Chough report: January 2019

A chatter of choughs following the keeper along the cliff path. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

January was a pretty standard month for the choughs; forage, fly, try not to freeze. The weather is still mild considering the time of year although we have experienced gales, sleet, and hail*. The choughs don’t appear to be desperately hungry for their supplemental food which can only be a good thing. Even if it does make the staff feel a little redundant.

Take, for example, the day the choughs were not at the aviary for the supplemental feed. I trudged back to the car park only to find them hanging out at the motocross track. Their reaction was more pet dog trying its luck than wild bird in need of food for survival.

*an amendment was needed prior to publishing; we had snow! Not quite the polar vortex that North America are experiencing, but snow nevertheless. 

Replacement rings

We continue trying to catch up birds to check their leg rings and replace where necessary. We have two birds sporting identical leg ring combinations right now making it difficult to distinguish individuals. Even harder when the sheep muscle in on the action.

Sheep doing their best chough impressions at the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.

Since the birds are not desperate for the supplemental food they lack the motivation to go inside the aviary when we call them. They fly over to look then just sit on the roof preening and staring at staff who are poised ready to drop the hatches. The wet windy weather has also hampered plans.

Ubé being fitted with a replacement grey ring by keeper Hannah. Photo by Liz Corry.

We managed to catch one group this month. Of the twelve birds trapped inside only three needed new rings; Kevin, Wally, and Ubé. Each bird is weighed before being released so at least we came away with some useful data. All the birds fell into the healthy weight range for a chough, which again shows that they are doing well in the wild.

Preparations for the breeding season

As January came to an end the breeding pairs started to gear up for the new breeding season ahead. Lots of preening and pair-bonding on show at Sorel and Les Landes. Earl and Xaviour are frequenting Plémont again no doubt scouting out a suitable nest site.

I met with Ronez’s Toby Carteret and Paul Pinel to discuss plans for this season down in the quarry. Toby and his team will try and adapt the nest-boxes so we can have a better viewing angle from the nest cameras and allow more air to circulate inside for the nest. We have identified last year’s nest sites and co-ordinated planned maintenance work at the site to reduce disturbance to a minimum. We could have twelve to fourteen pairs trying to breed this year so it will definitely take a coordinated effort to find and monitor all the nests.

Preparations underway at Ronez for the start of the new breeding season. Photo by Liz Corry.

I was also pleased to hand over several sets of child-friendly binoculars for the school groups who visit the quarry. These were bought with money from the Insurance Corporation Award we received last year. Along with the use of a spotting scope, staff are hoping the children will see there is more to a life in a quarry than blasting rocks (admittedly the latter is way more exciting). The pupils can look out for choughs, peregrines and a penguin (apparently there is one!). Hopefully we can inspire the next generation of conservation-focused quarry workers.

Carbon-friendly choughs

We have always been conscientious about our impact on the environment when working on the north coast. The aviary, for example, is a temporary structure that will be removed and ‘recycled’ when no longer needed. Food waste is removed from the site, rusty hinges sent to scrap metal, used batteries sent for recycling etc.

Thanks to a small grant from the Jersey Ecology Trust Fund (ETF) we have stepped up our eco-friendly status for 2019. Firstly, we purchased a battery powered strimmer from Eastern Garden Machinery along with the necessary safety gear. The EGO strimmer is powered by a lithium battery. The same battery can be used in different attachments such as hedge trimmer, leaf blower, flame thrower…..ok last one made up, but you get the idea.

The EGO Powerplus is an environmentally friendly power tool (Its a little hard to take a selfie whilst strimming).

Up until now we have been using a petrol strimmer and push lawn mower to maintain the short grass in and around the aviary. Not only is ditching fossil fuel better for the environment, the battery-powered strimmer is quieter. Important for the birds (and the neighbours in Mourier Valley!).

Our capacity for rainwater storage at the aviary is increasing thanks to money from the ETF. Photo by Liz Corry.

The second element of our upgrade focuses on water sustainability. We already collect rainwater for use at the aviary. However, the container often overflows after just one downpour; in summer it runs dry.

Fed up of dragging jerry cans along the cliff path, we will install a second water butt outside and have an extra 25 litre container in the keeper porch.

Staying inside, we have switched to biodegradable bin liners and have a two year supply stock-piled thanks to the grant (nothing to do with Brexit).

Finally, we purchased a solar-powered charger for phones, tablets, the trail camera, and GoPro used by project staff. Smartphones are increasingly important in fieldwork. From the safety aspect of staying in touch, to ever-developing apps allowing in-field data recording. Sorel’s solar power will reduce electricity demands and save the pennies.

RAV Power solar charger soaking up the sun on the observation bench. Photo by Liz Corry.

Waiting for the clouds to break with the RAVPower solar charger. Photo by Liz Corry.

New year, new sign

Walkers at Sorel will have noticed we have replaced the sign at the car park. Long overdue, we needed to update the text to reflect the fact that Jersey has a resident population of choughs once again. It also details why we have sheep grazing the north coast and the other areas around Jersey you can spot the choughs. We are hoping this will encourage visitors to explore Jersey’s National Park. Thanks go to Durrell’s graphic designer Rich Howell and Site Services’ Trevor Smith for installing it.

Return of the Birds On The Edge sign to Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Student participation at Sorel

Speaking of visitors, we have seen our first university field trips of the year visit Sorel to learn about Birds On The Edge first hand. Accompanied by a talk in the warmth of Durrell Academy’s lecture theatre, the undergraduate and postgraduate students are taken to Sorel and shown the supplemental feed, grazing sheep, and conservation fields. The rest of their week is spent in the zoo or lecture theatre.

From these visits we often have students interested in taking up projects for their dissertations. We already have three students lined up to visit Jersey and take part in research to benefit the project. We are still lacking a student placement to help with the daily running of the work. As student debts and the cost of living rises we have to be realistic – Jersey is not the most practical of places to relocate to for a student project. Especially the chough project which requires transportation around the Island. Plans are afoot to try and rectify this. We cannot simply rely on the appeal of the choughs and the experienced gained to attract student placements.

Although come on, who wouldn’t want to work with these guys….

 

The 18th annual Jersey Great Garden Bird Watch 2-3 February 2019

As another year rolls around its time for this year’s annual Jersey Great Garden Bird Watch with Action for Wildlife and the Jersey Evening Post. This year it will be held over the weekend of 2nd and 3rd February. Of course, notification of the coming watch typically leads to a serious change in the weather. Not that it’s been all that nice in Jersey recently anyway but you probably should expect horizontal bird feeders in non-stop hail now at the start of February!

Cold and unfavourable weather is when the birds in your garden become most reliant on your support and so, with them coming to feeders it’s a very good time to count them. I’m often asked whether we should feed the birds, are we making them too dependent on us? Are we affecting their natural behaviour? Well, having done a good job of impacting on their world and starving them out of a lot of it, perhaps we may have to accept becoming a lifeline to many species in an uncertain future. Some of our garden favourites may not die out without us but their ranges may change dramatically and we might have to work hard to see some of them. Add to that a changing climate and those acts of kindness to our garden friends can become a lifeline.

The Great Garden Bird Watch is in its 18th year so we have plenty of counts to use in assessing the recent trends in Jersey’s garden birds. And things aren’t so good really. If we just look at the most recorded species (house sparrow, greenfinch and chaffinch, blue tit and great tit, blackcap, blackbird, song thrush and robin, starling, wood pigeon and collared dove and a few others like pheasant, magpie, jay and great spotted woodpeckers) we see a slow decline throughout the period since 2002. However, if we take out that great garden success story, the wood pigeon, we see a much more dramatic picture. Most people know about the changes in starling numbers, and the disappearance of sparrows from many gardens (strangely, if you’ve got sparrows you probably have lots of them and they have staged a recovery) but blue and great tits aren’t doing so well either. It’s not all bad news though, blackbirds and robins are holding their own. The picture in the UK is much the same where 40 years of the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch shows the winners and losers there.

The method of the count is very straight forward. Basically you just need to look out into the garden for a few minutes and write down what birds you see and the maximum number of each species. Oh, and for one weekend a year, red squirrels are birds. I’m not sure what they think about that, maybe they accept that it’s an honour!

 

 

Once you’ve counted the birds on your chosen day please fill out the form that you can download here and email in to birdsote@gmail.com or print and send in to the JEP or drop off at their office. Alternatively pick up a form from one of the Island’s garden centres (Ransoms, St Peters, Pet Cabin at Le Quesnes) or Animal Kingdom and leave it with them.

Everyone who takes part in the count is a citizen scientist and doing their own small bit to help us understand our garden birds that bit better. Most of all though, it’s fun and will remind you how important our birds are to us and how much we need them to help us feel alive and well. And they’ll take your mind off Brexit. So, please fill out your form on one day over the weekend and help us see how our birds are doing. Oh, and don’t forget, squirrels are birds!

 

 

Chough report: December 2018

By Liz Corry

Not to be outdone by the other eleven months, December was eventful. Prospects of a white Christmas were slim to none unless ‘white’ meant fog, misty rain, and strong gales.

A ‘white’ Christmas on the north coast. Photo by Liz Corry.

The first weekend in December was a tough one with birds being blown about in 40mph winds or more. Most of the chough clan were already at the supplemental feed site waiting for the keeper on Sunday 9th. Birds were keeping low to the ground to avoid being blown sideways whilst eating.

Great expectations. Photo by Liz Corry.

One of the choughs was  lying down, more worryingly it was not joining in with the others at the feed. Lily, identified by leg rings, was having trouble walking despite flying fine. She did eat, a positive sign, but waited for the initial feeding frenzy to die down (less chance of being pushed around). It was possible she had been blown into something and just needed time to recoup.

The next day, however, she was still presenting in the same way. There were a few choughs still in need of replacement leg rings so a catch up was planned. You know the saying, two birds, one stone…fingers crossed no killing.

It took several attempts for the group to settle in the aviary allowing the hatches to be shut. Not helped by three of the hatches breaking. We managed to trap over twenty choughs inside. First in the hand-net was Lil’ Wheezy. After weighing and fitted with a replacement plastic ring she was released back into the wild. Next to be caught was Lily. Once in the hand her problem was alarmingly obvious.

Lily’s foot had become wedged in her plastic ring. Photo by Liz Corry.

The longer red and white striped ring (identifies them as Jersey choughs) had moved down over her foot pushing her digits together. Blood flow had been restricted for some time resulting in permanent damage to the fourth digit.

Close up of damaged fourth digit. Photo by Bea Detnon.

We have not seen this before in the choughs. It usually occurs due to ill-fitting rings. In captivity, it is easier to spot and can be corrected before any permanent damage occurs.

Smartphone technology allowed for a video and photo to be sent to Durrell’s vet on duty. As it was close to roost time, Lily was confined to a section of the aviary along with several other choughs for company. The vet would visit the following morning to assess what treatment, with permission from the States Vet. Lily is a wild-hatched Jersey chough falling under States licensing laws.

Unfortunately the fourth digit was necrotic and had to be removed to reduce the chance of infection in the other digits. Wednesday morning, Lily was taken to the vets at the Zoo for the operation. Under sedation, the digit was swiftly and expertly removed by the vet (Alberto). Lily was allowed to recover in the warmth of the operating room, then transported back to Sorel. She was kept locked away receiving medication via her food for the next seven days. Lily recovered without further complications.

Lily out with the flock post-treatment. Photo by Liz Corry.

When released back into the wild, nine days after the initial catch up, she rejoined the flock as if nothing had happened. The design of the aviary allows any bird(s) in confinement to remain in visual and audio contact with the flock. This unfortunate event is one reason why the release aviary remains present at Sorel.

We will need to continue catching birds to replace leg rings. The day Lily returned to the flock, Flieur was seen with a broken leg ring; the plastic has weathered. There is a possibility of this causing harm. As ever we will do our best to see it doesn’t come to that.

Flieur kindly points out a problem to staff at the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

Closer inspection shows a break at the top of the red and white ring. Photo by Liz Corry.

Aviary repairs

As mentioned, Lily was not the only one with ‘injuries’ in December. The broken release hatches were taken away for repair once Lily had finished treatment. I replaced the rotten wooden frames and fixtures pulled out in the catch up. We have inherent problems with rust and T-bar hinges bending out of shape. I’m hoping to address this with marine-grade steel fixtures ordered after visiting Jersey’s chandlery shops.

The aviary also suffered damages in the storms due to its age. Worn netting, pulled back and forth in the winds, snapped leaving large gaps in various places. Most could be patched up with sewing or cable ties. Plans are afoot for brand new netting in the new year once it has been made and shipped from Denmark!

Come to Jersey, they said. Spend Christmas with your daughter, they said! Photo by Liz Corry.

A free-standing shelter box was taken down before it fell down, much to the dismay of the pair roosting in there. Provisions have been made for alternative roost spots inside the aviary. The box itself is now acting as a rain shelter for food dishes until we can remove it from the site.

Owl pellet. Photo by Liz Corry.

Lastly the water-butt stand needed to be replaced. Again this was more wear and tear than storm damage.

I am still finding owl pellets in and around the aviary. We might not be getting owls on the camera trap, but we sure know they have visited.

Happy days (unless you are a small mammal).

 

Ending on a high

To end on a cheery note and pass on New Year positivity to all our readers here are some images taken over the festive period.

Dusty and pals catching the last rays of sun. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sark as seen from the cliff path at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

The names Bond, Manx Bond. Photo by Liz Corry.

Seeing out the end of the 2018 at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Jersey multi-species distribution, habitat suitability and connectivity modelling

From Natural Environment, Growth, Housing and Environment, States of Jersey

Populations of some of Jersey’s rarest plants and animals survive in isolated pockets across the Island, often in places which remain unprotected, and are, therefore, at threat from the growing anthropological impacts on habitats across the land surface.

The Natural Environment, Growth, Housing and Environment, States of Jersey (formerly Department of the Environment) commissioned the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust (ARC) to determine priority areas for protected species and habitats, and connecting routes between them, in order to aid spatial planning and future protected area designation. The outcomes are based on cost / benefit analysis, providing best economic and conservation value. The report’s authors, Rob Ward and John Wilkinson are frequent visitors to Jersey and well known to Birds On The Edge supporters.

Whilst individual species have previously been assessed on their conservation requirements in Jersey, this is the first time that multiple species (17) have been assessed in the same project.

This study expands on previous efforts by incorporating a wide range of species of varying taxa, ecological roles, traits and conservation status in order to inform an Island-wide plan for maintaining, improving and designating wildlife areas. It highlights areas where improvements to connectivity are most beneficial, and how these may be tied in with other efforts in parallel for maximum return on investment.

In this report, spatial modelling approaches are used to carry out the following tasks:

  • predict and map the distribution on 17 selected species including toad, grass snake, Jersey bank vole, red squirrel, common pipistrelle, field cricket, lizard orchid and ragged robin
  • identify the areas of highest habitat suitability for the 17 species, and evaluate how those areas are currently protected
  • assess which factors, e.g. habitat type, influence the species’ distributions
  • separately assess species associated with urban environments so conservation priorities can be identified for both urban and non-urban environments
  • map the most likely wildlife corridors
  • identify landscape priorities for protection based on their value to wildlife connectivity and current protected status.

The (17) focal species or species groups (genera) selected for species distribution modelling were among Jersey’s protected species and assessed in view of dispersal and movement capabilities. Plants were dominated by orchid species (class Liliopsida) which appear to be better recorded than other flora; perhaps due to their charismatic and overt appearance and specific habitats making them easier to locate and be of greater popularity. Although several invertebrate species were recommended for this study, only the field cricket (Gryllus campestris) had sufficient records. Those species that could not be included at this stage are evaluated later on through other approaches. Long-eared bat roosts (Plecotus spp.) and waxcap fungi (Hygrocybe spp.) were modelled at the genus level as intra-genus members were considered to have similar habitat associations.

Birds were excluded due to a lack of data on nesting sites and their ability to traverse across the Island with ease. However, their needs are accounted for in the report.

The protected species reviewed were highly variable in their movement and dispersal abilities. Given these findings and the overall aim of producing a well-connected network for a wide variety of species, the report authors used a precautionary approach that would allow movement of dispersal-limited species, but that also contained patches with sufficient size to support the most wide-ranging species. Although referring to individual distances and ranges in the review, the area encompassed by a functioning population is considerably larger than that of an individual. Therefore, to provide areas that are suitable for not only individuals, but also entire populations to move through and inhabit, Jersey must ensure those areas are of a sufficient magnitude.

This work supports the decision making processes within Growth, Housing and Environment, States of Jersey, with implications for wildlife conservation, planning and building.

Download the report Jersey multi-species distribution, habitat suitability & connectivity modelling, executive summary and appendices

Plastic found in ‘almost 100%’ of Alderney’s gannet nests

From BBC News and Alderney Wildlife Trust

Nearly all of Alderney’s 8,000 gannet nests are contaminated with plastic pollution. As recently as 20 years ago, only small quantities were seen in the nests, the Alderney Wildlife Trust (AWT) said. The plastic build-up in the breeding colonies is killing the seabirds, with some entangled gannets found hung or missing legs, it added. The plastics found in the nests are largely from fishing industry rope or line and gannets are known to forage as far as 20 nautical miles to collect nesting materials

The island, 10 miles (15km) from France and home to 2,000 people, hosts around 2% of the global gannet population. “Over the last 20, 30 years we’ve gone from little bits of plastics here and there to every nest now, pretty much, having a significant quantity of plastic in it,” the Trust’s Roland Gauvain said. The plastic build-up is posing a “significant risk to chicks and adults alike as they become entangled or end up eating it”.

“It’s not uncommon to find gannets hung – to lose legs, to find their wings entangled.”

AWT further highlighted concerns over plastic pollution across the British Isles, along with sewage spills and a build up of waste on beaches (see The Wildlife Trusts).

Alderney’s gannet population is still growing, but Mr Gauvain said the Island’s position in the English Channel meant it was particularly vulnerable to plastic pollution. “Most of these plastics aren’t going to be coming from Alderney,” he said.

“We have a population of 2,000 people and we’re talking about upwards of 8,000 nests on the colonies. “Really, the tale is that we are impacting our waters so much more than we ever realised.”

Our farmland bird monitoring reaches new milestone and you can help

The Birds On The Edge Farmland Bird Monitoring project passed another impressive milestone this month when the 5,000th data sheet was input to the database. That’s 5,000 visits to our 23 transects at 21 sites since 2005. Birds have been recorded in all weather, come hell, high water, horizontal rain, snow and the strange things that go on at some sites around dawn. The exact number of bird records is less easy to count off but, and a record can be one individual bird or a flock of hundreds, it must be well over 250,000 by now. And the number of birds themselves? It may be over 1 million although there are some robins that have been counted more than once. Even on the same day!

During the project we have recorded 171 species and that’s without gulls or birds like gannets that although sometimes visible don’t count if they are way out to sea. Mind you, if any gannet chose to fly over land like the cormorants do then we’d record it! We have never included black swans either but I’ve often thought that we should have – we do count other riffraff like pheasants, bar-headed and barnacle geese and those feral greylag geese that have made themselves at home in Jersey. And a couple of escaped cagebirds, although, with peafowl but unlike those geese, don’t feature in the 171.

The project’s first detailed report Trends in Jersey landbirds 2005‐2015 can be read or downloaded from here.

In 2019 the project will continue to collect data, giving incredible strength to our understanding of the current status of Jersey’s landbirds. So, why not come and join our current stalwart counters Harri, Will, Jon, Jonny, Tony, Miranda, Neil and Ali, Glyn, Hester, Cris, Tim, Hannah and Bea, Neil and Richard. We would like to introduce a couple of new counters into the team to make sure every site is well covered. We are particularly keen for someone to do the count at Sorel (see description here). There are actually two transects at Sorel but you simply walk west along the coastal path for one and back to the carpark through the fields for the other. Its not a hard walk and can be a beautiful site (ok, its not always beautiful if the weather is bad) and is famous for its migratory birds at times of the year and its (definitely countable) choughs throughout the year. As with all our transects, the walk isn’t too difficult and should ideally be visited twice a month.

As a bird surveyor you should be able to identify by sight and sound all of our common birds. It is the common birds that are most important to us as long-term assessment of their status and identification of population trends (up, down or staying the same) are the most important in conservation planning. That’s not to say though that we don’t want to hear about rarer birds – however much I can justify the need to get out there and count the wrens and dunnocks I’m the first to admit that stumbling across a long-eared owl or finding a yellow-browed warbler is always a thrill and, yes, it can be the hope of seeing something like this that sometimes keeps the interest going. But, don’t worry if you think you can’t identify the rarer stuff right now – start with the important birds like robins and wood pigeons and the Richards’ pipits and buff-breasted sandpipers will come. If you are interested in joining the gallant team of counters please read the Jersey Farmland Bird Monitoring Manual and email Glyn at birdsote@gmail.com

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