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.
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!
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
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!