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.
This month has flown by. So have the choughs. Awful opening line, but accurate. Now that the breeding season is over the choughs are spending more time away from Sorel and it is quite rare to see all 38 choughs at the supplemental feeds.
West is best?
Lee and Caûvette are back at Les Landes and Grosnez. This time with their chick in tow. We were treated to several sightings of the family whilst we carried out rat monitoring fieldwork at Plémont. The most memorable sighting was that of all three flying through the early morning fog towards Grosnez. These days they spend the whole day out west, returning to Sorel an hour or so before roosting time.
Lee photographed by a member of the public at Grosnez castle. Photo by Mike Nuttall.
They are not the only ones on the move. A sighting from an ex-Durrell colleague of seven choughs flying over Hamptonne Country Life Museum added to the tally of sightings in St Lawrence parish.
All of the reports from St Lawrence are of birds flying over. Are the choughs just passing through or checking out the parish for suitable feeding site?
Their daily activities are making it a little harder for the team to monitor every chough as closely as we have in the past. Although we have still kept on top of monitoring their health and welfare. It is hard not to when you can get this close…
Syngamus infections in the wild chicks
Last month we reported that the wild chicks were sneezing and sounding congested. We managed to obtain individual faecal samples for three of the four chicks after patiently waiting at each feed. All three tested positive for syngamus nematodes. The fourth bird is proving harder to sample as it disappears out west with it’s parents each morning.
We have so far managed to trap and treat two of the chicks. We are still trying with the third. The chick we treated in July has shown a great deal of improvement which is encouraging.
Durrell vet nurse, Teresea Bell, examining one of this year’s wild chicks. Photo by Liz Corry.
Perils of living in the wild
One of the wild chicks had to be caught up for a second time this month. Beanie baby had plastic thread entangled around her foot. It was quite a mess and needed cutting. Luckily there was no damage and she was free to rejoin her parents. The other good news is that she had put on weight since the last catch-up to treat her for syngamus. We can’t hear her wheezing or sneezing anymore suggesting that the treatment has worked.
Plastic sack thread entangled around the foot of one of the wild chicks. Cut loose prior to photo being taken by Liz Corry.
We received report this month from a family who live close to the release site. They were pleased to see three choughs chilling out on their roof taking in the local scenery. We see a similar sight at Crabbé on the granite farmhouse and in Mourier Valley.
What is particular nice about this photo is the choughs sat on the witches’ step, or pièrres dé chorchièrs in Jèrriais. These are flat stones jutting from chimneys of granite houses in Jersey. According to Channel Island folklore, these small ledges were used by witches to rest on as they fly to their sabbats, i.e. meetings. In doing so the homeowner would be looked on favourably by the witch. One witch, Marie Pipet, from Guernsey was said to possess the power to turn herself into a chough!
Enrichment ideas for the captive choughs
Project student John Harding was set the task of designing enrichment feeders for the choughs in the zoo. Gianna, the tame chough, took up the role of R&D assistant and put them to test. She probably did more eating than assisting, but it still helped John find a winning design.
He also learnt a great deal as he discovered that ‘product placement’ is just as important as design. There are certain areas within the aviary, mainly on the ground, that Gianna does not like going to. In some cases it was a matter of gaining her confidence. In others she just outright refused to go and therefore a waste of time putting enrichment there.
One of this year’s wild-hatched chicks arriving at the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
Previously on Choughs…cue theme music…On 27th June Beanie baby was the first of four wild chicks to appear at the aviary with parents, Kevin and Bean, by its side.
Six days later another chick arrived. Unringed, but accompanied by Green and Black, and sneezing and wheezing, so it wasn’t hard to determine which nest it came from. It wasn’t hard to find a name for the new chick either. Lil’ Wheezy, who clearly wasn’t well, but it had made it to the aviary, so it’s odds were looking up.
A wild-hatched chick arrives for the first time at the aviary with parents begging for food. Photo by Tanith Hackney-Huck.
The third chick made an appearance on 5th July. We knew which nest it came from because of we could see pink and black leg rings. We didn’t know who it’s parents were. Well, not until it started guzzling food down its throat provided by Lee and Caûvette. This meant that our Les Landes pair had been travelling 9km away from their nest and the group finding food for their chick.
The news of this chick also means that another of our four hand-reared choughs has successfully bred in the wild; Dingle (fathered two in 2016), Caûvette and Bean. Poor Chick-Ay has yet to find a dedicated partner.
The fourth and final chick was spotted flying around the quarry on 6th July. Again, we knew which nest it was from, but did not know the parents. Two days later we were in for a pleasant surprise. Q and Flieur, a new pairing, led their chick over Sorel Point to join the flock feeding at the aviary.
This now brings the total number of free-flying choughs in Jersey to 38. Almost a quarter of which were wild born in Jersey. There is a video of the group in flight on Jersey Zoo’s Instagram page or just click here if you don’t have an account.
Lil’ Wheezy gets wormed
We needed to worm the sick chick that was now visiting the aviary twice a day. It couldn’t be done straight away. We needed the chick to become accustomed to flying in and out of the aviary in order to trap it inside. It took a good week for Lil’ Wheezy to grow in confidence and fly all the way in at each feed.
A wild fledgling caught up under licence to treat for nematodes. Note the bill colouration due to its young age. Photo by John Harding.
Patience paid off on the 19th when the team were able to trap it inside and catch under licence. Dave Buxton fitted leg rings and the Vet gave it a wormer before being released back to it’s parents and the rest of the flock.
Classic reaction to a vet holding a needle. Photo by John Harding.
MSc project wraps up
Guille finished collecting data for his research at the end of this month. He now has the delight of returning to Nottingham Trent University to make sense of it all. I will let Guille explain in his own words…
“Birds, and other animals have personalities. Consistent behaviours that are different between individuals, maintained through time and favouring -or not!- the survival of the individuals and their successful breeding.
Studying the boldness-shyness continuum in choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
With the choughs I am looking at a classical behavioural trait: the boldness-shyness continuum and how it might affect survival.
Basically, if you are a bold bird you may be good at defending your food patch from others, get stronger and healthier and be able to feed your nestlings properly. However, if you are a very bold bird that would not leave the food patch even when there is a falcon approaching, you are in serious trouble.
I want to see if we can predict how far the released choughs will go to find food everyday just by looking at their personalities. Some studies have already shown that boldness has an effect on habitat use and distance travelled, which may be useful in a project like this one, where every bird is highly valuable and the distance they will travel will increase the chances of finding more food, or getting lost! If a correlation is found, it would help the project team to select which birds should be released depending on what behaviour is best to assure survival in the area.
Does Lee’s personality type predispose him to travel several kilometres away from the release site to feed? Photo by Mick Dryden.
For assessing their boldness, I presented them a squirrel-proof bird feeder that they had not seen before, as they have their daily supplementary feeding in open trays. I recorded the latency of each bird to pick food from it for the first time, during 15 minutes. After that, they were given their daily meal and I would not repeat the test until approximately ten days later, so they would not get used to it. Finally I gave every bird an average boldness score based on how long they took to pick food for the first time.
This year’s wild chicks were clearly not shying away from the feeder. Photo Guillermo Mayor.
Assessing the distance travelled was the fun part, as they had lost their radio tags. I had to become another chough and follow the group during their morning stroll. They leave the roost by 5am, returning for the 11am feed. I learnt lots about chough behaviour in the field. I saw their games, love arguments, gang fights, first trips of their chicks, but still they are very complicated birds.
By the end of July, after having cycled every single track of the north coast, I had a bunch of observations, from which I would pick the furthest point from the roost I saw each bird. Some of them were a bit surprising, such as Trevor and Noirmont. I found them perching on a German WW2 cannon, south of Les Landes. They looked like nobody could mess with them. I would definitely keep an eye on those two.
The two and a half months passed too quickly and I wish I could have stayed longer. The support I received from the project staff was amazing, and I would definitely recommend anyone that has cool ideas that would help the project and the broad bird recovery knowledge to think about doing some research here.
I am currently in front of the computer, missing the field and the choughs, and for now it seems that the boldness was consistent, which is good news! I really hope I can come back soon and see the noisy choughs again soaring over the windy cliffs, and all the lovely people who were like a family for a summer.”
Birds On The Edge wins a RHS award
Birds On The Edge received a Silver award in the conservation section of the annual ‘Parish in Bloom’ event, a hugely popular and well supported national floral competition held under the professional auspices of the Royal Horticultural Society.
Glyn Young met the judges and Mike Stentiford on Sunday 23rd July to show them around Sorel to see the grazing flock of sheep, conservation crop fields, and the choughs. Although only two choughs showed up!
Jersey’s coastal habitat was home to spring lambs, wild flowers, and baby choughs this month. Here is what the choughs got up to. Or, as we can now call them, what the award-winning choughs got up to!
May the 4th be with you
On May the 4th the first of the three eggs in Issy and Tristan’s nest hatched. Staff were naturally excited and considering the date, the geeks amongst us (i.e. everyone), started putting bids in for Star Wars related names for the clutch.
Chough eggs hatch sequentially so we expected it to take a few days. However, the days passed and it became clear that this would be the only egg to hatch.
Han Solo was duly christened.
The parents were keen to remove one of the failed eggs. The other was left in the nest for quite sometime.
With only one chick to care for, Han Solo was well fed and grew steadily day by day.
Breeding in the wild
This year’s wall planner had a rather colourful month in store with various predicted hatch dates starred and scribbled in colour-coded marker. First off the blocks were to be Red and Dingle (hand-reared) who raised their first chicks last year. This year’s eggs were due to hatch around the first week in May. A change in Red‘s behaviour on 4th May suggested the eggs might have started hatching. Instead of waiting for the cue from Dingle, she was already waiting at the aviary for food in the morning. As soon as she picked up a mouthful of mealworms she zoomed back to her nest.
We asked Kevin le Herissier, responsible for ‘their’ building (Ronez naively still believe that the buildings are theirs not the choughs’), to check the nest the following week. This was to allow time for the entire clutch to hatch and so that the parents were not as sensitive to disturbance.
To our bemusement the photo he sent back was of a perfect nest containing four eggs.
Red and Dingle’s nest early in May. Photo by Kevin le Herissier
A follow up check on the 19th also found four eggs. Guess what was found when the nest was checked for a third time on the 31st? Sadly, not a case of third time lucky. Still four eggs. Under license by the States of Jersey, these eggs were candled in the nest to find answers to what had happened, why they hadn’t hatched. One egg had failed during embryonic development while the others looked like they contained almost fully developed chicks. The eggs were returned to the nest.
New nest-site discovered
Student John Harding and Ronez operational assistant Toby Cabaret checked on the nests in the quarry on the 19th. Armed with a GoPro and a very long pole they checked nest-boxes and known nest sites. One of the nest-boxes we fitted in the quarry in 2015 had nesting material in it. What flew out wasn’t a chough though. It was a kestrel!
Most of the nests were just centimetres out of reach of the pole and suspiciously quiet. The team did, however, spot a female on a nest in a building not previously used by the choughs. With no wish to disturb her the nest was left alone. We now have the task of trying to work out which pair this nest belongs to.
A neighbouring building was also found to have a nest. This one didn’t have a female on it, but from the begging noises it was clear there were at least two chicks in there. Again this is a new site and new pairing.
This video shows Toby and John trying to use the GoPro to check the cheeping nest. They didn’t realise at the time how close they were to the nest. You can see the chicks.
They look extremely young. Normally we would avoid disturbing a nest at this age. From our calculations we expected any chicks to be a few days older. From their begging they look strong.
All nest checks are done under license from the States of Jersey.
Chick ringing and revelations
On the 31st we returned to the nest sites. This time with Channel Island ringer Dave Buxton in case the chicks were old enough to fit with leg rings. We were also armed with a new piece of equipment…a USB endoscope camera. It doesn’t provide HD images like the GoPro. However, it is equipped with LED lights and a lot more manoeuvrable (and only cost £25).
Toby Cabaret checking a chough nest with the Potensic endoscope. Photo by Liz Corry.
Three chicks could be seen with the endoscope plugged into a smartphone. Photo by Liz Corry.
Due to health and safety concerns, two nest-sites were out of bounds. We were able to check the nest with the cheeping chicks. This time eerily silent, although it was clear from the endoscope image that there were three bills. They still had pin feathers on their heads and from their size they looked no more than two weeks old. Too young to fit rings.
Before leaving the building John and Toby went a checked the next floor up on a hunch that there could be something. They were right! They found a nest tucked away behind girders.
Spot the nest? Photo by Liz Corry.
Despite a grainy image, the colour and shape of a bill could be seen and possibly a second body. The image below is a snapshot from the endoscope. The image is less clear than in realtime. You will be forgiven if you can’t spot the head of a chick.
Screen grab of endoscope view in nest showing the pale bill of a chick (far right). Photo by Liz Corry.
Whilst checking this nest Kevin and Bean flew in and appeared slightly aggrieved that we had discovered their little secret. The disappointment of the chicks once again being too young to ring was quickly overshadowed by this news. Bean is one of our hand-reared females released as a juvenile in 2014 and now, three years later, rearing chicks of her own!
We received several reports of choughs out and about this month from members of the public. Of interest was a report of a pair from Tabor Park, St Brelade. They had been seen on the allotments, but flown before leg rings could be read. Five days later another report came in of a chough calling at the desalination plant by Corbiere.
We have radio-tracked choughs to the south-west before in 2014 and 2015. Since then there have been a handful of sightings around Gorselands, Le Creux and Red Houses.
Choughs on the move. Photo by Liz Corry.
Regular chough watchers Mick Dryden, Tony Paintin, and Piers Sangan reported choughs at Crabbé, Île Agois, and Grosnez during the day. We assume these are the sub-adults and non-breeders who don’t have commitments at the quarry. Without leg ring records we can’t be sure.
Grosnez to Plémont with Sorel point in the far distance: areas visited by the choughs this month. Photo by Liz Corry.
Personality research with Nottingham Trent University
Guille Mayor arrived this month to start his MSc research looking at personality traits in released choughs. He is trying to see if personality relates to dispersal distances and success in the wild. Part of his work will involve behavioural observation at the release aviary and how individuals react to a novel object.
The trickier part of his study requires him to find where the choughs go each day. He obviously likes a challenge since only three in 34 have radio tracking devices and Guille is on a bicycle. If you do spot a chough away from Sorel please as also let us know. Send an email, call 01534 860059, or post on Jersey Wildlife Facebook page. Location, date, time, and, if possible, leg rings need including.
British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) held their annual awards at The Deep in Hull this month. Durrell had entered four categories and came away with three gold and one silver. We are delighted to announce that the return of choughs to Jersey was awarded gold in the conservation category.