At the start of November, I was still wearing shorts to work. By the end, several layers, gloves, a woolly hat, and the obligatory waterproofs. The choughs also noticed the change in weather. The entire flock are now waiting for supplemental food each afternoon. Some birds even wing-begging for food. Clearly, wild supplies of invertebrates were not meeting energy demands for birds battling winds and trying to stay warm.
The sheep left. Not necessarily related to the weather, I think they have been moved to St Ouen. This might add to the choughs’ hunger if there are less dung invertebrates around Sorel in the sheeps’ absence.
Hungry choughs waiting for the supplemental food. Photo by Liz Corry.
Storm Arwen caused more minor damaged at the aviary. Of note, the keeper door had been blown wide open when the force of the wind bent the bolt out of place!
I was quite surprised we didn’t suffer more, especially considering last month’s gale damage. Luckily, I managed to fix the damaged panelling before Storm Arwen hit.
Lily leaves the flock
Lily, a three-year old female, appears to have either perished or left the Island. She was last seen on 5th November at Sorel. She has not been reported elsewhere.
Lily is an example of how post-release management has played an important role in the project’s success. Lily hatched in the wild in 2018. We had to catch her up in December that year when we spotted her digit caught in her ring. Durrell vets had to intervene as the toe needed amputating (click here to learn more). She was released back into the wild the same day and formed a partnership with another female looking out for each other over the years.
Lily and Vicq hanging out together this summer. Photo by Liz Corry.
Since Lily disappeared, her ‘partner’ Vicq has been seen preening Pinel. He is a wild hatched bird from 2020. If this new partnership continues over winter, it could mean a new breeding pair.
Likewise, Danny and Portelet are also showing promising signs of being a new pair for 2022. Both pairings will need to find a nest site and establish a new breeding territory. No doubt keeping the project team on their toes next season.
We have been without a student placement all November which has restricted certain tasks, one being the biannual roost checks. I’ve not been able to check all the known roost sites due to sunset times clashing with the supplemental feed.
I have been able to monitor the aviary and, as suspected, several of the quarry birds are roosting at the aviary again. I suspect they will switch back to the quarry once sunset times start occurring after Ronez have clocked off for the day.
We finally managed to trap Monvie in the aviary to fit her metal ring. This is engraved with details of Jersey Museum in case the bird is recovered by a member of the public. Also, it comes in really useful when a plastic colour ring drops off and we can’t be sure on identity. Case in point, Archirondel, who we also managed to catch the same day and replace her white ring.
Monvie having a metal leg ring fitted by a licensed ringer. Photo by Liz Corry.
Bo and Minty evaded several catch-up attempts this month. We will keep trying although, at least for now, we can still distinguish them in the flock. Then on the 29th, Lee arrived missing one of his rings so he gets added to the ‘to do’ list for December.
Our friend Yann commented on last months’ report to say he has not seen Cappy since spring. Disappointing if she has perished although not a surprise. It would be nice to think she has moved south, along the coast towards Brittany under the radar of French birders.
Camera trap footage at Sorel often throws up a few surprises. This month it was the camera itself with the surprise. I found an orb weaver (spider) and ladybird ‘hiding’ behind the camera. The spider’s full name is Nuctenea umbratica, commonly known as a walnut orb-weaver. Apparently also known as the toad spider although I’m not sure why – a tendency to hide behind things?
At the start of September, a group of Durrell volunteers responded to the call for help at Sorel to remove bracken alongside the aviary and patch up holes in the netting.
Volunteers removed bracken at Sorel, ruining Dot’s game of hide and seek. Photo by Emily Hewinson.
The weather was less forgiving than anticipated with soaring temperatures and no shade other than the shadow of the choughs occasionally flying overhead. Fuelled by caffeine, cold water, and chocolate digestives they managed to finish the tasks in time for the choughs’ supplemental feed.
Sewing skills were put to the test on the aviary netting. Photo by Emily Hewinson.
The only real challenge that day was working out how many bags of bracken can fit in the back of a Dacia. Spoiler alert – its two. Which meant two trips to the burn pile at the Zoo as we had managed to fill four bags clearing the one tiny strip.
The project vehicle was put to the test this month transporting bracken. Photo by Liz Corry.
Having the holes in the netting closed up will allow us to start catching up choughs again to replace leg rings. We still have one youngster in need of a metal ring.
To catch a chough in the aviary first requires the chough to enter the aviary. Something the Jersey birds decided they didn’t want to do this month. At least not in front of staff.
We are hoping to setup a postgraduate research project next year that investigates the choughs’ use of the supplemental feed site with the help of RFID technology. From bank cards to cat flaps, the day-to-day use of chip reading technology is increasingly being applied to wildlife conservation and research.
We can potentially use the technology to tell us which birds are visiting the aviary, how often, for how long and what times of day, the list goes on. There is even the possibility of remotely weighing individuals and calculating how much food they take on, on an individual and group basis. The challenge is designing a setup suitable for choughs, their behaviour, and their environment. A perfect puzzle for a post-grad.
In the meantime, we are kick starting the study by finding out what size and shape antennae we could use to read the RFID chips attached to the birds as a leg ring. An off-the-shelf bird counter is available using a square antennae. Will a chough happily walk through this?
Instead of spending £800 up front to find out the answer is no, we are going to play around with hatch sizes at the aviary. They already pass through a 40cm by 60cm rectangle. Can they cope with 25cm by 25cm?
This means we need to spend lots of time watching, recording, and trawling through camera trap footage. It’s actually more entertaining than it sounds.
WildSnap! at Sorel
Speaking of camera trap footage…Durrell launched a nature connections programme in summer called WildSnap aimed at teenagers and their tech savvy brains. In partnership with My Naturewatch using a combination of Raspberry Pi electronics and Blue Peter magic, you build your own camera trap then go out and see what wildlife you can find.
The kit costs roughly the same price as a cheap bog-standard camera trap you can buy from the site that rhymes with Glamazon (especially if you live in a VAT-free country). Naturally we were keen to put one to the test and see how useful it could be on the chough project.
Image quality is equal if not better than a budget priced shop-bought camera. The design might not be the most robust, but it does the job taking video or photo.
For any non-teens who want to try building their own camera, check out the how to video below. Raspberry Pi products are widely available these days. Just remember to drop the ‘e’ when Googling!
Whilst staff attention focused on the aviary, the choughs decided September was best spent away from Sorel. Once again, Les Landes to Plémont became a popular playground as well as food source.
Portelet looking for food at Les Landes. Media by Jo Bramley/Jersey Wildlife Facebook group.
There were several consistent reports of choughs in the south west of the Island too. Enough to suggest a small group had made the visit their daily morning routine.
One colleague reported her delight in seeing the birds outside her window whilst staying at the Corbière radio tower. Quite an impressive view made even more memorable by the charismatic choughs.
Not so many reports from east of Sorel. It’s unclear if the parish of Trinity still has a resident chough or two. We are entering the time of year when choughs tend to disperse further afield. Residents in the other Channel Islands and the French coast should start keeping their eyes peeled!
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.
The State of UK’s Birds reports have provided an annual overview of the status of breeding and non-breeding bird species in the UK and its Overseas Territories since 1999. This year’s report highlights the continuing poor fortunes of the UK’s woodland birds.
The report takes information from these and other schemes, research and surveys and delivers information at a country-specific scale, as well as providing an overview for the UK as a whole.
Volunteers play an essential role in bird monitoring in the UK, by donating their time, energy and expertise. The data they collect are vital for conservation, tracking changes in populations and supporting policy development. This year, many monitoring schemes have been adversely affected by the global COVID-19 pandemic and we want to say a special thank you to all of our volunteers for their continued support through this difficult time. Their skill, effort and dedication deserve huge recognition.
This year’s report highlights the continuing poor fortunes of the UK’s woodland birds. The UK Wild Bird Populations Indicator for woodland species show a long-term decline of 27% since the early 1970s, with declines of 7% evident over just the last five years. More worryingly, when looking at individual trends within the report, some specialist woodland birds have declined dramatically, including willow tit with a 94% decline since 1970 as illustrated by the joint Common Birds Census / Breeding Bird Survey UK-wide trend.
After worrying declines in breeding tawny owl populations were flagged-up by the Breeding Bird Survey, BTO launched targeted survey work on this species during 2018 and 2019. SUKB reports on some of the results from this research, which revealed a decline in site occupancy from 65% in 2005 to 53% in 2018/19. The BTO work has also sought to understand some of the reasons for this change in fortunes.
Results at different scales
Data from many of the surveys covered in SUKB also feed into European-wide schemes and the SUKB report goes from celebrating the publication of the latest European Breeding Bird Atlas, through to finer-scale country-specific results and research. Not bad for an 80-page report!
Country-specific headlines include increases in house sparrow populations in Wales, where work is also taking place to address the pronounced decline in curlew numbers. In Scotland, the fragile status of corncrake is highlighted, alongside increases in farmland species such as tree sparrow and yellowhammer. The Northern Ireland pages look into changing fortunes of seabirds and explore how proposed marine Special Protection Areas may be used to tackling the observed decline. The Northern Ireland pages also examine declines in wintering geese, such as light-bellied brent goose. Finally, over to England and promising results for stone curlew conservation work, as well as reporting back on the English Winter Bird Survey for which 1,485 sites were surveyed by volunteers to help us understand the value of agri-environment options.
As in previous reports, we hear about species from 14 UK Overseas Territories and three Crown Dependencies – including black-browed albatross, St Helena plover and South Georgia pipit, about the Gough Island Restoration Programme, and discover that 69 species in the Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are now Globally Threatened.
Closer to home, 25 years of BTO Garden BirdWatch is also celebrated, with goldfinch now the 8th most commonly recorded garden bird, up from 20th back in 1995.
There is a common theme in this report: volunteers. The sheer enormity of their contributions to bird monitoring as a whole is evident throughout this report. Most of the surveys and schemes covered here are only possible thanks to the dedication and skills of the thousands of volunteers who give up their time to help monitor birds and in turn, inform conservation action. Thank you.
Trinity residents, be on the lookout for unidentified flying black objects with red bills!
Honeydew, a 2-year old wild Jersey chough, popped by the Zoo on 23rd March. Perched on top of the chough enclosure, she peered down on the residents inside, had a quick preen, a good natter, then left.
Piecing together reports from Zoo staff, she was first spotted shortly before 8 am. Apparently perched outside a student’s bedroom window along Rue des Bouillons near the Zoo.
Note for future applicants – we have not trained the choughs to be your morning wake-up call.
Honeydew then paid a visit to our Finance Team (claiming expenses?). Their office is directly next to the chough aviary in the Zoo, prompting immediate panic that one of the birds had escaped.
Do not adjust yours sets – a wild chough visited the Zoo aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.
This was to be the first of many visits to the Zoo throughout March. It wasn’t possible to identify the individual chough on each visit. Honeydew was identified once. Bee, another 2-year old wild female, was seen twice. One report cited nesting material being carried by a chough flying around the La Fosse end of the site. Could they be nest building in the parish?
Bracken still dominates the north east coast although there are foraging opportunities for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
Speculation intensified with confirmed sightings of a pair around Les Platons and Egypte. Having walked the dogs there on many occasions, I know that this section of coastline has great potential to support a breeding chough pair. Just imagine how many choughs Trinity could support with effective bracken management!
Latest edition to the chough team
Last summer, Diva Opera raised funds for Durrell yet again through their annual opera festival at Domaine-des-Vaux, Jersey. We were very grateful to hear that the money raised in 2019 was to be split between the chough project, to purchase a vehicle, and the Durrell Academy scholarship programme.
With funding secured, I approached several dealers on the Island to ask the impossible…can you supply a high clearance, 4WD, electric or hybrid vehicle with plenty of boot space for a third of the price you would expect to pay?
Unsurprisingly the answer was no.
Not to be defeated, Falles Motors and their Bagot Road dealership came up with the next best thing! Please welcome Diva the Dacia Duster. Rather aptly, she makes a lot of different noises thanks to her intelligent features.
New project vehicle donated by Diva Opera in association with Bagot Road Garage. Photo by Liz Corry.
She isn’t electric or hybrid, but we did select the most eco-friendly option from the range. Plus I can now leave my car at home and cycle to the office since it won’t be required.
Steve Rolland and Phil Valois at Bagot Road provided great service and support throughout. Even to the point of giving us a heads-up that the dealership may go into lockdown so collect the vehicle NOW! Diva was put to immediate use and has already made several trips to the aviary to top-up the water tanks.
Having our own project vehicle will hopefully solve our lack of student placement uptake. Many students wishing to apply don’t own a vehicle. If they do, the costs incurred in bringing one over are often too great. Bicycles are all well and good until you need to take 20litres of water to Sorel.
Out with the old, in with the new
We replaced the free-standing roost box in the aviary with a brand spanking new one. For the few birds still sleeping at the aviary they need a sturdy, sheltered space to nap in. After seven years, the box we had was in a sorry state.
Mike from the Zoo’s Site Services team cut the wood, numbered all the parts, built it, then immediately dismantled it. Yes, he found this strange too! I had asked him to build it flat-pack to transport along the footpath (no Diva at that point).
I was joined at Sorel by two very good friends (and project partner) who helped me reassemble and hoist it into place. At this point in the pandemic, we were maintaining a social distance of 2 metres. We went into complete lockdown not long afterwards.
Fifty shades of grey
I received an emergency call from Ronez Quarry on 25th March. Staff had spotted a chough on the ground, wet and covered in rock dust. The mix of water and ‘dust’ created a consistency almost like wet cement clogging all the flight feathers. Staff scooped her up so I could take her to the Durrell vet on duty. From the leg rings I knew it was Pyrrho a female nesting in the quarry.
Although lockdown had not kicked-in at this stage, Jersey Zoo had taken precautionary measures against COVID-19. The Vet Department was off-limits to keeping staff. Equipped with mask and gloves, I had to put Pyrrho down on the ground (in a box), step back, and let Andrew pick her up and disappear inside.
Several hours later he emerged. A broken man. A broken, yet victorious man. Andrew had a lot of cleaning to do of both bird and, in the aftermath, building.
Pleased to say, Pyrrho had no injuries other than a loss of dignity. I was able to release her back at Sorel once she had dried-out and had a chance to eat. She flew straight back towards the quarry. Hopefully she can avoid getting in that state again.
Pyrrho post-spa date with the vet. Photo by Liz Corry.
Sign of the times – nesting season
Lee collected wool from Sorel to finish building his nest. Photo by Liz Corry.
Several birds have been busy collecting wool to line nests. Notably Kevin, Lee, and Minty in the second week of March. Lots of ‘peacocking’ by the males and a couple of copulation events witnessed.
We finally had our first evidence of Jersey choughs using horse hair as lining material. Mainland choughs are known to use this and we provide it to the captive pairs. We have just never seen our choughs use it before despite the abundance of stables in the northern parishes.
Horse hair used by choughs to line their nests. Photo by Liz Corry.
Of the twelve males in the Jersey population, ten are paired up and show signs of wanting to nest this year. The other two, Minty and Mac, are only 10 months old and yet to be in a confirmed pair. So where was Minty taking the wool?!
Relationships blossoming this month are that of Vicq and Minty and Honeydew and Baie. The latter are both female. Don’t expect any chicks from that pairing. Nevertheless, their friendship means they can look out for each other if they run into the neighbourhood ruffians. They can also get those hard to reach spots when allo-preening.
There’s always that one hard to reach spot. Photo by Liz Corry.
Vicq and Minty on the other hand are the pair to vote for. Vicq was a newbie to nest-building last year. Osbourne, her partner at the time, is now missing presumed dead. Step forward Minty one of the two males from the 2019 wild-hatched cohort. With an older female to show him the way we could be hearing the pitter patter of tiny chough feet this summer.
We will do our best to follow all their progress over the coming months. Covid restrictions are likely to reduce our chances of that.
Anybody need any wool? Photo by Liz Corry.
Plémont is home to our first successful chough family to breed away from the release site. Their ‘celebrity status’ hasn’t lasted long. Neither father nor fledgling have been seen for several months. Presumably dispersing to that great habitat in the sky. Or emigrating to Sark!? (We still haven’t confirmed the report from last Autumn).
Beaker and Beanie baby, who had been scouting out the area, moved in with Xaviour. Very modern. As the breeding season kicked in the trio stopped visiting Sorel for supplemental food. Beaker and one other chough were spotted feeding at Plémont on 7th March. A roost check confirmed choughs were still using the site.
The only sighting of them at Sorel for the month of March was on the 23rd. Slightly more concerned over Xaviour’s absence if she is playing third wheel to the couple. Hopefully just tied up nest-building and egg-laying. It is a very important job after all.
Riding the (air) waves. Photo by Liz Corry.
With the various upheavals in the Bird Department brought on by COVID provision we left it a bit late in setting up the breeding pair in the Zoo. Tristan and Penny were still housed with their two girls now 10 months old. At the end of March keepers managed to catch up one of the youngsters and move her to an off-show aviary. The second juvenile cooperated a few days later. By then it was April so you will have to read the next report to find out what happened next.
New year, new decade, what will 2020 have in store for the choughs? Photo by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
New year, new start, new friends, with just a few old problems needing innovative solutions. January has been very busy behind the scenes. Flavio and volunteer Jane have done a great job making sure things run as smoothly as possible. Luckily the choughs have also been co-operating keeping themselves alive and well!
Charity plea for wetsuits for choughs
Don’t think this needs any further explanation.
Jersey choughs made a public plea for wetsuits. Image by Liz Corry.
…apparently the boss is saying it does.
Last month we discovered rips in the aviary netting where the material has been rubbing on the new central scaffold pole. The pole was put in last March along with brand new netting so you can imagine our dismay on discovering the problem.
Holes have been appearing in the netting where it rubs against the metal frame. Photo by Liz Corry.
The metal pole has to stay because it stabilises the tunnel framework. We can sew up the holes. How do we stop the wear and tear?
With wetsuits! I came up with the idea whilst trying to think of suitable padding material to reduce friction. Traditional yellow foam used on scaffold structures is not suitable; birds will peck at it and ingest foam. Neoprene is more robust and should be able to cope with whatever weather Jersey throws at it.
Cue second light bulb moment. I contacted Durrell’s Charity Shop to see if they had any wetsuits in stock. Angie and her staff were very helpful. By sheer luck, five were donated after I put in the request. Flavio set to work cutting them into strips.
Dismembered bodies…of wetsuits being used to repair the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.
The States Rangers kindly volunteered to transport our Henchman ladders up to Sorel (they promised to bring them back too!). Flavio and I could then set to work securing the neoprene to the scaffold.
Henchman ladders for safely working at height. Photo by Liz Corry.
Old neoprene wetsuits cut up and fitted to scaffold to reduce friction with the netting. Photo by Liz Corry.
Whilst on the ladders, we noticed another problem with the netting. This time where it joins the timber frame and hoop on the end. More neoprene was added, gaps closed off, frayed ends trimmed and battened down.
Tension in the netting caused some sections to pull away from the timber joins. Photo by Liz Corry.
Netting had frayed and tension, increased by the wind factor, was resulting in gaps along the joins. Photo by Liz Corry.
Gaps in the netting were closed off with cable ties then neoprene fitted over the top to prevent further fraying. Photo by Liz Corry.
They say things happen in threes…we also found new rodent holes in the netting on the last day of fitting the neoprene. Something digging inside the aviary looks to have exited via the netting.
Rodents at it at again chewing through the netting. Photo by Liz Corry.
Only time will tell if the neoprene works. I will be keeping an eye out for mildew. Hopefully the wind and/or sun exposure will mean it dries out pretty quickly after any rains. We also need to see if the birds are happy perching on neoprene. Thirty of them lined up along a dry stone wall on the afternoon we finished the work (zoom in on the camera phone photo below). Coincidence or the answer to our question? Let’s go with the former for now.
An unusual sight of thirty choughs lined up along a dry stone wall apologies for poor quality phone photo). Photo by Liz Corry.
Gearing up for the breeding season
Tensions are building between the choughs, as pair bonds are reinforced and new ones forged. If you spend some time at Sorel you might witness a few squabbles. They can look pretty intense, but generally over quite quickly with nothing hurt other than pride.
National Trust fields at Sorel shared by choughs and sheep. Photo by Liz Corry.
Several still visit Les Landes and other areas on the north coast. Trying to identify leg rings, and, therefore, which birds, is still problematic. More so when dealing with Jersey cows. Their friendly curiosity is appealing. Their stubbornness when trying to get them to move out of your line of sight not so appealing.
Jersey cows at Les Landes racecourse blocking my view of six choughs feeding 100 metres away. Photo by Liz Corry.
The choughs main focus will soon switch from food to nesting. Preparations are under way in the quarry to carry out maintenance on the nest-boxes used last year. Once again Ronez are being very helpful. Even roping in family members!
Toby’s father Alain Cabaret has a joinery business (A J Cabaret) and very kindly created a prototype nest-box at no cost to the project. The design is based on Oliver Nares’ successful barn nest-box used in Ireland with wild choughs. Oliver provided schematics which Alain then modified for use in a quarry building with guidance from Toby. There is a lid allowing access for ringing chicks with potential to fit a nest camera if a power supply is available.
Entrance of the new nest box is designed to deter other species from using it. Photo by Liz Corry.
Alain used Tricoya extreme which is supposed to be more robust than marine grade ply. Tricoya is more expensive; roughly £100 from one nest box, even after a generous discount from Normans building supplies. However it should last twice as along. Once we find funding we can set to work building another two; one to improve Green and Black’s success rate and one to replace Percy and Icho’s broken home.
Side profile of the new nest-box for the quarry building. Photo by Liz Corry.
New roost site on the north coast
A new roost site has been located at Crabbé thanks to an opportune sighting by the Jersey bird ringers early one morning. Whilst out ringing by the conservation crop fields, they spotted three choughs leaving a farm building heading east towards Sorel.
Flavio and I then staked out the area during roosting time for the next few days. There is a pair roosting at this site. They tend to fly in from the direction of Sorel and go straight to roost either as soon as the sun sets or a few minutes after. No dilly-dallying about in the grazed fields (horses, sheep, and pigs!) or on the roof tops.
We have been treated to some pretty spectacular sunsets. None of which have helped identify leg rings since blue become black, red might be orange, but if you wait a few more seconds that too might look black!
Sunset at Crabbé. Photo by Liz Corry.
We think we know which pair and they stand a good chance of having their first nesting attempt in the same area. There is a slight catch. Planning permission has been granted at this site. Good news is that the owner is supportive of the choughs and has mitigation plans in place for other species. The development will remain agricultural rather than housing etc., but construction may disturb any nesting attempts.
A pair of choughs have been roosting at Crabbé for the past few months. Photo by Liz Corry.
We need to develop a working relationship with the landowner and hopefully provide the chough pair with the support they need to raise the first Crabbé chough chicks! I suspect this situation will be repeated as the birds start forming more and more territories away from Sorel.
Another species spreading around the island, and not in a good way, is the Asian hornet. I recently spent some time helping Jersey’s Asian hornet team develop radio-tracking skills as a tool to find nests. Locate the nest, destroy the nest, control population growth.
Dr Peter Kennedy, University of Exeter, is a hornet tracking ‘guru’. He developed the method and came to Jersey last year to demonstrate tag attachment and tracking to Alastair Christie, Asian Hornet Co-ordinator.
The team now have radio tags they can deploy in the field so I was asked to share my knowledge and experience with radio-tracking in Jersey.
If you think you spotted a hornet or indeed a nest please refer to the Government advisory website for identification tips and relevant contact details.
Some of the Hornet Team getting to grips with radio-tracking. Photo by David Ferguson.
Presenting at BIAZA’s Conservation and Native Species Conference
For the past few years I have attended BIAZA’s Native Species Conference listening to talks from a wide range of conservation projects associated with zoos. This year I braved the podium and gave a presentation about the chough project and lessons we can share with others.
BIAZA combined it with their Field Conservation conference for 2020 under the theme ‘Rewilding’. This meant subject matter ranged from pine martens in the Forest of Dean to penguins in South Africa.
Just a few of the talks at the BIAZA conference held at Chester Zoo. Photos by Liz Corry.
The three day event was held at Chester Zoo. Delegates took part in workshops and had a guided tour of the zoo’s new nature reserve. We even got to muck-in helping repair fencing.
Sarah Bird, Chester Zoo, giving a guided tour of their nature reserve backing onto the Shropshire Union Canal. Photo by Liz Corry.
Growing up in the northwest it was nice to hear about the amazing work on the Manchester Mosses project. Peatland restoration work involving Chester zoo, local Wildlife Trusts, and several other partners has seen the return of plants and invertebrates decimated by peat extraction, property development, and industry.
The rare large heath caterpillar raised at Chester Zoo for release back into Greater Manchester, Merseyside, and Lancashire. Photo by Chester Zoo.
I’m pleased to say the chough presentation was well received. Hopefully I did my bit to raise the profile of the species, our work, and of course Jersey!
Croeso i Gymru
Always one to maximise my time on the mainland, I headed over to Anglesey, Wales, prior to the BIAZA conference and met with RSPB staff working with choughs.
The sight of choughs flying around South Stack lighthouse is common – just not on this day. Photo by Liz Corry.
Having studied in Wales, it wasn’t the language I found baffling, but the names of the choughs! Until they explained it to me. ‘Mousetrap’, a breeding female in the area, is named after the rock climber’s route known as Mousetrap Zawn.
The rugged coastline of Anglesey provides perfect nesting for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
South Stack offers perfect habitat for choughs; grassland, dramatic cliff tops, wind swept. Explains why their clutch sizes are so large with hatching success to match.
On clear days you can see Snowdonia from the RSPB office at South Stack. Photo by Liz Corry.
The team’s success was acknowledged last year with the coveted ‘Golden Spade Award’ for “producing lots of chough chicks”.
Joking aside there is a lot we can learn from them in terms of habitat management in Jersey and population dynamics. In turn, we hope to reciprocate sharing the knowledge we have gained.
We discussed two potential collaborative research areas; GPS use for monitoring home range, habitat use and energy expenditure, and isotope analysis of wild diets. Exciting times ahead for 2020!
A blog post about cute pigs?! Nah. I’m just throwing you off the scent. Click bait. It is the monthly chough report of course with everything that happened in September.
Scoping out the racecourse
The chough flock spent at lot of time in September foraging around Les Landes Racecourse. There appeared to be plenty of insects available in the soil. Leatherjackets (cranefly larvae) from the looks of things although viewing through a scope a some distance adds uncertainty.
We still have a fair few turn up at the supplemental feed. The noticeable difference is that they are taking less food. Instead of finding empty food dishes within an hour of food being put out we find leftover pellet. Presumably because they have eaten so well out and about in the mornings.
Our rodent-proof food stands mean we can leave the leftovers for the choughs to snack on later. Hunger should not be a problem for Jersey’s choughs this month!
Class of 2019 suffer another setback
Another dead juvenile has been found out on the north coast. The body was found by a dog walker near Devil’s Hole. The lady regularly visits Sorel and knew when we would be feeding so kindly handed over the remains. We identified the bird as PP042 who fledged this year in the quarry. Not a huge surprise as they were on the missing birds list.
The surprise was the condition of the bird…headless and, on X-ray, very broken. You can see shattered bone in the left humerus (circled red in the image below). Our vet was a bit baffled at the post-mortem. The injuries sustained are something he is more familiar with seeing from a bird that had been hit by a car. Plus we don’t know if all this happened after the bird died or before.
We do know this means there are only 11 juveniles remaining. Three of those have not been seen in a long time. If they are still unaccounted for in October we will have to assume the worse.
PP035 is one juvenile very much alive and kicking. She was caught up mid-September because one of her plastic rings was unraveling. Not an easy thing to do for a bird to do. It would have required force. The ring was replaced and this time a lot of glue was used to seal the overlapping edges. She looked in good health and was released straight away.
The flock of sheep at Sorel were moved off site this month as part of their management plan.
There was, however, one little sheep who avoided the round-up. We found her merrily grazing away at the aviary. She had pushed through the fencing and entered the hedgerow bank rather cunningly hiding in the hedgerow when the shepherd was around and reappearing at the chough feed.
With a bit a team work and a lot of patience she was eventually moved out (it gave our push-mower a bit of a break!).
After seven years of working out at Sorel it felt quite eerie to visit and have no sheep and no choughs*. You can still find the sheep in various locations around Jersey doing their bit for conservation grazing. Maybe it could become the next rewilding game #whereswoolly?
*don’t worry we haven’t removed the birds, they do that themselves by flying off during the day.
Flocking season in the Zoo
At this time of year, with breeding over, we normally move all the Zoo choughs back into one aviary. This mimics the flocking behaviour you see in choughs over winter. However, this year was a bit different.
This is the first year we have had only one breeding pair at Jersey Zoo. It is also the first year we haven’t released parent-reared chicks. So that means trying to mix a family of four with the only other chough we have – Gianna.
Normally the other choughs ignore Gianna, but with one family and an uninvited guest in their territory things are a little different. We have made three attempts to mix Gianna with the group this month. The first time we assumed tensions were high because the male in the family had only just been moved back. He had been housed separately for the past two months due to bad behaviour. We gave him some more time to settle in and calm down before the next attempt. No change. We waited again. Surely the hormones had settled? Nope.
As soon as I leave the aviary the pair fly over and shout loudly at Gianna. If I then walk away from Gianna, they dive-bomb her and it gets physical. Thankfully, Gianna is thick skinned and once I’m back inside with her she returns to preening and picking out insects.
Sadly for Gianna I can’t live in the aviary and be 24-hr bodyguard (although the rent would be free). She has been moved back to her off-show aviary and might have to stay in there over winter.
New placement student
If Gianna does have to stay off-show she will receive lots of attention because….fanfare please…we have a student placement again! After more than a year with a vacant position, Flavio has joined the project.
He is with us until March and has already got stuck in to the task at hand. As evident in the video below. Faceal sampling for health checks, camera trap reviews for roost ID, and dealing with a dead chough all in Week 1.
Flavio has previously worked on a beetle conservation project in the UK so we are hoping to put his survey skills to use in Jersey. His mode of transport is a bicycle so be sure to give him a wide berth if you are overtaking – he has an expensive scope in his bag. I wouldn’t want it damaged!
The annual Inter-Islands Environmental Meeting was held in Alderney this year hosted by the Alderney Wildlife Trust. With the theme of Wilder Islands, delegates attended a two day symposium highlighting work carried out across the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and islands of the British Overseas Territories. Birds On The Edge was represented by myself and Cristina Sellares with Glyn Young joining on the challenging third day.
The third day was a mixture of talks and working groups tackling the challenges islanders face with biodiversity and climate change. Tony Juniper gave the introductory keynote speech.
We were also treated to an evening lecture from Dr George McGavin the esteemed entomologist and patron of the Alderney Wildlife Trust.
A separate blog will be posted going into more detail. The highlights for this report include the mention we got in Jamie Marsh’s talk on the white-tailed sea eagle reintroduction in the Isle of Wight. Guess where we might be taking choughs next? And our first possible sighting of a Jersey chough visiting Sark! Suffice to say our holidays work plans for 2020 are quickly filling up.
Building on the success of the Jersey choughs, can reintroduced choughs help restore Kent’s chalk grasslands? Could we eventually join the Cornish population and Kentish population to bring back this charismatic bird to England’s entire south coast as in days gone by? Ok, that last bit is jumping the gun. Although it is early days, the KCP are certainly working hard to make sure the first aim is achievable.
You can click the link here to read about Kent Wildlife Trust’s vision for a Wilder Kent.
February – the shortest month of the year and the shortest report to date. The chough population has remained at 35 birds. None have shown signs of being sick. We have not witnessed any fights within the group or with any other species.
Not all are present for the afternoon feeds, but that is not unusual. The breeding season is upon us and pairs are starting to spend more time away from the group. A breakaway pair at Les Landes feed there during the day, returning to Sorel to roost.
Birds in foreground are choughs foraging at Les Landes (see below). February 2018. Photo by Liz Corry
Cauvette with (we suspect) Lee foraging at Les Landes Racecourse. Photo by Liz Corry.
There has also been an unconfirmed report of four choughs over Gorey Village. This is the east side of the Island and, while it’s uncommon to see choughs there, it’s not impossible.
The one afternoon when we did have all 35 choughs at the feed was the coldest of the month. The wind chill factor brought the temperatures down to -10°C and not surprisingly the birds wanted to stock up their energy stores with free food.
So all in all February was underwhelming.
I have now seriously jinxed March.
As we reported here in November, permission was sought from Jersey’s Department of the Environment Planning and Building Services to extend the life of the Sorel aviary for another five years. We received approval for this extension on 6th February and are grateful to Planning for this. You can see details of the application and approval here.
DIY rodent control
With a further five years of the aviary we have been kept busy trying to rodent proof as best as possible. Guttering has been fitted along the edges of he aviary where the netting meets the timber. Rats are good climbers and we suspect they have been climbing the half-inch weldmesh along the polytunnel to get to the netting, chew holes, and enter the aviary. The slippy surface of the half round guttering should be of suitable size and shape to deter the rats. This technique is successful with our polytunnel aviaries at the zoo. The question is, will it work with the Sorel rats?
Upturned half-round guttering added to the aviary as a rodent deterrent. Photo by Liz Corry.
The inner partition dividing the tunnel into two sections has also been modified. There are several holes running along the ground where the rats have tunnelled or chewed through once inside. We have sunk half inch mesh into the ground and added plastic panels.
There are new food stands to replace the picnic tables which finally broke after five years. The stands have covers around the bases to deter rodents.
The best way to deter the rodents is to remove the food source they are seeking inside the aviary. Choughs are messy eaters when it comes to the supplemental feed. They flick pellet around looking for mealworms first, before going back to the pellet.
We are trying out a new enclosed feeder intended for chickens. If the choughs take to it we can look at adapting the existing feeders.