“Sing, Fly, Soar – Like a Bird!” is the theme of this year’s World Migratory Bird Day, an annual global campaign dedicated to raising awareness of migratory birds and the need for international cooperation to conserve them will be held on 9th October. The Global Bird Weekend will be held over the weekend (8-10 October) to coincide with World Migratory Bird Day.
This year’s World Migratory Bird Day will focus on the phenomena of “bird song” and “bird flight” as a way to inspire and connect people of all ages around the world in their shared desire to celebrate migratory birds and to unite in a common, global effort to protect birds and the habitats they need to survive.
The 2021 World Migratory Bird Day theme is an invitation to people everywhere to connect and re-connect with nature by actively listening to – and watching birds – wherever they are. At the same time the theme appeals to people around the world to use their own voices and creativity to express their shared appreciation of birds and nature.
Birds can be found everywhere: in cities and in the countryside; in parks and backyards, in forests and mountains, and in wetlands and along the shores. They connect all these habitats and they connect us, reminding us of our own connection to the planet, the environment, wildlife and each other. Through their seasonal movements, migratory birds are also regularly reminding us of nature’s cycles.
As global ambassadors of nature, migratory birds not only connect different places across the planet, they also re-connect people to nature and to themselves like no other animals on the planet.
In fact, billions of migratory birds have continued to sing, fly and soar between their breeding and non-breeding sites. During the pandemic, which slowed down many activities by limiting our movements, people across the world have been listening to and watching birds like never before. For many people around the world, bird song has also been a source of comfort and joy during the pandemic, connecting people to each other and to nature as they remain in place.
Scientists around the world have also been studying the impact the pandemic is having on birds and other wildlife, looking at how “the anthropause” – the so-called global shutdown in human activity resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic – has affected birds and other wildlife around the world. At the same time, scientists have also been looking at the positive health benefits of birds and nature on humans.
Clearly, the pandemic has been an unprecedented challenge for humankind. At the same time, it has also brought a whole new level of awareness and appreciation of birds and the importance of nature for our own well-being.
World Migratory Bird Day 2021 is therefore not only a celebration of birds, it is also an important moment to reflect on our own global relationship with nature and to highlight our collective desire to do more to protect birds and nature in a post-pandemic world.
Celebrated across the world on two peak days each year – on the second Saturday in May and second Saturday in October – World Migratory Bird Day is the only international awareness-raising and education program that celebrates the migration of bird species along all the major flyways of the world.
Take part and make your sightings count – register for Global Bird Weekend here or set up a team on eBird
Celebrations this summer as the population of chough in Kernow (Cornwall) is finally bouncing back after over two decades of conservation efforts. Every year their numbers have grown, but this year has been exceptional. They are now well on their way to becoming a healthy and resilient population.
In 2021, 23 pairs of Cornish chough bred successfully, raising a record breaking 66 young. A huge achievement for a bird once extinct in Kernow, but even greater against a backdrop of decreasing chough populations elsewhere in the UK. Not all the young will survive to adulthood and raise families themselves, but the higher the number of fledglings that survive each year the more robust the birds become against extinction in the future.
Recolonisation has expanded in 2021 with several more pairs between Godrevy and Newquay. The furthest north remains Padstow with no choughs beyond the Camel Estuary. As far as we know…. This year also saw some co-parenting with two males (brothers) paired with the same female, the trio going on to fledge three chicks. The county’s oldest males (aged 15 and 16) also bred successfully again, raising four chicks each. Two 12-year old females also reared young (one with the 15-year old male).
It has taken decades of close partnership work to get Kernow’s choughs back to this positive result. From the conservation expertise of the RSPB; to the passion of Kernow’s nature-friendly farmers and land managers who have brought back grazing to the cliffs; the vital funding for this land management from Natural England; the collaboration of conservation organisations like The National Trust; and the dedication of volunteers who monitor the birds to make this a conservation success story.
The National Trust manage key areas of Cornwall’s coastline, which the chough call home and now manage a team of volunteers that monitor the chough on their land. Kate Evans, National Trust Senior Visitor Experience Officer, said: “We are thrilled to see numbers of Cornish chough increase year on year. It’s with thanks to the passionate volunteers who give their time and who are dedicated to monitoring choughs, that we are able to build a picture of this growing chough population”.
The return of the chough to Kernow has been no small feat. It has only been achievable through close partnership work and the support of an amazing team of volunteers. The growing success of the Cornish chough is also testament to the hard work of nature-friendly farmers and landowners who provide the right homes for Kernow’s choughs to survive and thrive.
Jenny Parker, RSPB Cornwall Reserves Warden, said: “We want to thank everyone involved in surveying and providing the conditions for chough to flourish. Our volunteers play a pivotal role locating and verifying chough nest sites every spring and all around the Cornish coast, this information is then relayed to landowners, who with our help and guidance can help chough thrive.”
Nicola Shanks, RSPB volunteer, added: “It has taken a while, but finally the tide has turned for chough in Kernow. With continued good land management and the protection of safe nest and roost spots, it will ensure their future here and their spread up the coast into Devon and beyond”.
A female chough incubating her clutch. Photo under license by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
We have managed to identify ten nests. All of which appear to have females incubating eggs. Bonus news, one of those nests belongs to a wild-hatched pairing. Up until now, pairings have comprised Jersey Zoo or Paradise Park birds we have released or a 50:50 mix of captive-bred and wild-hatched choughs.
(H) = hand-reared
The other point to note is that the Jersey flock now only has twelve males and eighteen females. The two males that are not paired up only hatched out last year. You wouldn’t expect them to be breeding yet. Then again, if you read last month’s report, never make assumptions with choughs…
Bo and Flieur probing for insects at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
The Trinity Trio
Reports started coming in over Easter weekend of three choughs visiting horse stables near Les Vaux valley behind the Zoo. Working closely with the owner we investigated, did some probing, if you pardon the pun, and discovered a few interesting facts.
A pair of choughs had been using the stables in 2020. The building is like a smaller version of one the quarry buildings and surrounded by several properties with horse-grazed fields. The owner had not noticed the choughs in a while so assumed they had gone.
Now a/the pair had returned, this time with nesting material. However, what appears to be happening is that they are removing material (silver birch twigs) from abandoned pigeon nests and flying off somewhere else.
On one occasion there was an almighty ruckus as the pair flew in to be greeted by a third chough. A phone call on Easter Saturday saw me drive round to the stables in the evening and find a solitary chough roosting in the rafters.
The leg rings identified the bird as Bee the same chough regularly visiting the Zoo. This made sense, answering the question where does she go at night. It didn’t tell us who the other two were. That was until….
After Easter we received reports of two choughs visiting Peacock Farm. This belongs to the Jersey Royal Company of the famous Jersey royal potatoes. The farm also happens to be behind the Zoo and about a kilometre from the stables!
A pair of choughs were being seen, almost daily, on the site often with twigs in their bills. A neighbour managed to pinpoint which building they were going to. We met with two of their directors outside this building to introduce ourselves and explain about the chough project. Almost instantly, two choughs flew out from inside and started shouting at us.
I would like to tell you that we read the leg rings, know exactly who the pair are and can confidently say there is an eleventh nest in Jersey. A royal one no less.
However, observations over the next few weeks left us a bit muddled. We know that the frenzy of twig trafficking slowed down. When the owner of the stables moved house we naturally stopped getting reports. We have not seen Bee over the Zoo as much. Likewise, chough sightings at the farm have dropped off.
Choughs Pinel and Bee at Peacock Farm, Trinity. Photo by Hannah Clarke
We do know that Bee and Pinel were photographed at Peacock Farm on 17th April. Bee frequently visits Sorel for supplemental feed. We have never seen any inclination that she is paired with Pinel. So if Bee and Pinel are a pair, who the heck was the third chough? Why wasn’t Pinel roosting with Bee at the start of April? Is this a new romance, could there be four choughs residing in Trinity?
The choughs appear to be horsing around this month. Photo by Liz Corry.
Who knows! Thank goodness the Plémont pair are straight forward. Oh wait…
Plémont, pesky choughs and puffins
The Plémont pair look to be progressing well. The female is incubating and the male is doing his best to defend the nest. We are managing to make weekly visits supported by several public sightings.
The Plémont male feeding the female as she takes a break from incubating their eggs. Photo by Liz Corry.
The puffins have now returned to Jersey to breed along the Plémont to Grève de Lecq coast. Puffins nest in burrows often in the same habitat choughs use for feeding and nesting. Our Plémont pair often crop up in reports from the seabird monitoring ‘arm’ of Birds On The Edge. Typically, they are in flight so leg ring colours aren’t seen. That’s fine though right? Two choughs, one nest. All we need to know is when the chicks are due and if there are any disturbance/predation issues.
Wrong! Remember, never assume. Turns out there has been a switch-a-roo when we weren’t looking. In March we reported Beanie baby had lost her male and paired up with Minty, re-building the nest at Plémont. Jump to April and Minty is at Plémont but it’s not Beanie baby on the nest. It’s a younger female. Scandal!
Leg rings helped staff identify Rey as the female now on the Plémont nest. Photo by Liz Corry.
We haven’t seen Beanie baby all month. Was she ousted by the female or fell victim to the Plémont peregrine? We might never know. All I can say is Rey is incubating eggs at Plémont with Minty. Fingers crossed both Rey and Minty are rearing chicks come May.
Catching up with the choughs
We carried out a couple of successful catch-ups this month with the choughs to replace leg rings. All birds caught looked to be in good health and expected body weight. You always have to be extra cautious at this time of year. You want to be as quick as possible so as not to keep the parents from their eggs or chicks. Breeding females should only be caught if absolutely necessary and handled with care if doing so.
Which is my excuse for not taking any photos of the birds getting their new rings. Instead here is Riccardo trying to pretend everything is normal and that he isn’t holding the hatch door wires posed to drop them. See if you can spot the green lizard that clearly had me distracted from the job at hand.
Waiting to ambush the choughs at the aviary whilst being distracted by the basking green lizards. Photo by Liz Corry.
The aluminium sheeting has been fitted to the aviary to deter rat access. Our next steps are ensuring no rats are living inside. Riccardo is monitoring with the aid of camera traps. Once the all clear is given, the aviary can be used to confine choughs if needed for example for veterinary reasons.
April’s weather has left us without rainwater on several occasions and we have ferried containers up there and altered our cleaning regime to accommodate.
Vegetation-wise, everything is growing which means regular strimming and mowing to maintain chough-friendly habitat.
Sorel sheep set to work grazing a field previously used for winter bird seed crops. Photo by Liz Corry.
Meanwhile, the eco-friendly lawnmowers sharing the field with the aviary have set to work in another National Trust owned field. Don’t be alarmed if you visit and think a bunch of sheep have escaped. There is a hot wire around the perimeter.
Et maintenant, les nouvelles
Cappy is still happily living in Carteret, France. Photo by Catherine Bataille.
Cappy is still in Carteret. Yann has kindly kept us updated. We even had a photo sent in via Durrell’s Facebook site from a sighting on 11th April just north of Carteret. Read the news from France
The chough pairs have been busy at their nests. Wool, horse hair and moss were being transported between Sorel and Ronez Quarry at the start of March.
The few cold snaps, where temperatures went below 4°C look to have interrupted the normal progression of things and pairs were still moving nesting material at the end of March. We think that at least one pair began incubating this month though, based on pair behaviour at the aviary. Nothing is certain. As the following will show.
It might well be the Plémont pair that have been visiting the stables at Les Landes Racecourse. A friend sent a photo of a chough on the window ledge as she was mucking out. Nest prospecting, after lining material, or just popping in to say hello? Not sure, but it started a trend that week for horse-related chough news.
I found horse hair in the Sorel aviary on Monday afternoon (26th). On Wednesday came the report from Les Landes stables and, on Thursday, I took a phone call from a lady in Trinity who wanted to report choughs nesting in her stables. She had tried calling the day before, but the Zoo switchboard experienced technical issues. If she had got through, I would have been able to witness a flurry of twig movement in the empty stables and a shouting match between three choughs!
Choughs have been moving twigs around in a stables in Trinity as evident from the mess on the floor. Photo by Liz Corry.
We already knew about Bee visiting the Zoo and roosting somewhere nearby. Three days prior to the Trinity ‘battle of the twigs’, a pair was spotted feeding by Jersey Dairy late in the afternoon and I spent two hours after work the next day staking out the area to no avail. The next day, keepers spotted three choughs over the Zoo. Then twig-ageddon.
Jersey dairy HQ where two choughs were seen feeding this month. Photo by Liz Corry.
The Royal Jersey Showground is next door to Jersey Dairy and offers more foraging habitat for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
These must be the three choughs involved in the Trinity stables squabble? Exactly which three remained a puzzle. At least for a couple of days. Easter Saturday, at around 8am, I got the call that the pair were back in the stables. Having just got out of the shower, I raced over with breakfast in hand to….oh wait, this was now April. I can’t tell you until the next report!
We definitely have a nest at Plémont. As do the raven pair and peregrines. Talk about unwelcome neighbours! We are a bit concerned about unintentional public disturbance and whilst you can’t physically access the nest, you can walk close to it. A few reports have included that the pair fly out to defend the site when people or dogs have approached.
Plémont, home to a pair of choughs, adjoins foraging favourites Grosnez and Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry.
As most of Jersey’s choughs nest in the very active Ronez Quarry, you would expect them to be used to disturbance. However, two cautionary points (1) this pair has never roosted/nested in the quarry and (2) disturbance is a regular 7am-4pm at Ronez with 1-2days off a week.
All we can do is monitor the situation and evaluate at the end of the season. There isn’t any signage at Plémont to raise awareness. Then again, it might just have the same effect as a sign over a big red button that reads “do not press”.
We’ve attempted several catch-ups this month to replace missing or broken rings. The choughs are understandably vigilant during the breeding season. That being said, we succeeded a couple times resulting in a surprising revelation.
Green, the ‘forefather’ of the Jersey choughs, paired up with Pyrrho at the start of 2020. She wears an orange and white ring combo. So, this year when the female turned up with only an orange ring we thought nothing of it. That was until we managed to catch up, check the metal ring number, and discover it was Vicq!
What have we learnt from this?
Green is really unlucky having now found himself with ‘wife’ number 4 since 2015
Vicq finally stands a chance at breeding, having spent the last two years in a female pairing
Never make assumptions where choughs are involved!
The other solved mystery involved two choughs sporting only a yellow leg ring. We knew that one was Dingle as he is busy nest-building with his partner Red. The other, once caught, turned out to be Jaune so we replaced her missing cerise ring.
Tupperware party @ Sorel, 3pm
We have phased out the use of ceramic dishes for the supplemental feed. I’ve managed to find suitable sized Tupperware boxes with robust lids into which I drilled holes (16-19mm dia.). The holes allow slender chough bills to get to access the food. Spillage, aka rat food, is stopped by the lid. As too is rain, well light rain at least.
New food stations for the choughs to stop spillage and limit thieving magpies. Photo by Liz Corry.
The choughs initially ignored the Tupperware hence phasing in rather than completely switching. Once confident they were not a trap, the birds happily tucked in. The containers are screwed into the food stands for stability and easily removed for cleaning.
Release aviary modifications
We have bought aluminium sheeting from metal fabricators Raffray Ltd. They have cut and bent to shape the panels we need to attach to the aviary to stop rats climbing up and getting inside. The order arrived this month and will be fitted sometime after Easter.
Raffray’s aluminium panels have arrived for the release aviary modifications. Photo by Liz Corry.
Rewild Jersey wheels
Another modification underway this month saw the project vehicle transform to Rewild Jersey featuring an agile frog and a chough. The new signage is all thanks to the design team at Durrell and Signtech.je. Fingers crossed we don’t scratch it on the brambles driving down the Sorel track.
Speaking of amphibians, the toads returned to the chough aviary in the Zoo (also known as SORG), and spawned in the shallow pond. Pond is probably too grand a term. Not that the toads seem to mind. The chough student, who services SORG each morning, has been keeping the water levels topped up and we now have tadpoles. I’m not sure which we will be more excited to see this year, chough chicks or toadlets?
British Ornithologists’ Union (BOU) Conference 2021
The choughs fought off stiff competition to secure a poster presentation slot at the 2020 BOU conference. Then Covid hit and the conference was cancelled. Not to be defeated, the entire event was transferred online via Zoom, Slack, and Twitter and held this month over three days.
For those of you on Twitter, search #BOU2021 and #chough or @Corry_Liz for the six tweet poster presentation thread. The poster itself can be viewed here:
Choughs arriving for the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
Ahead of the Island census next month we have taken account of Jersey’s chough numbers. We are missing several birds from the Sorel feeds. It is becoming increasingly harder to conclude that a chough missing at the feed means a dead chough. The chough in France is testament to that! However, the chances of them being alive are very slim if we don’t have any sightings elsewhere, there has been a long and consistent absence from Sorel, and/or their partner has re-paired.
With that said we have nine birds who have become ‘missing presumed dead’ over the last six months. This potentially brings the Jersey population down to 34 from 43 and one female in France.
Flieur looking a bit dubious about the makeover Bo is giving her. Photo by Liz Corry.
I have managed to carry out one catch-up to replace missing rings. We now have a few more birds with missing or broken rings. This adds to the confusion of who is present or not.
The situation at Plémont has been a bit of a mystery. Beaker has still not been seen despite the female, Beanie Baby, regularly showing up for supplemental feeds. Only one chough was seen at Plémont. Then towards the end of the month, two choughs were flying around. This coincided with Beanie Baby preening and foraging with a new male at Sorel!
We need to confirm which birds are at Plémont. Gut feeling says Beaker is no more, Beanie has found a new partner, and is having another go nesting at Plémont.
Beanie Baby (Green/Black) surrounded by male suitors. Photo by Liz Corry.
Another curve ball…the female hanging out at Corbière has not been seen in a long time. Her partner, Minty, has been at Sorel every afternoon for the feed. Here is the ‘fun fact’, Minty is now paired with Beanie Baby.
Choughs have been visiting the Zoo again. One in particular. In fact, of all the times we have been able to identify leg rings, it has been Bee or Bee with Pinel a young male. She visited the Zoo last year when she was paired with a different male, Mac. Whilst never confirmed, we assumed Bee and Mac were the pair regularly spotted around Trinity and St Martin.
Bee renewed her membership to the Zoo so she could visit the chough aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.
Mac has been missing for a while. Bee might be visiting the chough aviary in the Zoo looking for a new partner. There are still three single males in with the breeding pair. She might simply be looking for free food whilst away from Sorel. She has been observing the keepers and now tends to arrive shortly before a feed is due then disappear until the next feed. The Zoo choughs get three feeds a day.
Bee making herself comfortable on top of the Zoo aviary. Photo by David Mulholland.
Breeding pairs for 2021
We have ten pairs going into the 2021 breeding season. We only have twelve males in the flock, two of which are only one year of age, so ten is good going. Half the pairings are proven, having produced one or more broods in the past.
Hopes for a Trinity nesting pair now seem very slim. Plémont still has promise although unintentional public disturbance could be an issue if the 2020 nest site is used. As always Ronez Quarry will be the stronghold and the focus of our monitoring.
Observations at the supplemental feeds suggest the nest building or, for some, nest-refurbishment started this month. We think at least one female has started egg laying. Could we have Easter chough chicks?
Cappy in Carteret
Cappy is still alive in Carteret and starting to gain followers in France.
France and the Écréhous (foreground) are visible from Jersey’s north coast (through a 60x zoom!). Photo by Liz Corry.
Keepers managed to catch-up the three boys from the display aviary in the zoo and move them to an off-show holding area. This allows Tristan and Penny to start breeding without territorial disputes.
A very happy keeper (Cian) after a tricky catch-up in the Zoo chough aviary. Photo by Bea Detnon.
All three males looked healthy and were implanted with transponders for ID. All of the captive-bred birds have them. They will be exported to Paradise Park when travel permits.
A Jersey Zoo chough getting a transponder fitted under the skin for identification purposes. Photo by Bea Detnon.
Whilst travel doesn’t permit…
I have attended several online planning meetings over the past few month regarding proposed chough work in the UK. I tend not to mention them as they are quite heavy going, tedious things…
Sheep and choughs reunited at Sorel for the new year. Photo by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
January got off to a flying start. For the choughs at least. We, however, are still grounded in lockdown.
Jersey has experienced some outstanding days of clear skies and sunshine. The type that provides perfect flying conditions for choughs. Then we’ve had the horrendous downpours. The type that provides perfect conditions for staff and student to question their career choices.
Let’s start the year focusing on the positives!
News from Carteret
After a nervous few days of not seeing her, Yann happily reported Cappy to be alive and well. She is still in the same location. A good sign perhaps if she is confident with her surroundings; familiar with the good foraging spots and has secured a safe roost. We don’t really know right now. Counting down the days until we can visit. January’s skies provided teasing glimpses of French shores.
Coastline of France visible from Sorel car park. Photo by Liz Corry.
Coastline of Normandy visible from my neighbour’s garden. Photo by Liz Corry.
New year, new bling
There have been three attempts this year to trap choughs in the aviary to replace missing or broken leg rings. Third time’s a charm! We changed tactic for 2021 and sat in front of the aviary posed ready with the hatch wires.
The first time was inevitably going to fail. The birds knew something was afoot and refused to enter the aviary in our presence. Throughout the next week of feeds, observations were carried out from this position without any movement of hatches. By the second attempt the birds were a little more relaxed. A few of the bolder adults like Chewbacca, Lee, and Green went inside. Most of the group would then follow having seen the survival of the ‘sacrificial offerings’. Any sudden movement or unfamiliar noise and the entire flock fled.
Another week of undisturbed feeding meant that the third attempt trapped 24 of the 29 choughs present that day. It still meant a good thirty minutes of sitting patiently in the dead bracken due to hyper-vigilant Bo and Betty. These were two we needed but kept landing on the shelf, walking in and out of the open hatches, always keeping an eye on me.
Vicq was caught up to replace her broken Jersey flag ring. Photo by Liz Corry.
The weather on that day wasn’t as nice as the photos make out. High winds kept blowing the hand net back in on itself giving the birds the advantage. That said, we achieved a lot. Betty, Flieur and her youngster Iris had their missing colour rings replaced. Betty and Vicq were given fresh red and white striped rings as their existing ones had shattered. We swapped Portlet’s pale blue for a new style of pale blue that makes it easy to distinguish from the whites and greys of the flock.
Finally, Dingle was caught up simply because he was unlucky. Trying to isolate five from a group of 24 in a confined space is guaranteed to result in by-catch. All six looked well and had healthy body weights.
Away from Sorel
A few unidentified choughs evaded capture which was a shame as there are a couple of outstanding cases to deal with. Clearly, with a population of 42, several were absent from Sorel that day.
We are still seeing choughs in Trinity Parish, Plémont, Les Landes, and the south west of the Island. Rather worryingly, we no longer get reports of pairs, just of single birds.
Twice in one week we have seen a chough fly over the Zoo. The first time was in the rain. It looked rather laboured in flight and called frequently. The second visit was again on a damp, grey day. This time it was spotted taking a break perched atop a leafless tree by the macaque enclosure. It was, sadly, unclear if it was the same individual.
Beaker, one half of the Plémont pair has not been seen of late at the feeds like his female has. A roost check confirmed only one bird going in to roost. We need to continue monitoring this as it implies we are down a breeding pair and territory for the 2021 season.
There are growing concerns too for a couple of other birds which may mean we have lost two more breeding pairs.
COVID, and corvid, conundrum in the Zoo
One pair who have not changed are the Zoo pair. Tristan and Penny will want to start nest building towards the end of February. This means we need to move their three juveniles out before Dad gets, well, violent. No other way of putting it.
The default move would be to export them to the UK to join the captive breeding programme supporting the pending Kent reintroduction. COVID travel restrictions set the ferry option back until April and commercial flight option to a similar date.
Plan B then becomes holding them in an aviary at the Zoo until Plan A is feasible. However, thanks to the knock on effect of COVID postponing 2020 exports, and our breeding success of species with similar housing needs (e.g. hornbills) we find ourselves in a Battle Royale for aviary space.
There is a Plan C formulating – release the juveniles. Very much dependent on whether staff can dedicate sufficient time to ensure the best chances of success. Then we have the ongoing rat problem which would really pose a threat if you want to keep birds captive whilst conditioning them for release.
Rats caught on the camera trap at the aviary (for scale, it climbs half inch squared mesh).
A Jersey supplier has been found for the rodent-proofing aluminium mentioned in the last report. I’m not confident that this can be supplied and fitted in time before Tristan kicks off. Watch this space!
Another month coming to a close at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.