Chough report: March 2019

By Liz Corry

It has been all go this March. Sometimes quite literally as some of the choughs have, well, just gone!

Jersey’s chough population plummets

At least that would be the headline if this was a tabloid site. The less drastic approach is to say that several of the choughs have been unaccounted for since January or February depending on the individual. This means that Jersey’s population might have gone from 46 to 37 choughs over a three-month period.

With all the leg ring issues we have reported on recently, it is possible that some birds are going undetected at Sorel. Two birds have been sporting matching leg rings for the past month. We finally managed to determine that one of these is Gilly. Her metal number was read by zooming in on an opportunistic photo. Through process of elimination, the second bird has to be either Duke or Bo. Neither have been seen for a while.

One of two birds sporting the same leg ring combination after losing a coloured ring. Photo by Liz Corry.

To add to the mystery, both Duke and Bo paired up last year forming territories at Sorel and Les Mielles respectively. Duke’s partner is still very much alive and well at Sorel. Although she now appears to be flying around in a trio with two others. Bo and his partner, Mary, were not identified at Sorel throughout the entire month. Have they permanently moved to the southwest of the Island? Or, has something happened to one or both birds?

Mystery disappearances have also affected two pairs from Ronez Quarry that shared the same building. Our beloved Bean and normally easy to spot Q (bright pink ring) have a zero attendance record for March. Their partners are regularly turning up to the supplemental feed so what does that mean? Did they decide to ditch their trademark monogamous ways and elope to a different part of the Island? Are they dead? Has Bean become agoraphobic and can no longer leave her roost?

What we do know is that we have new pairings generating both good and bad news.

Breeding pairs for 2019

We are not 100% clear on all our pairings this year due to the confusion over which birds are alive and dead. For example, Bean’s partner Kevin is now followed everywhere by two foster-reared females Ubè and Wally. This lends itself to the theory that Bean is no longer at Sorel (or Jersey). Likewise, Pyrrho who was with Duke last year, now appears to hang out with another pair. This pair is one of our new couplings Skywalker and Zennor.

There are a few new pairs at Sorel this breeding season including Skywalker, released last year, and Zennor. Photo by Liz Corry.

On 4th March, Skywalker was observed at Sorel with wool. It wasn’t entirely clear if he was collecting the wool or if the wind had blown it across his face. He carried it around for a bit ultimately ditching it for the supplemental feed. On the same day we found bits of wool inside the aviary – a sign that the pairs had begun lining their nest.

At this stage, we think there are ten pairs and two groups of three attempting to nest at various sites around Jersey. I have to say it….

West is best?

You are now just as likely to see choughs at Les Landes, Grosnez, or Plémont as you are at Sorel these days. There is at least one pair nesting out west, possibly more given the difficulty in tracking individuals.

We have had lots of reports in from the National Trust, States of Jersey rangers, and Durrell staff on their days off.

Choughs hanging out at Plémont. Photo by John Parkes, National Trust for Jersey.

Grantez is being highlighted as a foraging site and/or fly over route. Not to be confused with Grosnez, which is starting to look hopeful as a potential nesting territory. It also appears to be the perfect ‘playground’ for the choughs to practice their aerial acrobatics whilst annoying the resident fulmar population. Note that fulmars (who are very good at spitting) and choughs aren’t always the best of neighbours.

The perils of plastic

We had to catch up Betty this month when she was spotted at the aviary with yellow nylon wire wrapped around her right foot. Betty had most likely picked this up whilst looking for nest liner. Luckily, we were able to trap her in the aviary relatively quickly. It still required a two-day wait whilst hatches were fixed – yep they jammed again – but we cut the material off before it could do any damage.

Betty was caught up in March to remove material wrapped around her foot. Photo by Liz Corry.

Whilst in the hand, there was the opportunity to clear up confusion over a DNA test taken when Betty was a chick. The original sexing result was questioned by the DNA testing company due to an admin error. Betty’s recent behaviour and body weight of 350g implied she was a he. A new DNA sample was taken and sent to the UK. The result came back as a definite male.

This is great news as Betty is paired up with Gilly (female) and this year they look set to nest for the first time.

On a side note, their relationship meant that Gilly followed Betty into the aviary when we trapped him. This allowed us to catch Gilly as well and replace her missing green ring.

Zoo choughs show a promising start

Jersey Zoo has a new pairing this year of Tristan and Pendragon (Penny for short). They are in fact our only pair now due to the sad loss of birds last year. Both are experienced breeders but this will be their first season together.

So far so good. They have been busy adding material to the nest box. Hopefully there will be eggs by April. Staff are monitoring progress closely via the nest cam.

The new pair at Jersey Zoo started building a nest in March. Photo by Liz Corry.

Skills-sharing on a global level

Each year the Durrell Conservation Academy runs the Durrell Endangered Species Management course. The participants, affectionately known as DESMANS, come to Jersey from all over the world to learn practical conservation skills which they can then take back and apply to projects in their own countries.

Birds On The Edge is incorporated into one of their modules where they learn skills in radio-tracking, distance sampling, reintroduction practices, and broaden their knowledge in conservation management.

DESMANS learning how to radio-track at Jersey Zoo. Photo by Izabela Barata.

This month they visited Sorel to see the project up close and personal. Instead of a stuffy indoor lecture, they were treated to my ramblings on about Birds On The Edge and how the choughs have returned to Jersey. They were very impressed with the choughs although the friendly Manx sheep clearly stole the show.

DESMANS 2019 with course leader Tim Wright and facilitator Izabela Barata at Sorel. Photo by Liz Purgal.

 

Climate change is pushing UK wildlife out of sync

From BirdGuides

Climate change has advanced the breeding season of many species in the UK – but just how much varies markedly across the country, according to a major new study.

The first in-depth analysis into the seasonal timing of certain bird and insect behaviours has confirmed that spring is indeed getting earlier each year – but that exactly how much earlier these events now start depends on where in the UK and in which habitat they occur.

The authors of the report have warned these trends could have serious ramifications for ecosystems, as significant variation between groups of animals in the rates of advance means populations are becoming out of sync with the life cycles of their prey. The 50-year study into natural cycles of egg laying and migration has also dashed environmentalists’ hopes that shaded habitats such as forests are shielding some populations from the destabilising effects of global warming.

Lead author Dr James Bell, who heads up the Rothamsted Insect Survey, said: “There was already good evidence that spring is coming earlier each year, but what we didn’t expect to find was that it was advancing as much in forests as it is in open areas such as grassland.

“Equally, in areas where we’d expect to see much greater acceleration, such as urban parkland, the rates of advance appear to be the same.

“This all points to a complex picture emerging under climate change, which makes ecosystem responses hard to predict, and even harder for conservationists to prepare for.”

An earlier study by the group looking at a 30-year period had shown the average rate of advance varied from about a week earlier for birds and a month earlier for aphids, but the new paper reveals an even more complex picture.

Dr Stephen Thackeray of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH) explained: “Our previous research has shown that, in the UK, many signs of spring have been shifting earlier over the last few decades and that this is likely to be driven by climatic change.

“However, we have never before had such a detailed picture of how these changes vary across the UK and its major habitats.”

The study charts the seasonal habits of more than 250 UK species of birds and insects, and shows clear evidence that aphids, moths and butterflies are now on the wing, and birds are laying their eggs, much earlier than they were in the middle of the 20th century.

The researchers, including scientists from CEH, the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), Butterfly Conservation, and Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA), analysed data collected between 1960 and 2010 from three national monitoring networks – the Rothamsted Insect Survey, the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme and the Nest Record Scheme.

The long-term changes they uncovered broadly confirm similar effects being observed the world over – that as global temperatures rise, natural phenomena such as flowering, or emergence from hibernation, are occurring earlier each year. But by looking in detail at this long-term data, the team has revealed that the responses of some species to climate change are not straightforward, nor necessarily predictable.

Moths provide a good example of this. As those species that turn from caterpillars to adults early in the year appear to be doing so much earlier. Professor Tom Brereton of Butterfly Conservation said it was unclear what was behind these specific patterns, nor why butterflies did not show something similar: “Whatever the reasons, we should be concerned about how dramatically climate change is affecting butterfly and moth life cycles.”

Bucking this trend towards earlier onset are those birds and butterflies that inhabit farmland, as well as birds who live in coastal habitats – providing possible evidence that other factors, such as declining food availability, are applying a different pressure on these populations and delaying the onset of breeding.

Dr James Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science at the BTO, said: “Birds are at the top of many food chains, and are sensitive to the impacts of climate change on the availability of their insect prey. This work shows how changing spring conditions may affect the ability of birds to find food, and that those impacts are likely to vary across the country.”

A particularly worrying finding of the study is that the rate at which these seasonal behaviours are shifting is the same in open habitats, such as grasslands, as it is in shady ones, such as forests. It had been thought forests might offer some protection for species against rising temperatures. “The work is important because it shows us that we cannot rely on habitat to slow down climate change impacts, even in woodlands and forests where the conditions are more stable, and which were expected to buffer against adverse changes,” explained Dr Bell.

As well as providing more evidence of the effects of climate change, the study also provides the most detailed assessment yet of how many species’ life cycles are determined by geography and altitude. It shows that rather than tracking the simple north-south trend of increasing temperatures and earlier onset of spring, the date of key behaviours of many species follow more complex patterns. So, while aphid activity simply becomes progressively later the further north you go, the same was only true for birds and butterflies up to the likes of Derry, Gretna or Newcastle.

Beyond that point, butterflies become active earlier in the warmer, wetter west than the colder, drier east, while for birds laying eggs, the opposite is true. Dr Jon Pickup, lead aphid researcher at SASA said: “As pests, it remains a concern that aphid migrations are getting earlier at a dramatic rate, and this piece of work shows us that signal across the UK very clearly.”

The study is the result of many years work analysing and interpreting huge data sets, and now lays the ground work for some urgent new research into what is driving these impacts at habitat levels.

“There is unlikely to be a more comprehensive analysis that address both spatial and habitat variations in seasonal timings,” concluded Dr Bell.

Read or download the paper Spatial and habitat variation in aphid, butterfly, moth and bird phenologies over the last half century here

Widespread losses of pollinating insects revealed across Britain

Wild bees and hoverflies lost from a quarter of the places they were found in 1980

From The Guardian

A widespread loss of pollinating insects in recent decades has been revealed by the first national survey in Britain, which study authors say “highlights a fundamental deterioration” in nature.

The analysis of 353 wild bee and hoverfly species found the insects have been lost from a quarter of the places they were found in 1980. A third of the species now occupy smaller ranges, with just one in 10 expanding their extent, and the average number of species found in a square kilometre fell by 11.

A small group of 22 bee species known to be important in pollinating crops such as oilseed rape saw a rise in range, potentially due to farmers increasingly planting wild flowers around fields. However, the scientists found “severe” declines in other bee species from 2007, coinciding with the introduction of a widely used neonicotinoid insecticide, which has since been banned.

Researchers have become increasingly concerned about dramatic drops in populations of insects, which underpin much of nature. Some warned in February that these falls threaten a “catastrophic collapse of nature’s ecosystems”, while studies from Germany and Puerto Rico have shown plunging numbers in the last 25 to 35 years.

The latest study is based on more than 700,000 sightings made by volunteers across Britain from 1980 to 2013. These are used to map the range of each species of bee and hoverfly over time. The data did not allow the assessment of numbers of insects, but some researchers think populations have fallen faster than range.

Pollinating insects are vital to human food security, as three-quarters of crops depend on them. They are also crucial to other wildlife, both as food and as pollinators of wild plants. “The declines in Britain can be viewed as a warning about the health of our countryside,” said Gary Powney at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology who led the research.

He called for more volunteers to take part in the UK Pollinator Monitoring Scheme: “Their contribution is vital for us to understand what is happening in our landscape.” Another recent study found that allotments, weedy corners and fancy gardens can all be urban havens for bees.

The biggest factor in the decline in pollinators is likely to be the destruction of wild habitats and use of pesticides as farming has intensified. But the analysis also revealed a particularly big drop of 55% in the range of upland bee and hoverfly species, and significant falls in northern Britain, which may result from climate change making conditions too warm.

Among the bees whose range has shrunk are the formerly widespread red-shanked carder bee, whose extent fell by 42%, and the large shaggy bee, whose range fell 53%. But the lobe-spurred furrow bee, which was once rare, has expanded its range fivefold and is now considered an important crop pollinator in England.

Powney said the increased range of the bees most commonly pollinating crops is good news and might be a result of more oilseed rape being grown, as well as wildflower margins being planted. But he also warned: “They are a relatively small group of species. Therefore, with species having declined overall, it would be risky to rely on this group to support the long-term food security for our country. If anything happens to them in the future there will be fewer other species to ‘step up’.”

Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex and not part of the latest research, said: “Previous studies have described declines in UK butterflies, moths, carabid beetles, bees and hoverflies – this new study confirms that declines in insects are ongoing.”

If the losses of upland and northern species are due to climate change, “then we can expect far more rapid declines of these species in the future, as climate change has barely got started”, he said. Goulson also said the start of more rapid declines in southern bees after 2007 coincided with the first use of now-banned neonicotinoid pesticides.

Matt Shardlow, of the conservation charity Buglife, said unless the pesticide approval process was improved to help bee safety and green subsidies were targeted to create corridors that connect wild spaces, we can expect the declines to continue or worsen.

Download the study Widespread losses of pollinating insects in Britain here

 

Butterfly numbers down by two thirds: High-intensity agriculture reduces number of butterfly species in adjacent areas

From ScienceDaily

Meadows adjacent to high-intensity agricultural areas are home to less than half the number of butterfly species than areas in nature preserves. The number of individuals is even down to one-third of that number. These are results of a research team led by Jan Christian Habel at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Thomas Schmitt at the Senckenberg Nature Research Society and published in Insect Conservation and Diversity.

Germany is home to roughly 33,500 species of insects — but their numbers are decreasing dramatically. Of the 189 species of butterflies currently known from Germany, 99 species are on the Red List, five have already become extinct, and 12 additional species are threatened with extinction.

Reduced biodiversity also on areas around intensively cultivated fields

The research team recorded the occurrence of butterfly species in 21 meadow sites east of Munich. Of these study sites, 17 are surrounded by agriculturally used areas, and four are in nature preserves with near-natural cultivation.

The team recorded a total of 24 butterfly species and 864 individuals in all study sites. Specialists among the butterflies were particularly dependent on near-natural habitats, while the more adaptable “generalists” were also found in other grassland sites.

“In the meadows that are surrounded by agriculturally used areas we encountered an average of 2.7 butterfly species per visit; in the four study sites within the protected areas ‘Dietersheimer Brenne‘ and ‘Garchinger Heide‘ near Munich we found an average of 6.6 species,” adds Prof. Werner Ulrich of the Copernicus University in Thorn, Poland.

Negative impact of the industrialised agriculture demands rethinking

“Our results show an obvious trend: in the vicinity of intensively cultivated fields that are regularly sprayed with pesticides, the diversity and numbers of butterflies are significantly lower than in meadows near less used or unused areas,” explains the study’s lead author, Prof. Jan Christian Habel.

“Our study emphasises the negative impact of the conventional, industrialised agriculture on the butterfly diversity and shows the urgent need for ecologically sustainable cultivation methods. Additional field studies may aid in identifying individual factors responsible for the insect die-back and in implementing appropriate countermeasures,” adds Schmitt in closing.

See the paper Agricultural intensification drives butterfly decline here

Chough report: February 2019

White died this month due to health complications. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Where to begin? The start seems a good place, but this start begins with an end. Two in fact, maybe three. Following? You will.

Wild breeding population suffers a setback

We sadly have to report the death of two choughs and a highly likely third. At the start of February, White was flying around with tatty feathers looking rough. He soon started showing symptoms of a syngamus issue despite ‘clean’ faecal samples. At the same time we noticed that Mauve, his partner, was not being recorded at the feeds. It is easy to lose an individual in a large flock, but pairs stick together.

White began to deteriorate so he was caught up and checked by the Vet. It took two days to trap him because the entire flock are now wise to our methods. Once locked in the aviary it was clear he was in trouble.

His was surprisingly good weight for a sick bird, which in itself was a concern. He has always been a larger bird, you can spot him in the flock based on size alone, but you would expect a slight weight loss.

Worming proved futile and he died a few days later. Post mortem results showed that his airways had become blocked by plaques of pus that had dislodged in the trachea. Why he had the plaques in the first place is unknown.

Whilst all this was going on Mauve was still absent. By the end of February, we had to conclude that Mauve was no longer with us.

White preening his partner Mauve in 2015 – their first season together. Photo by Liz Corry.

Mauve was one of the original group released in 2013. She had an interesting start to her free-flying life in Jersey as recounted in several of the earlier reports. White was brought to Jersey at the end of 2013 and released in 2014. They paired up in 2015 and a year later they had chicks of their own out on the north coast.

Cold case: chough PP012

On the same day that White passed, I was informed of a dead chough found in a garden at Grosnez. As Mauve had been missing I naturally assumed it was her.

On Sunday 17th, members from the Birds On The Edge team ran a stall at the annual Seedy Sunday & Wild About Jersey event (see below). Within an hour of the doors opening to the public I was approached by a lady from Grosnez. Seeing Lynne, our volunteer dressed as a chough, reminded her – she had a dead chough in her freezer!

The next 24 hours in the story were filled with twists and turns. In a nutshell, the lady had found the dead bird on her property in September 2017! At the time she wasn’t aware of the chough project, but had carefully double-bagged the body with a descriptive note attached. Nowadays she regularly sees the choughs flying over her land and knows what they are. As we all know, time ticks on and we forget things. Until you bump into a lady dressed as a giant chough!

Clearly this bird was not Mauve. The chough in question was Carmine, a wild chick hatched in 2017 belonging to Q and Flieur. She was one of the juveniles with syngamus who we had trouble trapping in the aviary. Since she was never medicated she probably succumbed to the infestation whilst flying around Grosnez with her parents.

A juvenile red-billed chough. Photo by Liz Corry.

We are very grateful to the lady for preserving Carmine and reporting it as we now have closure on a case. We can add this info to our dataset which aids future management plans.

If you do find a dead or injured chough in Jersey please call 01534 860059 or contact any of the project partners. We can come to you and collect the bird. All of our birds have metal leg rings on with a unique number. This will tell us who they are even if they have lost their plastic rings.

Replacement rings

Replacing missing rings on the choughs is turning into a never-ending challenge. Not helped by the birds either not showing at the feed or not staying inside when we try to shut the hatches.

A plastic leg ring found in grassland near the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

When White was trapped inside, I had the opportunity to replace Green’s missing rings. I could not fit the black gull-ring used with Green and the original release cohort. These need to be heated in hot water to open them without the material snapping; also tricky to fit one-handed. Since I was working alone without a thermos I made an on-the-spot decision. I fitted a black and white striped ring we happened to have in the ringing box.

These rings are normally used in the UK to identify a Cornish chough. As we don’t expect many of these to turn up in Jersey over the next few months I’m sure it will do as a temporary measure.

To get around the struggle of trapping the birds I tried the route of shutting the hatches after the birds had gone to roost. Fingers crossed at least one of the birds who still roost in the aviary would be a bird we needed. There were ten birds still at the aviary as the sun set. Two, maybe three, used the external roost boxes. The others went inside. The plan almost failed when the hatches didn’t close. I climbed the framework, silently cursing so as not to spook the birds, and manually closed the broken hatches.

Returning in the morning I was met with an interesting find. Earl and Xaviour had slept at the aviary. We thought they were back at Plémont having regularly been seen there before sunset. It now appears they are there for supper before flying back to Sorel to sleep. This finally meant Xaviour could have her two orange rings returned. Annoyingly she was the only bird in that group needing rings. We still have two Orange-right-only birds flying around. We need to see who if any they are partnered with to know who they are.

Potential new breeding pairs for 2019

Despite the sad loss of a breeding pair there is good news for the 2019 season. We have at least four new pairings thanks to the birds maturing. Zennor’s love for Skywalker is still going strong from the first moment she set eyes on him at Sorel last summer to a very exciting moment I can’t reveal until the March report!

Vicq, a foster-reared female has caught the eye of wild-hatched Osbourne. He isn’t even a year old yet, but it appears Vicq has staked her claim. And of course there is her clutch-mate Xaviour whose second year at Plémont may prove fruitful.

At present we have fourteen potential breeding pairs for 2019. I’m not sure how possible it will be for me to monitor them all throughout the season. I’m really hoping not to repeat the fiasco of last year when we miss-timed the hatch dates and were too late to ring the chicks. I may well be looking for volunteers.

Population census

The 2019 attendance record at the supplemental feeds has been relatively poor; around 60%. There are a few consistent absentees such as Earl and Xaviour who are spending more time back at Plémont. Other absentees have not been as easy to determine. The death of White obviously made us uneasy. What if we have lost more?

The dolmen at Grantez is one area choughs have been spotted this month. Photo by Liz Corry.

When possible, I have travelled around to known foraging sites to try and count the choughs. Of course to count them, I need to see them and I appear to be having issues with that. First off, Jersey’s potato fields are currently covered in plastic sheeting. In a way searching is easier because there are swathes of land where the choughs won’t be going. However, it also makes it hard to see anything when the morning sun reflects off the plastic.

Potato fields at L’Étacq covered to protect and encourage new growth. Photo by Liz Corry.

More fields near Grantez giving the illusion of water bodies when viewed from afar. Photo by Liz Corry.

I had a report sent in from one of the States’ rangers of two choughs in a field at Grantez one morning. Grantez is a perfect stop off for choughs with grazing sheep, a high vantage point to look over St Ouen’s Bay, two large fields grazed by donkeys, and a dolmen. Choughs love a bit of neolithic architecture. Of course, when I go up they aren’t there.

The same can be said for Le Pulec, Les Landes, and Plémont. All places I have had confirmed sightings this month. Fortunately we have a report of 13 at Les Landes at the same time we had 28 at Sorel. So at least we know we still have at least 41 choughs.

Not a chough – but perfect chough foraging habitat. Photo by Liz Corry.

Wild About Jersey

This year’s Wild About Jersey teamed up with Seedy Sunday a free seed exchange event. Le Rocquier School hosted the weekend with the Saturday (16th) dedicated to volunteer survey training for butterflies, bats, reptiles and the new Pond Watch scheme (takes over from Toad Watch). Sunday (17th) was the Seedy Sunday open day with various stalls, talks, interactive exhibits, and a guest speaker Alan Gardner, The Autistic Gardener.

Birds On The Edge had a stall staffed by Cris Sellares, Tim Liddiard, and myself. Conservation crops, a chough nest, and a dung beetle (soft toy) were laid out so the public could learn more about our work. I gave a talk entitled ‘Witches and Unicorns: how saving one species helps another‘. Trust me there is a link!

Drumming up support for Birds On The Edge. Photo by Liz Corry.

Not only did the event raise the profile of Birds On The Edge and bring to light the fate of Carmine, it managed to raise £1248.62 for Jersey Trees for Life. The money will be used to maintain and create more red squirrel bridges, across our Jersey’s roads.

Small mammal, big pain

Mice attempted to break into the chough feed-twice! Photo by Liz Corry.

The much ‘loved’ rodents struck again at the aviary. Droppings covered almost every surface in the keeper porch. Anything with the slight whiff of food about it had been nibbled including the first aid box! And then of course there was the ‘heavy duty’ storage box for the chough food.

Mice are smart. As evidenced by the fact the only place they chewed the box was the hinge – the weakest point. They didn’t succeed in reaching the pellet, but they did contaminate it with plastic shavings which meant it couldn’t be fed to the birds. As a temporary measure, I taped the hinge whilst I went to the local hardware store. It bought some time at least.

Plasterers metalwork is being use to add extra rodent-proofing to the aviary doors. Photo by Liz Corry.

With my zoo keeper thinking hat on I wandered around the store looking for an easy, cheap, will-fit-inside-my-Hyundai, solution.

Plasterers beading! At just over £2 a strip it made for a cheap and easy to fit edging strip to the door frame to stop mice and shrews from getting in. The metal work is flexible enough for a human to bend it by hand but sturdy enough to deter a mouse.

I also salvaged some builders metal work from the skip. Durrell’s HQ is currently undergoing repairs and the builders had just that week ditched some scraps. All I need now is for them to ditch their cutting tools as my Leatherman doesn’t fair well with the more robust stuff.

A metal bin has been donated to the project to stop the mice eating our supplies. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

Thanks to a charitable donation we were given a metal storage box for the chough food. The mice and shrews can only get into this if they work together to form ladder and flip the lid.

I wouldn’t put it past them. Just take a look at the camera trap image below from inside the aviary.

Spot the Mission Impossible mouse trying to reach the chough food. Photo taken using Moultrie camera trap.

Magpie-proof feeders mark II

A new design of chough-feeder. Photo by Liz Corry.

We now have another design of chough feeder in use at the aviary. The choughs successfully probe for food reaching every nook and cranny. Magpies are limited by their bill shape and length.

It doesn’t stay that clean for long and has room for improvement in terms of ease of cleaning. We also have to remember to screw the lid back properly.

I was lazy one evening, and screwed it back by hand. The next day I returned to find the choughs had freed the bracket and opened the lid!

Clearly their idea of slow-release feeding is not the same as mine.

 

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.”