As Ronez Quarry provides perfect nesting sites for the choughs, we have a great understanding with the owners in regard to ‘our’ choughs. Our chough team may be somewhat lacking this year, but the employees of the quarry are always happy to help give insights into the choughs’ activities within the quarry. Although around the aviary we hadn’t seen much of any nest material gathering, a sign of spring in previous years; it became apparent that the pairs had started separating from the flock and finding their own places to roost and nest. The quarry had plenty of activity at the usual nest site of pairs: Dusty & Chickay and Trevor & Noirmont, but not much for any of the other breeding pairs so far.
There was a lot of activity in three new areas in the quarry that haven’t been used in previous years; it will be interesting to find out who is using these new areas for nesting. The chough team will spend time at the quarry to try and identify whose nests are where, as when it comes to ringing the chicks in the nests, they will know who the chicks belong to once they arrive at the aviary.
The sight of a breeding pair (Percy & Icho) carrying nesting material in flight towards the quarry was good news. But it wasn’t just any nesting material; they were carrying wool! Wool is generally the last material collected for nest building, for a warm and comfortable interior. This suggests that the choughs in question, Percy, and his mate Icho, may be close to finishing their nest building soon! But for now, we wait patiently to notice their behaviour changes. Once they’ve finished building their nests the males turn their attention to impressing their females with attentive courtship and displays. Choughs have several courtships displays. One, mirrored flight, is where the female and male will follow each other’s exact flight patterns. Others include courtship displaying and feeding. Displaying is one of the few ways male choughs ‘flirt’ with their female; they do this by spreading their wings out and shaking. And if those aren’t enough to convince the female he’s good enough to raise her chicks; he’ll also feed her!
A wandering chough
Almost un-noticed, Portelet has been off to Guernsey again. This time she seemingly went alone, was welcomed on our sister Isle but flew back home again. She didn’t miss a supplementary feed! Portelet does show us that inter-island travel is fairly straight forward, and we still look forward to colonisation.
We’ve been approved!
The planning permission for the Sorel aviary was accepted and the aviary will see another five years. Now that the planning permission has been accepted; essential aviary maintenance can commence. The first priority is to fix the holes in the aviary’s netting, these holes have occurred through the wild weather the aviary is always being battered by. The holes could cause a dilemma in the next essential catch-up if not fixed as a chough could escape from the aviary, they’re that big. The clock is ticking for this work to be complete with the chough pairs becoming more attentive. With a little help from the Government of Jersey’s Environment Team, we could get our equipment up to the aviary to start fixing those dreaded netting holes. Once the holes are fixed, we are hoping to move our attention to fitting brand new hatches.
For a second year in a row the chough pair at Plémont have successfully hatched three chicks. We discovered the happy news at the end of the month. Using a very, very, very, long lens we were able to get photos of the chicks’ heads whilst begging for food.
It is hard to give a precise age without seeing the rest of their body, but best guess is a week-old give or take a day. This would also match up with nest observations we made over April; our estimated hatch date was the 22nd. Returning the following week further confirmed our age estimate as their little heads were still relatively bald.
Both Plémont parents are now out and about in search of food for their young. Concerns were raised when we started seeing both parents at the Sorel supplemental feed desperate for food. Choughs nesting at Plémont do not normally return to Sorel until their chicks fledge or the nest fails. This was the first time in five years. Chough chicks devour a lot of insects whilst in the nest, so chough parents tend to forage close-by to conserve their energy.
Petit Plémont and grassland above the cliff path are used by choughs searching for food. Photo by Liz Corry.
There has been a big increase in footfall at Plémont this month which could deter the choughs from foraging close-by. It has also been relatively dry so the soils around Plémont are not as favourable to soil-dwelling invertebrates. There are many other reasons why the parents might be visiting Sorel, the good news is that the chicks are still alive and begging well.
All being well the chicks should fledge at the end of May, start of June. We will be monitoring more closely this year around the fledging period. Last year we knew that two of the three chicks fledged, but don’t know what happened to the third. Then one disappeared within the first week of being out. If that happens again this year, it would be good to try and understand why.
Potential success at Ronez once again
We believe at least five of the eight nests in the quarry have chicks. This is based on behaviour of the pairs at the feeds and in the quarry. The females had been suspiciously absent. Then when they did turn up, they were very noisy. Pyrrho and Icho in particular would fly in vocalising, then follow their partner like a noisy shadow demanding food and being fed instantly. It’s quite an interesting sound they make trying to beg and swallow the food at the same time!
Ronez Quarry continues to be a successful breeding site for choughs in Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.
At the end of the month, we were then seeing the male and female in a pair making repeat trips between aviary and nest site. This tends to be when they are feeding chicks although we have no definitive proof yet. We are trying to arrange a quarry visit for May.
Our Jersey Zoo pair also had success this month with their first chick hatching on the 28th followed by number two the next day and number three shortly after.
Nest cam footage showed the moment the first chick hatched whilst mum looked on. Photo credit Durrell.
There was a fourth egg…spoiler alert…it failed to hatch. The nest camera shows the parents still holding out hope until May 2nd. Mum took the executive decision to remove the egg from the nest around lunchtime. You can see this in the video below around 40 seconds in.
We may send the chicks over to the UK shortly after they fledge so they can become part of the release project in Kent. This is very much dependent on the Jersey and UK Government’s rulings over exports and imports of birds from a bird flu protection zone. Restrictions for indoor housing of poultry will be lifted in Jersey on May 9th.
No success in the new territories
The Trinity pair appear to have abandoned their nest and are spending more time at Sorel. They still visit the stables but the nest is now being used by doves. We had hoped that the choughs had found a more favourable site in the Parish yet their casual behaviour at the aviary suggests they’ve given up.
An article will be published in the summer edition of the Trinity Tattler magazine asking residents to report any sightings. This might shed some retrospective light on the situation. I’m not holding out hope that there will be a surprise nest discovered.
In similar circumstances, we are now seeing the ‘Corbière pair’ back at Sorel. Their suspected nest was last seen being used by pigeons. We are used to seeing choughs fail at establishing territories in the south west. Food supply, or lack thereof, may play a role in this. The cliff tops are choked with invasive sour fig (or Hottentot fig) (Carpobrotus edulis) and the exposed ground isn’t very accommodating to soil invertebrates.
Cliffs around Corbière could offer potential nest sites for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
Sour fig (Hottentot fig) might look pretty when flowering, but its choking Jersey’s cliff tops in the south west. Photo by Liz Corry.
Return visit to Guernsey
We have seen another report of chough posted on the Guernsey Birdwatching Facebook group. Dated 16th April, it is clear that the bird is one of ours from the red and white striped ring, but that is all we know unfortunately. They were foraging at Pleinmont again. Clearly a popular site.
A chough was spotted at Pleinmont, Guernsey this month. Photo by Chris Wilkinson/Facebook
It just so happens that Portelet and Archirondel were missing from the Sorel feed that day. Coincidence? This is very exciting news if they have made a second round trip between islands to forage.
Sark and Guernsey can be seen on the horizon from Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
Boring but necessary aviary stuff. April has brought sea fog, hail, downpours of rain, but mainly sunny days perfect for grass growing which means we do lots of grass mowing; weekly almost daily depending on how much time we have spare and how long the strimmer battery lasts.
Keeping the grass short inside the aviary has multiple benefits. Photo by Liz Corry.
The holes in the netting we had repaired earlier in the year have reopened with extra wear and tear. Nothing to do with rodents just weathering and strain on the netting. We need to get the henchman ladder back up to Sorel to carry out the repairs.
We have replaced a couple of rotting hatches, rusted door bolts, replaced food stands and repaired benches for accessing hatches.
Holes have reappeared in the netting along the central pole. Photo by Liz Corry.
Unexpected restaurant décor in Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.
This will be my last chough report for Birds On The Edge and Durrell. I’ve been with Durrell for eighteen years and worked with the choughs since they arrived in the Zoo in 2010. It was a hard decision to make as I’m leaving both my job and the island I’ve called home for the last sixteen years.
I’m not quite leaving the choughs though as I will be taking up a new role as chough release supervisor in Kent for The Wildwood Trust. No doubt I will keep popping up from time to time on Birds On The Edge or at the Inter-Island Environment meetings. Like Where’s Wally minus the red and white striped top.
I’m extremely proud of what the team has achieved over the years, and I often forget letting the day to day stresses of running the project take over. Plémont is the perfect place to remind me. When I first visited the bay in 2006, I didn’t know the Channel Islands were once home to choughs. Eight years later I remember visiting Plémont café with friends and musing over the idea of one day seeing the then recently released choughs utilise the cliff tops and caves. And now, well why don’t you find out for yourself. Head to the café (I recommend the waffles), sit outside, soak up the rays, and listen…
Archirondel went on a ‘girls’ trip’ to Guernsey at the end of March. Photo by Chris Wilkinson/Facebook.
Channel Island Choughs
The dream finally became a reality this month when two Jersey choughs were photographed in Guernsey. We first discovered the birds had left the island through a post on social media. A post on Guernsey Birdwatching’s Facebook page showed a selection of images and video from a very excited birdwatcher. The images clearly showed the leg rings enabling us to identify Archirondel and Portelet as the two tourists. These are two young, non-breeding females and as such have the freedom to explore.
The last time we recorded Archie and Portelet at the supplemental feed was on 22nd March. After some frantic armchair detective work we discovered that they visited Sark too on 23rd March and were then next seen on the 25th in Guernsey.
The report from Sark is a wonderful description of what it’s like when you spot a chough in flight for the first time:
“I went out to do the mowing at 3.30 pm and thought I heard a jackdaw which we do not usually see in Sark. I looked up and saw a black bird disappearing over towards Derrible Bay (fingers on wings were visible) but it was only a fleeting sighting. A bit later at 4.45 pm when I had finished the mowing I heard the call again and two choughs flew right above me and I realised that it wasn’t a jackdaw but a chough’s call. The red bill of one could be clearly seen but because of the shaded light I could not see whether rings were present on the legs. An altogether more slender bird than the crow and smaller. They turned right and flew down the meadow as if heading off east towards the harbour in a tumbling flight and then veered abruptly and flew off towards the north but heading back towards the east coast.”
A Jersey chough flying high in Guernsey. Photo by Dan Scott/Facebook.
The pair stayed in Guernsey over the weekend foraging around Pleinmont near Portelet Bay! Portelet, the chough, returned to Jersey along with Archirondel on Monday the 28th. Quite literally a girls weekend away in the Bailiwick of Guernsey.
Image from Google Earth.
We envisaged this could happen when we first planned the reintroduction. It’s not unheard of for UK choughs to spend time foraging on both mainland and a nearby offshore island. This trip might have been a one off, equally it could be the start of a new foraging pattern for Jersey’s choughs.
There is certainly suitable foraging habitat on offer in Guernsey. Pleinmont looks very similar to Les Landes and Grosnez in many respects, but it is too soon to talk breeding opportunities. We need more males for that to happen. No pressure on the breeding pairs then!
Pleinmont in Guernsey appears to provide suitable foraging habitat for choughs. Image from Google Earth.
The 2022 breeding season is underway
March madness came into full force when the breeding choughs began nest building, or nest refreshing for the experienced pairs. Ex-volunteer, Neil Singleton and his wife Ali were treated to an impressive display of ‘flying wool’ when they visited Sorel towards the end of the month. Timed well with the return of the sheep.
Choughs collecting wool for their nests at Sorel. Photo by Neil Singleton
I suspect these birds were heading to the quarry although the Plémont pair could have been involved too. They tend to stay local and collect horse hair or wool for Grosnez to Grève de Lecq. It might look like easy cargo, but I have seen a fair few accidentally drop their wool between Sorel and the quarry. Usually when they get distracted by a peregrine or gull or keeper walking below carrying insects!
Blurry but the intentions are clear. Photo by Neil Singleton.
Plémont sea crows return
Minty and Rey have returned to Plémont to refresh last year’s nest before Rey begins egg laying. The sea crows (to use an old Greek nickname) can often be heard foraging around Plémont headland and seen flying to and fro in search of food. During the nesting season, French choughs are known to spend most of their time within 300 metres of the nest site. If the habitat is suitable, i.e. lots of soil and/or dung invertebrates, the chough pair will be successful.
Minty can afford to spend some time chilling out right now. Once Rey starts incubating, he has the responsibility of finding food for the both of them. Maybe that is why he was happy to do a bit of sunbathing down at Plémont.
Minty taking time out from nest building to sunbathe. Photo by Charlotte Dean.
The Troublesome Trinity Two
Pinel has returned to Trinity taking his new female, Vicq, with him. They have been visiting the same places as last year such as Peacock Farm and East Ridings Stables. They appear to have chosen to nest in the same building he used the year before with his previous partner. Maybe he sees the potential in the property to become a family home?
Last year the pair abandoned early and weeks later the female disappeared. Hopefully he will have more success this time with Vicq who hatched three chicks in 2021. Sadly, the chicks died before fledging but it shows she can do it.
We are working with the property owner to monitor the situation and see if we need to assist in any way. The owner is very wildlife-friendly which is a big bonus and we have set up a camera-trap in the building, swapping out memory cards on a weekly basis.
Playing in the sand pits
Another chough pair we are keeping an eye on are Danny and Jaune. We had reports of choughs in Simon Sand and Gravel Ltd. down on the west coast. Choughs have also been seen around Corbière this month so the assumption is that they are looking for a suitable nest site but since they are still sub-adults it is doubtful that they will breed this year.
Environmental experts and conservationists from the Channel Islands will be meeting virtually to share ideas and collaborate on projects at a two-day meeting from Thursday 21 October. All Islanders are invited to listen to the speakers and contribute to the meeting.
This year’s Inter-Island Environment Meeting is being chaired by the Jersey Biodiversity Centre (JBC) and Government of Jersey’s Natural Environment team.
The theme of the meeting will be about how the Islands are connected by biodiversity and will discuss biological recording, conservation research, citizen science, and the importance of sharing technology, knowledge and expertise, using the Pollinator Project as a case study.
There will be two interactive workshops and various speakers from the Channel Islands, UK and France. Participants will be invited to share their experience from the workshops which will involve visiting local wild spaces and using the hashtags #IIEM2021#IslandsConnected on social media.
A preliminary timetable is available to view here.
Chair of the JBC, Anne Haden, said: “By working together as a group of Islands we are able to achieve more and create an aspirational way forward to tackle the biodiversity crisis. Together, we can create a stronger biodiversity network and pool our limited resources to ultimately protect our Islands’ natural environments.
“This meeting is an excellent opportunity for environmentalists and conservationists to discuss and identify the solutions needed to maintain healthy and sustainable ecosystems, for us and future generations.”
Minister for Environment, Deputy John Young, said: “I am looking forward to collaborating with colleagues and Islanders in our annual Inter-Island Environment Meeting. We will be using the two days to listen to presentations, take part in workshops, and discuss how we can improve the way we communicate with each other for environmental projects and work together as a network of Islands to protect our natural environment.
“By making this a virtual event, I hope that more Islanders are encouraged to join in from work, home or during their lunch break.”
Those who wish to attend online must register in advance by clicking here.
Jersey islanders who do not have access to a computer can attend in person. Talks will be live-streamed on a big screen at the Société Jersiaise. Light refreshments will be provided. Those wishing to choose this option must register by calling 01534 633393.
Peregrine falcon, a highly skilled predator of flying birds and famous speed star of the skies is one of the most widespread birds on the planet. It sadly became threatened with extinction across most of its range as its numbers plummeted in the 20th century through persecution and the residual effects of organochlorine pesticides. Breeding on each of the main Channel Islands, peregrines became locally extinct in the 1950s.
We are now, however, in more enlightened times. Surely. With persecution outlawed and pesticides like aldrin, dieldrin and DDT banned, the highly adaptable peregrine began to stage a remarkable comeback. Seemingly again a regular sight on every cliff and city cathedral in the UK, the falcon returned too to our islands. After a pair bred in Sark in 1994, the other islands were recolonised, and the first chicks hatched in Jersey after 42 years in 2000. Quickly the wandering bandit (peregrine comes from the word peregrinate, to wander, and it does have wonderful mask) was back and old eyries were reoccupied. Jersey now hosts several pairs with equal numbers across the other islands. We don’t have a cathedral, so they have to make do with St Thomas’ Church although they may not be there every year as all of our pairs regularly move nest sites within their territories.
Poisoned in Guernsey
Now it seems that everyone’s favourite bird of prey (well, it is popularly considered as the ‘fastest animal on earth’) is not quite as safe as we thought. Last year several peregrines, and a buzzard, were found poisoned in Guernsey. Had DDT returned? No, these birds had apparently been directly poisoned, killed, not accidentally, but because they were, well, peregrines. Who would do this? Actually, peregrines have not really been everyone’s favourite bird. People who keep pigeons in particular often don’t like them. Yes, our peregrines do hunt and kill pigeons and although there are lots of wild pigeons on the cliffs and in the town where they live, it is the hunting of owned, racing pigeons that draws ire in certain quarters.
Jamie Hooper sums it up ‘I am saddened that some of our native bird species are still at risk of being killed illegally by a misguided minority. Although birds of prey have slowly recovered from historical persecution, this process of re-colonisation has been significantly impeded by those who wrongly think that raptors should be removed from our natural environment. The scale of the recent killings of peregrines in Guernsey has been particularly devastating to the small local population and we remain keen to eliminate such criminal activity from our island.’
We don’t actually know who poisoned Guernsey’s falcons, despite an offer of a reward, but, as it seems deliberate, the list of suspects can be considered fairly short. That people would deliberately kill a wild bird that only hunts to eat and feed its young when high losses are tolerated among amongst pigeons that get lost, die in storms or simply decide that living wild is much more fun (an estimated 86% of the racing pigeons lost each year fail to return for reasons other than predation by birds of prey) should rule this group out. Of course, it should.
Shot in Jersey
In Jersey, people are sometimes quick to criticise their neighbours so the news that here we had a two-year old, ringed, peregrine shot will come as a shock, I hope. In 2020 a ‘feisty’ but poorly falcon was picked up in December near Ouaisné and died in care at the JSPCA. Examination by Senior Veterinary Surgeon Jo McAllister showed lead shot on X-ray, not enough to kill it outright but enough to prevent it hunting, letting it starve to death instead. Again, we don’t know who shot it but shot it was, and it may have been mistaken for some other bird. A pigeon again? It does show that peregrines are still at risk from people who may not like them and have unilaterally decided to return them to that late 20th century level of threat.
In the way of aircraft
Peregrines often seek out their prey by circling high in the sky, above their flying dinners down below. Any good, rising, air current helps them keep airborne and in ‘station’ without them wasting energy. Has using winds blowing up the escarpment along St Ouen’s Bay, been the reason that several have been hit and killed by aircraft as they approach or leave Jersey’s airfield? At least six have been found dead or dying in recent years, most or all juveniles. Juvenile peregrines are, while they are young, larger than adults as they have a lot to learn before they can master the skies like their parents and slowly moult in shorter feathers and keep out of the way of aircraft. While very unfortunate, at least these deaths were accidental, and the bodies have gone for research at the National Museum of Scotland.
A little later than in previous years, we are very pleased to update everyone on the Channel Islands’ birds. Two new species were added to the Islands list and unlike some of last year’s (here) they were ‘proper’ species, not those cryptic ones hiding in plain sight. Although Guernsey did add the previously ‘hidden’ Iberian chiffchaff and Caspian gull to their own list in 2018.
With some revisions (Jersey’s saker falcon, probably an escape, was demoted), the overall total for the Islands only actually went up by one so now stands at 377. I was right, last year, that Alderney would add little bunting to their total but they still haven’t reached 300. Losing a bean goose (its become two species and while Jersey can confirm records of both taiga and tundra bean, Guernsey and Alderney decided that they couldn’t retrospectively confirm the tundra version) put them back one, the little bunting brought them back up to 298. The wait for 300 goes on!
And, in the separate islands, Guernsey added the three species above but also saw their first pallid swifts with birds seen in October and November. Offshore Guernsey birders recorded their Island and the whole CI’s third Wilson’s petrel. And, to rub it in with their southern neighbours the royal tern continued to hang around until May and still didn’t visit Jersey.
In Alderney, the impressive effort continued and besides the little bunting, long awaited second records of goosander, Iceland gull and Richard’s and tawny pipits were logged. There were also three records of great egret, a rapidly spreading species, and two of cirl bunting, a species, in contrast, considered to be in decline and exhibiting limited movements. Interestingly, Sark also saw a cirl bunting, their first since, well, a long time ago. Jersey has breeding cirl buntings but they were absent from the Island from 2004-2012 pointing to more movement in this species than had been expected (and look out for more news on this beautiful bird next year!).
Guernsey also recorded local rarities in Canada and pink-footed goose, penduline tit and corn bunting. Sark added records of only rarely recorded red kite, nightjar and hawfinch with their cirl bunting.
In Jersey, besides the two CI firsts, above, the first Island record of Pallas’s leaf warbler meant that a gap in the CI list was finally filled in – there have been 18 previous records of this warbler across the other three islands. There were also seconds for Barolo shearwater, little crake and Caspian gull. The little crake was found in poor health and died in care. A third common rosefinch and third dusky warbler were also notable.
Two further wading birds made contrasting appearances in the islands in 2018 with a Kentish plover recorded in Jersey for the third time since 2000 and six black-winged stilts seen (two in Jersey and four in Alderney). Kentish plover is a former breeder in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney (last breeding in 1974) whereas the stilt was only first seen in the islands, in Guernsey, in 1987 and has now been recorded in 13 separate years.
The full A Working List of the Birds of the Channel Islands can be downloadedhere