Chough report: February 2021

Choughs arriving for the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Chough census

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.

Plémont pair

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.

Corbière pair

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.

Trinity choughs

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.

Zoo news

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…

 

Zoom meetings with Cauvette the chough and Wildwood. Photo by Suzanne Kynaston.

Chough report: January 2021

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.

Chough report: December 2020

Green, the oldest chough in Jersey's flock, has reared eleven young in the wild since his release in 2013. Photo by Liz Corry

December 2020 has been our quietest month to date. Partly pandemic-related as staff and student make a desperate bid to use up annual leave. A 10-day stint of isolation was thrown in for festive ‘fun’ (direct contact with a positive case).

Moreover, the choughs kept themselves to themselves. No injuries to report. No births, deaths, or marriages. Travel to France on hold – no more chough flights and no human travel either. Condor Ferries cancelled its service until April 2021. Pleased to say Cappy the Carteret chough is still alive! We will have to wait until next year to go visit.

As December draws to a close and we say good riddance 2020, it just leaves me to say a big thank you to the project volunteers for their time and support this year.

Happy New Year!

Sunset at St Ouen’s Bay. Photo by Liz Corry.