Chough report: February 2017

P1730907By Liz Corry

Considering February is the shortest month, Mother Nature managed to fit in pretty much every weather type bar drought. The choughs faced blinding fog, F10 gales, hailstorms, thunder, and glorious sunshine.

Rolling sea fog to the west of Mourier Valley (left) glorious sunshine to the east at the same time. Photos by Liz Corry.

This might explain why Lee and Caûvette failed to turn up for supplemental feeds four days in a row. In fact they were not sighted anywhere for almost five days. We are not entirely sure if they stayed out at Les Landes the whole time or just waited until sunset to reach their regular roost site at Sorel. Staff attempted to find the answer by stalking the pair around Les Landes and staking out the roost site. Both of which failed because they were either nowhere to be seen to stalk or the roost site was shrouded in fog.

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Just as panic set in with the sighting of peregrines hunting at Les Landes the pair were spotted. Both completely fine, behaving as normal feeding around the parade ring at the racecourse.

There was the slight twinge of excitement about their absence if we went with the train of thought that they had chosen to roost at Les Landes. Would this be a clue about where they will attempt to nest?

Chough nest-site prospecting with the Channel Island Occupation Society

Choughs will nest in man-made structures and down mine shafts as well as sea caves and crevices. We know Jersey’s choughs have been hanging around the German observation tower at Les Landes so we decided to investigate the various structures built during the German Occupation in the 1940s. We met with Tony Pike from the Channel Island Occupation Society (CIOS) and his dog Sal who very kindly gave us a guided tour of the site.

Tony Pike kindly allowed access to several German military structures to assess feasibility of chough’s nesting. Sal, his dog, was also keen to show us around as long as it wasn’t underground. Photo by Liz Corry.

We started at the tower, known as the Kriegsmarine Marine Peilstand 3 tower. This was originally built by the German Navy for observing targets at sea. There are seven floors to it, five of which look out to sea and take a fierce battering from the sea winds. Birds cannot enter the tower from this side as the openings have been blocked off with perspex to preserve the interior.

View of the MP3 tower at Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry.

There is one opening on the land side left open by CIOS members for bats to access if needed. Theoretically, the choughs can use this to access the tower. The walls of the tower are two metres thick providing a convenient shelter ledge for choughs at the opening. Despite the depth it might still be too exposed for choughs to choose to nest on.

Looking inland from inside the tower. Photo by Liz Corry

Once inside there are just flat walls, no ledges to build a nest on with the exception of the concrete spiral staircase. When it rains the floors can become very wet and although they dry out fast I imagine that a smart bird like a chough will quickly realise that this is not a suitable place to raise young.

There are two ‘brother’ towers of Bt Steinbruch on Guernsey and Bt Annes on Alderney allowing the Germans to pass semaphore messages throughout the Channel Islands. The mobile network of its day. Maybe that is what the choughs are doing? Trying to scope out the other islands to decide whether its worth the flight across?

Choughs practising semaphore in an attempt to communicate with Guernsey. Photo by Liz Corry.

As a side note Tony pointed out two sites along the cliffs which the Germans had blasted square holes into the rock face to provide sheltered artillery positions for a soldier to sit in. This side note turned out to be extremely relevant as one is positioned a metre below where we have stationed ourselves several times in the past two months watching the choughs. If only we had known we could have saved ourselves a lot of earache and a few less head colds.

View from a rifleman’s lookout position blasted out of the cliff face. Photo by Liz Corry.

A chough foraging on a cliff face the profile of which was changed when the Germans blasted rock and dumped rubble when building the bunkers. Photo by Liz Corry.

The other structures we were interested in are to be found below ground. There is an extensive complex of passage-linked personnel and ammunition bunkers at Battery Moltke. Precision engineering by the Germans meant that the bunkers had heating and ventilation through a series of shafts and underground piping. None of which look accessible by choughs. Most of the public entrance ways to the bunkers and passageways are behind locked metal-sheeted doors to stop vandalism. If the choughs did find their way in I would like to think they would appreciate what is hidden away underground as much as we did.

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Battery Moltke under the ground. Photo courtesy of the Channel Islands Occupation Society

One particular bunker was unearthed by Tony and a team of volunteers last year several decades after the States of Jersey had back-filled it with rubble for health and safety reasons. The ‘flower bunker’ as Tony called it, is an anti-aircraft bunker with a decontamination unit in case of a gas attack. On the walls inside you can see the original artwork by German officers of flowers in what one assumes is an attempt to brighten up the doom and gloom one would face being locked away in an air raid.

Original artwork by German officers on the walls of an anti-aircraft bunker at Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry.

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Original artwork by German officers on the walls of an anti-aircraft bunker at Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry.

From what we observed it looks unlikely that choughs would nest successfully in any of these places. We are very grateful to Tony nonetheless and now have a greater appreciation of Les Landes when we go out radio-tracking. The choughs still have the option of sea caves and crevices along that stretch of coastline. They may look to the farm buildings behind the racecourse. We will keep a close eye on Lee and Caûvette in March. At the first sign of twig carrying we will be on them like…falcons (in a non-aggressive way).

Big brother is watching you

Ronez visit 9-12-2016. HGYoung (5)

Simon visiting the dusty nest sites at Ronez Quarry. Photo by Glyn Young

Ronez Quarry very kindly agreed to fund nest cameras in the quarry this year. With help from quarry staff  nest-boxes have been installed to try and encourage two particular pairs to nest away from active machinery.

We cannot be sure that the pairs will use the boxes, but if they do we will be able to follow their progress closer than ever before. Using equipment supplied by Handykam we will be able to record what goes on inside the box and hopefully learn more about clutch size, hatch rates, and general day to day activities of nesting choughs.

We do not currently have the option to view live footage. This incurs a greater cost and would be a gamble since we are not even sure if the birds will use the boxes.

The set up also includes monitors at each site to allow quarry staff to check the nests whenever they like without disturbing the birds. Their attentiveness over the past two breeding seasons has been invaluable to the success of the choughs. In the past we have had to wait for a scissor lift or something similar to be brought into the quarry to look in a nest if staff alert us to a situation. Now we just flick a switch.

Highly sophisticated calibration techniques for setting up nest cameras. Photo by Liz Corry.

If the pairs decide not to use the boxes we may be able to reposition the cameras and still capture nesting activities. However, it all depends on timing as we do not want to disturb the choughs unnecessarily. We are very grateful to Ronez Quarry for funding and supporting this project. In particular Mark de Carteret and Andy Paranthoen for co-ordinating and fitting the cameras.

Last, but not least

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A future chough diet?

Orlux Remiline granules, a complete food for song thrushes, is being gradually added to the supplemental diet this month. We are trying to see if we can switch from an egg-based diet which can spoil relatively quickly to a dry pelleted diet.

If successful we will then look into automated feed stations similar to those used in Mauritius and New Zealand.

 

March volunteer activity

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Sunday 12th March 2017 – Le Don Hodges, St John – 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

The details

Join National Trust Rangers Neil and Will at Le Don Hodges on the north coast (immediately inland from the chough aviary) to help undertake young hedgerow management. Since these agricultural fields were acquired by the Trust in 2012, thousands of bareroot whips of native hedgerow tree species have been planted as part of a programme of hedgerow restoration. This forms part of a wider wildlife farming initiative being implemented at the site that also includes the planting of conservation cover crops for birds and pollinating insects.

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 car park at Sorel point, La Rue de Sorel, (west of Ronez Quarry), St John at 10:20 for a 10:30 start. Jersey phone directory Map 3, 2R. Google maps here

Parking  There is parking at the meeting point.

The task In order to give the young hedgerow trees the best start possible we now need to undertake some management. This task will involve clearing the vegetation and mulching around the base of the trees, cutting back encroaching bramble, replacing broken/missing tree guards and canes, pruning the trees to encourage dense growth, and planting up any gaps where the planted whips have not survived. We made a fantastic start to this work during the November task but there is still a large number of trees that need attention and plenty of gaps to plug.

Tools needed Tools will be provided but if you have your own gloves, sickle, secateurs, and/or loppers it would be helpful if you could bring them along.

Clothing needed. Bring gardening gloves (though we can supply a pair if you don’t have them), wellies or sturdy boots, (it could well be muddy and the vegetation may be wet it and it may be rough underfoot) and common sense clothes to cope with the elements, we go ahead whatever the weather!

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 we will turn our attention to devouring Kim’s delicious cakes.

Hope to see you there!

Curlews and godwits in serious trouble

Bar-tailed godwit. Photo by Mick DrydenOver-half of the world’s curlew and godwit species face extinction from habitat loss and other pressures

From Surfbirds

A new ground-breaking assessment published in Bird Conservation International has revealed that loss of habitat could lead to the extinction of a number of species of curlew and godwit, some of which are found in the Channel Islands and the UK.

The world’s godwit and curlew species occur on all continents except Antarctica, but breed only in the Northern Hemisphere. Over half are of global conservation concern, including two (Eskimo curlew and slender-billed curlew) that are Critically Endangered and may even be extinct, and two others (Far Eastern curlew and bristle-thighed curlew) also threatened with extinction. A further three that all occur locally, the Eurasian curlew, bar-tailed godwit and black-tailed godwit, are globally Near Threatened.  The assessment has canvassed the views of over 100 experts and reviewed the scientific literature, to help highlight the many threats they face.

Top of the list is the loss of non-breeding habitats. Most species rely on coastal estuaries and wetlands outside of the breeding season, many of which face increasing development and disturbance. This pressure is greatest in the Yellow Sea of China and Korea, perhaps the most important staging area in the world for migratory birds, in terms of numbers, diversity and proportion of threatened species.  Part of the East Asian Australasian Flyway, the Yellow Sea provides a vital rung in the migratory ladder between northern breeding areas in Asia and Alaska and southern non-breeding areas as far south as New Zealand and as far west as India. A quarter of the Yellow Sea’s mudflat feeding areas have been lost since the 1980s and much of the remainder is heavily degraded, causing declines in many wader species that depend on it. Increasing pressure for coastal development elsewhere in Asia and across the Americas may similarly affect other species.

Black-tailed godwit. Photo by Mick Dryden

All curlew and godwit species nest on the ground in open landscapes. The deterioration of these habitats, for example through changes in agricultural practices, drainage, tree planting and disturbance is a significant pressure across Europe and North America, exacerbated by increasing populations of generalist predators such as red foxes. Climate change is also likely to be an increasing threat through time in both breeding and non-breeding areas.

It is not too late to act. Coastal sites that support important non-breeding populations need to be identified and effectively protected from development, most urgently along the Yellow Sea but also locally – the majority of Jersey’s wintering bar-tailed godwits can be found in Grouville Bay where they increasingly they face disturbance from recreational beach users. Areas that support breeding populations across North America and Europe need to be sympathetically managed at a low-intensity, and where necessary, steps can be taken to reduce the predation pressure.

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Bar-tailed godwit. Jersey (January) counts 1987-2017. Figures from Societe Jersiaise Ornithology Section

James Pearce-Higgins, Director of Science at the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and lead author of the paper said “These long-lived wader species require wild open landscapes for breeding, and generally occupy undisturbed coastal habitats at other times of the year. Many are long-distance migrants and vulnerable to change throughout their annual cycle. In many ways, they are among the most sensitive bird species to global change. That over half of the species studied are rapidly declining globally should emphasise to us the impact we are having upon the planet. Their long-term future may well depend upon how well we coordinate international efforts to adopt the recommendations of this paper and support their conservation.”

Nicola Crockford, Principal Policy Officer, RSPB, said “The Eurasian curlew is an iconic species; its appearance in spring is announced by one of nature’s most evocative calls. Sadly like many UK species the Eurasian curlew is in trouble, their numbers have dropped dramatically, putting them at risk of disappearing completely from the UK.“

“The paper recommends that achieving conservation success at the national or international scale will likely require dedicated programmes targeting species at risk, like we have developed for the Eurasian Curlew in the UK where steep declines have been a major factor in the listing of the species as globally Near Threatened with extinction.”

“Through RSPB’s Curlew Recovery Programme and BTO’s programme of Curlew research, we are working together, in partnership with a range of people from farmers and land owners to statutory nature conservation bodies, to reverse this decline.”

A global threats overview for Numeniini populations: synthesising expert knowledge for a group of declining migratory birds. Paper here

Eurasian curlew. Photo by Mick Dryden

 

 

 

Doses of neighbourhood nature – the benefits for mental health of living with nature

Male blackbird. Photo by Mick DrydenFrom Rare Bird Alert

People living in neighbourhoods with more birds, shrubs and trees are less likely to suffer from depression, anxiety and stress, according to research by the University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology and the University of Queensland.

The study, involving hundreds of people, found benefits for mental health of being able to see birds, shrubs and trees around the home, whether people lived in urban or more leafy suburban neighbourhoods.

The study, which surveyed mental health in over 270 people from different ages, incomes and ethnicities, also found that those who spent less time out of doors than usual in the previous week were more likely to report they were anxious or depressed.

Blue tit (2). Photo by Mick Dryden

After conducting extensive surveys of the number of birds in the morning and afternoon in Milton Keynes, Bedford and Luton, the study found that lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress were associated with the number of birds people could see in the afternoon. The academics studied afternoon bird numbers — which tend to be lower than birds generally seen in the morning — because they are more in keeping with the number of birds that people are likely to see in their neighbourhood on a daily basis.

In the study, common birds including blackbirds, robins, blue tits and crows were seen. But the study did not find a relationship between the species of birds and mental health, but rather the number of birds they could see from their windows, in the garden or in their neighbourhood.

Previous studies have found that the ability of most people to identify different species is low (see 2012 study below), suggesting that for most people it is interacting with birds, not just specific birds, that provides well-being.

University of Exeter research fellow Dr Daniel Cox, who led the study, said: “This study starts to unpick the role that some key components of nature play for our mental well-being.”

Birds around the home, and nature in general, show great promise in preventative health care, making cities healthier, happier places to live.”

The positive association between birds, shrubs and trees and better mental health applied, even after controlling for variation in neighbourhood deprivation, household income, age and a wide range of other socio-demographic factors.

2012. Biodiversity and the feel-good factor: understanding associations between self-reported human well-being and species richness. Download the paper here

2017. Doses of neighbourhood nature – the benefits for mental health of living with nature. Download the paper here

Robin. Photo by Tony Paintin

 

 

 

Chough report: January 2017

Early morning at Stinky Bay where the juveniles have been hanging out. Photo by Liz Corry.

by Liz Corry

New Year, new adventures. That appears to be the motto of the juveniles, in particular the foster chicks who have taken a liking to the bay at Le Pulec, known to locals as “Stinky Bay”. This area is just below Battery Moltke, Les Landes, where we reported the choughs were last month. So not a surprise, but certainly an interesting addition to their home range. The bay has plenty of rotting seaweed, hence the name, harbouring insects attractive to many shorebirds. Are the choughs also exploiting this food resource as Scottish choughs do?

Seaweed collects by the sea wall defence providing birds with plenty of invertebrates to feed off. Photo by Liz Corry.

So far our observations suggest not. Trying my best to avoid analogies to a certain president and his wall, there is a current divide between the shore birds foraging below the sea wall defence and the choughs probing the loose soil on the other side.

Dozens of rock pipits were down at Stinky Bay to raid the strandline for tasty morsels. Photo by Liz Corry.

Black redstart at Le Pulec joining in on the breakfast feast. Photo by Liz Corry.

That may change as January’s freezing temperatures restrict the amount of food available in the coastal grassland forcing the choughs to look for alternative sources. The choughs were definitely more hungry this month than last. Wing-begging at staff is just one way to determine how hungry each individual is. Having the entire group of 35 stalk staff from the public car park along the cliff path to the aviary shows just how little wild food is available. They also had a great desire to cache food in preparation for the cold days that lay ahead. Something I think the magpies have cottoned on to as I observed a pair promptly dig up a stash once the unsuspecting chough had left.

The first time the juveniles were spotted alone at Le Pulec there was concern that they might not have the gumption to make it out of the bay and back to the aviary. Would they find enough food in the bay?

View over Le Pulec and L’Etacq from the Battery Moltke where the juveniles have been spending their mornings. Photo by Liz Corry.

I had spent the first hour of the morning above the bay at Les Landes trying to pinpoint the radio signals.  When I arrived at Le Pulec car park and walked around to look across the bay I could make out six chough shapes on the cliff face, but couldn’t identify them. Until that is, they took to the air calling excitedly and four choughs flew over to land behind me within 5 metres of where I stood.

Vicq and Wally flying to greet the keeper at Le Pulec. Photo by Liz Corry.

In a roll-call fashion I ticked off Ubé, Wally, Vicq, and Xaviour, i.e. the four foster chicks, from the list of missing choughs. Once they realised I had no food for them they re-joined the other two juveniles in the bay.  By 10:50 I had to leave so I could put the supplemental feed out at Sorel. On arrival at Sorel twenty minutes later the entire flock greeted me, headed up by none other than Ubé, Wally, Vicq, and Xaviour!

Choughs foraging at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

This demonstrates how well the birds have learnt to associate the aviary with food, how they can map out the land, and how they somehow know what time it is!

The older choughs have also been spending more time away from Sorel although they don’t seem to wander as far. Crabbé is still a favourite for them. They like flying around Plémont and have been seen at Les Landes, but in terms of foraging they prefer to stay within sight of Sorel.

Twenty-two choughs congregating on the roof of Crabbé Farm. The rest of the group were over on the west coast. Photo by Liz Corry.

The choughs at Crabbé tried their best to find food in the fields despite frost and formidable chickens. Photo by Liz Corry.

Lee and Caûvette are still doing their thing over at Les Landes in the mornings. Inching far too close to peregrine territory for our liking. Especially now the juveniles are following their lead.

Seven choughs (yellow arrow) foraging on the cliffs by the Pinacle. Three had radio-transmitters attached making it a bit easier to locate and identify them. Photo by Liz Corry.

There is another pair, Bean and Kevin, who have started playing truant at the morning feed although not as frequent as yet to suspect anything. We may struggle in future weeks to identify individuals as some of the plastic rings are snapping off. Notably breeding males Dingle and Green have lost rings. Once the repair work on the aviary is completed, we should be able to trap birds inside once again allowing rings to be replaced before the breeding season kicks off.

Red has been missing her red leg ring for sometime. Now with the others losing theirs we need to catch her up to fit a new red ring. Photo by Liz Corry.

Bird flu precautions

With cases of bird flu being declared in France and the UK we are taking various precautions within the Zoo to minimise the threat to our collection in Jersey. For this reason staff working on the chough project are changing footwear when entering zoo grounds, a disinfection footbath and separate wellies are in use at Sorel aviary, and chough food is being prepared away from the Zoo Bird Kitchen to reduce any potential cross-contamination.

To date bird flu has not been recorded in the Channel Islands. However, the States Vet is asking Islanders to be cautious and follow recommendations including reporting dead birds to the States Veterinary Office. Click here for more information.

Ube and Wally checking themselves for bird flu. Photo by Liz Corry.

Free-falling for choughs!

Simon Inman, our current student placement on the chough project, is loving his time at Durrell so much that he is going to jump 10,000 feet from a plane!

Student Simon Inman is raising funds for the choughs and Durrell through a sponsored skydive.

That sentence might need re-wording, but essentially Simon is going to do a skydive in summer and would like to raise funds for the choughs at the same time. So if you would like to support the choughs, and Simon’s craziness, please click here to visit his JustGiving page and donate.

His fundraising target is £150 which will pay for camera equipment for the nest box in the display aviary at the Zoo. We hope to set up a wireless network to send live footage direct to a PC and our smartphones.

Last year, the pair in that aviary successfully reared two chicks for the first time. A third unfortunately died. We might have been able to save it if we could have observed nest activity in real time and intervened at the first sign of decline.

Any donations will be gratefully received.

Plus, if you all donate money it makes it harder for him to back out at 10, 000 feet in the air!

Wild About Jersey 11-12 February 2107

Grass snake. Photo by Kristian BellEco active logoInterested in Jersey’s wildlife and how you can make a difference? Join us at Wild About Jersey

Come along to Acorn Enterprises, Trinity on 11th & 12th February 2017

This two day celebration of Jersey’s wildlife is open to all with free entry. There will be stalls, displays, activities, talks and training workshops given by a range of local and national speakers.

Saturday 11th February

Talks

A series of talks offered to all who are interested, which will showcase environmental projects happening in Jersey that could do with a helping hand. No need to book, take your pick!

10:00 Making the Difference: The Seasearch Observer Project. Kevin McIlwee, Jersey Seasearch.

10:30 It’s all about scale(s): An uncertain future for Jersey’s grass snakes. Rob Ward, University of Kent.

11:00 The National Plant Monitoring Scheme: Developing a new volunteer-based plant monitoring scheme. Dr Oliver Pescott, National Biological Records Centre.

11:30 The Coastline Campaign: Making a difference. Charles Alluto and Jon Parkes, National Trust for Jersey.

12:00 Earthworms of the UK: A Quest to know more. Emma Sherlock, Earthworm Society of Britain, Natural History Museum, London

12:30 – 13:00 Earthworm Watch Lunchtime Survey Join members of the Earthworm Society of Britain in our Earthworm Watch survey. This involves digging for earthworms, checking which of the three groups they belong to (and what they do to the soil) and checking the soil type where they were found. It might involve slightly muddy hands (but gloves will be provided!)

Training workshops (Choose One) 13:30 – 15:30

Training offered to all, providing an opportunity for everyone to get involved in scientific research.

National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (NARRS) – Rob Ward & Nina Cornish

Training in amphibian and reptile identification, habitat assessment, survey methods, recording, health & safety. Including advanced skills for grass snake surveying, highlighting the issues in detecting grass snakes in Jersey and how to improve your chances of finding them. We will provide guidance and training on what data should be collected.

National Plant Monitoring Scheme (NPMS) – Oliver Pescott & Anne Haden

This workshop will begin with an overview of the NPMS scheme, and how to identify areas to survey. This will be followed by a field trip, meeting at Les Landes primary school car park. The field survey will explore the areas chosen in the classroom. If time allows, some identification of plants will also be demonstrated.

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Sunday 12th February

Talks

No need to book, take your pick!

10:00 Corks, Pellets & Rings. Bob Tompkins, Jersey Barn Owl Conservation.

10:30 Wildlife in urban and suburban habitats. Attitudes, challenges and opportunities. Sue Clarke, Wessex Environmental Consultants.

11:00 10 Years of Toadwatch. Nina Cornish, SoJ Natural Environment Team

11:30 Winter is coming…and it’ll be fine: A lifeline for farmland birds. Cristina Sellares, Birds On The Edge.

12:00 Lighting the Spark: Connecting children to nature to inspire environmental stewardship. Stephen Le Quesne, Wild Jersey.

Training workshops (Choose One) 13:30 – 15:30

Jersey Conservation Volunteers – Julia Meldrum and Piers Sangan

Habitat management at Grouville Marsh. Willow management and dead hedging along the stream edge. Bring hand saws, loppers, secateurs, gloves (some provided)… and wellies!! Followed by Kim’s Kakes and a cuppa! Meet at Longbeach car park, Grouville.

Jersey Butterfly Monitoring Scheme – Sue Clarke and Denise McGowan

Learn the basic techniques in identification and monitoring of Jersey’s butterflies and what this citizen science program has taught us. Training in identifying common species provided

Tea, coffee and food available to purchase from Acorn Café all day

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Jersey’s Great Garden Birdwatch this weekend – 4th and 5th February 2017

Male blackbird. Photo by Mick DrydenAnother year gone and once again its time to count the birds in our gardens during the Action for Wildlife, Birds On The Edge and Jersey Evening Post Great Garden Birdwatch. Few things show us more how the environment around us, our own living-space, is faring than looking at the birds that have chosen to live alongside us. If all is well there it shows that our environment is healthy while, conversely, obvious declines in bird numbers suggest that all is not well at home.

Action for Wildlife

 

 

 

 

JEP logo

Blackbird. Garden Bird Watch 2002-2016Analysis of sightings from the previous 15 years of this survey makes it very obvious that not all our favourite garden birds are faring so well and that populations are changing dramatically. But, how exactly do we know. Well, through as many people as possible counting them. And not just birdwatchers but everyone who likes birds because, let’s face it, everyone does like birds. And they are often easy to count because they can Greenfinch. Garden Bird Watch 2002-2016be pretty obvious especially when they come into our gardens to the food we put out for them. Data shown by the survey are very important in highlighting what is happening in our wider environment and, while not covering the whole countryside, results do bring home to everyone wider concerns. Just think, if the birds are doing badly in our gardens where we feed and protect them, what is happening out there in the rest of the world.

Greenfinch (2). Photo by Regis Perdriat

House sparrow. Garden Bird Watch 2002-2016So, please, over this weekend follow the guidelines printed below or in today’s JEP and tell us what birds you see. We can add up all the counts (we have 15 years’ worth already) and easily pick up changes that are happening right in front of us. Will there be even fewer greenfinches than last year and will wood pigeons have finally taken over our bird tables?  We call this ‘citizen science’ so consider yourself all citizen scientists!

And don’t forget. For this survey, squirrels can consider themselves birds so please count them too if you see any.

How to enter the survey

Counters should note the highest number of each species of bird that are seen together at one time during that period – not the total number which enter your garden over the period of the watch.

Survey forms and a handy identification guide will be published in the JEP on Thursday the 2nd and all data received will be passed on to La Société Jersiaise to add to their records and included in Birds On The Edge bird monitoring analyses.

Completed forms can be posted in or delivered to the JEP. You can also send in your records online through this website here from the weekend.

Download the record form here

House sparrow (2). Photo by Mick Dryden

 

Chough report: December 2016

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By Liz Corry

Winter 2015: Jersey’s re-established chough population takeover Crabbé shooting range.

Winter 2016: the choughs occupy former WW2 coastal artillery Battery Moltke.

Winter 2017?: Be afraid, be very afraid!

Or rejoice in the fact that the choughs are now becoming more at home in Jersey, expanding their range, and slightly less reliant on the aviary at Sorel.

The choughs were on the move again in December. Photo by Liz Corry.

Binoculars and patience needed at this site to ID the choughs. Photo by Liz Corry

Crabbé is even more appealing to the choughs this winter compared to 2015. A local farmer has moved sheep onto land by the shooting range. This area is halfway between Sorel and Les Landes (as the chough flies) making it a convenient rest stop if the weather isn’t at all brilliant for flying.

Or if the birds simply want a peaceful getaway from the hubbub of the flock.

Yarila, one of the Paradise Park chicks, likes this area. She seems to prefer hanging out with a few of the older birds rather than the other youngsters. Luckily for us she still has her transmitter making it easier to follow her movements.

Yarila with the antennae of her tail-mounted transmitter visible. Photo by Liz Corry

The view from the farmhouse chimney at Crabbé also holds appeal as shown below by Lee and Caûvette.

Lee and Cauvette doing their best Dick Van Dyke impressions on top of the farmhouse chimney. Photo by Liz Corry.

However, as we learnt last month their favourite location away from Sorel is out west at Les Landes and down to the Battery Moltke. Lee and Caûvette continue to stay down at the racecourse until flying back to Sorel around 1pm to 2pm in time for the 3pm supplemental feed. The radio-tracked youngsters spend time in the same area, but fly back to Sorel for the 11am feed. We tend not to see the entire group at Les Landes at the same time. Generally 16 or so stay back at Devil’s Hole or Sorel. Although the public, through reports, have seen groups between 20 and 30 birds.

The choughs have been hanging out along the cliffs at Rouge Nez, St Ouen. Photo by Liz Corry

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Inside the rifle targets at Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry

Panoramic view of Rouge Nez to Les Maillots (left to right). Photo by Liz Corry.

A British nickname for a chough is the ‘sea crow’ which certainly applies in Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.

Back at Sorel there has been very little to report over December. It has been a very mild winter to date. Less demanding for the choughs in terms of energy expenditure. They still get just as dirty getting stuck in to looking for insects in soil, sandy cliffs, and animal dung.

Choughs lack table manners when it comes to eating. Photo by Liz Corry.

They are still stealing the sheep pellet Ewen and Aaron put out for the Loaghtans. Apt timing as we have been looking into an alternative diet to provide at the aviary. After looking at nutritional values, potential palatability, and cost-effectiveness of various avian pelleted diets the vet and I chose to try Orlux Remiline pellet with the choughs in the Zoo. Since they are confined to their aviary and there are less of them than out at Sorel it made it easier to see if they ate the pellet and in a more controlled environment.

Bird Department keepers measured how much of the standard diet was being eaten over a period of five days. Then measured how much was being eaten when 50% of that diet was substituted with the pellet. As expected the birds initially preferred their original diet. No one likes change. They did, however, eat the pellet. In the New Year the choughs at Sorel will be introduced to the pellet and we will monitor how it goes. At a tenth of the cost of Orlux, I’m also going to investigate the sheep pellet!

Could sheep food be an alternative supplemental diet for the released choughs? Photo by Liz Corry

A few of the older birds are starting to lose their original colour rings. The material has become brittle and is snapping as evident from the pieces of one found in the aviary. The rings are designed for use on gulls and should, therefore, be fairly tolerant of cliff top conditions. At present everyone can still be identified by one means or another. Which meant when it came time for the annual audit on 31st December we could say with confidence that Jersey has 35 choughs living wild; 12 male, 23 female.

All 35 ‘wild’ choughs were accounted for on the annual animal audit day 2016. Photo by Liz Corry.

In other news…

One of our ex-students Paul Pestana returned from his travels in Asia. With a beaming smile on his face he sat us down to show us a very specific selection of holiday snaps. Whilst camping and hiking in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan he recognised an all too familiar sound. Choughs! Both red-billed choughs and alpine (yellow-billed) choughs were present. Below are a selection of photos he has kindly shared with us. It is hard to know which is more impressive his find or the scenery where he found them.

Red-billed chough in Tajikistan. Minus the mountain in the background, it felt very similar to watching choughs living in the quarry back in Jersey. Photo by Paul Pestana.

Lake Ala-Kol, Kyrgyzstan. Photo by Paul Pestana.

Lake Ala-Kol, Kyrgyzstan. Photo by Paul Pestana.

Alpine choughs in Kyrgyzstan. Photo by Paul Pestana.

Chough report: November 2016

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By Liz Corry

With thirty-five choughs now flying around Jersey at their leisure, the field team certainly clocked up the mileage in November trying to keep track of them. Aside from navigating the green lanes of Jersey, the team also had to deal with servicing the aviary in gale force storms, juveniles losing their radio-transmitters, and uninvited house guests.

Post-release monitoring

Monitoring the choughs in November divided the team in two directions. Photo by Liz Corry.

We continue to radio-track the 2016 release cohort to find out how far they disperse and which areas in Jersey they favour. The youngsters tend to stay together which makes it easy to follow them.

Durrell’s parent-reared prodigy, Trevor, will occasionally favour hanging out with the sub-adult group which means he drops off our radar. He has been found with a group over at Les Landes from time to time. He may be going further afield.

One of our Bird Keepers, Kathryn Smith, spotted a small group flying over Gorselands on her day off. We know the sub-adults have flown over there in previous years and there was a report back in October of choughs at Beauport. Kathryn’s sighting was somewhat unusual since it was later in the day at a time when the group normally stay put at Sorel. Could this be the start of something new?

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Sunrise search at Beauport. No choughs, but at least the view paid off. Photo by Liz Corry.

Reports of choughs on the south-west coast of Jersey this month kept the team on their toes. Photo by Liz Corry.

We don’t know if Trevor has made it over to the south of the Island. Now we may never know, unless we can see his leg rings since he has lost his radio transmitter. By the end of November, a total of four choughs had lost their transmitters out of the group of eleven; Trevor, Ubè, Duke, and Zennor. This is an unusually high number for us to lose within the first two months of use. In each case the middle tail feather, to which the transmitter is fitted, has become detached rather than the transmitter slipping its fastening.

Trevor has lost his radio-transmitter and is now only identifiable by his red and orange leg rings. Photo by Liz Corry.

We still have seven with transmitters and because they tend to stay in groups we have a fairly good record of where the other youngsters are. We get extra assistance with monitoring via the farmland bird transects carried out by volunteers across the island. The choughs have now been recorded on the transects at Crabbé, Les Landes, Les Creux, and of course Sorel.

Choughs flying over the Crabbé transect. Photo by Maddie Rusman.

Lee and Caûvette take up residency at Les Landes

Lee and Caûvette have been inseparable over the past year. Lee was imported from Paradise Park in 2015 and released a month later. At that point Caûvette, one of our hand-reared females, had already been flying around Jersey for a year. She played it cool, eventually falling for his charm and now they go everywhere together. Next year, at the ages of two and three-years-old, they should begin to show an interest in breeding.

They may well have already started planning ahead. Their absence at the morning feed was noted several times this month and has now become the norm. They always show up for the afternoon feed and stay around to roost out at Sorel. By sunrise they are gone (unless its horrible weather and then they can’t be bothered to travel anywhere and who can blame them).

Radio-tracking choughs (?) at Les Landes. Photo by Bea Detnon.

“I said they look like slender crows, not cows!” – Liz. Photo by Bea Detnon

They spend their mornings at Les Landes either pilfering the race course or gleaning the cliffs for insects. In between feeding they like to hang out on one of the many concrete structures dotted along the cliff tops, remnants of the German occupation during World War II. Gun turrets, bunkers, and look-out towers to name a few. Hated by some Jersey residents, loved by the choughs.

WW2 German observation tower sits on the cliff top at Les Landes constructed during the occupation. Photo by Liz Corry.

The rest of the flock visit the area, but not as regularly and there always seems to be a slight division between the pair and the others whilst feeding. As an unsuspecting springer spaniel out for a walk can attest for. Lee, closely followed by Caûvette, appeared out of nowhere, flew towards the dog, and landed within two metres shouting at the confused animal. Suddenly six other choughs flew up from the cliffs behind and it became clear that Lee’s disapproval was not at the dog’s presence, but the other choughs in his patch.

It will be interesting to see if the pair continue to visit Les Landes throughout winter. We would like to attach a radio-transmitter to Lee prior to the breeding season to get a clearer idea of what they get up to. However, that means we need him to return to the aviary for  the morning feed so we can catch him. Leaving it until the afternoon feed is not practical whilst roosting time is so close together. That certainly isn’t happening anytime soon.

Lee has taken a liking to the headland at Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry.

The release aviary suffered minor damage in Storm Angus. Photo by Liz Corry.

Storm Angus

The aviary took a battering from Storm Angus towards the end of November. Fortunately most of the damage was cosmetic.

A side panel blew off and the signposts cracked under pressure. The timber support running down the middle of the poly-tunnel snapped and needs replacing. A couple of the hinges on the hatches have been bent out of shape which means we cannot close them. We discovered this the hard way when we tried to catch up one of the birds to fit a radio-transmitter.

The framework on the poly-tunnel has a noticeable lean to it now as well. Although after surviving three winters I’m not sure all the blame can be put on Angus. Hopefully, we can address these issues before there is any serious damage.

Friends with benefits

Friends with benefits – a small flock of sheep has been moved into the aviary field. Photo by Liz Corry.

Whilst we complain about the onset of winter, the shepherd out at Sorel has already turned his thoughts to spring and preparations for next year’s lambing season. A select group of ewes were moved off the cliff tops into the aviary field to join one very excited ram.

A ram and his ewes moved into the aviary field this month Photo by Liz Corry.

They are provided with lots of extra food whilst confined to the field. To our surprise the choughs have taken a liking to some of the sheep’s food. A bit cheeky since they have their own.

The choughs stealing food put out for the sheep. Photo by Liz Corry.

Uninvited house guest(s)

Over the years the release aviary has been of interest to a number of species other than the choughs. As soon as the aviary was built, the local kestrels started perching on the roof to scope out the fields and hedgerows. Stonechats, robins, and magpies have all benefited from the supplemental feed. Magpies being the only bird species to venture inside the aviary with the choughs to dine.

The aviary structure itself and spillage from supplemental feed makes it attractive to rodents, typically mice and shrews. Feral ferrets have also shown an interest, luckily from the outside only.

Over the past three years we have found the odd owl pellet now and then on the shelving outside the aviary. Last month we started getting pellets on a daily basis INSIDE the aviary! Now we know why.

It took a week of recording before we got a glimpse of a barn owl. A few days later this video showing a second owl stunned us all. Two barn owls have been using the aviary to hunt and eat. The owls only visit at night. The choughs don’t appear to mind sharing. Probably because they are asleep at the time. We have at least a dozen birds who choose to roost in the aviary and they haven’t changed their behaviour with the presence of the owls.

VIP visitor

At the start of November we welcomed Paradise Park keeper Logan Ody to the island. Logan spent the first week attending the Avian Egg Incubation workshop held at the Durrell Training Academy and run by staff from Los Angeles Zoo and Durrell. This workshop is designed to equip the participant with the necessary skills to artificially incubate a wide range of avian species increasing captive breeding success. Skills which have been put into full use on the chough project over the past four years.

When the five day workshop finished, Logan joined the Bird Department to see behind the scenes then headed out to Sorel to spend his last two days with the choughs. Some of which Logan helped rear back at Paradise Park and could now see flying around Jersey. His enthusiasm for the project had a huge impact on staff. His penchant for wearing shorts on a cliff top in a blustery November was less contagious. Maybe its a Cornish thing?

Paradise Park keeper, Logan Oddy (right) learning how to radio-track choughs with Durrell student Bea Detnon (left). Photo by Liz Corry

 

January volunteer activity

ne-im-victoria-tower-01-03-15Sunday 8th January 2017 – Victoria Tower, St Martin – 10:30-12.30

Join the National Trust Rangers at Victoria Tower on Sunday 8th January 2017 for the first Jersey Conservation Volunteers task of the year.

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers

The details

One of our long-term objectives for this site is to enhance the abundance and diversity of native wildflowers growing amongst the grassland, thereby increasing the provision of pollen and nectar for pollinating insects. With this in mind we would like you to help us establish some small trial areas where native wildflower seeds will be sown. The native species to be sown have been carefully selected based on their attractiveness to pollinators as well as the results of soil tests undertaken earlier in the year. Before the task begins we will go through the soil test results, provide a brief overview of the selection criteria for the native wildflower species being sown, and explain what we need to do to maximise the likelihood that the sown species will become established.

In addition to all the fun with flowers we will also be undertaking scrub management on the slope below the tower and, depending on time and numbers, removing some young self-seeded sycamores.

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 car park at the end of Le Mont Mallet at 10:20 for a 10:30 start. Please check the weather forecast and wear suitable clothing.

Jersey phone directory Map 11, MM15. Google maps here

Parking  There is parking at the meeting point.

The task Planting wildflower seeds and shrub management.

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Tools needed Tools will be provided but if you have a pair of gardening gloves, a spade and/or cutting tools (e.g. pruning saw, loppers, secateurs) it would be helpful if you could bring them along with you.

Clothing needed. Bring gardening gloves (though we can supply a pair if you don’t have them), wellies or sturdy boots (it could well be muddy and the vegetation may be wet it and it may be rough underfoot) and common sense clothes to cope with the elements, we go ahead whatever the weather!

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 we will enjoy the great privilege of sampling Kim’s latest batch of delicious cakes, washed down with a nice cup of tea or coffee.

Hope to see you there!