Chough report: January 2018

Flieur (grey over blue leg rings) a four year old female chough. Photo by Elin Cunningham

by Liz Corry

It was a wet and windy start to 2018 with storms Eleanor, Fionn, David, and Georgina all battering Jersey within a span of 24 days. Not surprisingly then, there is little to report in terms of chough antics. Even less in the way of photos since cameras were kept locked away in the dry.

Storm damage

Wind speeds, rarely falling below F8 throughout January, took their toll on the aviary. The poly-tunnel netting suffered the most. Constant rubbing along the metal poles wore down the threads and cable ties snapped. In some areas joins in the netting opened up or came away from the wooden frame and overnight a large split in the middle of the poly-tunnel appeared. Obviously reducing the effectiveness of trapping birds in the aviary if we had a need to do so. An ostrich could escape from that, never mind a chough!

Netting ripped open and posts broken as storm after storm pounded the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

Easily rectified by sewing and patching with extra netting, the tricky part was finding a day when weather conditions permitted use of a ladder for the harder to reach areas. Other damage has or will take longer to repair. Again this is because we are reliant on weather conditions favouring truck access to the site to take new timber and scaffolding.

As exemplified by this little incident on the one day it didn’t rain…

Toby from Ronez Quarry answered the chough SOS after the student’s 4WD failed miserably. Photo by Elin Cunningham.

Yes we did have 4WD on. No it obviously wasn’t working and we are eternally grateful to staff at Ronez Quarry.

My aviary and other animals

The aviary still functions as a supplemental feed station and roost site. As mentioned in past monthlies it is favoured by other wildlife. We probably have the complete compliment of Jersey’s small mammals visiting the aviary. This has pros and cons depending on your viewpoint. The owls and kestrels are very much in the ‘pro’ camp.

One afternoon our volunteer was shocked to find an owl flying around inside the aviary. As were the choughs! Normally we just find pellets. Earlier this month we thought we had stumbled upon a lost Damien Hirst masterpiece. Turns out it was just the neatly displayed insides of a rat.

We have also managed to film the culprit responsible for the defecation and destruction found in the keeper porch. Measures are underway to deter this behaviour.

We are experiencing problems using camera traps. A lot of the time they failed to even record chough activity. Fingers crossed we get more footage of the owl(s) if it or they return.

Camera trap photo taken at dawn of the choughs who chose to roost at the aviary.

Sign of the times

Despite the wind and rain the chough pairings are still clear to see. We are not far away from the time of year that the pairs start nesting. We are keeping a close eye on the existing pairs as well as the blossoming ones. Our two trios from last year will or have changed.

The death of Egg has forced Dusty to consider whether he becomes closer with Chickay or ditches her and starts afresh. Our young trio of Pyrrho and two wild siblings remains a close friendship. Pyrrho wants more. Will the young male feel the same this year now he is a year older with his hormones beginning to kick in?

Pyrrho (right) with her young male. Photo by Elin Cunningham

Who ewe looking at?

Apologies, but how else to entitle this section? The sheep are still confined to the field adjacent to the aviary. They started to take a keen interest in the grass surrounding the aviary but weren’t invited in! They have now been partitioned off to the next field. The choughs, however, make the most of the sheep’s field and the soil, dung, and hay there teeming with invertebrates.

The grass IS greener. Photo by Liz Corry.

The field gates are currently padlocked if you are to go and visit. Please be respectful of the sheep whilst they are up there: they are very friendly, but spook easily which tends to result in Usain Bolt sprints in all directions.

Advances in aviary design

Finally this month we have to thank John Corder, a follower of the monthly report, who answered a plea in December’s report. I had asked if anyone had suggestions for a more efficient way of building and operating release hatches. John linked us to a presentation made at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums 2016 conference describing the use of remote bird traps. These homemade traps incorporate remote central-locking systems used in cars and run off a 12v battery. A quick visit to eBay and a local hardware store soon had me set up to finally put my A-level in Technology to good use. The kit cost around £30. All that is needed now is to find a way of making it weather-proof and workable at Sorel. We hope to test this out in our zoo aviary first. Many thanks to John once again.

Efficient release hatches? We think not! Photo by Elin Cunningham

Chough report: November 2017

Choughs took flight this month to explore the west coast of Jersey. Photo by Trevor Biddle.

By Liz Corry

Having spent most of November on holiday or in bed overdosing on Lemsip, I thought I would get away with not having to write anything this month. However, as is now tradition, it is times like these when the choughs start hitting the headlines. So, thanks entirely to public sightings, I have the following news to share.

New sightings for November

There have been a couple of positive sightings of choughs at Petit Port and Corbiere once again. We never know every individual involved, but we do get at least one or two positive sightings of choughs in the area each year around this time and this year we have had some positive identification like Roy Filleul’s photo of PP003 at Corbiere and Mary with friend in the NT Field, St Ouen’s Bay.

Staff at Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd had a surprise sighting of two choughs flying around their buildings on 3rd November. They managed to film it and post on their Facebook site, see below. Since then we have been receiving reports of choughs making the most of St Ouen’s Bay. It tends to be 2 to 3 birds at a time, no large groups, and they are seen in the same places (although there could be observer bias in that).

We had a report of a chough drinking from the water’s edge at the St Ouen’s Pond Scrape (in front of the Eddie Buxton hide) which is personally very exciting as I’ve only ever seen them drink from the aviary water tray and the sheep bowsers.

Kempt Tower and Les Mielles nature reserve are becoming popular with at least three of the choughs. Thanks to Trevor Biddle’s photo of them down at the Scrape (south of St Ouen’s Pond) we know the identities of the three explorers; Pyrrho and wild-hatched siblings known to us as PP004 and PP005. Rather interestingly these three have been a trio since the start of this year and observed carrying nesting material towards the quarry back in spring.

Three sub-adult choughs spotted by a member of the public near the Scrape, St Ouen’s Bay. Photo by Trevor Biddle.

It is likely that people are seeing the same three in the area, but without leg ring information this cannot be confirmed. Understandably that information is hard to obtain, it is amazing just to get photos. All this knowledge feeds back into their long-term management plan so if you do spot choughs out and about in Jersey please do send in your report to birdsote@gmail.com or call 01534 860059 and leave the details.

Red-billed choughs in NT Field. 5-11-2017. HGYoung

Two choughs in the NT Field, St Ouen’s Bay. 5-11-2017. Photo by Glyn Young

Chough numbers in Jersey dealt another blow

One chough who will not be venturing further afield anymore is Egg. We had a rather sad report from Ronez Quarry of a dead chough found behind the door inside one of their buildings. On collection of the body the leg rings told us the bird was a captive-raised female known as Egg. What we did not know was the cause of death since the body looked to be in good condition and time of death fairly recent. She was taken to the Zoo’s veterinary team for post-mortem analysis.

X-rays ruled out any kind of trauma. She was underweight, but there was no evidence that she starved to death. Syngamus was present, but at a very low encounter rate. Internal investigation showed problems in her lungs and presence of acanthocephalans, a type of parasitic worm also known as thorny-headed worm. Once again we cannot say for sure that these factors caused the death, but certainly played a part in her demise. We are waiting on histology results for further information.

Captive-reared chough, Egg, collecting nesting material at Sorel back in April. Photo by Liz Corry.

This brings the chough population down to 35 individuals; 12 males, 23 females. It also means we have lost a potential breeding female. Egg was partnered with Dusty and for a second year in a row had made a nest although nothing came of it. We will now need to keep watch on Dusty. Will he form a new pairing in time for the next breeding season only a couple of months away? Will Chickay finally get her chance after spending two loyal years following him? More importantly was Egg‘s cause of death a one-off or is something sinister afoot?

Julian Hume

Julian Hume and Lindsey Hubbard visited the aviary on 13th November. Julian, better known for his work with extinct bird species was excited to watch such an exuberant, and very much living, species!

Julian Hume and Lindsey 13-11-2017 (1). HGYoung

Extension request for release aviary

The release aviary at Sorel was originally granted a five-year lease of life under States of Jersey planning regulations. As this comes to an end this month we have submitted a request to extend permission a further five years.

We still have a a group of choughs using the aviary as a roost site (not to mention kestrels and barn owls). There is still a need to recapture birds for veterinary treatment as demonstrated in last month’s report. The aviary facilitates this need.

In the long term we are also looking at introducing new blood lines into the population which would require soft-release of captive reared individuals. We still aim to remove the aviary at some point in the future, but for now there is still a clear need for the structure.

More information and opportunity for public comment can be found on the States website by clicking here.

The required planning notification went up at the aviary on 9th November and has, thanks to high winds, been replaced four times!

Sorel -Site Notice 12-11-2017. Jane De St Croix