Chough report: December 2019

By Liz Corry

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

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

Cosmetic surgery on Wally’s Christmas wishlist?

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

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

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

Habitat use in December

Plémont pond at the restored headland. Photo by Liz Corry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Identity crisis?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aviary damage

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Kentish chough developments

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

January volunteer activity

Sunday 12th January 2020 –– Gorey 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

Happy New Year!!

Fancy working off some of those festive excesses and doing something good for wildlife? Come and join us!

Task This Sunday, we will be revisiting a project that was started last year to improve habitat for wall lizards and wild strawberry.

The Gorey area holds the largest colony of wall lizards in Jersey, Devon Gardens is a public garden in Gorey that is home to several important Jersey species. The walls provide great habitat for the lizards and wild strawberry but are becoming overgrown with vegetation, threatening the habitat so we will work to remove areas of dense ivy. The overall aim is to create a park area specifically designed for the wall lizards as well as creating some human habitats where people can sit and soak up the great views of the Castle and Grouville Bay.

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: 441600; j.clively@gov.je) or Jon Parkes (tel: 483193; jon.parkes@nationaltrust.je).

The site (Jersey phone directory map 11, LL15 and Google maps here

Parking There is on-road parking as well as several public car parks nearby and parking on the pier.

Note: You may need a disc or scratch cards depending on where you park.

Meet at the bottom of the gardens, ready to start work at 10.30. We will be finished by 13.00.

Tools needed As always, we can supply some tools, but if you have a pair of gardening gloves, and cutting tools (e.g. pruning saw, loppers, secateurs) it would be helpful if you could bring them along with you.

Clothing needed Please dress for the weather and bring a pair of gardening gloves (though we can supply a pair if you don’t have them).  

Children All are welcome, young or old although we do ask that volunteers under 16 years of age are accompanied by an adult.

Refreshments Kim will be setting up her pop up cafe to treat you all when work finishes at about 12.30.

See you there!

Chough report: November 2019

By Liz Corry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other veterinary news

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

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

War and Peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update on the 2019 fledglings

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

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

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

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

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

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

Website improvements

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chough movements and public sightings

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally…

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

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

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

 

 

 

December volunteer activity

Sunday 8th December 2019 –– St Martin Village 10:00-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers 

Task Join the National Trust for Jersey’s countryside rangers this Sunday for a morning of hedge and tree planting in St Martin.

National Trust for Jersey has recently been working alongside The Jersey Royal Company in an ambitious hedge-planting scheme. Over the last couple of months, staff from Jersey Royal, ably coordinated by the NTJ’s Conrad Evans, have been busy planting on land leased and managed by Jersey Royal. The aim for this year is to plant 10 miles of hedging trees between St Catherine’s Woods and Jersey Zoo, amounting to over 20,000 hedging trees. And this is where the JCV can lend their seasoned hedge planting skills to the cause. The next link in our chain of hedgerows is a large agricultural field in St Martin, which is currently very bare and in desperate need of some ‘tree TLC’. So come along and help us continue with the planting of these vital wildlife corridors.

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: 441600; j.clively@gov.je) or Jon Parkes (tel: 483193; jon.parkes@nationaltrust.je).

The site St Martin Village (Jersey Phone Directory Map 10, GG 11 and Google maps here )

Parking  St Martin’s village green carpark opposite the school. Please also consider car sharing or cycling.

We will meet earlier than usual at 9:45 for a 10:00 start. We will be finished by 12.30.

Tools needed As always, we can supply some tools, but if you have a pair of gardening gloves, and cutting tools (e.g. pruning saw, loppers, secateurs) it would be helpful if you could bring them along with you. Gloves and tools will be provided but please bring your own spades if you have them.

Clothing needed  As ever decent footwear and wet weather gear is recommended to cope with whatever the weather throws at us.

Children All are welcome, young or old although we do ask that volunteers under 16 years of age are accompanied by an adult.

Refreshments Down tools at around 12.30 for well-earned tea and cake!

Birds in the Channel Islands: lists updated

A little later than in previous years, we are very pleased to update everyone on the Channel Islands’ birds. Two new species were added to the Islands list and unlike some of last year’s (here) they were ‘proper’ species, not those cryptic ones hiding in plain sight. Although Guernsey did add the previously ‘hidden’ Iberian chiffchaff and Caspian gull to their own list in 2018.

With some revisions (Jersey’s saker falcon, probably an escape, was demoted), the overall total for the Islands only actually went up by one so now stands at 377. I was right, last year, that Alderney would add little bunting to their total but they still haven’t reached 300. Losing a bean goose (its become two species and while Jersey can confirm records of both taiga and tundra bean, Guernsey and Alderney decided that they couldn’t retrospectively confirm the tundra version) put them back one, the little bunting brought them back up to 298. The wait for 300 goes on!    

And, in the separate islands, Guernsey added the three species above but also saw their first pallid swifts with birds seen in October and November. Offshore Guernsey birders recorded their Island and the whole CI’s third Wilson’s petrel. And, to rub it in with their southern neighbours the royal tern continued to hang around until May and still didn’t visit Jersey.

In Alderney, the impressive effort continued and besides the little bunting, long awaited second records of goosander, Iceland gull and Richard’s and tawny pipits were logged. There were also three records of great egret, a rapidly spreading species, and two of cirl bunting, a species, in contrast, considered to be in decline and exhibiting limited movements. Interestingly, Sark also saw a cirl bunting, their first since, well, a long time ago. Jersey has breeding cirl buntings but they were absent from the Island from 2004-2012 pointing to more movement in this species than had been expected (and look out for more news on this beautiful bird next year!). 

Guernsey also recorded local rarities in Canada and pink-footed goose, penduline tit and corn bunting. Sark added records of only rarely recorded red kite, nightjar and hawfinch with their cirl bunting.

In Jersey, besides the two CI firsts, above, the first Island record of Pallas’s leaf warbler meant that a gap in the CI list was finally filled in – there have been 18 previous records of this warbler across the other three islands. There were also seconds for Barolo shearwater, little crake and Caspian gull. The little crake was found in poor health and died in care.  A third common rosefinch and third dusky warbler were also notable. 

Two further wading birds made contrasting appearances in the islands in 2018 with a Kentish plover recorded in Jersey for the third time since 2000 and six black-winged stilts seen (two in Jersey and four in Alderney). Kentish plover is a former breeder in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney (last breeding in 1974) whereas the stilt was only first seen in the islands, in Guernsey, in 1987 and has now been recorded in 13 separate years.

The full A Working List of the Birds of the Channel Islands can be downloaded here

 

Wilder Islands

By Liz Corry and Glyn Young

This year’s Inter-Island Environment Meeting (IIEM) was held in Alderney hosted by the Alderney Wildlife Trust and the States of Alderney. We had two days of presentations, participatory bioblitzs, and workshops. A new Wilder Islands conference ran on the third day bringing scientists, conservation practitioners, and policy makers together. This extra day was used to discuss the role of islands as biodiversity hot spots in a response to global environmental decline. Each day was introduced by AWT’s indefatigable Roland Gauvain.

There were over 120 delegates in attendance representing the Channel Islands, UK, British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies and France. Quite a crowd and quite a diversity of subjects.

For an island just shy of 8km2 Alderney did pretty well to accommodate us all. We took over the independent cinema and Island Hall for presentations and workshops, nipping into the Georgian House for coffee breaks and sustenance (there was also a divine three-course meal cooked by The Blonde Hedgehog staff using locally sourced products. We won’t talk about that since Glyn was only there for Day 3).

Presentations

Topics included invasive species control, citizen science, rewilding, and species monitoring. We will just mention a few to give you a flavour of the event.

Bob Tompkins talked about how Jersey is tackling the Asian hornet problem. We also heard from delegates about the Bailiwick of Guernsey’s approach. It is a daunting task; one that depends enormously on volunteers and public awareness. One take-home message, maybe unintentional, was just how amazing and socially intricate hornets are. 

Bob Tompkins explaining the intricate architecture of a late stage Asian hornet nest. Photo by Liz Corry.

Asian hornets are considered a pest because they predate honey bees; a species already in peril. As are many of our pollinating species be it bird, bat, or beetle.

At last years IIEM we heard from Barry Wells about the success of the newly created Pollinator Project. His team’s efforts (and enthusiasm) are now being replicated in Jersey in order to connect the Channel Islands together to achieve greater success.

Barry Wells talking about the success of the Pollinator Project. Photo by Liz Corry.

Barry highlighted an interesting fact – around 27% of Guernsey is designated as gardens. If you can convince homeowners to set aside just 10% of that land to pollinating plants it would be the equivalent of 200 football pitches. On one tiny island! Think how many insects that would help.

This is another example of how volunteers can be a huge benefit to biodiversity by making subtle changes. Sometimes a huge shift in public attitudes is needed and is harder to achieve. Cristina Sellarés touched upon this when she discussed the impact of dogs chasing wading birds on beaches. 

Cristina Sellarés discussed the concept of islands within islands. Photo by Liz Corry.

Some impacts are harder to notice unless you dedicate your time to monitoring them. Take eelgrass for example. It is considered a priority marine habitat in the Channel Islands due to the wonderful array of ecological functions that it has. Yet we don’t really know anything about our own eelgrass.

Pacific halibut resting on a bed of eelgrass. Photo by Adam Obaza (NOAA)

Step forward Dr Melanie Broadhurst-Allen (member of the Guernsey Seasearch team) positively glowing with passion for the sheer number of species eelgrass supports (including brent geese).

Just some of the invertebrates that rely on eelgrass.

Lack of public awareness has meant urban development, dredging, pollution, and sediment runoff has significantly degraded this habitat. A joint collaboration between partners from Guernsey and Alderney led to a citizen science project to monitor eelgrass. Data from this will hopefully be used by policy makers to apply protection and conserve eelgrass beds.

How to segway from eelgrass to choughs? Monitoring – sea eagles – reintroductions – choughs. Seamless.

Jamie Marsh, Reserves Manager for Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust, talked about the white-tailed sea eagle recent release on the Isle of Wight. Three-pairs of birds were released in August as part of a reintroduction project. With an 8ft (2.5m) wingspan it is not surprising that the birds’ GPS trackers have shown some interesting results. One eagle, named Culver, excelled itself and was spotted by a father and son in London! Jamie shared the tracking data which confirmed Culver flew over Westminster at the end of August, over to Essex, before returning to Hampshire.

Movements of a reintroduced white-tailed eagle marked in red) across the south west of England. Photo by Liz Corry.

If this particular project is successful it will help pave the way for other reintroductions on the Isle of Wight; cirl bunting? beaver? chough?!

Potential reintroductions in the Isle of Wight will help boost biodiversity. Photo by Liz Corry.

Keynote speaker

Public opinion has been divided over returning sea eagles to England. Not helped by the often skewed and in some cases fake news coverage. Something Dr George McGavin raised in his lecture on the first evening.

George McGavin gave the keynote speech of the Inter-Island Meeting. Photo by Liz Corry.

George’s talk entitled Where have all the insects gone? touched upon the tendency for the media to extrapolate headline grabbing facts from reports and not consider the finer detail. Audience members were treated to a brief lesson in statistical significance and bias in survey sampling. Luckily George went about it in an engaging manner.

On the subject of insect numbers, George referenced the 2004 Big Bug Count led by the RSPB. Similar to their Big Garden Birdwatch, people were asked to count the number of insects seen on their vehicle registration plate using a ‘Splatometer’. It made people reminisce of days gone by when you would have to stop the car to wipe splattered flying insects off your windscreen.

Of course windscreens are different from number plates. Maybe the ‘splats’ are more likely on a larger, higher up surface? We won’t know unless the survey is repeated on an annual basis allowing us to see trends. We do it for birds, why not for insects? Well if you live in Kent you can! Kent Wildlife Trust reinstated the scheme this summer. What results would we get for Jersey? An island with more cars than people!

Wilder Islands

On the third day, the conference took on a new role and focused on the role islands have to play in a rapidly changing world where ecosystem collapse seems inevitable and considered how we can work together to meet this challenge. Again hosted by Dr George McGavin, each session involved a series of short presentations putting forward the speaker’s position with the speakers then forming a panel to debate the issue, with questions and input from the floor.

The keynote speaker today was Tony Juniper, Chairman of Natural England who talked on why islands and island biodiversity are so important globally and for the UK.

Session 1 looked at how we prioritise our response to the impacts of climate change on island ecosystems with Rob Stoneman (Rewilding Europe), Glyn Young (Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust and Birds On The Edge) and Dr Louise Soanes (University of Roehampton).

Glyn’s talk was nattily entitled Islands: threatened engines of evolution and covered the importance of islands in the ‘creation’ of new species, current threats to the world’s islands and novel solutions looking at Durrell’s work in the Galápagos Islands. 

Session 2 looked at the role of marine protected areas within islands in securing marine biodiversity with Dr Bryce Beukers-Stewart (University of York), Dr Jean-Luc Solandt (Marine Conservation Society), Farah Mukhida (Anguilla National Trust) and Jim Masters (Fishing into the Future).

Blue Islands Charter
Political representatives at the conference stepped out to take part in the Blue Island Summit, to sign a charter committing islands to work together in their response to the environmental threats they face.

The signed Blue Islands Charter. Photo by David Nash

The natural environment knows no boundaries

Acknowledging that the natural environment has no boundaries, Ministers and other representatives from the UK family of small islands agreed the Blue Island Charter. The Charter provides a statement of principle on a number of initiatives previously discussed by the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies Environment Ministers Council as well as other islands. These stressed working together on common issues which we all face.

Some key issues which the UK family of territories intend to pursue include moving towards a ban on single use plastics and, in general, controlling the impact of the Island’s activities upon the terrestrial and marine environment. Crucially, this would be facilitated by supporting each other through open communication and education.

The various territories are further actively exploring the possibility of creating a joint biodiversity fund to support inter-island work. This fund would also be open to contributions from other parties, including governmental, corporate and private sources. 

This charter demonstrates the will and intent of islands to work together for the benefit of all, to safeguard the environment and promote active collaboration on matters such as climate change. It portrays a level of commitment in promoting environmental governance in a manner rarely seen on a global scale. See the media release here

Session 3, after lunch, Hon. Claude Hogan (Minister, Montserrat), Dr Mike Pienkowski (UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum) and Dr Keith Bensusan (Gibraltar Ornithological & Natural History Society) looked at the roles NGOs and government might play in the response to climate change and biodiversity loss across our islands.

And finally, the outcome of the Blue Islands Summit was announced by delegates from Alderney (Andrew Muter, CEO) and Gibraltar (Dr Liesl Mesilio, Director of the Environment) to the room at large and attendees were asked to approve as a whole a statement of unity and a request for collaborative working.

Safe returns

And so, on a wet and very windy Sunday we returned home to Jersey, our flight home in doubt until the last minute. Thank you Aurigny. Before the flight I took time to walk down to Braye and watch the weather, to quietly thank our hosts, AWT and particularly Roland, Lindsay and Justin and listen to Wales beat Australia. What better way to end a great and productive weekend.

Tree planting morning, dust off your spade and book your place now!

In May this year, Jersey’s States Assembly declared a Climate Emergency (see subsequent report here). As you know, trees and hedgerows play a vital role in capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide as well as providing an important habitat for our local biodiversity.

To celebrate National Tree Week the Government of Jersey Natural Environment Team are joining forces with Jersey Trees For Life and Jersey Conservation Volunteers to plant as many trees and as much hedgerow as we can in one morning. We’d love to get lots of people involved so it would be fantastic if you’d join us.

Date and time: Saturday, 23 November 2019 from 9.00-13.00

Place: We are planting at the Jersey Motocross site at Sorel, St John. They have kindly allowed us use of their car park but we’d ask you to think about travelling as sustainably as possible.

Jersey Phone Directory Map 3, R2)  and Google maps here

Equipment: Please bring a garden spade if you have one, though we will have some spares.

Clothing: Good thick gloves (we can supply a pair if you don’t have them), wellies or sturdy boots, and common sense clothes to cope with the north coast elements

Children are welcome to attend this task as long as they are directly supervised by a parent or guardian.

IMPORTANT We are asking people to sign up using this Eventbrite link so that we can make sure we have enough people to supervise and enough tools.   

For more information about this event please contact Beverley Dallas-Chapman at Jersey Trees for Life. Email: beverley@jerseytreesforlife.org Mobile:  07797 713 321

Chough report: October 2019

By Liz Corry

October has seen a distinct dip in temperatures and a rise in the amount of rainfall and blustery weather. The number of choughs at the supplemental feed has been just as varied. Often the two are linked. Birds prepare for bad weather by filling up on calories. As the days get colder the choughs spend more time around the supplemental feed site. Some that have been independent all summer, like Xaviour, are now returning because wild supplies are running low out west.

On days when its constantly tipping down you might not find any choughs around the aviary – they are sheltering somewhere like the quarry or cliff crevices. Or, you arrive to find a dozen very angry choughs flying out of their aviary shelter cursing your presence, waiting to return the second you leave.

Public Sightings

On drier, calmer days, the birds are out making the most of the sunshine. We had six records sent in by the public this month. Two reports from Alison Hales, Director of Paradise Park, whilst over here on holiday. One tourist who should definitely know what a chough looks like!

Chough flying over Sorel. Photo by Shaun Gillard.

Two choughs were spotted foraging on grassland at St Ouen’s Pond and Kempt Tower. There have only been a few sightings in this latter area since the first release in 2013. Enough to suggest this small patch of land in the bay is alluring to choughs but quite how important it is we don’t know.

Spotting one or two choughs can be tricky. A dozen on the other hand… A resident near Les Ormes reported twelve noisy choughs flying overhead in a southerly direction. This is the first record for 2019 of choughs in St Brelade’s parish.

We will be adding a link on the website to the list of choughs out and about in Jersey. This is in response to a suggestion made by a local resident. If you manage to see the leg rings (quite a challenge) you will be able to identify the bird and discover a bit of. Hopefully leading to more detailed records

A chough at Grosnez reported and photographed by local resident Chris Eve.

Catching up with the choughs

One of this years juveniles, PP044, was caught up and treated for a suspected Syngamus infection this month. This naturally occurring nematode tends to cause problems every now and again even though it is probably present all year round.

Our ability to treat affected individuals has contributed to the success of the reintroduction. I am pleased to say that PP044 responded well to her worming injection and continues to fly free around Jersey.

As a side note we also caught up Black, one of the original females, when we trapped PP044. Black needed a replacement plastic leg ring. Once this was fitted she was released and flew off to rejoin her partner.

Numbers down again

Ronez staff found a dead chough in the production area of the lower quarry on 26th October. Leg rings allowed for instant identification of Lotte, a wild-hatched female just under eighteen months of age. She had not shown any signs of ill health and was seen the day before at Sorel.

A bit of a mystery for the vet carrying out the post-mortem examination. We are waiting on lab results before determining cause of death. 

Seasonal roost checks 

Evening view from Sorel cliff path with Sark on the horizon. Photo by Liz Corry.

Several roost checks were carried out at the end of October to determine which birds, if any, roost at the aviary. It is helpful to gauge how dependent the choughs are on this structure especially since the population has grown.

We also want to see if there is any significant change to numbers once the clocks fall back an hour. Historically we have seen a rise in the numbers of birds using the aviary in winter. This may be linked to certain quarry roosts being disturbed by artificial lighting and work there continuing when the sun sets before 5pm.

Getting answers has not been easy. Camera traps inside the aviary have had limited results. We only have two to start with and one mysteriously stopped working. To cover every potential location, Flavio has been re-positioning the camera each night and checking through the footage the following day. 

Combining this evidence with observational data we have managed to gain… very little knowledge. There is definitely one chough roosting by herself in a box. The jury is still out as to whether the external roost boxes are being used and if we have a few more choughs at the aviary. It does appear, however, that fewer choughs are using the aviary as a roost site than in previous years. A step in the right direction.

New pairings

The chough pairs have been at it again. With more plot twists than a daytime soap opera, we now appear to have three new pairings. Two of which are to the detriment of others.

Toby, a young male from the quarry, has been seen preening Aude a three-year old female. Hopefully this pair will make it through the winter and have their first go at breeding next year.

Rather annoyingly (from our viewpoint), Pyrrho has been seen with Betty. At first it just seemed coincidental that they were at the same feed stations. Progressing to suspicious and ending with definitely a pair when she was seen preening Betty all afternoon.

Two things to note are (1)  Betty is a male and (2) Pyrrho fledged two chicks this year with Skywalker. So where the heck is Skywalker? He hasn’t been seen at the feed for over a month. Likewise Betty’s other half has not been seen in a while. They were not a breeding pair so a little more acceptable that they have parted.

Not content with one drama, we started noticing Xaviour at the feeds and in a fairly regular fashion. She is one half of the Plémont pair. The male is unaccounted for. We have noticed Xaviour feeding from the same food bowl as Beaker a young male. Coincidence or a completely calculated move? 

Nest preparations

It might seem a little early, but we have started planning for the 2020 breeding season. Working alongside Ronez’s Toby Cabaret we have identified three nest sites in the quarry that need a little TLC in order to ensure their continued success. 

One nest-box is looking a little worse for wear. Not surprising given that it’s exposed position means it takes a battering from the winds and rain. It is now a health and safety risk to workers below and Toby’s team will replace the box with a more secure, longer lasting box.

A little lopsided, this nest-box is now a safety risk after taking another battering from the storms. Photo under license by Liz Corry.

As part of this ‘renovation’ work we are trialling a different design of nest-box. One that was brought to our attention a few years ago by a family in Ireland. 

Incorporated into their barn conversion was a novel nest-box design to accommodate a resident pair of chough. The pair successfully raised young the following season. Clearly a winning design and one that will hopefully work in the quarry.

Bespoke chough nest-box incorporated into a barn conversion in West Cork, Ireland. Photo by Oliver Nares.

And finally…

We have to mention the Go Wild Gorillas who departed the Island trail in a blaze of glory. The million dollar statues* were on display at Jersey Zoo for one last time before the auction. Without discrediting all the amazing artists, our favourites had to be Dia de la Exctincion and I-Spy for featuring a red-billed chough in their design!

*actually the auction raised more like 1.5 million given the exchange rate!

Tim Sutcliffe’s Dia de la Exctinction gorilla design (top left) included a chough as did I-Spy designed by Jersey artist Gabriella Street. Photos by Liz Corry.

 

 

Highlights from the 5th International Chough Conference

By Liz Corry

The 5th International Chough Conference was held in Segovia, Spain from the 3rd to 5th October. Held at the Palacio Episcopal building adjoined to Casa de Espiritualidad San Frutos. A very religious affair! And very inclusive events with delegates from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, France and all around the UK. And Jersey!

There were two days of talks focused on red-billed choughs and yellow-billed (Alpine) choughs and a field trip to Hoces del Duratón Natural Park on the final day. Being the chough geeks that we are, the evenings were spent staking out chough roosts in ‘downtown’ Segovia. More on that later.

Question time after each set of talks.

Segovian chouvas

Segovia is a 25 minute train journey north of Madrid and famous for it’s gothic cathedral, roman aqueduct, and Disney-esque Alcázar Palace. It also happens to be home to a large population of red-billed choughs.

A census carried out this year by José González del Barrio and his team recorded 123 choughs roosting in the city. They seem to have a penchant for architectural masterpieces; its not hard to see why. The cathedral is home to half the population with the alcazar and churches accommodating another 30%.

Segovia Cathedral is home to half of the city’s red-billed choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

It stands to reason that they also have a considerable number of nest sites in Segovia. José’s team recorded 94 nests this year ranging from natural caves to guttering in the cathedral. Bell towers seem to be a particular favourite.

It is not unusual for Spanish choughs to nest in man-made structures, but researchers have noticed an increase in numbers of birds switching from natural mountain caves or crevices to these urban sites.

Just outside of the city (1-3km) there are cereal crops, fallow fields, and grazing cattle and sheep on land they refer to as ‘wasteland’ i.e. can’t grow commercial crops. These provide foraging sites for the choughs (and jackdaws). This is probably why the urban areas are more appealing to raise young rather than up in the mountains where temperatures fall below zero.

However, there is a rather unappealing element to urban living. I’m not referring to the flea-riddled stray cats that prowl the cathedral like a gang of hooded youth. Although cats and rats do predate the birds and eggs. 

Cathedral cats prowl the chough territories but don’t be fooled, its hiding a flick knife somewhere. Photo by Liz Corry

The problem is Segovia’s human inhabitants and their dislike of pigeons. Pigeons roost and nest in the same places as choughs. So when someone puts up a deterrent to stop pigeons pooping on an historic monument, it also stops the choughs. Nine nests failed this year due to human disturbance. The worse cases seeing chicks and/or adults blocked in and starving to death. 

Blocking off building access to combat pigeon problems can be fatal to choughs.

This behaviour is largely due to a lack of awareness over choughs in general. One reason why organisers selected Segovia to host the conference. Our presence in the city (especially on the roost visits) gives the choughs some ‘air time’.  We also had local government officials sit in on the talks. Hopefully public attitudes will change towards choughs. The real challenge will be how to pigeon-proof a structure whilst still giving access to a similar sized species.

City life or country living?

Despite the perils of city living, the choughs have been switching their country cliff-side dwellings for urban development over the last 10-15 year in central Spain. Guillermo Blanco presented data that showed the number of cliff nesting pairs had dropped by 180 pairs over a twenty-eight year period. Switching limestone or clay cliffs for farm buildings and human dwellings.

Jesús Zúñiga had a similar tale to tell in the Sierra Nevada National Park of southern Spain. The chough population has declined by 60% compared to data collected in 1980-1984. This also coincides with an increased use of buildings for roost and nesting.

Choughs in central Spain are switching from cliffs for buildings when it comes to nesting and roosting.

Some choice of nest sites may look familiar to Birds On The Edge readers. Others are a little more suited to the pages of Homes & Gardens magazine.

Kitchen corvids

Affordable homes

Many of the buildings the birds are choosing to nest in are abandoned and nowhere near as intricate as the cathedral and churches of Segovia. Ledges and boxes have been erected by conservationists to support nest construction. They are seeing some amazing results.

As eluded to earlier, predators are more of a problem in these areas. Cats, rats, pine marten and genets. A team from Sociedad de Ciencias Aranzadi have come up with a genius idea – “ugly nests” (patent pending). They have used reclaimed materials such as water containers (too slippery for the mammals to grip) and installed them so they are out of reach from predatory paws.

Installation of artificial nests built with recycled materials.

Wild chough chicks reared in reclaimed artificial nests.

The team were so proud of their ugly nests that we were treated to a demonstration of how easy it is to make one (we had the priest on standby if it all went wrong). We even had an auction with the winning bidder becoming the proud owner of a bespoke ugly nest!

Practical demonstration of how to make a chough nest-box from a water container.

Food availability for choughs

The main reason for the ‘cultural shift’ in Spanish choughs has been the change in agriculture surrounding the limestone cliffs and gorges. Irrigation of the land for maize and fruit growing instead of traditional dry cultivation means a reduction in suitable foraging habitat for the birds.

Places like Segovia on the other hand have livestock grazing within a kilometre of the city walls. This is perfect foraging habitat for choughs (and several hundred jackdaw).

Cattle grazing outside Segovia’s train station provides perfect foraging habitat for choughs and jackdaws.

We know dung is a favourite food source for UK choughs. Gillian Gilbert (RSPB) explained how the Scottish birds particularly like to rummage through dung between July and October in search of invertebrates. In the 1980s, choughs were finding lots of beetles from the Aphodius family. Nowadays, Aphodius numbers have declined and the choughs are more reliant on species of Geotrupes beetles. So what is the problem? Well Geotrupes are soil-boring dung beetles, they drag the dung down into the ground, whereas Aphodius live in the dung. The birds have to work more to probe soil compared to dung which means Geotrupes have less nutritional value.

Eric Bignal feeding choughs in Islay as part of their conservation management.

Food availability (or lack thereof) was a common theme across all countries. In the UK, the Islay choughs began receiving supplemental food eight years ago when researchers noticed a population crash. This extra food, provided by farmers and chough-champions Eric and Sue Bignal, is crucial during the months of September and October. 

In the past few years, several of the Cornish birds have been visiting garden bird feeders to score some free food. This may be more opportunistic than essential for survival, but certainly something researchers should keep an eye on in case things change. 

Yellow-billed (or Alpine) choughs are known to be opportunistic feeders. Mention choughs to anyone who skis in the Alps and they will probably regale tales of over-friendly, black birds hanging around their restaurant table. Alpine choughs have a broader diet then their cousins.  In winter, as temperatures drop they start to forage on juniper berries, seeds, and après-ski leftovers.

Alpine choughs foraging. Spain 2014. Photo by Glyn Young

Cristina Vallino, University of Turin, has undertaken a novel approach to observing the feeding behaviour of these birds around ski resorts. Using the free-access public webcams from ski-resorts in three different Alpine countries she has clocked up 13,704 recordings and analysed flock size, stay time, food intake, vigilance distance and flushing distance. She then combined this with genetic studies of the diet to determine variation in diet. Her concerns for the Alpine chough are the long term effects of eating leftovers. Will this ‘fast food’ be effecting their health?

Frequent flyers

Conservation of European choughs can be a little tricky compared to the UK because the birds can travel long distances. For example, in some years individuals roosting in Segovia may nest in Madrid. Subsequent juvenile dispersal from those nests plays an important role in range expansion. Not just moving within country but between countries too.

Personally speaking, the two most anticipated conference presentations focused on the first use of solar-powered GPS tags on choughs. One on an Alpine chough in Aragon, Spain, the other on red-billed chough in central Spain.

Both studies used transmitters built by a Lithuania company, Ornitrack. The tags transmit data using the 3G mobile network. So as long as you have coverage you can receive data anywhere in the world…roaming charges apply. No joke – just ask the Russians!

Solar-powered GPS tag on a red-billed chough.

The tag is solar-powered which explains the bulky size; the panel needs to be above the feathers in order to charge. The weight of the tag requires harness attachment rather than just gluing on to the body. Juan Manual Pérez-Garcia and his team fitted harnesses to six birds this summer and had some interesting results.

One bird covered a distance of 173km in two days. Another flew 85km on its first flight (in under 3 hrs) then took another 15km journey before settling down for 12 days. Sadly it was then predated by a booted eagle. They know this because an accelerometer fitted in the tag gives an activity pattern. You can detect feeding events, roosting events, and sadly the shaking around and eventual immobility from a predation event. And then the carrying off to the nest to feed the eagle chicks event!

Data from the GPS can provide information on whether the bird is in flight or at rest. Or caught by a booted eagle!

These studies are in their infancy stage. A lot of work is needed looking at the welfare implications of tag attachment. Cost is a small hurdle to overcome considering each tag is about £1,200 plus a data transfer fee. There is definite potential and something we are keen to explore in Jersey.

Future prospects for choughs

The scope of work and tireless dedication evident from everyone in the room (any associates that could not be there in person) is promising for the future of choughs. Whilst classed as least concern, due to their global range, the species appears to be in decline. By sharing data, collaborating on research, and undertaking well-planned translocations or re-introductions we will hopefully halt any further decline. In the process, as several talks showed, this can have a far wider impact for global biodiversity because species restoration works in partnership with habitat restoration.

Helmut Magdefrau put forward their proposal to re-introduce choughs to Slovenia.

And finally

There was far too much to cover in one post. I will end with a photo gallery of chough sightings in Segovia and a couple of videos. All of which may help you plan your 2020 holidays!

La Palma island wildlife recovery centre: choughs often end up at the centre after collisions with power lines or collisions with cats mouths.

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