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.”
The Birds On The Edge Farmland Bird Monitoring project passed another impressive milestone this month when the 5,000th data sheet was input to the database. That’s 5,000 visits to our 23 transects at 21 sites since 2005. Birds have been recorded in all weather, come hell, high water, horizontal rain, snow and the strange things that go on at some sites around dawn. The exact number of bird records is less easy to count off but, and a record can be one individual bird or a flock of hundreds, it must be well over 250,000 by now. And the number of birds themselves? It may be over 1 million although there are some robins that have been counted more than once. Even on the same day!
During the project we have recorded 171 species and that’s without gulls or birds like gannets that although sometimes visible don’t count if they are way out to sea. Mind you, if any gannet chose to fly over land like the cormorants do then we’d record it! We have never included black swans either but I’ve often thought that we should have – we do count other riffraff like pheasants, bar-headed and barnacle geese and those feral greylag geese that have made themselves at home in Jersey. And a couple of escaped cagebirds, although, with peafowl but unlike those geese, don’t feature in the 171.
The project’s first detailed report Trends in Jersey landbirds 2005‐2015 can be read or downloaded from here.
In 2019 the project will continue to collect data, giving incredible strength to our understanding of the current status of Jersey’s landbirds. So, why not come and join our current stalwart counters Harri, Will, Jon, Jonny, Tony, Miranda, Neil and Ali, Glyn, Hester, Cris, Tim, Hannah and Bea, Neil and Richard. We would like to introduce a couple of new counters into the team to make sure every site is well covered. We are particularly keen for someone to do the count at Sorel (see description here). There are actually two transects at Sorel but you simply walk west along the coastal path for one and back to the carpark through the fields for the other. Its not a hard walk and can be a beautiful site (ok, its not always beautiful if the weather is bad) and is famous for its migratory birds at times of the year and its (definitely countable) choughs throughout the year. As with all our transects, the walk isn’t too difficult and should ideally be visited twice a month.
As a bird surveyor you should be able to identify by sight and sound all of our common birds. It is the common birds that are most important to us as long-term assessment of their status and identification of population trends (up, down or staying the same) are the most important in conservation planning. That’s not to say though that we don’t want to hear about rarer birds – however much I can justify the need to get out there and count the wrens and dunnocks I’m the first to admit that stumbling across a long-eared owl or finding a yellow-browed warbler is always a thrill and, yes, it can be the hope of seeing something like this that sometimes keeps the interest going. But, don’t worry if you think you can’t identify the rarer stuff right now – start with the important birds like robins and wood pigeons and the Richards’ pipits and buff-breasted sandpipers will come. If you are interested in joining the gallant team of counters please read the Jersey Farmland Bird Monitoring Manualand email Glyn at email@example.com
Chough monitoring can be really easy some days. Photo by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
November was a quiet month for the choughs. Correction, November was a quiet month for staff at Sorel. For all we know the choughs have been having wild parties, hanging out in camper vans down at St Ouen, and wading in on the Brexit debate.
This is the time of year the birds allow me have a break, so I took the opportunity to use up holiday allowance. Staff still visited Sorel to provide the supplemental food in the afternoons. Other than that monitoring and management was kept to a minimum.
Thanks to global warming, Jersey has had a relatively warm autumn. Entering the latter half of November, ‘normal’ service resumed with frosty nights and gale force winds. Roosting time crept forward with the sun setting before 4.30pm.
Flying to roost. Photo for Liz Corry
These combined conditions meant that we were seeing more choughs at the supplemental feed in need of those extra calories: 44 out of 46 choughs on one day. Then again, we would still have days when just 2 or 8 showed up.
The only noteworthy news has been confirmation from Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd that Mary and Bo have started roosting onsite again. They have been joined by two others: we don’t know their identity, but suspect it is the other pair seen foraging around Corbière. Mary and Bo are still visiting Sorel for the feed as they did at the start of the breeding season. Making a round trip of 14km for supper suggests that they are not finding enough food down in the south of the Island.
And that’s it. Nothing else to report.
Unless you want me to write about the Rewilding conference I attended whilst on holiday? Leave a comment if you do; see if we bow to public pressure.
It’s long been known that nesting seabirds and mammals don’t mix well. That’s why most species choose islands free of rodents and carnivores to nest. Smaller seabirds and those that nest down burrows are particularly vulnerable. And, if mammals get to those otherwise safe seabird colonies, you can expect the pretty rapid disappearance of the birds – they are either killed and eaten or they just don’t even try and nest. Unwanted species like this are called invasive and you can read all about this well studied issue through some titles below.
Birds On The Edge has covered several successful projects to remove unwanted mammals from seabird sites around the British Isles in Lundy Island, the Isles of Scilly, Calf of Man and the Shiant Isles. In Jersey we believe that mammals currently prevent breeding of storm petrel (they breed in good numbers in Alderney) and Manx shearwater and severely suppress our tiny Atlantic puffin population.
Storm petrel chick calling on the Shiant Isles from RSPB
A storm petrel chick has been recorded calling on the Shiant Isles for the very first time. This is an important step for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project as it’s the first known breeding of these seabirds on the islands. The EU LIFE+ funded project played an artificial call of an adult storm petrel outside the suspected burrow nest site to record the chick’s reply call and confirm its presence.
The project, a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Nicolson family, the custodians of the islands, has been working over the last four years to make these islands, five miles off the coast of Harris, a safer place for Scotland’s globally threatened seabirds to breed. Island restoration projects such as this one are a key part of helping Scotland’s struggling seabird populations develop resilience to ensure their long term survival.
Storm petrels were not able to breed successfully at the Shiants because of their vulnerability to predation from the islands’ population of invasive non-native black rats. These were eradicated over the winter of 2015/16 and the islands were officially declared free of rats earlier this year.
Following the eradication, the project has been working to attract storm petrels to breed on the islands as it has ideal habitat for their nests in the many areas of boulders around the islands. These birds are little bigger than sparrows and only come to land in summer to breed. Scotland’s internationally important population currently nests at only a few offshore islands because of the presence of ground predators at other potential sites.
During the summer of 2017, calling storm petrels were recorded on the Shiants for the first time.
Dr Charlie Main, Senior Project Manager for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project said: “It’s fantastic that this storm petrel chick has been recorded on the Shiants. After the adult was recorded last year we thought it highly likely that they were breeding so to have this confirmed now is great for the project and for the species in Scotland. It’s also another vital step for making these islands a safer place for Scotland’s internationally important seabirds, many of which are struggling to cope with the impact of climate change and a lack of suitable secure breeding sites.
“We’ve strong hopes for the future that more storm petrels will breed here and a colony will be established. Three other calling adults were recorded this summer suggesting that there may have been more breeding attempts. This one chick is incredibly special to everyone who has been involved in the project since 2014; it means that all the work we’ve been doing to make and keep these islands free of invasive predators is paying off. It also shows just how quickly island restoration can make a difference to seabirds which is really positive for future projects like this one.”
And in Jersey?
In 2017, Kirsty Swinnerton, with Piers Sangan, undertook a preliminary review of the conditions available for nesting seabirds on Jersey’s north coast for Birds On The Edge. Kirsty’s report is now available here.
The recent establishment of the Jersey National Park and the acquisition of land at Plémont by the National Trust for Jersey has created some unique opportunities for seabird and habitat restoration. Historically, the north-west coast from La Tête de Plémont to Douët de la Mer supported 200-300 breeding pairs of Atlantic puffin but which have dwindled today to less than 10 pairs at most. The decline has probably been a result of an overall decline in the species’ southern range combined with the impacts of invasive species on Jersey including the brown rat, feral polecat/ferret, European hedgehog, European rabbit, and free ranging/feral cats. In addition, domestic dogs and agricultural stock (sheep and cows) could also prevent the re-establishment of puffins if not carefully managed at seabird nesting sites.
The report provides an overview of existing seabird recovery tools proven to re-establish breeding seabird colonies around the world. The primary focus is on the control of invasive vertebrates to increase the size and distribution of breeding colonies and reproductive success, and on hands-on species recovery techniques used to encourage seabirds to recolonise the area. However, during the study, it became apparent that much of the potential seabird recovery area does not support suitable habitat for puffins or other ground-nesting seabirds. The sites are choked with dense stands of bracken, and this may be the primary factor currently limiting colony growth of puffins and other burrow-nesting seabirds.
To understand more fully the impacts and interactions of invasive species, lack of suitable breeding habitat, and human disturbance on puffin colony re-establishment, the study recommended a pilot project combining species recovery techniques with research and monitoring. It further recommends initial small steps to maximise opportunities for feedback into recovery project development and the development of Species Action Plans for puffins and other seabirds by working groups in order to guide recovery efforts to include local seabird experts and stakeholders, and ensure best practices.
A pair of choughs have been foraging at this site in Corbière (can you spot them?) Photo by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
The choughs continued their travels around the Island this October with reports from Corbière, Noirmont and Wolf’s Lair.
Corbière lighthouse. Photo by Liz Corry.
Bo and Mary returned to Corbière this month. Photo by Liz Corry.
There have been several reports from La Pulente, the south end of St Ouen’s Bay. However, this may be a case of misidentification. This end of the bay often attracts large numbers of crows due to the rich pickings available at low tide. In amongst those are another corvid relative, the jackdaw. See our guide to corvid identification here
As the tide goes out at La Pulente the birds come in to feed. Photo by Liz Corry.
Jackdaws have a distinctly different call to crows. They are not as prolific in Jersey as they are in the UK. Understandably, if you are not used to hearing the calls of jackdaws and choughs together you could easily misidentify the two species. Of course there is one obvious way of telling the difference; one has a red bill, the other doesn’t. Not easy to spot when driving – most of the reports came from birders in cars.
Jackdaw calls are often misidentified as chough calls by Jersey residents. Photo by Liz Corry.
The difficult thing with all this is that birds can travel around the coast of Jersey much faster than humans. The birders out recording autumn migration numbers will attest to that. It is quite feasible that choughs were at Pulente, but nipped round the corner to Corbière before I had chance to follow-up the report.
View of La Pulente at the south end of St Ouen’s Bay (bottom left) and Corbière on the southwest corner of Jersey. Image from Google Earth.
End of British Summer Time…and the choughs’ travel plans?
When the clocks changed at the end of October so too did the attendance record at the aviary. We are now seeing more choughs at the supplemental feed. Forty-one being the highest on the eve of the clocks going back. That included Earl and Xaviour who have been living out at Plémont all year.
The increase in numbers is likely due to the cold snap and the reduction in wild food resources. Leatherjackets, a chough favourite, emerged as cranefly and spread their own wings removing themselves from the menu. The choughs reliance on the free food at the aviary will likely increase as we go into winter.
A leatherjacket casing in a coastal garden. Photo by Liz Corry.
The choughs appear to be spending more time foraging around Devil’s Hole and Mourier Valley. At least when the whistle blows for food at 3pm, the majority of the choughs fly in from that direction. They could be fooling us. Probably all are at La Pulente until 2.50pm!
Replacing lost rings
The return of certain choughs to the supplemental feed has made it easier to see who has lost which rings. A catch-up of birds on 28th October attempted to correct this. It took a while to trap the birds in the aviary; the hatches had seized up again despite a check the day before.
It was also a lot harder now there are so many. We managed to lock in about two-thirds of the group and went about the process of hand-netting individuals to check rings.
Bird Keeper Bea Detnon and a very compliant Mauve waiting in line for new leg rings. Photo by Hannah Clarke.
There are several birds we knew needed rings such as Green who had lost all but his original metal ring. Then there were others like Mauve who, on closer inspection, had broken rings creating sharp, hazardous, edges.
All the birds we caught in the nets were weighed and checked over prior to release. There were twelve who got locked in the aviary that we didn’t need.
In amongst this last group was Xaviour who has been missing her orange rings since the start of summer. Unfortunately, she evaded capture. Clearly living out at Plémont has improved her flying skills in close quarters. Since we had already spent an hour catching and processing everyone we called it a day to avoid excessive stress on the group.
Five others still require ring replacements. Weather permitting; we can do that in November.
A new design of feeder to ensure the choughs get food and nothing else does. Photo by Liz Corry.
Work on the new and improved magpie-proof feeders continues. A quick trip home to see family turned into a research and development trip for the choughs. B&M Bargains, Hobbycraft,Aldi, Lidl….ah the joys of mainland shopping…all threw up some new ideas.
The latest and most successful is a rather unusual choice – flower urns. With slight modification to the container depth, they make the perfect magpie-proof feeder. At the cost of £5.99 for two, salvaged wood and paint (hence the colour choice), they are relatively cheap and easy to make.
To end on a non-bird related note…
At the start of October, the waters around Sorel were graced with the presence of bottle-nosed dolphins. Clearly visible from the cliffpath, the small pod followed alongside a Jersey Seafaris rib as passengers toured the north coast. I tried to capture an image of both choughs and dolphins, but, let’s face it, with my long lens focused on the dolphins; the choughs never stood a chance.
Jersey Seafaris tour joined by bottle-nosed dolphins at Sorel Point. Photo by Liz Corry.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)’s latest Living Planet Report finds that humanity has wiped out 60% of animal populations since 1970. Policy makers are urged to set revised targets for sustainable development in the report, which documents a mass loss of wildlife and pending ecological meltdown, explaining that the Earth is losing biodiversity at a rate seen only during mass extinctions.
Fifty nine scientists from across the globe were involved with the compilation of the report, which finds that the huge and constantly growing consumption of food and resources by humans is the lead threat to the web of life – billions of years in the making – on which the global population depends for clean water and air.
Mike Barrett, Executive Director of Science and Conservation at WWF, commented: “We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff.
“If there was a 60% decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done. This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is. This is actually now jeopardising the future of people. Nature is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is our life-support system.”
Only a quarter of the world’s land area is now exempt from the impact of human activity, according to the report (and that’s without global climate change), and this is forecast to fall to just a tenth by 2050. Ever-rising food production and an increased demand for energy, land and water are the main drivers behind this obliteration of land and the life it holds. Many scientists believe a sixth mass extinction has begun on Earth, and is the first to be caused be a single species.
The report uses data on 16,704 populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians, representing more than 4,000 species, to track the decline of wildlife. It found that South and Central America suffered the most dramatic decline in vertebrate populations – an 89% loss in populations compared with 1970. Marine freshwater species are particularly at risk, and plastic pollution has been detected in the deepest parts of the world’s oceans, including the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific.
Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF International, called for immediate change, saying: “We can no longer ignore the impact of current unsustainable production models and wasteful lifestyles”, with Barrett adding: “We need a new global deal for nature and people and we have this narrow window of less than two years to get it. This really is the last chance. We have to get it right this time.”
The Living Planet Report documents the state of the planet—including biodiversity, ecosystems, and demand on natural resources—and what it means for humans and wildlife. Published by WWF every two years, the report brings together a variety of research to provide a comprehensive view of the health of the Earth. Download the latest report here
With the breeding season behind them for another year the choughs decided it was time for some well-earned R&R. In the video below it is obvious to pick out the pairs who, after months of nest attendance and chick feeding, can now focus on themselves.
Handy from the observers point of view as confirmation of old and new pairings was achievable. Pyrrho, for example, had been involved with a young male (and his sister!) although two seasons of nest-building had got her nowhere. Now she is preening and foraging with Duke. Lets hope she will have more success next year.
Pyrrho evidently has a new ‘man’ in her life -Duke. Photo by Liz Corry.
Having more time on their hands allows them to explore the Island. With the run of good weather making winter still feel like a distant memory, the choughs have been visiting their favourite spots as well as discovering some new ones. Well at least new to our knowledge.
Les Landes is their go to for guaranteed sun, sea, and soil invertebrates. A bounty of leatherjackets and dung beetles has meant that half the group have not bothered to return to Sorel for supplemental feed. We may even have a new roost site or two on the north-west coast.
Crows and choughs foraging together on the sidelines. Photo by Liz Corry.
Les Landes Racecourse gets 5 stars from the choughs on Trip Advisor. Photo by Liz Corry.
A record number of 31 choughs were spotted this month at Les Landes (please let us know if you think you have seen more). On the ground they are difficult to count when mixed in with crows. Once in the air they can reach heights the crows can’t, or at least can’t be bothered to. There are not many places in the British Isles where you can see 31 choughs circling on the thermals.
Choughs rising high on the thermals above Les Landes. Trust the red arrow or enlarge the photo and look for black dots. Photo by Liz Corry.
Two were at Petit Plémont at the same time as the Les Landes group leaving 13 unaccounted for. Confirmation of all 46 choughs alive and well has not been possible this month. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It marks a turning point in the project. The birds are finding new areas to forage, possibly new territories. Supplemental food is, at present time, not essential for every individual. The crucial thing is that it is there waiting at Sorel in case they need it.
View of Petit Plémont headland from Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.
Improving supplemental feeding methods
The choughs have been trying out different designs of food-hoppers over the past month. Up until now we have used either traditional ceramic dishes or guttering (yes guttering) to hold the supplemental feed. Whilst the latter was an improvement, in terms of reducing competition between the choughs, it still had drawbacks.
A new design is needed to address the ‘3 R’s of Sorel’: rain, rodents, and ruddy magpies. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against magpies per se. The problem is that they need to understand the concept of sharing equally.
Taking advantage of a choughs’ slender bill to design a magpie proof feeder. Photo by Liz Corry.
We can take advantage of the choughs’ slender bill to get around the magpie problem.
Holes of varying sizes were drilled into boxes filled with pellet and mealworms then filmed to see which were used by the choughs.
The design also needs to account for the length of the bill. Optimal sward height for foraging choughs is 5cm. The feeders need to be slightly less than this.
Understandably the larger holes are favoured as they allow quick easy access. They can use the smaller holes evident by the empty boxes the next day. The magpies can’t. Images of perplexed magpies were caught on camera.
Camera trap images have shown the magpie-proof designs working so far. Photo taken on Apeman camera trap.
To date we have no images or videos of rodents trying their luck. If they do have a go there are simple solutions to stop them.
Placing feeders off the ground using materials they cannot grip prevents rodents from climbing onto the boxes. Plumbing pipes come in handy for that sort of thing…and gives a shopper in a DIY store a whole new perspective on things.
Prototype chough feeder raised off the ground to stop rodent access. Photo by Liz Corry.
A timed-release hopper would be advantageous from a staffing point of view; it wouldn’t require someone going up every day of the year.
An automated pet feeder was a hit with the choughs…and magpies! Photo by Liz Corry.
The choughs took to a model of cat feeder straight away. Camera trap footage shows them waiting around for the lids to open. It also shows them going back at dawn to check in case it magically refilled overnight.
A combination of the above designs would be most efficient. Especially one that could cope with the coastal weather. Oh and barn owls….
A field trip to Sorel on the Thursday afternoon allowed the delegates to see first-hand the work undertaken by Birds On The Edge. Annoyingly most of the choughs were having far too much fun over at Les Landes.
This year’s meeting theme was partnerships and their importance in the success (or failure) of conservation work. A poster was presented showing how stakeholders, such as Ronez Quarry, have played a role in the chough reintroduction.
All the presentations demonstrated just how well effective partnerships can benefit conservation work both on land and sea. With talks about turning the tide on plastic waste, monitoring human disturbance at the Écréhous, and how Guernsey’s gardens are providing a lifeline for pollinators.
There was even a talk on Montserrat by the UK Overseas Territories As someone who has lived and worked in Montserrat it was a nice surprise. It was also nice to see some familiar faces in the video shown by Alderney Wildlife Trust highlighting the benefits of a good volunteer programme. Two of those volunteers were past chough project students!
Poster presentation by Alderney Wildlife Trust. Photo by Liz Corry.
Thank you for all those who suggested names for this year’s chicks. Some suggestions have already been used, sadly on birds no longer with us. We have gone with Bumble and Bee for one brother and sister clutch. Nothing to do with a secret love of Transformer toys,rather their black and yellow leg rings. We also liked the suggestion giving recognition to Jersey’s Lily Langtry and have gone with Lily and Lotte (her middle name was Charlotte) for the two unnamed sisters.
This is the first call of the Workshop. In the near future there will be complete information on aspects of the event including the precise location of the meeting, communications by road, bus, train and plane, places of accommodation, registration fees and scope of services offered. The organisers will also answer questions that the participants may generate.
This Workshop is open to all interested people, professionals and those from public and private institutions alike who are keen on choughs, both red-billed and Alpine (yellow-billed) choughs.
Communications from any part of the world are welcome covering different aspects related to choughs, including:
Research and monitoring
Cultural: literature, history, music and exhibitions of painting, photography, crafts.
Education and dissemination
Protection and legislation.
The organisers have developed two committees to oversee the event structure: an organizing committee from Foro GeoBiosfera and a scientific committee composed of researchers.
Please contact the Organization of the Congress for all information at comunicación@forogeobiosfera.org
We hope that this event will be an outstanding success in the scientific and conservation worlds of these unique bird species.
As part of its Links with China series, Jersey Post issued a new set of commemorative stamps this month featuring farmland birds common to both China and Jersey. Amongst the old favourites like goldfinch and swallow we are proud that four of the species most important to Birds On The Edge, stonechat, yellowhammer, linnet and red-billed chough have been included.
That the red-billed chough should feature on a stamp only five years after its ‘return’ to the Island in 2013 is testament to a lot of very hard work from a lot of people in the Birds On The Edge partnership and even more people who have been enthused by the project to help Jersey’s declining farmland birds. We must now hope that the yellowhammer, which last bred in Jersey in 2005, will also one day be a feature of our north coast again.
Other stamps in Jersey’s Links with China series include butterflies, garden flowers and waterfowl. See the full range of farmland bird stamp products available here
One of this year’s chicks in need of a name. Photo by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
Keepers were in shock this month after the loss of two choughs in the Zoo. On 8th August a male was discovered by a keeper on the floor of the aviary. From his physical appearance, staff assumed the chough had been in a fight with Tristan, the only other male in the group, and lost.
The male chough had x-rays taken to assess injuries. Photo by Liz Corry.
When a second chough, Issy our breeding female, became ill we suspected there was more to it. The male’s condition gradually worsened despite efforts and eventually the bird had to be euthanased. Sadly, the female died a few days later.
Andrew Routh, Head Vet, explains “We took blood samples that were analysed in-house, at our usual diagnostic laboratory in the UK and, additionally, forwarded on by them to a specialist also in the UK. We will be re-sampling the remaining three birds in the collection. Full post mortem examinations were carried out on both birds and a comprehensive set of tissues from each sent for analysis by board-certified pathologists in the UK. No conclusions yet on the cause though further tests are pending.”
The remaining three birds have been taken off-show to individual enclosures for close monitoring. So far, they have shown no signs of ill health, are eating well and chatting loudly. Gianna, the Italian diva that she is, is a tad miffed we have taken her away from her public. Hopefully we can return them soon at which point the chough keeper talks will resume.
Wild chicks update
The last unringed wild chick was caught up on 1st August to be fitted with leg rings. Whilst in the hand, the chick made noises we’ve never heard before. And no, it wasn’t because we were squeezing too hard! There is debate as to whether the sounds were more gull-like or goose-like. Either way the ‘meeping’ chick became the first of the 2018 group to be named – Beaker.
The last of 2018’s chicks to be ringed (left!) and his namesake Beaker (right) – both emit unusual sounds. Photo by Elin Cunningham.
Two weeks later the DNA results returned form the UK lab. Whilst teenagers across the land were jumping for joy over their exam results, we beamed with delight upon hearing we have five males and four females.
This is great news for the Jersey population because:
(1) The sex ratio for wild-hatched choughs in Jersey is now 1:1. For the entire flock, it is more like three females for every two males. Not quite as catchy. Still a good result;
(2) We can name the new chicks! Aside from Beaker we had names lined up for Dusty’s chicks. In honour of Ronez’s assistance with the project, the three boys are now known as Clem (who found the chicks), Toby, and Osbourne (Ossy for short).
Tempting as it might be to call Beaker’s sister Dr Honeydew, her name is still open to debate. We are still searching for appropriate Jersey-related names for four females and a male. Please use the comments box to put forward any suggestions.
Dusty & Chickay
Kevin & Bean
Lee & Caûvette
Q & Flieur
The 2018 chicks now have the adult colouring in their legs and bills (adult behind the chick). Photo by Liz Corry.
Spreading their wings
The flock have shown a distinct change in behaviour this month. After the chaos over June and July when chicks had to be fed and wild food supplies had dried up, the adults are relaxing back into their normal routines. One fortunate member of the public snapped a photo of 30 choughs flying over Plémont. On the back of this, social media reported seeing ‘large’ groups back at Les Landes.
Choughs flying over Plémont headland. Photo by Anne Gray.
The change is partly due to the chicks becoming independent and feeding themselves.
A major factor will be the rise in wild food supplies thanks to the shift in weather. Leatherjackets in the soil and dung-loving insects will provide the calories needed to fly back and forth around the north-west coast.
We are seeing an average of 24 choughs at the supplemental feeds. They appear to be the same individuals; all families bar Lee and Caûvette‘s making up half the group. Their willingness to enter the aviary has taken a knock since the recent spate of catch-ups. We have to reassure them that entering the aviary does not always result in humans waving nets around.
Having a wild food source around provides them with options. Great for them. For staff not so much, as it means the birds are less likely to hang around the aviary. Health screening, weight checks etc. are not as easy.
Chough chick photographed back in July at Sorel. Photo by Peter G. Hiatt.
Now you sheep me, now you don’t
Lack of choughs at the aviary is being compensated by appearances of sheep within the perimeter fence. The first sighting was on one of the hottest, driest days of the summer. A young sheep was happily curled up in the shade of the aviary sheds munching on lush green grass whilst the others were lined up along the hedgerows competing for shade. Much to the sheep’s dismay it was returned to the flock.
The next day it was back! And once again returned to the flock. A day or so later a different sheep was present. Neither student or I could figure out how on earth they were getting through the locked gate and wire fencing.
Days passed, sheep were absent. Or so we thought. Camera-trap footage to investigate chough roost activity threw up a different mystery. A ewe present in the morning, had gone by the afternoon. Clearly they were playing games with us.
Camera trap image inside the aviary showing a sheep within the aviary perimeter.
They upped the stakes in the last days of August. Having hidden in the bracken, ‘Houdini’ found her way inside the aviary. True magicians never reveal their secrets – except when their hooves and horns knocking equipment over in the keeper-porch give them away. I had left both doors open, not expecting her to follow me in, but it meant she could safely hang out in the aviary until the shepherd reached Sorel. And saved me a job with the lawnmower.
Yet another prime example of how the conservation of one species can benefit others.