No one can have failed to pick up this week that our environment and the biodiversity that we are a part of is under severe threat. Our very future is being debated. The Great Garden Bird Watch in Jersey may seem trivial by comparison but, like its counterparts in the UK (this year’s 40th Big Garden Birdwatch) and elsewhere, it represents a remarkable piece of citizen science that is truly encouraging in the face of such gloom. Each year, supported by the Jersey Evening Post, we encourage people across the Island to spend time on one day over a February weekend to count the birds they see in their garden, typically with the annual threat of atrocious weather, and tell us how many they see.
During this year’s count, our 18th since we started in 2002, 231 households sent us records of their birds. It wasn’t the highest number that we’ve had back but it has been important in establishing very visible trends, showing how those birds that live the closest to us are faring in today’s world. We need this kind of information if we are going to persuade our governments and those around us that Nature needs our help. Don’t forget, if the birds that have chosen to live closest to us are not doing well, what does that say about our own future?
Counts like this are also good for us, we can watch our birds, enjoy their presence and make ourselves happier and healthier. Proximity to and enjoyment of Nature are well known to help our own mental wellbeing (see discussion here) while another study of people who feed and watch birds found that people generally believed that their bird feeding benefits garden birds. They indicated that natural factors (e.g. bird abundance, disease prevalence) and abiotic factors (i.e. cold temperature) had more of an influence on how much they feed birds than internal constraints such as time and money (see link below). We like feeding ‘our’ birds and its good for their survival and its good for our health.
Back to our latest count (here) Jersey’s counters reported 40 different bird species in our gardens. Well 40 birds and red squirrels. Some birds are very rarely counted and hard to analyse so we base or long-term study of population trends of the 16 most reported species, the Big 16. We don’t include herring gulls as many people actively dissuade them so that counts of them may be skewed. See full results for the Big 16 here
Each year, members of The Big 16 may change position in our little table. In 2019, in order of commonness they were:
Species: Average per reporting garden
House sparrow 6.9
Wood pigeon 1.77
Great tit 1.6
Blue tit 1.6
Collared dove 1.4
Song thrush 0.26
Great spotted woodpecker 0.12
Our honorary bird, the red squirrel, at 0.4 per garden, would have been 12th.
The relative fortunes of the Big 16 over the 18 years of the count can all be seen in our report (here). There has been a slow decline in overall numbers of the 16 with some very obvious losers, species that are losing ground like greenfinch and starling, and winners like goldfinch, wood pigeon and blackcap. One very encouraging trend has been the recovery of the house sparrow, a species inextricably connected with people that had been disappearing from large parts of the British Isles. It’s doing ok in parts of Jersey!
There are some interesting comparisons. We have more of those lovely house sparrows while starlings and blue tits are definitely missing out in Jersey.
So, in Jersey we can see well how our bird neighbours are doing. And it is undoubtedly a mixed picture. We need to highlight what’s happening, we need to continue to help our garden birds and we need to take part in next year’s count. Watch this space!
Read the report Observations at backyard bird feeders influence the emotions and actions of people that feed birds here
White died this month due to health complications. Photo by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
Where to begin? The start seems a good place, but this start begins with an end. Two in fact, maybe three. Following? You will.
Wild breeding population suffers a setback
We sadly have to report the death of two choughs and a highly likely third. At the start of February, White was flying around with tatty feathers looking rough. He soon started showing symptoms of a syngamus issue despite ‘clean’ faecal samples. At the same time we noticed that Mauve, his partner, was not being recorded at the feeds. It is easy to lose an individual in a large flock, but pairs stick together.
White began to deteriorate so he was caught up and checked by the Vet. It took two days to trap him because the entire flock are now wise to our methods. Once locked in the aviary it was clear he was in trouble.
His was surprisingly good weight for a sick bird, which in itself was a concern. He has always been a larger bird, you can spot him in the flock based on size alone, but you would expect a slight weight loss.
Worming proved futile and he died a few days later. Post mortem results showed that his airways had become blocked by plaques of pus that had dislodged in the trachea. Why he had the plaques in the first place is unknown.
Whilst all this was going on Mauve was still absent. By the end of February, we had to conclude that Mauve was no longer with us.
White preening his partner Mauve in 2015 – their first season together. Photo by Liz Corry.
Mauve was one of the original group released in 2013. She had an interesting start to her free-flying life in Jersey as recounted in several of the earlier reports. White was brought to Jersey at the end of 2013 and released in 2014. They paired up in 2015 and a year later they had chicks of their own out on the north coast.
Cold case: chough PP012
On the same day that White passed, I was informed of a dead chough found in a garden at Grosnez. As Mauve had been missing I naturally assumed it was her.
On Sunday 17th, members from the Birds On The Edge team ran a stall at the annual Seedy Sunday & Wild About Jersey event (see below). Within an hour of the doors opening to the public I was approached by a lady from Grosnez. Seeing Lynne, our volunteer dressed as a chough, reminded her – she had a dead chough in her freezer!
The next 24 hours in the story were filled with twists and turns. In a nutshell, the lady had found the dead bird on her property in September 2017! At the time she wasn’t aware of the chough project, but had carefully double-bagged the body with a descriptive note attached. Nowadays she regularly sees the choughs flying over her land and knows what they are. As we all know, time ticks on and we forget things. Until you bump into a lady dressed as a giant chough!
Clearly this bird was not Mauve. The chough in question was Carmine, a wild chick hatched in 2017 belonging to Q and Flieur. She was one of the juveniles with syngamus who we had trouble trapping in the aviary. Since she was never medicated she probably succumbed to the infestation whilst flying around Grosnez with her parents.
A juvenile red-billed chough. Photo by Liz Corry.
We are very grateful to the lady for preserving Carmine and reporting it as we now have closure on a case. We can add this info to our dataset which aids future management plans.
If you do find a dead or injured chough in Jersey please call 01534 860059 or contact any of the project partners. We can come to you and collect the bird. All of our birds have metal leg rings on with a unique number. This will tell us who they are even if they have lost their plastic rings.
Replacing missing rings on the choughs is turning into a never-ending challenge. Not helped by the birds either not showing at the feed or not staying inside when we try to shut the hatches.
A plastic leg ring found in grassland near the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.
When White was trapped inside, I had the opportunity to replace Green’s missing rings. I could not fit the black gull-ring used with Green and the original release cohort. These need to be heated in hot water to open them without the material snapping; also tricky to fit one-handed. Since I was working alone without a thermos I made an on-the-spot decision. I fitted a black and white striped ring we happened to have in the ringing box.
These rings are normally used in the UK to identify a Cornish chough. As we don’t expect many of these to turn up in Jersey over the next few months I’m sure it will do as a temporary measure.
To get around the struggle of trapping the birds I tried the route of shutting the hatches after the birds had gone to roost. Fingers crossed at least one of the birds who still roost in the aviary would be a bird we needed. There were ten birds still at the aviary as the sun set. Two, maybe three, used the external roost boxes. The others went inside. The plan almost failed when the hatches didn’t close. I climbed the framework, silently cursing so as not to spook the birds, and manually closed the broken hatches.
Returning in the morning I was met with an interesting find. Earl and Xaviour had slept at the aviary. We thought they were back at Plémont having regularly been seen there before sunset. It now appears they are there for supper before flying back to Sorel to sleep. This finally meant Xaviour could have her two orange rings returned. Annoyingly she was the only bird in that group needing rings. We still have two Orange-right-only birds flying around. We need to see who if any they are partnered with to know who they are.
Potential new breeding pairs for 2019
Despite the sad loss of a breeding pair there is good news for the 2019 season. We have at least four new pairings thanks to the birds maturing. Zennor’s love for Skywalker is still going strong from the first moment she set eyes on him at Sorel last summer to a very exciting moment I can’t reveal until the March report!
Vicq, a foster-reared female has caught the eye of wild-hatched Osbourne. He isn’t even a year old yet, but it appears Vicq has staked her claim. And of course there is her clutch-mate Xaviour whose second year at Plémont may prove fruitful.
At present we have fourteen potential breeding pairs for 2019. I’m not sure how possible it will be for me to monitor them all throughout the season. I’m really hoping not to repeat the fiasco of last year when we miss-timed the hatch dates and were too late to ring the chicks. I may well be looking for volunteers.
The 2019 attendance record at the supplemental feeds has been relatively poor; around 60%. There are a few consistent absentees such as Earl and Xaviour who are spending more time back at Plémont. Other absentees have not been as easy to determine. The death of White obviously made us uneasy. What if we have lost more?
The dolmen at Grantez is one area choughs have been spotted this month. Photo by Liz Corry.
When possible, I have travelled around to known foraging sites to try and count the choughs. Of course to count them, I need to see them and I appear to be having issues with that. First off, Jersey’s potato fields are currently covered in plastic sheeting. In a way searching is easier because there are swathes of land where the choughs won’t be going. However, it also makes it hard to see anything when the morning sun reflects off the plastic.
Potato fields at L’Étacq covered to protect and encourage new growth. Photo by Liz Corry.
More fields near Grantez giving the illusion of water bodies when viewed from afar. Photo by Liz Corry.
I had a report sent in from one of the States’ rangers of two choughs in a field at Grantez one morning. Grantez is a perfect stop off for choughs with grazing sheep, a high vantage point to look over St Ouen’s Bay, two large fields grazed by donkeys, and a dolmen. Choughs love a bit of neolithic architecture. Of course, when I go up they aren’t there.
The same can be said for Le Pulec, Les Landes, and Plémont. All places I have had confirmed sightings this month. Fortunately we have a report of 13 at Les Landes at the same time we had 28 at Sorel. So at least we know we still have at least 41 choughs.
Not a chough – but perfect chough foraging habitat. Photo by Liz Corry.
Wild About Jersey
This year’s Wild About Jersey teamed up with Seedy Sunday a free seed exchange event. Le Rocquier School hosted the weekend with the Saturday (16th) dedicated to volunteer survey training for butterflies, bats, reptiles and the new Pond Watch scheme (takes over from Toad Watch). Sunday (17th) was the Seedy Sunday open day with various stalls, talks, interactive exhibits, and a guest speaker Alan Gardner, The Autistic Gardener.
Birds On The Edge had a stall staffed by Cris Sellares, Tim Liddiard, and myself. Conservation crops, a chough nest, and a dung beetle (soft toy) were laid out so the public could learn more about our work. I gave a talk entitled ‘Witches and Unicorns: how saving one species helps another‘. Trust me there is a link!
Drumming up support for Birds On The Edge. Photo by Liz Corry.
Not only did the event raise the profile of Birds On The Edge and bring to light the fate of Carmine, it managed to raise £1248.62 for Jersey Trees for Life. The money will be used to maintain and create more red squirrel bridges, across our Jersey’s roads.
Small mammal, big pain
Mice attempted to break into the chough feed-twice! Photo by Liz Corry.
The much ‘loved’ rodents struck again at the aviary. Droppings covered almost every surface in the keeper porch. Anything with the slight whiff of food about it had been nibbled including the first aid box! And then of course there was the ‘heavy duty’ storage box for the chough food.
Mice are smart. As evidenced by the fact the only place they chewed the box was the hinge – the weakest point. They didn’t succeed in reaching the pellet, but they did contaminate it with plastic shavings which meant it couldn’t be fed to the birds. As a temporary measure, I taped the hinge whilst I went to the local hardware store. It bought some time at least.
Plasterers metalwork is being use to add extra rodent-proofing to the aviary doors. Photo by Liz Corry.
With my zoo keeper thinking hat on I wandered around the store looking for an easy, cheap, will-fit-inside-my-Hyundai, solution.
Plasterers beading! At just over £2 a strip it made for a cheap and easy to fit edging strip to the door frame to stop mice and shrews from getting in. The metal work is flexible enough for a human to bend it by hand but sturdy enough to deter a mouse.
I also salvaged some builders metal work from the skip. Durrell’s HQ is currently undergoing repairs and the builders had just that week ditched some scraps. All I need now is for them to ditch their cutting tools as my Leatherman doesn’t fair well with the more robust stuff.
A metal bin has been donated to the project to stop the mice eating our supplies. Photo by Liz Corry.
Thanks to a charitable donation we were given a metal storage box for the chough food. The mice and shrews can only get into this if they work together to form ladder and flip the lid.
I wouldn’t put it past them. Just take a look at the camera trap image below from inside the aviary.
Spot the Mission Impossible mouse trying to reach the chough food. Photo taken using Moultrie camera trap.
Magpie-proof feeders mark II
A new design of chough-feeder. Photo by Liz Corry.
We now have another design of chough feeder in use at the aviary. The choughs successfully probe for food reaching every nook and cranny. Magpies are limited by their bill shape and length.
It doesn’t stay that clean for long and has room for improvement in terms of ease of cleaning. We also have to remember to screw the lid back properly.
I was lazy one evening, and screwed it back by hand. The next day I returned to find the choughs had freed the bracket and opened the lid!
Clearly their idea of slow-release feeding is not the same as mine.