Insect declines and why they matter

Bumble bee. Photo by Mick DrydenInsects in trouble

From The Wildlife Trusts

We’re facing a global biodiversity crisis, with many species declining at an alarming rate. Animals and plants that were once common are now scarce, and insects are no exception. Recent evidence suggests that insect abundance may have declined by 50% or more since 1970, but insect declines are not as well studied as those in larger animals, like birds and mammals. The best data we have in the UK and Channel Islands is for butterflies and moths (see Jersey here and report 2004-2013), which show a broad decline. You can read more in The Wildlife Trusts’ new report about our disappearing insects Insect declines and why they matter.

The bulk of all animal life, whether measured by biomass, numerical abundance or numbers of species, is comprised of invertebrates such as insects, spiders, worms and so on. These innumerable little creatures are far more important for the functioning of ecosystems than the large animals that tend to attract most of our attention. Insects are food for numerous larger animals including birds, bats, reptiles, amphibians and fish, and they perform vital roles such as pollination of crops and wildflowers, pest control and nutrient recycling.

There have been several recent scientific reports describing the rapid decline of insects at a global scale, and these should be a cause of the gravest concern (summarised here). These studies suggest that, in some places, insects may be in a state of catastrophic population collapse. We do not know for sure whether similar reductions in overall insect abundance have happened in the UK. The best UK data are for butterflies and moths which are broadly in decline, particularly in farmland and in the south. UK bees and hoverflies have also shown marked range contractions. The causes of insect declines are much debated, but almost certainly include habitat loss, chronic exposure to mixtures of pesticides, and climate change. The consequences are clear; if insect declines are not halted, terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems will collapse, with profound consequences for human wellbeing.

The good news is that it is not too late; few insects have gone extinct so far, and populations can rapidly recover.

We urgently need to stop all routine and unnecessary use of pesticides and start to build a nature recovery network by creating more and better connected, insect friendly habitat in our gardens, towns, cities and countryside.

Only by working together can we address the causes of insect decline, halt and reverse them, and secure a sustainable future for insect life and for ourselves.

This report summarises some of the best available evidence of insect declines and proposes a comprehensive series of actions that can be taken at all levels of society to recover their diversity and abundance.

But it’s not too late. Insect populations can recover rapidly if given the chance. To bring about this recovery, we have to make more space for insects. Gardens can be a haven for wildlife, helping connect up wild places in our wider landscape, creating a Nature Recovery Network that enables nature to live alongside us. Examples of how you can help can be found here and Jersey and Guernsey’s Pollinator Project.

The full Wildlife Trusts report Insect declines and why they matter can be downloaded here

 

Wild about Jersey activities suspended until review at end of April

From Wild about Jersey

Wild about Jersey volunteer monitoring and survey activities are suspended until review at the end of April

This includes participation in our monitoring schemes and surveys  (e.g. Jersey Butterfly Monitoring Scheme, PondWatch JE and Reptilewatch JE, National Plant Monitoring Scheme, Jersey Bat Survey).

In the current challenging situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic we hope that everyone is coping and keeping well. In these difficult times the health and well-being of our wild volunteers is our priority. It is vital that we follow the latest government instructions ‘Stay at Home’: Advice for Islanders. All islanders are instructed to ‘stay at home’ this means, everyone in Jersey is ordered to stay at home at all times except for a limited number of reasons. Doing this will, protect our health workers and save lives.

We appreciate and value all those who expressed an interest in helping with surveys and counts and we hope that all who expressed a desire to take part will, in time, get to do that. Please be reassured that reduced survey coverage in any one year is not detrimental to the long-term value of the surveys you participate in. Thank you for your continued commitment.

During this time why not consider what you can do in your garden, yard, balcony or window boxes. Use this time to encourage appreciate the wildlife there and please don’t forget at any point you can still record any wildlife encounters you have using iRecord or the Jersey Biodiversity Centre website.

Wild about Jersey will have information about online training support and surveys you can do in your garden later this month. Any questions please get in contact.

Please stay safe.

Best Wishes

Wild about Jersey

Natural Environment

 T: 01534 441600

Government of Jersey

Growth, Housing and Environment | Natural Environment

Howard Davis Farm | La Route de la Trinite | Trinity | JE3 5JP

Restoring farmland ponds attracts more farmland birds

From Rare Bird Alert

Less than 70 years ago, ponds were a common feature of the farmland landscape, and were routinely managed just like hedgerows. Since the 1950s, many ponds have been filled in to reclaim more land for farming; however, a large number have been left unmanaged, meaning they have become overgrown with trees and bushes, making them dark and uninhabitable to many species.

Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust has been working with the Natural History Museum and University College London on research that shows reinstating traditional pond management methods, of tree and mud removal, can benefit not only pond species, but also farmland birds.

Ponds restored by the Norfolk Ponds Project, were compared to neighbouring unmanaged and overgrown ponds; restored ponds contained twice as many bird species and almost three times as many birds, as the overgrown ponds.

Bird species at the restored ponds included skylark, linnet, yellowhammer and starling, all species that are Red Listed in the UK because they have declined drastically in recent years.

There were 95 sightings of these four species in and around the restored ponds, which compared to just two sightings of yellowhammer and none of skylark, starling or linnet at the unrestored ponds.

The total number of birds visiting was also greater at restored ponds with almost three times as many birds attracted to the restored ponds. This was shown to be linked to the abundant insect food resources emerging from restored ponds.

According to lead researcher, Jonathan Lewis-Phillips of UCL’s Pond Restoration Research Group:

“Restored ponds are teeming with insects, and because different ponds have insect peaks on different days, birds can move from pond to pond, and get the food that they need. A network of high-quality ponds is, therefore, brilliant for birds in the breeding season.”

With a network of restored ponds across the landscape, birds were able to move between insect emergence events, providing an ongoing insect food resource during the breeding season.

The research comes at a time when farmland birds are under huge threat, having declined by 55 per cent in the last 50 years, largely due to changes in agricultural management to increase food production, according to the recent State of Nature 2019 report.

As well as providing a beneficial habitat for woodland birds, farmland ponds also provide an important landscape feature, and act as stepping-stones for other wildlife including frogs and dragonflies.

Despite their importance, according to a report published by the RSPB, WWF and the Wildlife Trusts, there are no plans to protect them included in the UK’s new Agriculture Bill.

“Our research shows how important it is to restore and manage ponds in farmland. Here in Gloucestershire, preliminary evidence suggests we have lost around two-thirds of our farmland ponds since 1900. That’s why we have been working with Farming & Wildlife Advisory group (FWAG SouthWest) and local farmers to restore a number of ponds across different farms on the Severn Vale.”

“Even following long periods of dormancy, overgrown farmland ponds can quickly come back to life, with plants, amphibians and insects starting to colonise them in a matter of months. That is why this research could be an important pointer of where the UK’s environmental and agricultural policy should focus post Brexit.”

Carl Sayer of University College London Pond Restoration Group said: “The research on birds was inspired by Norfolk farmer Richard Waddingham. His constant belief has always been that farming and wildlife can co-exist and with wildlife declining at an alarming rate, at no time in history do we need to make this work more than now. Restoring farmland ponds is clearly part of a positive way forward.”

 

A Shire for Jersey’s puffins

By Cristina Sellarés

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit puffin. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit puffin-hole, and that means comfort.”

And so the story begins for the puffins, I mean the hobbits, according to J.R.R. Tolkien, of course. I could be forgiven for hoping that J.R.R.Tolkien was inspired by puffins when he devised the short, wobbly, round-bellied, food-loving, funny-looking creatures that live in a hole in the ground, which he named hobbits. Even his own fictional etymology traces the word to ‘holbytla’, which he created by combining the two real Old English words ‘hol’ (hole) and ‘bytland’ (to build) – a name that would be not completely unfit for the puffins either.

Like hobbits, Atlantic puffins build their homes underground, digging holes using their bills and powerful claws, to create a tunnel that leads to a larger inner chamber for the nest. And also like hobbits, puffins like their home comforts and line their nests with soft grasses and feathers, to keep the egg and later the chick safe and warm. They are very tidy too, and manage to keep the chick clean by using a toilet chamber located in a bend before the main room.

And finally, like hobbits again, they do not like unexpected visitors, defending their burrows from envious neighbours, fighting food thieves like gulls, and avoiding, however they can, attacks from invasive predators such as rats, cats and ferrets.

Knowing all this, Birds On The Edge has been trying to improve the homes and breeding grounds of our Jersey puffins, especially in view of he precarious state of the population – down to four pairs from more than a hundred in the space of a century. Sadly, this follows the trend of many other puffin colonies around the world, which have declined or collapsed due to causes ranging from loss of habitat, predation from invasive species and human-caused disturbance, amongst others.

Over the last year we have been monitoring the puffins and other seabirds in their breeding cliffs of the north coast, studying the potential predators in the area and noting the presence of people for leisure and commercial purposes too.

We have also built and installed puffin nest-boxes in some cliffs in the north coast, so that they can be used as artificial burrows by prospecting new pairs. Our breeding puffins, all four pairs of them, already go back to the same burrow each year, so with the boxes we are hoping to attract new pairs recruiting into Jersey’s population, especially ones who were born here and are ready to settle (puffins take 5-6 years to be mature).

As for the boxes themselves, there have been various designs, all following the concept of a tunnel leading to a main chamber. We have stuck to this, building a closed box with a roof, which is completely buried. The access to the chamber is via a 1m-long pipe which is buried too, so that the entrance from outside looks like a hole in the ground. The box is almost one metre long and has a small partition near the entrance, to create the illusion of the toilet chamber, should they like to use it for this purpose. As finishing touches to the installation we packed a layer of mud and soil against the back wall, to give the puffins the chance to dig a bit if they wanted to, without going too far, and for the same reason the boxes have no floor, but a good layer of soil so that the puffins can shift the ground about and decorate their nest as they please.

Digging and burying the boxes in the cliffs wasn’t an easy task; Geomarine sent their “rope team” to assist the rangers of the National Trust and Natural Environment for the job. The team successfully installed some of the boxes in an otherwise inaccessible slope, which was deemed suitable for the artificial burrows.

With the breeding season upon us and our puffin pairs due to arrive anytime now, we will be keeping a close eye on the seas around Plémont, hoping to see the faithful locals come back to their usual spots, and even better to see new pairs flying into the cliffs, their purpose-built homes waiting for them.

The boxes might be a bit too small for a hobbit, but we hope our puffins will approve of their very own Puffin Shire.

 

The Pollinator Project has launched

By Sarah Maguire, Jersey Biodiversity Centre, Education and Outreach Officer

The Pollinator Project.JE has launched in Jersey which aims to help Jersey’s pollinators and their habitats. Pollinators move pollen from the flower to another flower, this results in fertilization that produces fruit and seeds. Without pollinators we would not get the reproduction of plants that create food and habitats for humans and other animal species. Pollinators are key for our survival with food security relying on their pollinating skills, so protecting them and helping to improve their environment is vital. Guernsey launched their pollinator project in 2017 and Jersey’s team are working alongside Guernsey and the other Channel Islands to replicate their success bringing together a variety of organisations to help.

Pollinator is a term that encompasses a wide range of species. Our focus is on pollinating insects and they may include many different species of insects such as hoverflies, beetles, flies, butterflies and moths. The decline in pollinating insects has also resulted in a decline in the number of birds across the UK with an 8% decline since 1970. The Pollinator Project will work to address a number of risks associated by disease and invasive species, such as Asian hornets. We will work together in partnership with other groups to support pollinators across the island.

The pollinator project will involve educational work in schools, habitat management and monitoring to help identify our species and habitats so that we can begin to enhance what is already in existence.

Through 2019 we will be sharing information, advice and top tips. So, if you’re into gardening you could plant native pollinator friendly plants such as Lavender (Lavandula munstead), save a space for pollinator native plants in your garden. Soon enough you will see patches dedicated to pollinators popping up over our Island; in schools, parks and gardens, work places and the countryside.

Let us know what pollinators you have spotted by sending a record to the Jersey Biodiversity Centre. This information will be added to a pollinator map for the island. We will also be running dedicated surveys of pollinators in the newly created pollinator patches. For the time being let us know what you’ve seen and add photos to your record to help with the verification of the species.

For more information on the project and how you can get involved please visit pollinatorproject.gg

#PollinatorProjectJE        #Pollinators        #WildFlowers

February volunteer activity postponed

JCV February volunteer activity at Sorel

Sunday 9th task postponed until 23rd February.

Due to the prospect of storm Ciara hitting on Sunday, we have decided to postpone the event until Sunday 23rd February at the same time of 10.15am for a 10.30am start.

We apologise for any disappointment, but the Met Office has advised that they are expecting gusts of 60mph and driving rain, which is not suitable conditions for the task and does pose issues regarding safety.

Thanks for your understanding and see you on 23rd February.

The NTJ Lands Team

Wild About Jersey

Natural Environment

Garden bird time!

This weekend, 1st and 2nd February sees the 19th annual Jersey Great Garden Bird Survey (we started in 2002) in conjunction with Action for Wildlife Jersey and the Jersey Evening Post. There goes the weather! Remember the Beast From the East? Apparently (so the UK’s tabloids would have us believe) expect the Pest From the West! Whatever the weather, please count the birds in your garden (instructions below) and use the form which you can download here.

This annual count of the birds in the Island’s gardens has proven invaluable to our understanding of what is happening with many of our favourite species, the ones we often share our daily lives with and cherish. After all, and this may bypass the occasional world leader, what is happening in the birds’ world is happening in ours! 

Method

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

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

During last year’s count (read more here) the Top 16 birds recorded were (average per reporting garden):

  1. House sparrow 6.9
  2. Chaffinch 1.8
  3. Wood pigeon 1.77
  4. Starling 1.75
  5. Great tit 1.6
  6. Blue tit 1.6
  7. Collared dove 1.4
  8. Magpie 1.4
  9. Robin 1.3
  10. Blackbird 1.0
  11. Greenfinch 0.33
  12. Song thrush 0.26
  13. Pheasant 0.22
  14. Blackcap 0.16
  15. Great spotted woodpecker 0.12
  16. Jay 0.12.

Our honorary bird, the red squirrel, at 0.4 per garden, would have been 11th.

So, please take part this weekend, enjoy the birds (and squirrels) and consider yourself citizen scientists!

 

Hedge Fund Project 2019/20

The National Trust for Jersey are looking to appoint a volunteer planter to assist in the planting of bare root hedging and tree whips (45-60 cm) on designated field boundaries working eastwards between the Zoo and Rozel Manor/Fliquet.

  • Once planted the whips will be fitted with spiral guards or trees shelters as appropriate
  • The majority of the 5,000 holes to plant the whips have been dug to allow them to be slot planted. Spiral protection has to be fitted to a lot of the hedging that has already been planted and this type of work is less arduous and would suit those who are not so physically strong
  • There is the potential of work in the summer as well, maintaining the planting in order to control competing vegetation.

The appointee will be responsible to Conrad Evans – Project Coordinator or National Trust Supervisor in his absence. The appointee will need to be:

Responsible for 

  • Own transport to site and meeting at designated working site which will vary as progress is made
  • You will need to wear appropriate clothing, gloves and footwear and provide food and drink for your own welfare
  • Looking after the tools, plants and materials that will be provided
  • Complying with the risk assessment that will be given to all volunteers.

Key responsibilities 

  • Working with minimal supervision from time to time taking care of your own health and safety in line with the likely working conditions to be expected
  • Be respectful of the land, environment and any livestock encountered
  • Deal politely with any public interest
  • To have the ability to work as part of a team to a high standard.

Experience required

  • Being physically fit and able is a vital condition of the task
  • Basic gardening, horticulture or labouring
  • Ability to work under own initiative having been given initial instruction.

 Hours 

  • Monday to Friday between 0830 and 1530
  • Minimum of 4 hours per session to ensure efficiency and a reasonable level of production.

Contact and any necessary medical details will be required but ALL information held with be kept in the strictest confidence.

If you are interested please contact Conrad Evans

Tel: 07797 903895 / email: Conrad.Evans@nationaltrust.je

The National Trust for Jersey, The Elms, La Chève Rue, St Mary JE3 3EN

Chough report: December 2019

By Liz Corry

Choughs and staff have been battling storm-force gales this month. With fewer insects around most, if not all, of the birds have been appearing at the supplemental feed fuelling their travels around Jersey’s coastline.

Here is what else we’ve been getting up to in December…

Cosmetic surgery on Wally’s Christmas wishlist?

Wally is currently sporting an overgrown upper mandible. Photo by Liz Corry.

Wally and juvenile Dary both have overgrown bills. From observations it looks to be the upper mandible that has overgrown rather than the tip of the lower mandible breaking off. This should not be a major problem, however, it may reduce the effectiveness of their foraging skills. Hopefully natural wear and tear will eventually rectify the situation. Watch this space.

Dary currently has an overgrown upper mandible. Photo by Liz Corry.

Habitat use in December

Plémont pond at the restored headland. Photo by Liz Corry

Observations at Plémont over the Christmas period suggest that the area is no longer being used by choughs as a roost site. To be expected with the disappearance of Earl although it would have been nice for Xaviour to remain there with her new partner. We could do with finding out where she is roosting as it may tell us where she will nest in 2020.

There could be ‘new’ roost sites around the Island that we are not aware of. One chough was observed flying west after the supplemental feed roughly 30 minutes before sunset. Annoyingly, having just come from a fruitless search of Le Pulec to Plémont, all I could do was watch as it disappeared behind the tree line at Crabbé. From there it could have gone in any direction…including back to Sorel.

Watching from the Devil’s Hole cliff path as a lone chough flies off into the sunset. Photo by Liz Corry.

We have had a couple more reports of a pair of choughs around Grantez and the adjacent coastline. One sighting from an ex-chough keeper referenced the land behind St Ouen’s Scout Centre. 

Two choughs spotted at the back of St Ouen’s Scout Centre. Photo by Kathryn Smith.

It is impossible to see leg rings in the photo, but it does show the type of habitat the choughs are willing to explore in Jersey looking for food. There are several houses nearby and the area is a popular spot with dog walkers. Let’s hope we get more sightings reported and the pair’s identity solved. Remember you can send in sightings by clicking here.

Aerial image of the Jersey Scout Centre in St Ouen and surrounding area. Image taken from Google Earth.

Identity crisis?

Kevin has lost his yellow ID ring so for now he is just white left. We will try and rectify this in the New Year when the force 9-10 gales hopefully die down making the catch up less like Mission Impossible.

Kevin can only be identified from his white 2015 year ring after losing his yellow ID ring. Photo by Liz Corry.

Luckily he is easy to spot as he is normally with his partner Wally. A couple of the other choughs are proving harder to ID despite having all their leg rings. Take Morris, he has a grey over cerise ring whilst Baie has pale blue over cerise leg rings. It’s not easy to distinguish the two colours especially when the low winter sun is beaming directly on the birds. There are three of us who work out at Sorel and we have all mistaken one for the other at some point.

All this means we might not realise a bird is missing/dead straight away. As the month (and year) draws to a close we have been trying to determine exact numbers. Where possible both myself and Flavio have headed out to the coast; one staying at Sorel whilst the other heads to a different known foraging site(s). It feels a bit like a wild goose chase…but with choughs. 

Counting choughs…or is it sheep? Photo by Liz Corry

Our best guess is that there are now thirty-five choughs living free in Jersey; twenty captive-reared, fifteen hatched in the wild. We have not been able to account for any extras at Sorel throughout December.

Aviary damage

December’s persistent gales have taken their toll on the aviary. So much so that an external hatch door came off its hinges and landed inside the aviary. The cable-ties securing plastic side panels in place to provide shelter from the winds) snapped off. Not once, but three times. The vertical anti-rodent guttering snapped off. And to top it off, holes appeared in the netting along the top. Possibly rodent-related although this could also be because the netting rubs on the support pole in the winds.

Still, despite the Force 10 battering, it has fared better than the Motocross track whose observation tower and trailer blew over!

Christmas Day at Sorel was a very different picture to the last three weeks of wind, rain, and hail. Photo by Liz Corry.

The one upside to all the rain appears to be how useful the dirt tracks have become to the choughs. Birds were spotted probing the muddy ruts for insects, drinking from the puddles, and hanging out on the field gate. 

Sorel farm track has attracted the attention of the birds this month. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

Heard of a kissing gate? Well this is a choughing gate. Photo by Liz Corry.

Kentish chough developments

At the start of December (when the ferries were still sailing!) I was invited over to Kent to assist with planning the Kentish chough reintroduction. My first day was spent with the team visiting potential aviary locations and discussing suitability.

A view of Dover Harbour from the White Cliffs. Photo by Liz Corry.

Several landowners already work towards restoring habitats that will benefit choughs. The National Trust for example graze ponies to improve the flower-rich grassland. Short grass and insect-attracting dung – what more could a chough ask for? The challenge Kent face is working in such a densely populated area. Dover is a smidge different to Sorel.

The National Trust are just one of the many stakeholders involved in the project. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

Kirsty Swinnerton, Kent Wildlife Trust (and well known to BOTE through her long involvement), pointing out the boundaries of a current grazing project using Shetland cattle. Photo by Liz Corry.

My second day was at Wildwood Trust, home to the captive choughs. A morning of meetings resulted in potential research collaborations and a few ideas for how to manage the Kent releases.

Signage at Wildwood mentions the success of our chough work. Photo by Liz Corry.

Wildwood are also involved in exciting projects to rewild nearby forest as well as several exciting projects around the UK. It was nice to see behind the scenes and talk about something other than choughs! The photo gallery at the bottom shows just a few of the species Wildwood conserve.

I gave a lunchtime talk to staff about the Jersey project and the lessons we have learnt. I gave the same talk on the final day for the Kent Wildlife Trust. That talk was held at the Tyland Barn Centre and streamed live to staff at their other reserve centres. The trust are heavily involved in the public engagement side and particularly interested in how the Jersey community have reacted to the choughs.

Talking to staff at Kent Wildlife Trust about Birds On The Edge and the choughs. Photo by KWT

 

Chough report: November 2019

By Liz Corry

It is with a heavy heart that we report on the passing of Gianna the tame chough at Jersey Zoo. Last month she was rushed to the Zoo’s Vet Centre after being found on the floor soaking wet from the rain and motionless. After a couple of hours under a heat lamp she showed improvement and began taking food from keepers.

Immediate action was taken to modify her enclosure. Site Services added an extra shelter on the roof and keepers added new perching and extra shelter boxes. The keepers and students covered the floor with a tonne of fresh sand in case the mud bath created by the heavy rains was harbouring any nasty germs.

Sadly all this was in vain. Despite eating and interacting with keepers Gianna seemed to be struggling. The difficulty with treating any animal is that they can’t tell you what is wrong. Our vet team carried out several tests each one not really providing the solution. Sadly despite medication and a lot of love, Gianna slipped away on 11th November.

Gianna arrived in Jersey seven years ago from Turin, Italy. She had been rescued by staff at the Universita di Medicina Veterinaria after being found injured on a balcony of a block of flats. Staff looked after her that summer at their facilities, but needed to re-home her. They recognised something in her, something special, and thought she could serve a greater purpose by joining the Jersey chough project. Or simply put she was far too imprinted to be released! They suspected she had been hand-reared and kept as a pet. They guessed her age at around three years old based on examination.

I’m ready for my close up. Photo by Liz Corry.

Gianna integrated well into the captive flock, but it was clear her love of human attention meant she was never going to pair up with another chough. We did try her with a hand-reared male. She attacked him in a jealous rage when keepers started showing him attention. Prima donna!

In 2015 we changed tactic. This time we would ‘pair’ with her! Gianna was moved to a bespoke aviary allowing staff easy access to the nest-box. Immediately she built a nest with material we provided. She even laid her own eggs. Not that they were fertile. However, it meant that when the time came we could swap her eggs for fertile ones to foster incubate or chicks that Gianna and staff could raise together.

She foster-reared her first chick that season and the following year raised four more. These four were released at Sorel that summer. Two have since had chicks of their own, one nesting in the quarry, the other out at Plémont.

Gianna’s impact on the success of the project doesn’t end there. During her time at Jersey Zoo she has acted as an ambassador for the choughs. Her friendly demeanour meant she always came to the front of the aviary for the keeper talks. In recent years her confidence grew and she would allow certain visitors to tickle her through the mesh under my supervision. This simple interaction made people suddenly appreciate that birds have personalities.

Gianna and staff kept regular checks on the foster chicks’ weights. Photo by Liz Corry.

Any student that worked with her couldn’t help falling for her charms…even the ones that thought they didn’t like birds! She returned the admiration especially if said student provided her with insect-filled enrichment. The video below was filmed by the current project student Flavio in October after he had created new enrichment using bamboo.

Frustratingly we don’t have any answers yet to why she died. The vet team are waiting on results from the UK lab. Even then it is likely that several factors acted together to cause her ill health.

What we do know is that Gianna has helped expand people’s knowledge about red-billed choughs, developed foster-rearing techniques for conservation management, and trained numerous students in captive husbandry. Most of all she was loved and will forever be in our hearts.

Other veterinary news

We are still waiting on lab results from the UK to shed light on the reason why Lotte was found dead in the quarry. Until the histology is known the post-mortem remains inconclusive.

On a positive note, the bird treated for a suspected syngamus infection last month is still doing well. No further issues have arisen within the group.

War and Peace

I have no evidence of a bitter love rivalry or lightsaber joust to the death, but if we assume as such it makes this next bit more bearable. Or at least entertaining.

As alluded to last month, it does appear that we have lost two breeding males. Earl and Skywalker have not been seen at Sorel, or anywhere else in Jersey, since August and September respectively. Their females have re-paired and, in both cases, the new partnership has arisen at the same time the ‘old’ male disappears. Implying the ‘old’ male was pushed out.

Skywalker’s partner Pyrrho is now preening and cuddling up to Betty (a male). Betty’s ex has not been recorded at the feed since summer. We can only assume she is dead.

Betty has his eyes set on a new female and could well breed for the first time next year. Photo by Liz Corry.

Earl’s partner Xaviour is now with wild-hatched Beaker. We had seen this male with another wild-hatched female giving hope to having our first truly wild Jersey chick in 2020. Whilst this now looks unlikely it still looks like Plémont will remain a breeding site. If Xaviour stays in good health!

Xaviour (far left) preening Beaker which lets the others know she belongs to him now. Photo by Liz Corry.

Update on the 2019 fledglings

From the ‘chough register’ we keep at the supplemental feeds we know that three youngsters have not been present since the end of July. Initially you assume that you are just not seeing their leg rings in the mayhem of birds at the feeds. Or that they are not returning to Sorel because they are with a breakaway group finding food elsewhere on the Island. The report of a possible chough in Sark also adds to the doubt; maybe the lone chick from Plémont decided the odds looked better across the waters?

Now winter is upon us and with no confirmed sightings we are recording Cliff, Cerise, and Pallot as missing presumed dead. Those of you who follow regularly maybe wondering why you have never heard of those three before. You have, but as PP046, PP041, and PP048. We finally named the 2019 youngsters!

Baie pays a visit to the supplemental feed site. Photo by Liz Corry.

Of note, we have named one clutch after two St John households who have supported the project since the start. A small token of our appreciation. Morris and Dary regularly visit the aviary for food and make trips out west having learnt the best foraging spots from their parents.

We turned to the Jèrriais dictionary for two names. Jaune, meaning yellow, was given to a female with a yellow leg ring. Baie is the only surviving chick from the ‘Dust bay’ building in the quarry (also located in the bay at Ronez).

We’ve also kept the Star Wars theme alive with naming Skywalker’s offspring. I had to turn to an uber-geek for help. There is a prize to the first person who guesses correctly and knows the reasoning behind the choices.

Website improvements

A few leg ring issues needed addressing this month. One was Flieur, who had lost her blue plastic ring and need a replacement. One youngster still needs a metal ring. She is proving tricky to catch; at least her colour ring combo makes her easy to spot.

The birds can make it really hard to read leg rings, super easy, or somewhere in between. Photo by Liz Corry.

If you manage to read and/or photograph any leg rings on a chough whilst out and about in Jersey, you can now identify which bird it is. Or at least have a go before they fly off. Click here for the list of Jersey’s choughs.

I have also updated our website to include a new chough sighting form. Hopefully this will make it easier to report your sightings and provide the team with the data we need.

You can find a new guide to show the differences between a chough and some of its corvid cousins in Jersey. As well as a couple of distant relations that have been misidentified in the past (there are more videos of choughs here too).

We are still experiencing a few technical glitches since we went back online. For a while comments were being blocked. That should now be resolved, but please do get in touch if you experience any problems. Forays into the Matrix are few and far between so faults easily go unnoticed unless reported by users.

Chough movements and public sightings

We have had several public sightings this month, more so than last month. The dip in temperatures and heavy rains will be forcing the birds to look further afield for food. None of the sightings have been from anywhere unexpected. Places like Le Pulec (Stinky Bay), Crabbé, and St Ouen’s Bay have been visited before albeit infrequently. The interesting information from these sightings is the time of day and numbers. We clearly have a pair using the west coast independent from the others. We could really do with establishing who these two are.

A chough in flight over Crabbé. Photo by Trevor Biddle.

Group activity close to roost time is being cited more particularly over Grève de Lecq. Again, this might be linked to the weather; birds trying to stock up on calories before bed as overnight frosts creep in.

Numbers at the supplemental feed have varied this month. The register shows that on average 75% of the group are present when we put the food out. The rest either don’t need it or swing by just before roosting. Some days it has been the reverse with less than 25% at the feed. These are the drier days when the winds and sunshine are in the birds’ favour.

These patterns of behaviour are what you expect to see at your garden bird feeder. The choughs are no different. Yes there is food out there for them to find naturally, but due to human impacts on the environment they need a helping hand.

Mud, mud, glorious mud. Photo by Liz Corry.

And finally…

One thing the choughs don’t need from us this month is fresh water. They are getting plenty of that thanks to the endless rainy days. A few of the birds have been spotted drinking and bathing in the puddles formed up by the motocross much to the delight of onlookers.

Icho drinking from a puddle at the Motocross. Photo by Liz Corry.

Percy watches over his partner Icho whilst she is down on the ground bathing. Photo by Liz Corry.