How are Jersey’s puffins doing in 2017?

Atlantic puffins 15-6-2017. Photo by Mick DrydenWe worry about our puffins. We worry a lot and not without good cause. Our puffins have probably been in trouble since humans and their hangers on, the rats, dogs, cats and ferrets that follow them, first turned up in Jersey. Or walked along the peninsula presumably. And it’s not like the puffins could have been totally casual in their choices of nest sites before arrival of humans – wolves, foxes, stoats and weasels didn’t need us to show them where the seabirds were. Picking places to breed where wolves can’t get to is probably a lot easier than choosing rat-free ones. It’s a surprise that the burrow-nesting puffin even made it this far – nowhere else will they nest where rats are even vaguely close by.

Unfortunately our actual records of puffins in Jersey are pretty poor. Everyone “knows” there were once lots although no one ever actually counted them. Or looked in their nest burrows. Or even it seems, really, confirmed that they actually bred here at all – puffin chicks are reared underground and, abandoned by their parents, leave the burrow alone and at night. They fly straight out to sea and away, never really ever seeing their parents as it was dark in the nest where they grew up. It’s perhaps no surprise then that we never see the little ones, the pufflings, either.

Atlantic puffins 15-6-2017. Photo by Mick Dryden (3)

That Jersey’s puffins, like those in France have gone down numbers further in recent years is quite clear and, in 2015, Kaja Heising even wondered if the puffin’s time in Jersey was finally up. That the bird of many a local t-shirt, souvenir and local television show would be lost for ever. I further suggested that in Jersey we risked emulating Mauritius’s relationship with the dodo – an island using an extinct bird as an icon.

Puffin. Not in Jersey. Photo by Mick Dryden

Jersey’s puffins are pretty well the most southerly of their kind in the world. The one colony below us, Rouzic in Brittany, has itself suffered. Not least in their case as gannets have moved into their neighbourhood and taken over. Interestingly it’s possible that puffins don’t really get kicked out by gannets but that all that burrowing will eventually remove the topsoil they need, making it useless for puffins but lovely for gannets (like they did on the Welsh island of Grassholm). The puffin may be rare amongst nature in that it, like us, can completely destroy the home it needs most.

Atlantic puffins 15-6-2017. Photo by Mick Dryden (2)

The southern-most puffins are also finding the seas around them getting warmer as the climate changes. British waters, already grossly overfished, are now seeing new fish species that were once rare this far north (witness the change of moulting sites of the Balearic shearwater), fish not all to the liking of puffins, particularly not for the pufflings.

So, what of our puffins? Have they finally gone from Jersey? Well, that’s the thing, they’re still here. Not many but where there’s hope etc. This year there are eight pairs it seems, and everything suggests that they are at least trying to nest and breed successfully. Of course, our puffins can’t burrow into the soil as they’d like to as the rats would get them, so they pick inaccessible cracks in the rock that they can fly into. Local ecologist Piers Sangan and top birder, Mick Dryden, are watching the puffins like no one has done before in Jersey, mapping them and trying to understand their behaviour while in our waters. Piers reports both members of one pair flying into one rock crevice carrying fish – to feed an unseen baby? That sounds like a probable breeding to me – our first record at last?

Puffin. 26-5-2017. Photo by Mick Dryden (1)

NE-IM-Petit Plemont 27.10 (2)And what of the threats, do we know more about these? We know that our birds are unlikely to access somewhere to burrow thanks to the attentions of unwanted mammals. But how bad is this and how many of the pesky mammals are there on the cliff tops? Invasive mammals expert Kirsty Swinnerton is planning to find out and think up ways perhaps of getting rid of them. Or at least keeping them safely away from the birds. Local expert, and chough monitor, Keith Pyman has also wondered whether our fulmars, which colonised Jersey in the 1970s, might not be blame-free too. At least in not helping the precarious position of our puffins.

Fulmar. Photo by Mick DrydenFulmars are never normally any threat to nesting puffins but these petrels, who can spit some pretty foul stomach contents at anyone annoying them, probably don’t normally get that close to burrowing puffins. However, here in Jersey, fulmars nest on the ledges and mouths of cracks and crevices – do they block the puffins’ nests? Puffins find it hard enough to approach their Jersey homes anyway (puffins in big grassy colonies simply throw themselves into the ground and run to the burrow) those using small rock crevices find the precision approach difficult without the threat of the spitting fulmar. Keith has noted fulmars in the places where in years past he saw puffins disappearing underground.

Our puffins are still hanging on and you can see the sightings on the Jersey Birds website along with updates on our small number of razorbills, some over-summering guillemots and, somewhat weirdly, the fine black guillemot enjoying our summer with its (reluctant?) razorbill friends. As noted above, where there’s hope there’s a way, so let’s give our puffins some support. With a better understanding of the numbers and locations of all our birds and the true level of threats that they face we may be able to devise some strategies to stop the puffin’s disappearance, ways that might need everyone to remember just how much they love puffins.

Razorbill. 26-5-2017. Photo by Mick Dryden

Black guillemot. 31-3-2017 Jersey. Photo by Mick Dryden

Chough report: May 2017

Wild flowers at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Jersey’s coastal habitat was home to spring lambs, wild flowers, and baby choughs this month. Here is what the choughs got up to. Or, as we can now call them, what the award-winning choughs got up to!

May the 4th be with you

On May the 4th the first of the three eggs in Issy and Tristan’s nest hatched. Staff were naturally excited and considering the date, the geeks amongst us (i.e. everyone), started putting bids in for Star Wars related names for the clutch.

Chough eggs hatch sequentially so we expected it to take a few days. However, the days passed and it became clear that this would be the only egg to hatch.

Han Solo was duly christened.

The parents were keen to remove one of the failed eggs. The other was left in the nest for quite sometime.

With only one chick to care for, Han Solo was well fed and grew steadily day by day.

Breeding in the wild

This year’s wall planner had a rather colourful month in store with various predicted hatch dates starred and scribbled in colour-coded marker. First off the blocks were to be Red and Dingle (hand-reared) who raised their first chicks last year. This year’s eggs were due to hatch around the first week in May. A change in Red‘s behaviour on 4th May suggested the eggs might have started hatching. Instead of waiting for the cue from Dingle, she was already waiting at the aviary for food in the morning. As soon as she picked up a mouthful of mealworms she zoomed back to her nest.

We asked Kevin le Herissier, responsible for ‘their’ building (Ronez naively still believe that the buildings are theirs not the choughs’), to check the nest the following week. This was to allow time for the entire clutch to hatch and so that the parents were not as sensitive to disturbance.

To our bemusement the photo he sent back was of a perfect nest containing four eggs.

Kevin_le_H_photo of Red nest

Red and Dingle’s nest early in May. Photo by Kevin le Herissier

A follow up check on the 19th also found four eggs. Guess what was found when the nest was checked for a third time on the 31st? Sadly, not a case of third time lucky. Still four eggs. Under license by the States of Jersey, these eggs were candled in the nest to find answers to what had happened, why they hadn’t hatched. One egg had failed during embryonic development while the others looked like they contained almost fully developed chicks. The eggs were returned to the nest.

New nest-site discovered

Student John Harding and Ronez operational assistant Toby Cabaret checked on the nests in the quarry on the 19th. Armed with a GoPro and a very long pole they checked nest-boxes and known nest sites. One of the nest-boxes we fitted in the quarry in 2015 had nesting material in it. What flew out wasn’t a chough though. It was a kestrel!

Most of the nests were just centimetres out of reach of the pole and suspiciously quiet. The team did, however, spot a female on a nest in a building not previously used by the choughs. With no wish to disturb her the nest was left alone. We now have the task of trying to work out which pair this nest belongs to.

A neighbouring building was also found to have a nest. This one didn’t have a female on it, but from the begging noises it was clear there were at least two chicks in there. Again this is a new site and new pairing.

This video shows Toby and John trying to use the GoPro to check the cheeping nest. They didn’t realise at the time how close they were to the nest. You can see the chicks.

They look extremely young. Normally we would avoid disturbing a nest at this age. From our calculations we expected any chicks to be a few days older. From their begging they look strong.

All nest checks are done under license from the States of Jersey.

Chick ringing and revelations

On the 31st we returned to the nest sites. This time with Channel Island ringer Dave Buxton in case the chicks were old enough to fit with leg rings. We were also armed with a new piece of equipment…a USB endoscope camera. It doesn’t provide HD images like the GoPro. However, it is equipped with LED lights and a lot more manoeuvrable (and only cost £25).

Toby Cabaret checking a chough nest with the Potensic endoscope. Photo by Liz Corry.

Three chicks could be seen with the endoscope plugged into a smartphone. Photo by Liz Corry.

Due to health and safety concerns, two nest-sites were out of bounds. We were able to check the nest with the cheeping chicks. This time eerily silent, although it was clear from the endoscope image that there were three bills. They still had pin feathers on their heads and from their size they looked no more than two weeks old. Too young to fit rings.

Before leaving the building John and Toby went a checked the next floor up on a hunch that there could be something. They were right! They found a nest tucked away behind girders.

Spot the nest? Photo by Liz Corry.

Despite a grainy image, the colour and shape of a bill could be seen and possibly a second body. The image below is a snapshot from the endoscope. The image is less clear than in realtime. You will be forgiven if you can’t spot the head of a chick.

Screen grab of endoscope view in nest showing the pale bill of a chick (far right). Photo by Liz Corry.

Whilst checking this nest Kevin and Bean flew in and appeared slightly aggrieved that we had discovered their little secret. The disappointment of the chicks once again being too young to ring was quickly overshadowed by this news. Bean is one of our hand-reared females released as a juvenile in 2014 and now, three years later, rearing chicks of her own!

Chough-watch

We received several reports of choughs out and about this month from members of the public. Of interest was a report of a pair from Tabor Park, St Brelade. They had been seen on the allotments, but flown before leg rings could be read. Five days later another report came in of a chough calling at the desalination plant by Corbiere.

We have radio-tracked choughs to the south-west before in 2014 and 2015. Since then there have been a handful of sightings around Gorselands, Le Creux and Red Houses.

Choughs on the move. Photo by Liz Corry.

Regular chough watchers Mick Dryden, Tony Paintin, and Piers Sangan reported choughs at Crabbé, Île Agois, and Grosnez during the day. We assume these are the sub-adults and non-breeders who don’t have commitments at the quarry. Without leg ring records we can’t be sure.

Grosnez to Plémont with Sorel point in the far distance: areas visited by the choughs this month. Photo by Liz Corry.

Personality research with Nottingham Trent University

Guille Mayor arrived this month to start his MSc research looking at personality traits in released choughs. He is trying to see if personality relates to dispersal distances and success in the wild. Part of his work will involve behavioural observation at the release aviary and how individuals react to a novel object.

The trickier part of his study requires him to find where the choughs go each day. He obviously likes a challenge since only three in 34 have radio tracking devices and Guille is on a bicycle. If you do spot a chough away from Sorel please as also let us know. Send an email, call 01534 860059, or post on Jersey Wildlife Facebook page. Location, date, time, and, if possible, leg rings need including.

And finally

British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) held their annual awards at The Deep in Hull this month. Durrell had entered four categories and came away with three gold and one silver. We are delighted to announce that the return of choughs to Jersey was awarded gold in the conservation category.

Many thanks to everyone involved over the years that have helped plan, raise, release, monitor, and protect the choughs, many of which have volunteered their free time to do so. And of course our partners at the National Trust for Jersey, Department of the Environment, and our extended chough family at Paradise Park.

BIAZA award 2017

Choughs at Sorel Point May 2017. Photo by Mark Sleep

Wild bird populations in the UK, 1970-2015

Sedge warbler (3). Photo by Mick Dryden

Wild bird populations in the UK 1970-2015. 2017The UK Government has released a report assessing bird populations across the UK between 1970 and 2015 particularly in selected and vulnerable groups: farmland, woodland, water and seabirds

Why should governments monitor bird populations?

Bird populations have long been considered to provide a good indication of the broad state of wildlife in the UK. This is because they occupy a wide range of habitats and respond to environmental pressures that also operate on other groups of wildlife. In addition, there are considerable long-term data on trends in bird populations, allowing for comparison between short term and long term. Because they are a well-studied taxonomic group, drivers of change for birds are better understood than for other species groups, which enables better interpretation of any observed changes. Birds also have huge cultural importance and are highly valued as a part of the UK’s natural environment by the general public. However, the bird indicators presented in this publication are not intended, in isolation, as indicators of the health of the natural environment more widely. It is not possible to determine changes in the actual number of birds for each species in the UK each year, it is possible to estimate the relative change, from counts on sample plots surveyed as part of a range of national monitoring schemes just as Birds On The Edge and others do in Jersey.

Trends in bird populations are used by policy makers, government agencies and nongovernmental organisations as part of the evidence base to assess the effects of environmental management, such as agricultural practices, on bird populations. The trends are also used to assess the effectiveness of environmental interventions intended to address declines, such as agri-environment schemes targeted at farmland birds.

Understanding the bird population indices

Individual bird species population trends, based on expert surveys, are calculated as an index. This relates the population in a given year to a ‘baseline’ – the first year that data are available – which is given a value of 100. Thereafter, the index is expressing the population as a percentage of this ‘baseline’.

This annual Defra National Statistics Release presents data trends up to 2015 in populations of common birds (species with a population of at least 500 breeding pairs) that are native to, and breed in, the UK, with trends overall and for four main habitat groups (see Annex A in the report for a list of birds in each group). The release also presents trends for wintering waterbirds, some of which also breed in the UK. The charts presented combine individual species indices into a single indicator to provide an overall trend for each group mentioned above. The indices are considered to give reliable medium to long-term trends but strong reliance should not be attached to short term changes from year to year.

Starling. Photo by Mick Dryden

Assessing the trends

Two trends are referred to in the text: the unsmoothed indices show year-to-year fluctuation in populations, reflecting the observed changes in the survey results; and smoothed trends, which are used to formally assess the statistical significance of change over time. Smoothed trends are used for both long and short term assessments as they reduce the short-term peaks and troughs resulting from, for example, year to year weather and sampling variations. The most recent year of data, i.e. 2015 in this update, is likely to change due to the smoothing process following the inclusion of 2016 data in next year’s update. As a result it is not appropriate to make assessments based on this figure. Where results from the smoothed indices are quoted, this is clearly indicated.

Executive summary

The combined all species index has changed little compared with 40 years ago in the UK, however, this masks considerable flux, with some species increasing and some species decreasing in population size. These changes in relative abundance tend to cancel each other out in the combined index.

In 2015:

  • The all-species index in the UK was 2% below its 1970 value
  • There were less than half the number of farmland birds than in 1970, most of this decline occurred between the late seventies and early eighties
  • There were 18% less woodland birds than in 1970
  • Water and wetland bird numbers were 7% lower than in 1975
  • There were 22% less seabirds compared to 1986
  • The number of wintering waterbirds was 88% higher than in 1975-76, the index peaked in 2001 and has declined since.

Wild bird populations in the UK 1970-2015. Farmland birds 2

Between 2009 and 2014:

  • The smoothed all species index remained level
  • Farmland birds smoothed index decreased 8%
  • The number of woodland birds did not change significantly, although the unsmoothed index dipped to the lowest figure ever recorded in 2013 before recovering
  • The smoothed water and wetland bird index declined by 7%
  • The number of seabirds declined 6%, in 2013 numbers dipped to the lowest ever but have since increased slightly
  • The smoothed wintering water bird index fell 8%.

Wild bird populations in the UK 1970-2015. Woodland birds

Download the report Wild bird populations in the UK, 1970-2015 here

The Jersey Bat Project – meet Hugh the Bat

Jersey Bat Project Bat Fact 10From the Jersey Bat Group

Presentation1-1-960x576Jersey National Park is home to many of our local bats and a new awareness campaign to educate children and the general public about the importance of these protected species, The Jersey Bat Project, was launched on Monday 15th May.

Hugh the Bat is the face of the campaign. He is named after the late Hugh Forshaw, who was a long standing member of the Jersey Bat Group. You can see Hugh the Bat on video here

The Jersey Bat Project | Bat Facts 2D Animation from Freedom Media on Vimeo.

Every Primary School in the island was given two bat boxes to put up in their grounds as part of the launch week. These have been made by Jersey Prison and by children at Les Landes School.

A special animation of 10 important bat facts will be released on social media and this short film will be made available for schools to use as part of a lesson plan.

Jersey Bat Project Bat Fact 9

Jersey National Park, Jersey Bat Group, Eco active, Department of the Environment, Channel Islands Coop and the States of Jersey Prison Joinery Workshop have all contributed to The Jersey Bat Project.

Leading up to the launch a number of events have taken place:

  • The Jersey Bat Group delivered an assembly at Les Landes School (located in the JNP) all about bats
  • Les Landes school took part in a bat box building workshop at led by Chris Wilson, Workshop Manager at the States of Jersey Prison
  • Bat box installation (made by the children) in the Jersey National Park
  • Bat moonlight walk for the Scouts, at Val de la Mare, led by the Jersey Bat Group.

Jim Hopley, Honorary Chairman, Jersey National Park commented: “Jersey National Park is delighted to work with eco-active and Jersey Bat Group with fantastic support from the Co-op and significant help from the States of Jersey Prison Joinery Workshop to bring the story of Jersey’s 15 bat species to children’s attention, explaining to them how important they are to the island. If we can also ignite their imagination in respect of the opportunities for education the National Park offers them then this is a bonus”.

Dr Amy Louise Hall, Chair – Jersey Bat Group said: “We hope that this campaign will enable us to engage with all areas of the community and teach them more about bats and the wider environment in which they live. We hope to highlight the benefits bats provide to the environment, the pressures they face in an ever changing world and how people can help them thrive.”

Nina Cornish, Research Ecologist, Department of the Environment commented: “Bat species make up 40 per cent of the land mammals in Jersey, and aside from being amazing creatures which fly in the dark and find their way around with echolocation, they also provide crucial environmental services to us. For example, they eat thousands of mosquitoes every night, they help to pollinate plants and they’re an important indicator species – when their populations are healthy, we know that Jersey’s environment is also healthy – so it’s vital to conserve and protect them. That’s why we’re pleased to be supporting ‘The Jersey Bat Project’ working closely in partnership with the Jersey Bat Group and the Jersey National Park.”

Greg Yeoman, Chief Marketing Officer for The Channel Islands Co-operative Society, said: “Funding from The Channel Islands Co-operative Society came from our EcoFund initiative, which has given more than £280,000 to environmental causes across the Channel Islands. The Jersey Bat Project celebrates the importance of this protected species and it’s fantastic that islanders will have the chance to learn and understand more about them.”

Brown long-eared bat. Photo by Miranda Collett_4

Check before you strim – there may be hedgehogs there!

Hedgehog (2). Photo by Miranda collettstrimmer_sticker_blackerAlways check before you strim. there might be hedgehogs or other wildlife nesting where you are working.

From the Jersey Hedgehog Preservation Group

We see lots of nasty injuries caused by cutting equipment. Every year many hedgehogs are put to sleep because their wounds are too severe to be treated. Hedgehogs will not run away when they hear your cutting or mowing machine, their instinct is to roll up more tightly and stay put, so they often get sliced top and bottom. If there is a mother with babies she will not abandon them but will protect them with her body, getting killed in the process. Our experience is with hedgehogs, but there will be other creatures nesting under the cover of vegetation you will be cutting down, which also need care and protection.

We are asking you to check before you cut, please watch out with piles of sticks, bonfire heaps and well established brambles – if the area is very overgrown – please cut to knee height first, then check for wildlife before you cut lower if required. Should you discover an injured hedgehog, please pick it up with gloves, put it in a bucket/dustbin/box and ring the Jersey Hedgehog Group on 01534 734340 for immediate help or take it to a vet. If you find other injured wildlife please phone the JSPCA on 01534 724331 or your vet – you should not be charged for wildlife.

If you disturb a nest with a mother and baby hedgehogs:
1. The best thing is to leave it alone, cover it over with the material you have cut away and leave the area.
2. If this is not possible because work has to continue, cover the whole nest with a dustbin/bucket with a stone on top, making sure Mum doesn’t escape and ring 01534 734340 for immediate help.
3. If work has to continue at once, make sure you are wearing gloves, gently pick Mum up first and place her in a dustbin/bucket/box, then pick up all the babies (they usually have about five but there can be more) and cover them all with as much original nest material as you can and ring 01534 734340 for immediate help. If you touch the young with your bare hands, your human smell can make the mother reject her babies.

If you discover a nest of another wildlife species please phone the JSPCA for advice on 01534 724331.

You can download campaign leaflet here or a poster in three languages here

Two young hedgehogs on a log. Photo from Jersey Hedgehog

 

May volunteer activity

NE-IM-hemlock010516_jpgSunday 14th May 2017 – Hamptonne meadow, St Lawrence – 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

For the last task before our well-earned summer break, join the National Trust Rangers at Hamptonne meadow on to undertake wet meadow restoration management.

The details

The flora in the meadow has responded well to management since the Trust acquired it in 2011. That said, hemlock water dropwort is still abundant. This native plant is invasive in many of Jersey’s wet meadows, especially those that have suffered from a lack of management in the past. This task will entail walking through the meadow and selectively cutting and removing hemlock water dropwort in order to speed up the restoration of the meadow to a favourable condition.

Please contact Julia at j.meldrum@gov.je or Jon at jonparkes@nationaltrust.je or phone Julia on 441600 or Jon on 483193 before you go just case anything changes.

The site

We will meet in the Hamptonne Country Life Museum car park, Rue de la Patente, St Lawrence

Parking  Parking is at the site

(Jersey Phone Directory Map 8, U10) Google maps here

The task Cutting and removing hemlock water dropwort

Tools needed Tools will be provided but if you have a sickle/scythe it would be helpful if you could bring it along with you.

Clothing needed. A note of caution, hemlock water dropwort is the most toxic plant in Britain so please ensure that you wear long-sleeved clothing regardless of the weather. The roots are the most toxic part of the plant so we will only be handling the stems and leaves. We will provide protective gloves as well as hand washing facilities and ask that all attendees kindly use them.

Wellies are very highly advisable, as we are working in a wet meadow!

Children All are welcome, young or old. Children under 16 must be supervised by a parent or guardian during the task.

Work will finish by 12:30 when cake and refreshments will be served by our super talented baker Kim the Kake.

And finally:

Thank you to all of you for your hard work this season. Your enthusiasm and commitment makes a huge difference to Jersey’s wild areas, we are really appreciative of your efforts, no matter how much or little you are able to contribute.

The Jersey Conservation Volunteers will be back in October, watch this space…

Chough report: April 2017

P1750096by Liz Corry

April started on a tragic low note progressing, the only way it could, into a steady crescendo to a high and hopeful cadence. In fact, April started as it always does with April Fool’s Day. So when an email entitled ‘chough vs. peregrine’ was opened on the 2nd, wishful thinking wanted to dismiss this as a delayed prank.

The email was from Mick Dryden and Romano da Costa, two of Jersey’s top birders, who had been out at Sorel Point doing a migration count.

Mick described observing “an immature peregrine fly onto the cliff with a black bird in its talons. We both thought it was the remains of a chough. The peregrine was hassled by gulls and flew off west, but dropped the bird in the sea where a greater black-backed gull performed the last rites. I had the scope on it distantly and think I could see red legs very briefly, possibly also a ring which may have been green. So if you are short of a chough, you know why!”

For legal reasons we would like to state that the peregrine flying over Sorel in this photo is innocent until proven guilty. Photo by Liz Corry.

The email was read at home after spending the day out at Sorel monitoring seemingly very content choughs. In fact, it was the first day the choughs had been seen carrying nesting material. Not only that, but the first bird spotted carrying material was Pyrrho, a female of only two years of age. A potential new breeder!

Pyrrho carrying nesting material, but to where? Photo by Liz Corry

Added excitement had come when a large group of choughs spent the day hanging out around the section of cliffs where we fitted a nest-box in 2014. Birds were seen to come and go from the box. Could one of them be adding nesting material?

The acrobatic aerial displays they were putting on, launching themselves off the cliff face were a joy to watch.

Acrobatic choughs at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

To get home and find out that one of them had most likely been skewered by talons, plucked apart, and unceremoniously dropped in the sea, only to be further shredded into oblivion, was a little disorientating to say the least.

The choughs have started changing their daily patterns most likely as a result of the breeding season. Pairs have been spending less time near the aviary, some turning up late. In the case of Lee and Caûvette, the notorious absentees, they did the opposite and started turning up for both morning and afternoon feeds.

Lee and Caûvette (centre) have started returning for the supplemental feeds suggesting they might be nesting nearby. Photo by Liz Corry.

Once the choughs had grabbed their free handouts they would swiftly return to their business of either nest-building and/or wild foraging. There has been an abundance of leatherjackets and other grubs in the fields this month keeping them fuelled for the day. It, therefore, didn’t raise alarm bells when only 32 of the 35 choughs were counted on the morning Mick described the attack.

A leatherjacket larvae unearthed and being tenderised before adding to the chough menu of the day. Photo by Liz Corry.

The following day was spent staking out Sorel ticking names off the chough register. Mick’s description of a green ring turned out to be a red herring when, after a few hours, all the choughs sporting green rings were alive and well. This is included a breeding male, Pale Green, a wild-hatched chick, and hand-reared Bean. Never believe parents when they say they don’t have a favourite!

Ticking off the chough register each day isn’t easy with birds like Helier whose broken green ring has slipped over the blue one. Photo by Liz Corry.

By the end of the day the identity of two birds still remained unconfirmed. Hayle and Yarila, both hatched at Paradise Park last year, and wearing almost identical leg rings. One blue and white striped. One black and white striped. Out in the field with the glare of the sun, the white-out of the fog (we had both), and the desperation in your mind, it is very difficult to determine the difference between the two rings.

Attempts to get a clearer view of leg rings by feeding choughs outside of the aviary failed when the sea fog rolled in. Photo by Liz Corry.

Even when Hayle’s radio transmitter was tracked down to the cliff face where the peregrine attack occurred your mind wants to add the element of doubt. What if she just shed the transmitter there and is merrily foraging in the fields? Sea fog and sheer cliffs prevented the recovery of the transmitter.

Somewhere beyond the gorse lies a cliff face and a lost radio transmitter. Photo by Liz Corry.

Not that it would have told us anything other than Hayle was no longer attached to it. Three days later, with a total count of 34 birds, none of which wore a blue and white striped ring, we reluctantly concluded Hayle wasn’t attached to anything in this world.

And now for the steady crescendo…

Breeding season update

The chough group did not spend long mourning the loss of their friend. Priorities were focused around breeding and collecting nest-liner courtesy of the sheep. We were able to ascertain a few new potential breeding pairs thanks to this. We have also noticed a few unexpected couplings based on mutual preening and feeding behaviour.

The most intriguing of which is a new trio. Pyrrho has teamed up with one of last year’s wild-hatched chicks. At only 11 months old (someone call Social Services) he would seem a bit young for Pyrrho. The young male is still very close to his sister and the three are often spotted flying to the quarry together. It would be unusual if this trio were to produce anything other than a nest this year.

Wild-hatched siblings Pink-Orange (male) and Black-Orange (female) have teamed up with Pyrrho this breeding season. Photo by Liz Corry.

We already have a trio of Dusty, the original wild-hatched chick, and two females Egg and Chickay. Both females have been building nests; however, Dusty pays more attention to Egg and we believe she has started incubating. Last year, when this trio formed, they did not get beyond the nest-building stage so Egg’s behaviour is very encouraging.

Egg collecting nesting material from the quarry for her nest with Dusty. Photo by Liz Corry.

Chickay, a hand-reared chick, collecting nesting material from the quarry. Photo by Liz Corry.

These were not the only choughs to be busy nest building. We have seen five pairs visiting the sheep pens to collect wool. Not straight from the sheep’s backs I hasten to add.

Choughs busy collecting wool to line their nests at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

The choughs have been making the most of the sheep’s confinement to the aviary field this month. Photo by Liz Corry.

We have struggled to assign each pair to a nest site. With so many choughs using the quarry now simply for recreation it is difficult to know who is who and what they are up to. Working with quarry staff, we believe we have double the number of nest sites compared to last year.

A tell-tale clue as to where this pair has chosen to nest is in the fact that they are covered in quarry rock dust. Photo by Liz Corry.

We started to notice behaviour in the last two week’s of April that suggested some of the females had started incubating. It has not been as clear-cut as in previous years making it trickier to predict hatch dates. Bets aside it is certain that May will be a productive month.

Health updates and post-release care

Monthly faecal screenings showed the parasite count in the flock to be lower than last month. It would be a statistical miracle to assume that the entire flock was represented equally within a sample. However, taking into account fewer observations of sneezing birds it appears to be a fair reflection of the group’s general parasite loads. The reduction was possibly helped by the absence of Hayle who had been seen sneezing and wheezing a few days before she encountered the peregrine.

One of the wild-hatched choughs was seen to have something wrapped around her foot on 17th April. We monitored her closely and it soon became clear the offending material was not going to come off unaided.  We are permitted to catch up and handle wild-hatched choughs for welfare reasons under our license granted by the States of Jersey. Therefore, to avoid any potential problems with blood circulation in the future, we caught her up and snipped the thread free.

PP003 had to be caught up in the release aviary to remove tangled thread from her foot. Photo by Glyn Young.

At the same time as attempting to catch this bird (it took several days) we noticed Bean had managed to wedge one of her digits up into her plastic rings. We had hoped that she might manage to wiggle it free or break the plastic since the rings are now quite old. She didn’t comply so she too was caught up.

We had to be very careful with Bean and the rest of the group when it came to entrapment. Not for legal reasons. We did not want to inflict any unnecessary stress on any of the egg-laying females. We had suspected Bean could be one such female since her and her partner have collected nesting material. Once in the hand her brood patch was a big giveaway. Her foot was quickly freed, replacement rings fitted, and she was allowed to return to her nest within minutes of being trapped in the aviary.

Yarila transmitter close up

Yarila preened out her broken tail feather this month complete with radio transmitter. Photo by Liz Corry.

Yarila conveniently preened out her radio-transmitter on 24th April whilst sat on the aviary roof. At the start of the month one of her middle tail feathers was sticking up at a right angle to the other eleven. Obviously loose, but hanging on to something. In fact we noticed it the day after the peregrine incident. Coincidence?

Looking at the recovered transmitter it is clear that the loose feather was still holding on by a thread to the base of the transmitter. The other central tail feather, which gets glued to the transmitter, has snapped off and detached from the base of the transmitter hence the tag falling off. This is the first time we have seen this with our choughs.

Jersey Zoo breeding pairs

CI Fire & Security Ltd kindly installed a new wireless system at the chough breeding aviaries this month to allow staff to monitor all three nests. CI Fire & Security Ltd have previously installed cameras at Durrell in the bear and orang enclosures. Whilst seemingly not as challenging as designing an orang-utan-proof camera, the chough-cams proved trickier than expected. Two of the three cameras were up and running in March. The third, in Issy and Tristan’s aviary where we hope the pair will parent rear took a bit longer, but finally went online on 13th April. At which point we discovered she was sitting on three eggs!

Keepers had found an egg on the floor near to the nest-box earlier in the week. We don’t know why it was on the floor. We do know that she has not laid anymore eggs since the day the camera went online. An unusually low clutch number for Issy, but at least she has eggs and is looking after them.

Now we have the nest-camera we can closely monitor the progress of these eggs, any subsequent chicks and support the parents along the way if needed. We expect the eggs to hatch at the start of May with a view to release healthy fledged chicks in the summer.

Simon Inman’s fundraising last month has managed to raise £140.73. This has help pay for the new wireless nest-camera in Issy and Tristan‘s aviary. Simon’s sponsored skydive is in summer so there is still time to donate.

Our other two breeding pairs appear to be dawdling. It took them a while to start building nests and now they just don’t want to stop. This footage of Denzel and his partner was captured on 25th April…

It is a little harder to tell what Gwinny and Lucifer are up to thanks to Gwinny inadvertently repositioning the camera.

For our tame bird Gianna she has to sit and wait for the likes of Gwinny to start egg-laying. We can then give Gianna a dummy egg to stimulate her to start laying her own (infertile) eggs. When the time is right we can swap eggs or chicks for foster rearing purposes. Timing is partly influenced by the behaviour of the pairs especially Lucifer who has a tendency to dislike eggs appearing in his nest box. We’re not exactly sure what he expects to use the nest for.

Gianna taking nesting material for her foster nest. Photo by Liz Corry.

Gianna completed her nest and is now waiting for the cue from keepers to start laying eggs. Photo by Liz Corry.

Chough report: March 2017

By Liz Corry

Preparations for the breeding season were well under way this month both at the Zoo and out on the coast. The breeding pairs at the Zoo moved into their seasonal accommodation ready to begin nesting. For Issy and Tristan that meant staying put and keeping a watchful eye on the visitors to the Zoo. Our other two pairs headed off show. Last year Issy and Tristan successfully reared two chicks who were later released onto the north coast. We are hoping for the same success this year. Maybe even more as keepers can now monitor activity in the nest from their computers thanks to a new wireless CCTV installation in their aviary.

One of the off-show breeding aviaries at Jersey Zoo. Photo by Liz Corry.

The off-show aviaries had a spruce up before the other two pairs moved in. The birds had a quick health check by the vets prior to moving. All appeared physically OK. Mentally? We will have to wait and see.

We are hoping that Lucifer learnt his lesson last year and allows Gwinny to incubate her eggs in peace.

A reminder of the ‘domestic dispute’ can be found in the April 2016 report.

In case he does live up to his namesake, we have set up the artificial incubation room at the Bird Department. We also have foster-mum Gianna on standby.

Gianna is on standby to help foster-rear chicks with the Zoo keepers. Photo by Liz Corry.

To ensure that she is in sync with the pairs we moved her into her own ‘breeding’ aviary when the others moved into theirs.

Nesting material was provided over several days by keepers. Each pair received material at the same time to encourage the pairs to nest in sync.

For some the prospect of a new nest is way too exciting…

By the end of the month Gianna had pretty much completed her nest. Material could be seen sticking out of Issy and Tristan‘s nest. The other two pairs were a bit slower on the uptake. From watching this video taken from Gwinny and Lucifer‘s nest camera you will understand why.

Our cameras are not online for public viewing. However, over in Cornwall, our partners at Paradise Park have their nest cameras up and running. You can follow their progress by clicking here.

Back on the north coast the free-living choughs were also busy with nesting material. The established breeding pairs started turning-up late to the feeds and not foraging as much around Sorel as the others.They were spending their time in the quarry trying to keep what they were up to under wraps. However, thanks to the new chough nest-box cameras in the quarry they could not keep it a secret for long.

To everyone’s relief Green and Black decided to use the nest-box Ronez fitted to encourage them away from working machinery. Within a week of the box being up, the birds were adding twigs. This will provide extremely valuable information to the team if the pair complete their nest.

Chough CCTV in the quarry providing evidence that nest building began in early March. Photo by Mark de Carteret.

The other nest camera is located in the building used by Dingle and Red. The monitor showed an empty nest-box, but we know from their antics they were up to something. It will be a case of wait and see.

The trickier detective work this month focused on trying to determine if Lee and Caûvette would attempt to nest for the first time? If so would it be away from Sorel? And will there be any other first timers now that the birds coming of age?

We know Lee and Caûvette like hanging out at Les Landes in the morning. Towards the end of March they also started missing out on the afternoon supplemental feed. They would arrive 20-40 minutes later than everyone else. We delayed the afternoon feeds by 30 minutes to give them a shot of getting some food before all the others scoffed it. This worked out well for a bit. Then the clocks changed and the birds gained at least an extra hour of daylight to frolic in before roost.

Lee and Caûvette seemed quite content without the aviary feed. They were obviously  finding plenty of wild food. Probably because they had added Plémont to their list of daily foraging sites. From the aerial images below, courtesy of Chris Brookes Aerial Photography, you can understand why.

Plémont Bay. Photo by Chris Brookes Aerial Photography.

A view of Plémont café with Sorel Point visible on the horizon (top left). Photo by Chris Brookes Aerial Photography.

Headland at Plémont at high tide. Choughs have been seen foraging in this area. Photo by Chris Brookes Aerial Photography.

I am personally indebted to Tony Paintin for his feeding observations from Plémont since they reaffirmed my sanity as, on the 25th March, I looked up from my lunch plate at Plémont cafe and watched as two chough-like birds flew across the panoramic window view towards the headland. It meant that when I ran down the steps to the beach like a crazy lady I knew I would be rewarded with the site of Lee and Caûvette exploring the nooks and crannies of Plémont’s coves and crevices.

They didn’t stay for long. Minutes later they were off exploring Grand Becquet and Grève de Lecq. They probably wanted to get a look at the black guillemot reported there to see what all the fuss was about.

No sign of them collecting nesting material, but then again we only get to see them for about an hour each day. The radio-tracking study stopped at the end of this month allowing the team to spend more time observing behviour. Only five of the original eleven birds were still wearing their transmitters. Besides, apart from two birds, the flock was staying put at Sorel.

Project student Simon monitoring the choughs at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

During this time we discovered a shift in one of the non-breeding couplings. Q has ditched Pyrrho in favour of Flieur who is a month shy of her 3rd birthday and prime age to start breeding.

We also noticed a few of the youngsters sneezing. The monthly faecal screening showed presence of Syngamus and Coccidia within the group. The condition of the birds was not as severe as on previous occasions so there was no urgent need to catch them for worming injections. Instead we focused on repairing the aviary so that we could catch birds and continued to monitor the group as closely as we could.

The aviary finally had a spring clean. More like overhaul with new hatch wires, in some cases new hinges. The hatches themselves were cleaned and painted and the broken central beam was replaced and, thanks to Trevor’s trusty truck, the partitions were hauled back into place.

Maintenance staff came up with a novel idea to operate the release hatches. Photo by Liz Corry.

At the same time the National Trust for Jersey were up replacing the sheep fencing a Sorel. The sheep are still confined to the aviary field and adjacent field. Once the  lambs at St Catherine’s are old enough they will move up and roam free at Sorel and Devil’s Hole.

Not content with their wool, their dung larvae, their drinking water, and their feed, the choughs found another way to exploit the grazing flock…a shelter box. Photo by Liz Corry.

Other activities this month included a visit by Allen Moore from the Isle of Man. Allen is pretty much chough aficionado and not just in the Isle of Man. In fact he flew to Jersey from Las Palma (indirectly sadly) where he had just spent a two week ‘holiday’ studying the choughs and the other birds of La Palma. The La Palma chough is a bit of an oddball of the chough family (there is always one). It can be found in a wide range of habitats, including pine forest, and eats olives!

Part of the chough flying display at Sorel put on for the DESMAN students. Photo by Anna Chouler.

Durrell Training Academy is hosting the annual DESMAN course at present. Running from February until May. Participants spent time this month learning about the Birds On The Edge project via lectures and site visits. They also received training in radio-tracking techniques. For the tour of Sorel they were joined by a visiting course group from Nottingham Trent University. Despite the number of visitors and disturbance caused by maintenance work, the groups got to see the choughs in action.

The video below shows project student Simon feeding the choughs. Sometimes you don’t need to worry about whether or not the choughs will hear the whistle and come for food.

 

Due to ‘unnatural’ weather conditions at one point this month (i.e. no wind!), staff at Ronez Quarry tried to see if an alternative to a whistle cue would work…

20170329_142000And finally,

if you want to read the moving story behind the first ever chough at Jersey Zoo then grab yourself a copy of Dingle by Marie Marchand. It has a introduction by Gerald Durrell who was responsible for bringing the original Dingle to Jersey.

Published in 1961, hard-copies are few and far between. We got hold of one through the good folks at Cotswold Internet Books Ltd. However, if you prefer a digital copy then register for free with www.archive.org, an online lending library.

 

Want to study choughs?

P1680039

From DICE (Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology)

Scholarship opportunity: Restoring a Kentish icon: feasibility of reintroducing the chough to Kent

DICE + SAC logo

DICE are seeking applications for a PhD in Biodiversity Management supported by the University of Kent’s Vice Chancellor’s Research Scholarship Fund. Applicants need to be versatile with a demonstrable aptitude for conservation science, interdisciplinary research and quantitative analysis, together with an interest in bird conservation and/or reintroduction biology.

Supervisors: Dr Bob Smith, Prof Richard Griffiths, Prof Jim Groombridge & Dr Dave Roberts

Advisor: Professor Carl Jones MBE.

CanterburyThe science of reintroducing species back into the wild has evolved into a distinct branch of conservation science. The Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology has been working at the forefront of species conservation and reintroduction biology with partners around the world for over two decades. An opportunity has now arisen to apply this experience and expertise locally, with an analysis of the feasibility of bringing back the iconic red-billed chough to Kent. The chough population has become highly fragmented Arms_of_the_University_of_Kentwith several isolated populations around the coast of Britain. The chough was once more widespread and formerly occurred as far east as Kent where it became extinct c. 160 years ago. However, it still lives on in the Coat of Arms of Canterbury City and the University of Kent, and potential habitat remains in Kent, with large areas of nature reserves and farmland across the Dover area.

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Partners This project builds on the experience of Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust who lead the chough reintroduction to Jersey through the Birds On The Edge project. The project will also partner with Operation Chough, based at Paradise Park in Cornwall, who have led the ex situ components of the reintroduction programme; and Wildwood Trust in Kent, a leading centre for the conservation and rewilding of British Wildlife.

Aims & Objectives

1. Habitat suitability analysis: this will involve combining an ecological assessment of potential release sites with an impact and risk assessment of a potential reintroduction. This will require spatial analysis and species distribution modelling using GIS;

2. Assessment of local attitudes to a proposed reintroduction: this will use social science methods to gather quantitative and qualitative data on awareness, attitudes, and knowledge of the chough and broader conservation issues among the wider local community;

3. Systematic conservation planning assessment: This will involve working with local NGO and government groups to map the different protected areas and management activities in the focal area, and identify sites where habitat management would support chough conservation;

4. Flagship species potential: this will use choice experiments and other social science methods to identify whether the chough would make a suitable flagship species for different target audience groups, including neighbouring communities and visiting tourists.

Training The project will require a versatile student who will be trained in both social science and natural science survey methods, GIS and species distribution modelling. The student will be required to take forward dialogue with local organisations, identifying potential release sites with them through applying the research, and help produce a reintroduction plan in conjunction with IUCN/SSC (2013) guidelines. The student will be expected to undertake some teaching as a Graduate Teaching Assistant on undergraduate programmes.

Funding £14,296 (2016/17 rate) plus tuition fees at the Home/EU rate. This scholarship is administered under the Graduate Teaching Assistant Scheme

Applications Applicants should have at least a 2:1 Honours degree and a good MSc in a relevant subject. Graduates who can demonstrate equivalent relevant experience to MSc level through professional work, research and publications may also be considered.

Applications should comprise of a covering letter (1 page) and CV (2 pages max including the names and contact details of two referees) and should be sent to Dr Bob Smith (R.J.Smith@kent.ac.uk) by midnight on May 8th 2017.

Further information

Project title Restoring a Kentish icon: feasibility of reintroducing the chough to Kent

Application deadline: midnight on May 8th 2017

Interview: May 18th 2017

Start date: 16 September 2017

Programme: PhD

Mode of Study: Full time

Studentship Length: 3 years

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State of UK Birds 2016

Slavonian grebe. Photo by Mick DrydenFrom BTO

State of the UK's Birds 2016 coverThe main theme of The State of the UK’s Birds report (SUKB) 2016 is the latest Birds of Conservation Concern 4 list – BoCC4 published in 2015 (read and download here) – and the species whose status has changed. The increase in the UK’s Red list by 15 species is due to problems in all habitats including farmland, woodland and coasts but most notably in uplands with five new upland species moving onto the red list. One of these is curlew. The UK supports 27% of the global population, and the long-term trend shows a 64% decline from 1970 to 2014. This, combined with the bird’s global status of Near Threatened, suggests that the curlew is one of the most pressing bird conservation priorities in the UK (read more about the curlew here).

“The BTO is working with others on a programme of research to understand the causes of curlew decline and guide potential management solutions. This involves analyses of long-term data collected by thousands of volunteers, using novel tracking technology to study the needs of individual birds, and working with local enthusiasts to inform the recovery of local populations” 
– James Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science, BTO

Upland birds

Whinchat. Photo by Mick DrydenWhinchat, another largely upland species monitored by the UK and Channel Islands BBS Survey shows a 53% decline during the last two decades.  As an Afro-Palearctic migrant, this species is part of another group for which there is particular concern. Threats and pressures during migration and on the wintering grounds need to be considered alongside the impact of changes in upland habitats in the UK.

More unexpected perhaps, is that grey wagtail has moved from the Amber list to the Red list. Alongside declines in common sandpiper and dipper, this raises wider concerns about species associated with upland streams and rivers. The other two upland species to show marked declines are merlin and dotterel, the latter a montane species likely to affected negatively by climate change and grazing pressure.

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Scarce and rare breeding species

As well as the annual update of changes in widespread breeding species based mainly on the BBS, SUKB 2016 once again includes a summary of trends in scarce and rare breeding species, drawn mainly from the annual reports of the Rare Breeding Bird Panel (RBBP) and the SCARABBS programme of periodic surveys.

Common pochard male (3). Photo by Mick DrydenOf the 91 species reported on in the most recent RBBP report covering 2014, 71 were assessed by BoCC4. Eight species showed an improvement in status (including woodlark, bearded tit and chough, which joined the Green list), with conservation action to maintain suitable reed beds helping the populations of species such as bittern recover. Five species, common pochard, Slavonian grebe, merlin, dotterel and black redstart moved onto the Red list. The remaining 20 of the 91, not assessed by BoCC4, are those which are not considered to be a regular component of the UK’s avifauna. This may be because they breed only occasionally (e.g. European bee-eater), or indeed have never bred, but from time-to-time visiting individuals exhibit breeding behaviour (e.g. great reed warbler). The RBBP logs such occurrences, as it may be that they represent a precursor to future colonisation, such as the first little egrets that displayed to each other in the early 1990s, before first breeding in 1996 and the subsequent population explosion.

The importance of volunteer data

Thousands of dedicated volunteers contributed to the data used throughout most of this report. Data used to calculate UK population trends and related research. Over 2,600 volunteers participated in the Breeding Bird Survey in 2016 alone, one of many surveys highlighted in the report. This particular survey provides annual population trends for 111 species, including upland species such as curlew, whinchat and grey wagtail.

At a smaller, but equally as important scale, the 258 volunteers who contribute to the Waterways Breeding Bird Survey allow monitoring on those species specific to waterways, such as common sandpiper and dipper and cover almost 300 sites annually.

Eurasian curlew. Photo by Mick Dryden

Who produces the report

SUKB is produced by a coalition of three non-governmental organisations (NGOs) – the RSPBBTO and the WWT – and the UK Government’s statutory nature conservation agencies – Natural Resources Wales (NRW), Natural England (NE), the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, Northern Ireland (DAERA), Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC).

Download the full report The State of the UK’s Birds 2016 here