August has been a relatively quiet month. The youngsters are showing increasing signs of independence and the flock is spending more time exploring the island.
The parents have stopped feeding their young as the three-month-old chicks are independent…well almost. Photo by Liz Corry.
The results are in
Results came back from the UK lab regarding the DNA sexing samples. From the twelve we sent off, three are male and five are female. And one was Chewbacca (see below). We need to re-sample three birds due to a mix up in the lab and we still have the Plémont chick to catch.
DNA sexing results have shown ‘PB-CS‘ is one of at least five females hatched this year. Photo by Liz Corry.
There is growing concern for four birds as they have not been seen in a long time. We receive reports from Plémont of 2, 3, 5 birds, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Earl, Xaviour, or their chick are present in that group.
Chough travels around the north coast
On the occasions when I have been able to go on a ‘chough hunt’ around Jersey, I fail to see the missing chicks. In fact, quite often I fail to see any choughs!
I did watch Earl and Xaviour at Plémont one evening. Lovely to see them foraging around the cliffs; Earl looked to have been bathing in the intertidal zone. No sign of a third chough on that occasion.
Chough or rabbit hole? A favourite pastime of chough watchers at Plémont. Photo by Liz Corry.
Over at Les Landes, the only choughs I have seen there this month were Beanie Baby and Beaker. A surprise pairing and a delight to see. They kept me on my toes, literally, as I only heard them after completing a lap of the racecourse. They were over by the MP3 tower foraging on the cliffs above a group of rock climbers. As I reached the cliffs they decided to fly over to….the racecourse, so back I went. They waited for me to arrive, perched on the railings so I could see their leg rings, then flew mockingly over to Le Pinacle.
Two choughs picking out insects from the soil on the far end of Les Landes Racecourse. Photo by Liz Corry
Anyone who knows the area is fully aware of how the footpaths are interwoven into the heather and gorse landscape. The only straight lines belong to the model aircraft runway to the south. Cue WW2 fighter planes ducking and diving overhead as I navigate over to Le Pinacle, a Neolithic site with the ruins of an old temple (200 AD), to find two choughs perched on top of the granite stack.
You must navigate the heather and gorse to reach the MP3 tower in the distance. Photo by Liz Corry.
For the visitor, it is breathtaking scenery. For the chough monitor, it is breath-holding for this area is synonymous with peregrines. The choughs were risking life and limb. I didn’t have to hold my breath for long as they moved on again. This time I lost them as they followed the cliff face obscured from my view.
Le Pinacle is a granite stack where Neolithic treasures have been unearthed as well as the visible ruins of a temple dating back to 200 AD. Photo by Liz Corry.
Of course, just because I have not seen them doesn’t mean the choughs are not around. A tourist spotted two choughs at Les Landes and emailed the few photos she managed to snap before they flew away (bird not tourist). Squinting at the leg rings I think she saw Beaker and guessing the second was Beanie Baby!
A visitor to Jersey managed to spot Beaker whilst out on a walk at Les Landes. Photo by Susan Mueller.
We have also had three confirmed sightings from Le Pulec this month. None when I visited of course. The same for Grosnez and at Grantez.
Beanie Baby and Beaker visiting Le Pinacle. Photo by Liz Corry.
All of the sightings away from Sorel are of pairs or small groups in the single figures. We are only seeing numbers in the 20s or 30s at the supplemental feeds compared to the 30s or 40s last month. This is because the pairs no longer need to find food for their chicks as well as themselves. The independence is allowing them to spend more time away from Sorel which makes it harder for us to monitor.
It is now hard to spot the juveniles in the flock unless you can read their leg rings. Photo by Liz Corry.
Of course they could just be sulking over the fact we have not been able to provide as many live mealworms this month. The UK supplier has had a few problems and a change in delivery policy to the Island has resulted in delays. Delays for live food tend to result in death; the correct temperatures are not maintained and the insects don’t get fresh air. We have had to send most of our monthly order straight to the compost bin.
I will end August’s report as it started with the sexing results. The chicks were not the only ones to be tested. We sent a sample from Chewbacca, a two-year-old, parent-reared bird.
The lab came back with female whereas the first test back in 2017 said male. Judging by size and behaviour this Chewbacca is definitely a girl.
Hope you have all had a great summer and are now ready to get stuck in to a bit of practical conservation management?
Fresh on the heels of winning the 2019 Mike Stentiford Environmental Award at Natural Jersey 2019, the Jersey Conservation Volunteers tasks start with some seed sowing .
Task We will be preparing a seed bed and sowing a mixture of autumn barley, phacelia and mustard to provide food for pollinators and birds.
If you have any questions, or if you wish to be added to the Jersey Conservation Volunteers email list, please contact either Julia Clively (tel: 441665; firstname.lastname@example.org) or Jon Parkes (tel: 483193; email@example.com).
The site La Lande du Ouest (Gorselands) SSI. (Jersey phone directory Map 12, E20) Google maps here
Parking There is some parking at the meeting point in the small car park with the interpretation board in it, off Rue de la Corbiere. Otherwise, there are alternatives including near the desalination plant and the Radio Tower at Corbiere, or better still, why not car share?
We will set off from the car park at 10.30 promptly so please arrive a little earlier. We will be finished by 13.00.
Tools needed As always, we can supply some tools, but please bring your own if you have them. A garden rake is the tool of choice for this work.
Clothing needed Good thick gloves (though we can supply a pair if you don’t have them), wellies or sturdy boots, (we will be working on rotavated soil so it could be muddy underfoot) and common sense clothes to cope with the element, we go ahead whatever the weather!
Children All are welcome, young or old although we do ask that volunteers under 16 years of age are accompanied by an adult.
Refreshments We are proud and delighted to welcome back our very own award winning Kim the Kake to provide us with hot drinks and her delicious homemade cakes after work has finished.
A chough family out and about at Grosnez. Photo by Mick Dryden.
By Liz Corry
The choughlets finally made it across to Sorel this month to join the flock at the supplemental feed. Some are flying further afield following their parents to the west coast. They now face the same challenges life throws at all choughs; finding food, avoiding predators, and putting up with those pesky folk who keep wanting to put leg rings on them.
Attendance records at Sorel on the rise.
The choughs are finding plenty to eat around Mourier Valley. Photo by Liz Corry.
With nest sites vacated for another year, the adults are spending more time together at Sorel. The addition of hungry mouths to feed has seen attendance records at the supplemental feeds increase. It has allowed us to get a better understanding of total population size. More on that later.
This year sixteen choughs fledged from various nest sites at Sorel and Plémont. Sadly, as reported last month, three died within a week of fledging all injury related. That still leaves thirteen hungry mouths to feed.
It has been quieter this year at Sorel compared to 2018. The broods fledged at different times. Families were arriving at Sorel days, sometimes weeks, apart giving the youngsters time to adjust. Last year they all fledged within a relatively close time frame. I guess it was noisy because the chicks had to compete with each other for attention.
The surprising news came from Skywalker and Pyrrho who casually rocked up to the supplemental feed one afternoon with two chicks in tow. Quarry staff thought this nest had failed. As first time parents, we had also written off the clutch. Wrong! One of the few times you are happy to be proven wrong.
Earl of Plémont returns triumphant
Rather a grand title yet justified for the next snippet of news. Earl and Xaviour are returning to Sorel for supplemental food. And so is their chick! On 4th July I found 40 choughs waiting for me near the aviary. As I started going through the roll call, I stared down to find two familiar faces (well leg ring combos) staring back.
Earl and Xaviour (middle two) returned to Sorel this month along with their new chick. Photo by Liz Corry.
I had to work my way through the flock to finally discover which, if any, was their chick. It was positioned at the back of the group, silently getting on with life, foraging for food.
The Plémont chick getting down to business. Photo by Liz Corry.
We expected the family to make an appearance at some point; the hot dry summer has hardened off the soil making it impossible to extract insects. Their reliance on the supplemental feed naturally increases at this time. We have also learnt that the cows grazing at Les Landes, a chough favourite, have been removed due to the farmer having to make cut backs. These provided another source of food for the birds especially Earl and his family at neighbouring Plémont.
Work with me on this pun as I’m trying to make light of a tragedy. One of Jerseys licensed ringers, Ian Buxton, contacted me this month with regards to a specimen submitted to the Société Jersiaise. Somebody found the remains of a bird whilst out on the cliffs around Sorel Point. On seeing an address stamped on the metal leg ring they thoughtfully bagged the remains and took them to the museum.
This is how Ian became involved and then sent me the following image…
The remains of chough PP036 hatched this year at Ronez. Photo by Liz Corry.
The legs belong(ed) to one of this year’s chicks – PP036 also known as ‘White over Cerise’.
A peregrine falcon hanging out at Sorel Point. Photo by Liz Corry.
We do like to wind up our vets at Durrell, but I wasn’t about to submit this for a post-mortem. It is quite likely that the youngster fell foul to the resident peregrine falcon.
PP036 had been absent from the feeds since 13th July and discovered on the 17th. We have three more youngsters on our watchlist who haven’t been seen in awhile. They could simply be with their parents over at Les Landes or Crabbé. Although the recovered legs makes me suspicious.
I have contacted the Jersey Climbing Club to ask members to keep an eye out whilst dangling from granite. They are more likely to come across remains than we are.
Big catch up
To ensure each chough has a unique ring combination we had to plan several catches this month. As well as some unplanned, carpe diem moments. Four broods remained unringed and several adults had lost one or more plastic ring.
Making use of the overgrown bracken to operate the hatches. Photo by Liz Corry.
The parents of the unringed chicks were understandably protective. They were on the alert whenever we called the group over for food in the aviary. Often they would land on top of the netting and just stare at us until we gave in and left. If they did go inside, they would immediately fly out as soon as one of us merely thought about closing the hatches!
The added complication was trying to time it when enough staff were available to help out. We only needed certain individuals from a group of potentially 48 birds. Trying to hand net and process that many in a confined space is stressful to the birds. You want to be able to minimise time spent inside.
On the odd occasion the youngsters were helpful. I would arrive to find one or two chicks already inside. In their naivety and panic, they would forget how to fly out of the hatches giving me enough time to reach the handles and close them.
The big catch-up came on 19th July when I managed to lock in 34 choughs. Three escaped the hatches in an Indiana Jones style – one of which was an unringed chick. We’ll gloss over that. With the help of a volunteer and a licensed ringer, I hand-netted 28 of the birds, we weighed them, and fitted or replaced leg rings as necessary. All birds were released back into the wild once we had processed them.
Whilst in the hand, we discovered one of this year’s youngsters had a clump of matted feathers around the neck. It was dried blood. There was no obvious wound, no fresh bleeding, but clearly something had happened since it’s first catch up three weeks ago. One to keep an eye on.
The big catch up and recent numbers at the feeds are evidence to suggest we have lost eleven choughs since January of this year. This is not including the deceased fledged chicks.
We know the reason for one bird was aspergillosis because we had a body to post-mortem. Around two thirds of the lost birds were in pairs. Their partners have re-paired with a younger male or female. Was that before or after the disappearance? Cue the EastEnders theme tune.
Captive or Wild-hatched?
* if wild-hatched this is year it fledged.
Bracken bashing for charity
Whilst the sheep do a grand job of grazing the National Trust land at Le Don Paton they have their limits. They don’t actually eat the bracken, certainly not in any quantities to make a difference. At least once a year the rangers take a tractor up to clear certain areas. Understandably, the slopes of Mourier Valley aren’t practical even for the most skilled of drivers.
A Manx loaghtan sheep grazing in Mourier Valley. Photo by Liz Corry.
The wonderful staff at HSBC rose to the challenge and volunteered their time to bash some bracken. Despite July’s scorching temperatures the team joined the National Trust’s rangers and did a great job and clearing the vegetation.
HSBC volunteers helping clear the bracken in Mourier Valley. Photo by National Trust for Jersey.
The sheep can now take over and make sure it stays low. This is how it would have been centuries ago when farmers kept livestock around the coast. Although I assume with less corporate branding. HSBC also helped the rangers at woodland on Mont Fallu and clearing the alien invasive succulent, purple dew plant, from the salt marsh habitat of St Ouen’s Bay coastal strip.
At the start of May, Toby Cabaret and myself carried out the first nest check in the quarry. It took a lot longer than last year (4 hour). Along with more nests to check there was a small addition of a film crew.
Action man Toby being filmed for a documentary. Photo by Liz Corry.
Tune in around autumn to hear more about that. Back to the nests…
We recorded eleven potential nests including one new location thanks to Kevin at Ronez who had been keeping an eye on a pair. He is also the ‘guardian’ of Red and Dingle’s building and has successfully convinced them to use the nest-box rather than the hot pipes. The negotiations have paid off – two chicks were visible in the nest on 23rd May!
Chough chicks, only a few days old, in a quarry nest box. Photo by Toby Cabaret.
PS. the camera in the photo has been knocked out of position by the parents so we can’t monitor remotely. The box was accessed at a predetermined time under licence. These chicks were too young to ring this month. We will return in June.
Quarry staff also confirmed Dusty and Chickay’s nest had hatched and that Green and Black looked to be feeding chicks. The former cannot be accessed without some dodgy ladder work. We have to wait to see what will fledge. Green and Black’s nest can be accessed only if you have a hydraulic crane and Ronez generously paid to hire one as there are several nests that require it. On 25th May Operation Test-out-Toby’s-crane-driving-skills was carried out.
Kevin and new partner Wally (he must have a thing for hand-reared birds) have chicks. Her nest is one of the easiest to access and with the aid of a smartphone easy to check too…
We checked Green and Black’s nest first; 3 chicks! They looked about four weeks old. We decided it would be too intrusive to fit leg rings as they could prematurely jump to their death if disturbed so we backed down (literally in the crane). Mum and Dad were watching over us and went straight in to feed them once we left.
Lee and Caûvette’s nest also contained three chicks. Toby managed to manoeuvre the crane tantalisingly close to the nest, but we were short by a few inches. My finger tips could just about touch the base of the nest if I stretched and leaned out of the cart. Actually removing a chick safely from the nest (not dropping it onto the rock pile 20ft below) was out of the question.
A frustrated Toby drove on to the next site. This time with more success. We checked the nest site belonging to Trevor and Noir. Last year they raised one chick but it failed to fledge successfully. This year they had three chicks in the nest. Licensed ringer Dave Buxton and trainee ringer Paul Pestana helped process the chicks with leg rings, biometric measurements, and DNA sexing. Hopefully all three chicks will fledge in a few weeks time.
Licensed ringer Dave Buxton training Paul Pestana to ring a chough chick. Photo by Liz Corry.
An exciting discovery at the start of May was finding out who was responsible for the ‘Mill nest’. We watched as Percy flew to the top of the external nest-box and fed a demanding Icho who had been waiting patiently inside. When he left, she went back inside the nest and we could hear chick begging noises. Toby had reported hearing chick noises previously, this visit appeared to confirm it.
On the 25th, with the assistance of the crane we went to access the nest to ring the chicks. This was the last nest to be checked that day and had been surprisingly quiet. As we slowly rose closer to the nest entrance the only sound to be heard was that of the crane’s motor. Looking inside all we found were three cold, unhatched eggs. The nest had failed and the parents had abandoned.
A check of Percy and Icho’s nest found the chick to be missing and the remaining eggs had not hatched. Photo by Liz Corry.
I can’t end this section without talking about Tony’s mad crane skillz (with a ‘z’ like all the cool kids, sorry kidz). We wanted to check the building Kevin had been keeping an eye on. The day before Operation Test-out-Toby’s-crane-driving-skills (sorry skillz), Toby had spotted where the nest was located inside the building. Accessing it definitely required the crane. The trouble was how do we get the crane to the site with the various gangways and structures in the way. With mere millimetres to spare Toby drove the crane through the obstacle course and started taking us up. Removing the chicks from the nest safely was questionable as it required a fair bit of stretching. However, the dilemma was solved by taking a photo of the nest – the chicks were way too young to fit leg rings. And Toby had to tackle the obstacle course once again, this time in reverse!
The people on the ground managed to get a good glimpse of the leg rings on one of the parents. It was Pyrrho. We believe she is partnered with Skywalker. We give them another four weeks or so to see what leaves the nest. May the force be with them!
The Plémont family
There have not been many opportunities to monitor the Plémont nest. What we have seen has all been positive. Paul Pestana has kindly volunteered his free afternoons to keep an eye on them and has experienced a few cherished moments. Like watching Earl remove a faecal sac from the nest. To some, gross. To others, a happy sign that there must be a chick in the nest to produce the faeces in the first place!
Typical habitat to the east of Plémont – home to a pair of choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
As the days passed and the chick(s) got older you could hear begging noises coming from the cliffs. Only of course if there was little to no wind and you were prepared to get perilously close to a cliff edge. By the end of May this nest was not far from fledging. If and when they do, we will need to monitor the site as closely as possible. The headland is accessible by the public who may pose a threat to bumbling fledglings, the nesting peregrine pair certainly pose a threat, and the steep plummeting drop to the rocky seas below…well that is all part and parcel of being a chough!
Catch-ups at the aviary
There have been several catch-ups at the aviary this month mainly due to health reasons. Two of the breeding females, Caûvette and Wally, managed to get their hind toes caught in their plastic leg rings. As has become the norm, it took a few attempts to get each female. Luckily no injuries had been sustained making it a simple case of unhook toe, refit ring, and release bird.
Wally was one of two adults needing to be caught this month to free their hind digit caught in their leg ring. Photo by Liz Corry.
Chewbacca was also looked at in the hand after presenting signs of lameness and general lethargy. Clinical diagnosis – attention seeking. That may be an unfair assumption he could have just been run down. Although the ‘lameness’ suspiciously swapped each day between left and right. Personally, it looked more like he was playing the ‘oh woe is me card’ at the supplemental feed resulting in more food being thrown his way. Remind me again, is it the choughs that are trained or the keepers?
Tristan and Penny’s eggs hatched at the start of May. As with all corvids it can take a day or two between eggs, so keepers had to wait a week before knowing how many chicks would hatch. Only one egg didn’t make it, leaving the parents with three hungry mouths to feed.
Everything was going well, both parents very attentive, until one day Tristan turned. Keepers watching the nest-camera footage could see that one of the chicks had died. Mum carried on feeding the remaining two chicks with the dead one left in the nest. Tristan started being aggressive towards Penny each time he returned to the nest to the point he was endangering both chicks and mum.
Keepers caught up Tristan and moved him to a separate aviary. They discovered he weighed 400g. Considering captive males normally weigh around 350g this may have been a clue to why he was behaving as he was. With some species, if the male takes on too much protein during the nesting season they become ‘randy’ for want of a better word. Eager to keep breeding even when the female has chicks which results in aggression often directed at the female and/or chicks. He might have been trying to tell Penny to get rid of the dead chick. We will never really know. Keepers are always trying to second guess their animals acting as chef, interior designer, GP, and psychologist on a daily basis.
Continued work at the aviary
The boring stuff – there are still several jobs that need to be done at the aviary. Net trimming, replacing rodent-proof mesh around doors and hatch frames, and replacing the fixtures removed when the old timber was ripped out. A lot of these require working at height with power tools therefore a second person and special ladders are essential for health and safety. By the end of May these jobs were still outstanding as it has been difficult to fulfil the H&S requirements.
Not helped by the additional job of net repairs. Deja vu? Yes, rodents have chewed holes in the brand-new netting. Apologies for any walkers at Sorel and beyond who heard my cursing that day. In just one night, eighteen small holes were chewed into the new netting along the north facing side of the tunnel. Whilst waiting for the guttering to be transported back up to the aviary another two holes appeared overnight on the other side of the tunnel. The guttering, unsightly as it is, is now back on preventing the rodents from reaching the netting from the outside. There is also a large hole in the middle partition at ground level. I suspect a rodent had become trapped inside the aviary when the rebuild happened and chewed their way out.
It is getting harder to capture the entire flock in one shot these days – a sure sign of success. Photo by Liz Corry.
An advert went out asking for a volunteer to help with the gardening at the aviary. During the spring and summer months the grass in and around the aviary needs cutting on a weekly basis.
The bank around the perimeter also needs maintaining for the benefit of the wildlife and to keep the path for staff accessible. There is a considerable drop on one side that becomes hidden when the bracken grows up. One step the wrong way and it’s an undignified fall into bramble and blackthorn.
Volunteer needed for vegetation clearance at aviary. Sheep need not apply. Photo by Liz Corry.
Despite hay fever allergies I enjoy this job, but it does demand time and with no student placement this year I am finding it hard to keep on top of it. Several people have shown interest in the position, few can commit on a regular basis. Hopefully by June we will have found a suitable volunteer.
We are very grateful to the De Lancey Foundation who gave a generous donation towards the running of the chough project. In return, a group from their board of trustees had a private tour of Sorel and our facilities. Their passion for conservation and knowledge on the subject was evident as we discussed the challenges faced and the achievements made to date. The Foundation is also supporting the head-starting of Jersey’s agile frogs at the Zoo.
Last but not least
A colleague took his young family to Sorel to see the choughs and Manx loaghtans. His son, a huge fan of the computer game Minecraft (no me neither), was inspired to create his very own red-billed chough character for the game. I think this has to be a world first! Well done Sam. Watch this space for the development of more Birds On The Edge characters.
A Minecraft chough created by Sam Wright after his visit to Sorel.
Plémont bay – a new territory for the choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
A lot of ups and downs this month for the Channel Island choughs; literally in some cases! The nests have fledged with some surprising outcomes. Whilst the chicks were escaping their nests, I escaped the Island to Slovenia to talk all about choughs to Germans.
In a first, on record, a wild-hatched chough has fledged at Plémont! The pair responsible were on their second season of trying and are the first to successfully breed away from Sorel.
The success is largely due to the pair’s ability to find food in the wild. They have not been seen at the supplemental feeds for a long time implying they don’t need it. Instead they forage around Plémont, Grosnez, and Les Landes.
The Plémont chick is a fast learner. It even picked up some cave art skills! Photo by Liz Corry.
It has been quite challenging to keep up with the youngster. When first bouldering outside of the nest it would hide behind rocks when mum and dad were off finding food. We didn’t manage to get any clear photos of it at this age.
Born into the wind, the chick was quick to develop its flying skills. None of this hanging around the quarry clinging to the safety of girders and stairways.
There have been a few sightings of the family at Plémont. We probably won’t be able to give the chick an identity (leg rings, DNA sexing) until they start returning to the Sorel feeds. If they return!
The ones that got away
We returned to the quarry on 4th June to ring chicks too young to ring when we visited last month. The first nest belonged to Red and Dingle using a box in the asphalt plant. You may remember they had two young chicks. Now there were three!
Licensed ringer Dave Buxton discovered three chicks in the nest- box. Photo by Liz Corry.
The newcomer was 23 grams lighter than it’s siblings. Having hatched last, it had time to catch up. On 25th June the quarry reported all three chicks had fledged with parents attentive as ever.
Staff soon began to realise one of the chicks was in trouble. Whilst two had positioned themselves on the purlins of the building, the third was out and exposed to the risk of mechanical harm. Staff left doors to the building open hoping the parents would encourage the chick back to safety. Apparently the parents were shouting at it quite a lot; one assumes that is what they were trying to do!
Onsite CCTV allowed staff to keep watch on the chick; it appeared to be doing ok. After two days it wasn’t moving – at all. Sadly it had died. A post-mortem revealed a healed fracture in one wing. An underlying reason for its restricted movements around the asphalt plant? The interesting find was that this wasn’t the ‘runt’, but one of the older, larger chicks.
Choughs are full of surprises. When we went to ring Kevin and Wally’s brood on the 4th we found they had lost a chick pre-fledge. Disheartening as it was they had made up for it in size. They were huge! We remembered tiny, half-naked things. These were fully-feathered beasts. I’m pretty sure there is no literature on choughs feeding protein shakes to their chicks. We certainly didn’t find a nutribullet secreted in the building framework. Whatever they’ve been fed, the chicks survived and by the end of the month they were frequenting the Sorel aviary.
One of Kevin and Wally’s chicks having leg rings fitted. Photo by Liz Corry.
Other fledging news
We are pretty certain that all the chicks have now fledged. Unless any undetected nests along the north coast wish to make a claim – please do so now.
Proud to say we have new choughs flying around Jersey’s north coast from six different families. Somewhat disheartening to know there were broods or individuals that didn’t make it. From what we have seen it is simply a result of life in the wild.
One reason for loss is inter-specific competition within the quarry. I had a joyous moment mid-June watching Green and Black’s recently fledged trio being fed on the east side – where we used to supplemental feed released choughs.
Imagine my surprise as watching through the scope I saw a herring gull appear from nowhere and pin down a chick by the throat. Lots of shouting and wing slapping ensued.
Surprise attack by gulls on the recently fledged chough family. Photo by Liz Corry.
A pair of herring gulls pin down one of the chough chicks by the throat. Photo by Liz Corry.
A second gull joined in as did all the choughs in the quarry at the time. The chick managed to escape although I imagine it sustained injuries. Since that day we have only seen the parents with one chick.
The gull’s actions were not fully unjustified. They had a chick about two metres away from where the chough family had been hanging out. They were just doing their job of being good parents. With more choughs and increasing numbers of gull nests we are likely to see more of this behaviour.
Taken several days after the attack, this cute ball of fluff explains what the fight was about. Photo by Liz Corry.
An interesting anecdote from this event was how the other choughs reacted. They didn’t physically attack the gulls (a couple tried) it was more of an audible attack. Once the fighting stopped and one gull returned to their nest, the choughs stayed with the chough family almost like a standoff.
When it looked like matters had calmed down the choughs began breaking away going about their business. One pair returned to their nest in the lower quarry. Choughs truly are a social species.
Thankfully choughs raised in the zoo do not need concern themselves with gulls, peregrines, or dangerous rock-crushing machinery. Just their dad!
Tristan remained separated from Penny and the two chicks throughout June. The chicks look really well and have now fledged. We will look at moving Tristan back soon along with Gianna for the summer.
Dobrodošli v Sloveniji ⁄ Welcome to Slovenia
I was invited to talk at Monticola’s annual meeting held, this year, in the Julian Alps, Slovenia from 11th to 16th June. Monticola is an association of amateur and professional ornithologists specialising in alpine species.
The Julian Alps in Slovenia were once home to red-billed choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
This year’s focus was to discuss the feasibility of reintroducing red-billed choughs to Slovenia. Red-billed choughs disappeared mid-twentieth century from Slovenia (yellow-billed choughs are still numerous). Hunting is attributed to much of the loss. Change in land use and effects of pesticides and/or cattle worming are likely to be the other major players. A large proportion of alpine pastures in the Julian Alps have been lost to the encroaching commercial forest.
Caûvette the chough surveying the habitat. Photo by Liz Corry.
Various day time excursions were planned along with evening talks. Members of BirdLife Slovenia (DOPPS) talked about their work and joined me for a scary panel discussion on reintroducing the chough. I say scary, not because of the stature or responsibility being on this panel. Rather because it was in German…and Slovenian!
Tomaz Mihelic, BirdLife Slovenia, gave talks about monitoring and conservation of various Slovenian species. Photo by Liz Corry.
BirdLife Slovenia don’t just work with birds. Photo by Liz Corry.
Monticola members are mainly German or Swiss-German. To add to the fun, the German for red-billed chough is Alpenkräuhe which is not the same as the Alpine chough known in English as yellow-billed choughs.
Promo material handed out to Monticola members. Photo by Liz Corry.
Thankfully I had the lovely Johannes and Arnette Denkinger who took me under their wing. Johannes had invited me to speak after reading about Birds On The Edge. It has been his passion for many years to see the return of the red-billed choughs to the eastern Alps.
Birdlife Slovenia did not appear to be against the idea, but raised the realistic challenge of limited resources and existing government priorities. Using evidence from Jersey, and Durrell’s ethos, we all agreed there was scope to create a similar project to Birds On The Edge in Slovenia whereby the focus is restoring alpine pastures. Support is already there within the German zoo community where a captive-breeding programme has been initiated. Tiergarten Nuernburg are leading the work and have invested in habitat feasibility studies.
At the end of the day this needs the people of Slovenia to be behind it. A challenge Johannes is prepared to take on!
Caûvette the chough taking a break at Lake Bohinji. Photo by Liz Corry.
Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards 2019
Congratulations to Birds On The Edge partner the National Trust for Jersey who were awarded runner’s up prize for their conservation meadow at The Elms. The winners were SCOOP The Sustainable Cooperative for their soon to launch ‘Re-Wild my Plate’ initiative.
Glyn Young presenting Kaspar Wimberley of SCOOP with first prize at this years Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards.
Glyn Young was one of the judges and presented the awards at a ceremony held at the Pomme D’or Hotel. I gave a short presentation explaining how we spent last year’s award money supporting the chough project. We must state for the record there was no vote rigging!
We are having some issues with our website at the moment I’m afraid. These are being sorted, so please bear with us, there is lots of news to tell you when we are back up and running and you’ll be the first to know.
The Inter-Islands Environmental Meeting – IIEM2019
What role do the Islands of the British Isles and Overseas Territories have to play in a world where ecosystem collapse is seen as increasingly inevitable? Often Islands lack the economic or political resources to have a voice on the global environmental stage and they face many of the same pressures on their environments – over-population, development, economic insecurity and resource scarcity – and often have even scarcer resources to protect – yet they are uniquely positioned to help future wildlife recovery. Could our islands act as biodiversity lifeboats, refuges for the unique endemic species they host and as shelters for habitats and species under increasing pressure elsewhere?
The Wilder Islands Conference combines the annual Inter-Islands Environment Meeting with an additional day of talks and discussions, the aim being to enable representatives from not only the Channel Islands, but also from across the British Isles and its Overseas Territories and the wider scientific community, to discuss the role of islands as biodiversity hotspots in a future response to global environmental decline. The Wilder Islands Conference aims to bring scientists, conservationists and policy makers together to focus on what steps these communities might take for a Wilder Future for their islands.
Thursday and Friday 26-27 September – IIEM2019 – A combination of presentations, opportunity for debate and field visits, hosted in a selection of venues making the best of Alderney’s historic and rugged environment. The IIEM has been running since 2000 and this year we are looking to discover more about how the islands of the Crown Dependencies, Overseas Territories and wider British Isles are responding to the growing threat to island/regional ecosystems.
Wilder Islands Day – We are delighted to be able to offer attendees this additional conference day, chaired by Dr. George McGavin and with Tony Juniper, Bryce Stewart, Jean-Luc Solandt, Sam Turvey and Rob Stoneman (see details of guests here) attending. We envision this as a day of talks by inspirational speakers who have detailed knowledge of the importance of island biodiversity and the threats faced by our unique communities. There will be the opportunity for discussion around each presentation, with an emphasis on how islands can secure their environment against a trend of global decline, and the very important role that islands play in retaining biodiversity on a national and global scale.
Download full details of the Wilder Islands Conference 2019 here
We’d be delighted if you would join us for all 3 days so you have already let us know you are attending please confirm if you will be staying for this exciting days discussion – firstname.lastname@example.org
The IIEM2019 and the Wilder Islands Conference have received generous support from a range of sources including the Insurance Corporation and the States of Alderney. As a result, there will be no attendance charge for delegates, though there will be some small charges towards the cost of food for delegates. We are preparing information on accommodation and travel arrangements for delegates and will accept applications for a limited number of grants to support attendance (please contact us at email@example.com).
The theme ‘Wilder Islands’ is not restrictive but please consider it as a guide to the tone and intent of any presentation you might give. Presentation slots will as usual be limited to 20 minutes unless you specifically request a longer session i.e. joint or interactive presentations; please feel free to request a shorter slot. Obviously we are restricted on the number of available slots so we would be grateful if you could let us know if you would like to present and a title of your talk as soon as possible and we will follow up for more details once we have a better idea of numbers and topics.
Please note there will be a review panel made up of the existing hosts and previous hosts who will shortlist the speakers for inclusion, should there be more presentations than time allows.
We are intending to have a dedicated poster and digital display area for the event this year and also to publish contributions online. Again space is likely to be restricted so if you have an idea for a poster or digital display please let us know so we can provisionally reserve a space by 28th June, with the outline title and concept – firstname.lastname@example.org
We intend to link in with the Island’s school as part of Wilder Islands, with some students invited to attend talks and also to produce their own posters. We are interested in streaming sections of both IIEM2019 and the Wilder Islands Conference for schools so if you have school links and think there might be an interest in this please get in touch.
REGISTERING AN INTEREST
Download full details of the Wilder Islands Conference 2019 here
For all those wanting to attend we need you to please get in touch and answer the following questions as we have limited space in the venues and accommodation. We will be in touch with all those who have booked in with the accommodation and travel options.
So to help us with our planning and getting the best deals please could you let us know if:
You would like to attend and which days you plan to attend
If you are prepared to travel by sea and/or air, let us know your preference
If you would like to give a presentation, and if so an outline title so we can begin to structure the meeting
If you think you would like to display a poster or a digital display in the form of a short video
Contact us at – email@example.com or by calling us on 01481 822935 and asking for Roland, Claire or Lindsay and please feel free to forward this information to others who you feel might be interested in attending or speaking.
Many thanks for your time and we hope to see you in Alderney later in the year.
* ‘Wilder Islands’ will also become part of the national ‘Wilder Future’ campaign launched by the UK Wildlife Trust movement earlier this year.
Download full details of the Wilder Islands Conference 2019 here
A meeting was held last August last year at the request of Dru Burdon from the Jersey Hedgehog Preservation Group as she was so frustrated and upset at the number of hedgehogs coming in with severe injuries. That meeting was attended by about 20 individuals/environmental organisations together with the Natural Environment Department, the Comité des Connétables and the Jersey Farmers’ Union to revise the branchage practice for the benefit of the Island’s fauna and flora. It was proposed that a small committee be formed to identify how we could improve the situation and myself together with Bob Tompkins, Neil Singleton, Alli Caldeira, Dru Burdon, Rose Anne Mitchell and Chris Perkins put our hands up! We are by no means experts in land management but we have endeavoured to seek advice and input from those in the know. Over recent months we have rewritten the branchage guidelines and hope that the revised version will be easier to understand with clear examples of photos and a diagram of best practice.
A training session was organised on 30 May and hosted by Peter le Maistre, the President of the Jersey Farmers’ Union attended by about 50 farmers and contractors, representatives of environmental organisations and John Pinel, Principal Ecologist and Assistant Director of the Natural Environment Department. It was a very successful event with honest and constructive dialogue between all concerned. One of the farmers stated that this was the first time environmentalists and farmers had come together to discuss these issues and this process should continue as it had been incredibly helpful and positive. He also suggested that results of wildlife monitoring (as a result of the new branchage regime) should be reported back to the farmers.
Peter Le Maistre and Ian Le Brun (Jersey Royal Potato Company) had earlier that week cut three examples of branchaging to demonstrate to those present and provide an opportunity for discussion and a compromise was agreed whereby the lower part of the banque is cut to a minimum height of 10cm but the top is left uncut, as this will give wildlife a chance of survival but still adhere to the branchage law. Revised guidelines on best practice for hedgerow, tree and banque (bank) management have now been agreed and will be published by Natural Environment.
Alastair Christie, the Asian Hornet Coordinator also gave a presentation on signs to look out for when undertaking the branchage process and safe working practices.
Our farmers have a symbiotic relationship with the landscape and the large majority of them (particularly those present at the meeting) consider themselves every bit as much an environmentalist. The planting of trees and hedgerows by farmers over the years has contributed to the health of our countryside and they are supportive of improving the biodiversity of our banques and hedgerows.
The Branchage Law dates back to 1914 when the aim was to improve the safety for road users and pedestrians. This is still the case today, however, a misunderstanding/misinterpretation of the law has been allowed to happen and this idea of a ‘neat and tidy’ landscape needs to be done away with. The law is very specific and, as long as a height of 3.7 metres above roads and 2.4 metres above footpaths is adhered to, then the Connétables are happy with this. The banques do not need to be cut down to the bare soil and, as long as vegetation does not overhang the road/footpaths, then the tops can be left uncut. This will allow the desired vegetation to seed but, more importantly, the protection of animals such as hedgehogs, lizards, slow worms and fledgling birds.
Work needs to continue in making private landowners and landlords aware of the new guidelines. Some tenant farmers have been told they risk having fields taken away from them if they don’t make everything ‘neat and tidy’ and it is disheartening when they adhere to the LEAF (Linking Environment & Farming) guidelines and only cut hedges every two years to then find that neighbours cut everything to the bare soil. John Pinel advised that there is legislation in place to prevent the removal of hedges and he offered support to the farmers in generating positive discussions with landowners regarding best working practices.
One of the issues mentioned at an earlier discussion was that machine operators often suffer abuse from motorists when holding up the traffic and also from home owners if the operators go out early in the morning to avoid the motorists. We sought advice from the Connétables who were present at the meeting and Len Norman advised that the Connétables were willing to close the roads to enable the branchage to be undertaken safely. It’s not easy operating machinery, trying to check where the flail is along the banque and at the same time looking out for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists so, if the level of stress can be reduced, that can only be a good thing.
I was delighted with the outcome of the meeting and, having been involved in this campaign, I have a much deeper understanding and respect for the work that our farmers do.
We have produced two sets of guidelines – a condensed version (which could be kept in the cab of a vehicle to refer to – download this version here) and the more comprehensive version which is still to be formalised by the Natural Environment Department with photos and diagrams (download the draft of this here). Polish and Portuguese versions of the condensed report are available – please check relevant websites or contact Birds On The Edge.
The intention is to distribute these guidelines to private contractors and have them available on Parish and Government of Jersey websites for Island wide use.
Breeding out on the north coast has been in full swing this April. Thirteen nest sites have been recorded, two of which are new. We have a new site within the quarry and for the first time a nest-box installed along the north coast is seeing action. Sadly it looks like a territory in the south-west of the Island has been lost, but with 13 of our 15 males in action things are still looking good.
A pair of choughs copulating at the start of April. Photo by Liz Corry.
Ronez: same sites, different pairs
Working closely with Ronez Quarry staff we have been able to record eleven nests on their property.
Ronez Quarry pit (using a lens filter before you ask). Photo by Liz Corry.
It does look like we have lost Bean and males Q and Duke. Their ‘other halves’ are using the same nest sites they had last year this time with new partners.
All nest-boxes installed in the quarry are now being used and show promise. With help from quarryman Kevin Le Herrisier, Red and Dingle have been encouraged to nest in a box rather than on the hot pipes that cooked their eggs for the past two seasons.
A nest-box installed in the quarry to support the breeding population. Photo by Liz Corry.
Two external boxes are once again in use and are already having more success (now that they’ve evicted the kestrel). One of these boxes is being used by wild-hatched Percy and Icho who was released in 2014.
The really exciting news came from Toby Cabaret, Assistant Operations Manager. He reported hearing chick noises from the box. Considering it took a hydraulic crane to put the box up in the first place, Toby was a little unsure of what he was actually hearing.
You talking to me? Photo by Liz Corry.
I spent an hour observing the nest site from the newly installed viewing platform in the lower quarry. Accompanied by an inquisitive gull, I watched as Percy made four visits to the nest-box within a fifty minute period.
Either Icho is one demanding female or they have chicks. This was on the 11th which meant Jersey’s choughs had started early!
North coast nests
Once again, Earl and Xaviour are nesting out at Plémont. Visitors to Plémont Beach cafe are having regular flypasts if they spare the time to look up from their all-day breakfasts. This is the first nest site away from the quarry and is susceptible to human disturbance. The public cannot access the nest itself, but they can access the headland above even though part of it falls within the Seabird Protection Zone in place March to July. Low tide fishermen, walkers, drone users, and a gentleman in red speedos who takes a folding chair out to the furthest point on a regular basis so he can sunbathe – the downside to having a good spotting scope – have been noted in the vicinity.
This has not deterred the pair from nesting, in fact we believe Xaviour is incubating eggs. The concern will be around fledging time when chicks are vulnerable and learning to forage on that particular headland.
As well as this natural nest site, we have nest-boxes along the cliffs stretching from Sorel to Devil’s Hole. One of these has been destroyed by rockfall (hopefully not with birds inside). Another has been used for the first time as an actual nest rather than rain shelter. Vicq, one of our foster-reared girls and now fully fledged ‘cougar’, has taken a shine to one year old Osbourne. As Ronez’s CEO namesake, I guess he was destined to be the first of the 2018 wild-hatched choughs to pair up.
Osbourne taking an interest in what Vicq is doing inside the nest-box. Photo by Liz Corry.
When Vicq and Osbourne were seen for the first time using the box they were very attentive. They had already built the nest. Vicq was clearly very busy inside whilst Osbourne maintained a supervisory role (or didn’t have a clue what was happening). The next day they were still visiting the box albeit less frequently. A visiting student, Rachel Owen, observed the nest for a set time each day for the following week. Nothing! Not a single visit to the box by a chough. Vicq‘s first nest had failed; certainly one to keep an eye on next year.
Another failure this year has been the nest in the south-west of the Island. In fact the pair have not been seen at all this season by staff at Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd. I was beginning to get paranoid having visited the area a few times this year on a chough hunt and returned unsuccessful.
Student Rachel Owen, who was staying with friends in Corbière, spent two mornings walking the coastal path from Gorselands to the sand dunes. Again no choughs. Several other corvids around to test her ID skills, but clearly the pair who tried holding down a territory in this area last year have abandoned. Pleased to say Rachel stayed upbeat about it despite the miles she covered on foot.
Rachel Owen spent a week in Jersey working with the choughs as part of her studies. Photo by Rachel Owen.
Whilst we have no strong scientific data, we do know the pair returned every day to Sorel throughout 2018 to get food before roosting back in the south-west. Compare that to the Plémont pair and you can’t help thinking that the south-west provides a poor food resource. The other factor to consider is the unintentional human disturbance. The number of visitors to Corbière and the dunes meant the choughs were constantly moving around whilst foraging.
The sad news is that the female, Mary, has not been seen since the start of February. Partner Bo had a similar attendance record until we discovered he had just been incognito. He was one of two individuals we reported on last month for having identical leg rings. Bo is currently nesting in the quarry with a different female.
There have been several confirmed reports of choughs exploring the north-east of the Island. On the first Sunday in April, Glyn Young watched a pair fly between la Saie and le Coupe Bays. About an hour earlier, one of our keepers living near the zoo had spotted them flying in Glyn’s direction. The following weekend, a local birder recorded a pair near Anne Port, briefly stopping at Gorey Castle before heading west. The weekend after that I was alerted by a distinct call coming from the skies above my house! Two choughs meandering along on the thermals above Rozel Valley.
Are these weekend visitors? Presumably the same pair, if so which? To add to the mystery, another Durrell colleague reported four flying over her house east of the zoo on a Tuesday morning.
I contacted Jersey Heritage regarding the sighting at Gorey castle. To a pair of passing choughs, the 800-year old building offers numerous potential nesting opportunities. A volunteer guide at the castle witnessed the same visit, but nothing else before or after. It doesn’t necessarily mean that is the end of the story.
There are plenty of foraging opportunities in the north-east if you look around. Rozel Manor for instance has land grazed by cattle. Nearby there are two smallholdings with pigs which get rotated around (field not pig!) so the land isn’t completely churned up. Plus plenty of large, horse paddocks as well as properties with extensive, well-maintained lawns. Providing pesticides are not being used there could be an untapped source of food for the choughs.
A “chough’s eye view” of the habitat around the north-east of Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.
Sorel aviary ‘spring clean’
Much needed major repair work was carried out this month on the aviary at Sorel. We experienced a few setbacks in suppliers and contractors resulting in Durrell’s own Site Service team carrying out the work with a very short turnaround window.
We called in a favour with the Natural Environment team. States ranger Keiran drove the building materials and equipment to Sorel as we don’t have a suitable vehicle.
The States of Jersey kindly donated their time and vehicle) to help Durrell transport materials to Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
Brand new netting has been fitted to the tunnel. Not a simple job as the timber framework it was attached to was rotten. All of the shelving in the tunnel has been replaced and most of the framework. It also meant that the hatches had to be removed, new marine-grade steel hinges fitted, and finally re-wired before fitting.
The aviary under repair. Photo by Liz Corry.
A metal pole has been installed running down the centre of the tunnel to support the hoops.
This was the original intention back when the aviary was first built, but never came to fruition.
Timber was used instead, which of course didn’t weather well and in certain places led to netting fraying.
There are still several DIY tasks that need to be completed in order for the aviary to function as a catch-up facility. It is, however, up and running again as a supplemental feed site and roost for those birds that need it.
Jersey Zoo’s breeding group
This year we have just one breeding pair of choughs in the zoo; Tristan and Penny (short for Pendragon). This is their first time together not that you can tell. They have made a perfect nest and began egg-laying on the 19th. Mum is tending to a clutch of four eggs with Tristan keeping her well-fed. We have to wait until May to see if they all hatch.
Gianna is still at the Zoo although now off-show in her foster-rearing aviary. We haven’t broken the news to her yet that we want the other pair to parent-rear their own chicks. Gianna hasn’t built a nest this year which is unusual. I think it is linked to the lack of attention she is receiving. The project has been without a student placement for several months now. Normally they would be visiting Gianna two to three times a day in addition to the keeper visits.
Any other business….YES loads!
April was definitely a busy month. To add to all of the above activities there have been several visitors all wanting to learn how the reintroduction and Birds On The Edge can be of benefit. Below is a summary although really they warrant separate blogs. In no particular order:
Author Patrick Barkham and his family spent the Easter Holidays at the Durrell Wildlife Camp. He managed to include a trip to Sorel where I could explain the work we do and show off the choughs. Inadvertently, Patrick helped with our data collection. As I stood on the cliff tops pointing to a nest-box and commenting on the lack of uptake, Vicq and Osbourne eloquently flew straight inside! Side note: highly recommend reading Patrick’s books, especially Islander and Badgerlands.
Vicq collecting material to build her nest at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
Jersey zoo played host to the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA)Directors’ Days conference. Over 130 zoo directors travelled to Jersey for the three-day event. This year’s theme was around leadership in conservation and how to encourage the community to set ambitious targets for greater conservation impact. The Birds On The Edge project was therefore a fitting optional field trip for the final day.
On the same day we also welcomed two guests from the Scottish Chough Study Group – Pat Monaghan, University of Glasgow, and Amanda Trask (now at ZSL). We are assisting in planning a translocation intended to ensure the survival of the remnant Scottish population. Also supported by improved supplemental feeding methods adapted from the lessons learnt with the Jersey choughs.
The two groups met out at Sorel providing Pat and Amanda with a bonus opportunity to network with Scottish EAZA members! Watch this space!
Great minds around a table in a castle – the start of something epic? Photo by Liz Corry.
Lastly, I escaped the rock for 24 hours to attend a workshop at Dover Castle, Kent. A PhD student is currently assessing the feasibility of reintroducing choughs to Kent. Historically, the species resided across the entire south coast of England not just Cornwall where you find them today. Plus choughs feature heavily in Canterbury heraldry.
The workshop was an opportunity to get project partners and experts together to discuss the next steps. Our good friends from Paradise Park were present allowing for a quick catch-up. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the room driven by Kent Wildlife Trust‘s latest goal to develop a wilder Kent. Again watch this space!
In the meantime, watch this video and reward yourself for reaching the end of April’s report!