in nearly two months. Is this a sign of things to come?

The stretch of coast from Grosnez (foreground) to Plémont is home to Beaker and Beanie Baby. Photo by Liz Corry.

Chough catch-ups

Just to outdo last month’s leg ring problems, we had eight birds needing attention in May. Wally had been flying around with a toe caught in a ring since at least the 12th April. When Glyn tried to catch her on 4th May she had somehow managed to free the toe by herself. Typical.

Glyn giving Dusty a quick health check. Photo by Mairi Young.

Dusty was caught up on the 4th to free his toe from his left leg ring. Cauvette experienced similar problems having been spotted on the 16th and was dealt with three days later. Kevin, Lee, Pyrrho, Chewie, and Baie  lost a ring or had one slip under another. All were caught up over a seven day period and fitted with shiny new rings.

Other news

The ‘chough-mobile’ sprang to action once again transporting water to Sorel. Both water tanks at the aviary and inside storage had run dry. As with any garden bird feeder, the ones at Sorel need to be kept clean to reduce the spread of possible disease between choughs and other species. We are now regularly seeing a pair of jackdaw at the aviary as well as the magpie family.

Speaking of cleaning, the choughs have started their annual moult. Lots of primary and secondary feathers to pick up off the floor each visit. It takes roughly 90 days just for the tail feathers to complete their cycle of old to new ones. So expect to see a lot of scruffy birds in the meantime.

Lee kindly demonstrating what a chough in moult looks like. Photo by Mick Dryden.

 

 

Chough report: April 2020

Bye-bye Black(bird)

There appears to be a sneaky reshuffle within the pairings. Black, a female released in 2013, has not been seen since 25th March. We were hoping it simply meant she was incubating eggs. However, her partner Green started showing up with another female Pyrrho along with her partner at the time, Betty. As the month drew to an end the bond between Green and Pyrrho had strengthened, Betty was making moves on another female and Black still had not been seen.

Black has an interesting past. She was one of the first seven choughs to be released into Jersey. Males were few and far between in the early years. Her chance for a breeding partner came in 2016 after Dusty’s mother disappeared conveniently freeing up Green. Black took over both territory and nest site and laid a clutch each year without fail.

She hasn’t had much luck though. The 2018 clutch failed to produce anything and both 2019 chicks died shortly after fledging. Back in 2017, we named her only surviving chick Lil’Wheezy because both parent and chick showed signs of a syngamus infection. Lil’Wheezy disappeared before the year was out.

You start to wonder if Black’s health was compromised over the years making her more susceptible to predation. If she still hasn’t been seen by the end of May we will assume she has perished.

Team shuffles

Choughs ignore social distancing rules. Photo by Liz Corry.

Throughout April the Sorel supplemental feeds were covered by Glyn, his daughter Mairi, volunteer Sarah, Zoo student Beth and myself. All student placements at Durrell were given the option of returning home before lockdown. Beth very kindly decided to stay in Jersey and became an integral part of the Bird team.

Monitoring nest sites, foraging sites further afield, and potential new nest sites was limited to what I could achieve in my free time. Thankfully, Sue Mueller wished to volunteer with the monitoring as her permitted outdoor activity. Already a keen wildlife photographer and chough lover she was happy to spend her time sat at Sorel Point or walking sections of coastal path.   

A pair of choughs looking for food in the quarry. Photo by Sue Mueller.

April’s nesting progress

COVID restrictions limited the amount of nest observations in the quarry this season. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sue’s observations helped us to confirm eight active nest sites this month. Most were last year’s sites. Of note, we think Bo and Flieur might be nesting in the same area Flieur used with her previous partner. Sue couldn’t get a clear ID on the rings. The pair’s behaviour suggests Flieur is incubating, as are several other females.

It is doubtful that we will be able to determine hatching dates which in turn will restrict ringing at nest sites. We will be reliant on fledglings following their parents to the supplemental feed site in order to trap and ring them.

Aviary observations

Betty and Zennor both lost rings this month. At the feed on 12th April it was clear Zennor had lost her striped plastic ring. Betty had lost his black ID ring. When possible, we will try to catch up these birds and replace rings. For now, we can still distinguish them from others in the flock.

Wally flew in to feed on the same day with her hind digit of the left foot stuck in her ring. Pretty sure she did this last year during the breeding season. She will need to be caught up to free the digit and assess the condition of the rings.

Waiting for choughs to enter the aviary in order to catch and replace leg rings. Photo by Liz Corry.

Away from Sorel

No definitive news on the Plémont territory other than they are still in the area. My guess is that Xaviour has gone leaving Beaker and Beanie Baby holding territory. Gone where or how we don’t know. I suspect Beanie Baby has chosen her own place to nest; the exact location will be kept confidential.

Reports continue to come in of choughs around Les Platons. I haven’t managed to see them there yet. Not that the dogs are complaining about their new evening routine.

Going on a chough ‘hunt’ at Les Platons. Photo by Liz Corry.

East of les Platons, has patches of suitable chough habitat tucked in between woodland and bracken. Photo by Liz Corry.

I did have plenty of sightings of a choughs at the Zoo. Often just a single bird, a few times it has been a pair flying over. The single bird (assuming it is the same individual) likes to hang out on the Manor House roof, particularly Lee Durrell’s chimney.

Several times whilst servicing Kirindy or the flamingos I have heard a call, looked up, and seen a chough fly overhead. The Durrell staff having to self-isolate at the campsite have also been kept entertained by the visitors – incidentally the only visitors allowed to the Zoo in April due to lockdown restrictions!

Further south, we have had regular reports of choughs visiting the sand dunes, Gorselands, and Corbière.

A chough spotted on the roof of the abandoned Highlands Hotel, Corbière. Photo by Mick Dryden.

More often than not it has been a pair spotted, sometimes more. I think a pair have established a territory again in the south west. Hopefully they will have more success than the last pair who kept relying on the Sorel feed for sustenance.

Habitat around Corbière’s WW2 Naval tower provides food for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

One of their problems, I suspect, was the amount of disturbance they received when trying to find food in areas with heavy footfall. And paw-fall. And car-fall! Dog walkers, tourists, tourist coaches, cars, vans, children tobogganing down the dunes (a designated SSI site) all mean that birds are frequently disturbed. Maybe lockdown will have its merits. Fingers/feathers crossed!

The track to Corbière lighthouse attracts visitors for the views, WW2 bunkers, and the obligatory ice cream van. Photo by Liz Corry.

Zoo moves

On 5th April, we managed to catch the remaining juvenile in SORG and move her to the off show aviary to join her sibling. This meant Tristan and Penny could begin nesting. Lots of activity carrying twigs, wool, and moss into the nest box. Penny began egg laying as April came to a close.

Graham Law

We are sad to report the death of one of our keenest academic supporters. Dr Graham Law of the University of Glasgow passed away on 9th April. Graham made several visits to Jersey in the early 1980s but on a return visit to the Island in 2016, he took a great interest in the chough reintroduction project and helped establish links with the chough team at the University.

Graham worked as a zoo keeper for 23 years before moving to academia but never lost his enthusiasm for bettering the lives of animals in his care. He taught on the Glasgow Universities Masters course on Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law and was involved in many environmental enrichment projects including a remarkable one for killer whales. All of us who knew Graham and were so influenced by him in our life and careers will miss him deeply. Our thoughts are with Rosie and his children.