Want nesting petrels or puffins? Get rid of invasive mammals from their colonies!

It’s long been known that nesting seabirds and mammals don’t mix well. That’s why most species choose islands free of rodents and carnivores to nest. Smaller seabirds and those that nest down burrows are particularly vulnerable. And, if mammals get to those otherwise safe seabird colonies, you can expect the pretty rapid disappearance of the birds – they are either killed and eaten or they just don’t even try and nest. Unwanted species like this are called invasive and you can read all about this well studied issue through some titles below.

Birds On The Edge has covered several successful projects to remove unwanted mammals from seabird sites around the British Isles in Lundy Island, the Isles of Scilly, Calf of Man and the Shiant Isles. In Jersey we believe that mammals currently prevent breeding of storm petrel (they breed in good numbers in Alderney) and Manx shearwater and severely suppress our tiny Atlantic puffin population.

Storm petrel chick calling on the Shiant Isles from RSPB

A storm petrel chick has been recorded calling on the Shiant Isles for the very first time. This is an important step for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project as it’s the first known breeding of these seabirds on the islands. The EU LIFE+ funded project played an artificial call of an adult storm petrel outside the suspected burrow nest site to record the chick’s reply call and confirm its presence.

The project, a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Nicolson family, the custodians of the islands, has been working over the last four years to make these islands, five miles off the coast of Harris, a safer place for Scotland’s globally threatened seabirds to breed. Island restoration projects such as this one are a key part of helping Scotland’s struggling seabird populations develop resilience to ensure their long term survival.

Storm petrels were not able to breed successfully at the Shiants because of their vulnerability to predation from the islands’ population of invasive non-native black rats. These were eradicated over the winter of 2015/16 and the islands were officially declared free of rats earlier this year.

Following the eradication, the project has been working to attract storm petrels to breed on the islands as it has ideal habitat for their nests in the many areas of boulders around the islands. These birds are little bigger than sparrows and only come to land in summer to breed. Scotland’s internationally important population currently nests at only a few offshore islands because of the presence of ground predators at other potential sites.

During the summer of 2017, calling storm petrels were recorded on the Shiants for the first time.

Dr Charlie Main, Senior Project Manager for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project said: “It’s fantastic that this storm petrel chick has been recorded on the Shiants. After the adult was recorded last year we thought it highly likely that they were breeding so to have this confirmed now is great for the project and for the species in Scotland. It’s also another vital step for making these islands a safer place for Scotland’s internationally important seabirds, many of which are struggling to cope with the impact of climate change and a lack of suitable secure breeding sites.

“We’ve strong hopes for the future that more storm petrels will breed here and a colony will be established. Three other calling adults were recorded this summer suggesting that there may have been more breeding attempts. This one chick is incredibly special to everyone who has been involved in the project since 2014; it means that all the work we’ve been doing to make and keep these islands free of invasive predators is paying off. It also shows just how quickly island restoration can make a difference to seabirds which is really positive for future projects like this one.”

And in Jersey?

In 2017, Kirsty Swinnerton, with Piers Sangan, undertook a preliminary review of the conditions available for nesting seabirds on Jersey’s north coast for Birds On The Edge. Kirsty’s report is now available here.

The recent establishment of the Jersey National Park and the acquisition of land at Plémont by the National Trust for Jersey has created some unique opportunities for seabird and habitat restoration. Historically, the north-west coast from La Tête de Plémont to Douët de la Mer supported 200-300 breeding pairs of Atlantic puffin but which have dwindled today to less than 10 pairs at most. The decline has probably been a result of an overall decline in the species’ southern range combined with the impacts of invasive species on Jersey including the brown rat, feral polecat/ferret, European hedgehog, European rabbit, and free ranging/feral cats. In addition, domestic dogs and agricultural stock (sheep and cows) could also prevent the re-establishment of puffins if not carefully managed at seabird nesting sites.

The report provides an overview of existing seabird recovery tools proven to re-establish breeding seabird colonies around the world. The primary focus is on the control of invasive vertebrates to increase the size and distribution of breeding colonies and reproductive success, and on hands-on species recovery techniques used to encourage seabirds to recolonise the area. However, during the study, it became apparent that much of the potential seabird recovery area does not support suitable habitat for puffins or other ground-nesting seabirds. The sites are choked with dense stands of bracken, and this may be the primary factor currently limiting colony growth of puffins and other burrow-nesting seabirds.

To understand more fully the impacts and interactions of invasive species, lack of suitable breeding habitat, and human disturbance on puffin colony re-establishment, the study recommended a pilot project combining species recovery techniques with research and monitoring. It further recommends initial small steps to maximise opportunities for feedback into recovery project development and the development of Species Action Plans for puffins and other seabirds by working groups in order to guide recovery efforts to include local seabird experts and stakeholders, and ensure best practices.

Download Kirsty’s full report Options for the recovery of nesting seabirds on Jersey, Channel Islands

Further reading on invasive mammals and seabirds:

Invasive mammal eradication on islands results in substantial conservation gains (2016)

Invasive predators and global biodiversity loss (2016)

Underlying impacts of invasive cats on islands: not only a question of predation (2014)

Severity of the Effects of Invasive Rats on Seabirds: A Global Review (2008)

Influences on recovery of seabirds on islands where invasive predators have been eradicated,with a focus on Procellariiformes (2016)

What is a “cough”?: A study into childrens’ awareness of Jersey’s chough project

By Catherine Firth

Public awareness is essential if a conservation project is to succeed, particularly with species reintroductions. There was initial concern from the public when the idea of reintroducing choughs to Jersey was mentioned. Crows and magpies, close relatives of choughs, are considered pests by a lot of Islanders and can be controlled under Jersey law in order to protect agricultural produce. Choughs are highly specialised feeders only eating insects you tend to find in soil or animal dung.

A chough eating a dung beetle in Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.

Public understanding and acceptance of choughs was, therefore, needed to ensure success.  In addition, support for the choughs should lead to support for the wider Birds On The Edge project. In turn attracting funding and resources such as public volunteers.

It has now been five years since the first choughs were released into Jersey. We wanted to find out if the Jersey public were aware and what they thought of the species. Two studies were conducted this summer by visiting graduate students; one focused on children, the other on adults.

I focused on children as they are a key demographic group at Jersey Zoo.  By engaging children in conservation education, they can be inspired to make well informed decisions affecting sustainability in the future, and in this case help to protect the red-billed choughs in Jersey.

To conduct the study, I visited eleven of Jersey’s primary schools with a questionnaire for the children to complete before and after an educational presentation on the  choughs and  Birds On The Edge. Being a Nottinghamshire lass, navigating the back roads of Jersey on a rusty borrowed bike was a challenge in itself!  But after a lot of wrong turns and frantic pedalling up and down hills, I manged to interview 16 teachers and 330 children across the Island. Teachers were generally very enthusiastic about including their classes in the study and the children seemed excited to learn about a new mysterious animal.

Reintroduced choughs and sheep in Jersey have been working together to improve the Island’s biodiversity. Photo by Liz Corry.

The results showed that only a very small percentage of the children interviewed were aware of the red-billed choughs in Jersey.  A proportion of the children guessed that it was a bird, but hardly any knew that choughs were living on the same island as them.  In fact, I had a lot of children reading their questionnaire and asking me “what is a cough?” accompanied by some fantastic drawings of what the children believed the choughs to look like including sloths, hedgehogs, monkeys and even a unicorn!  Likewise, most teachers confessed that they did not know about the project.

After the educational presentation, the results showed a huge increase in knowledge and understanding both of the choughs as a species and its history in Jersey. In their post-taught questionnaires, many children mentioned how the choughs became locally extinct, the habitat and resource needs of the choughs and what Birds On The Edge is doing to help. In addition, after the visits, there was some evidence of children sharing their new found knowledge of the red-billed choughs with other parties. This included two boys attending the chough keeper talk at Jersey Zoo, given that day by the Head of Birds, and practically presenting it for him!

There were other cases of children telling their parents and one child even identifying a chough on a family walk in St John!  This is very encouraging news, demonstrating how children can act as a catalyst for change by sharing their knowledge to influence their friends’ and family’s actions which affect conservation matters and help protect the choughs.

Moving forward, it would be fantastic to do more in-school workshops. Only a small percentage of the children in Jersey took part in the study but it showed how children can be massive assets for increasing awareness. It would also be great for teachers to include the choughs in more of their own lessons; a fantastic example of animals and their habitats which is a part of the Year’s 3, 4, 5 and 6 science curriculums.  However,  teachers had concerns about the time available to them to teach their classes about the choughs (particularly Year 6 teachers who face the pressure of SATs). To overcome this, we could provide schools with more resources, for instance red-billed chough reading comprehension resources: infiltrating classes without directly teaching about choughs whilst remaining focussed on the children’s upcoming exams.

As part of my workshops the children created posters to inform the public of Jersey all about the red-billed chough population, all completed posters were entered into a competition and were judged by a member of the Jersey Zoo education team. Grouville Primary School had the winning poster and the class had the opportunity to visit the choughs at Sorel.

The winning poster designed by a group of children at Grouville Primary School. Photo by Catherine Firth.

All entries were fantastic and can be seen here.  A big thank you to all the children who took part and the teachers who sent in all the entries!  Everyone at the Zoo particularly enjoyed this poster from Grouville:

Grouville children are clearly cut out for careers in conservation! Photo by Catherine Firth.

If only conservation were that easy!

Catherine Firth carried out this research for her MSc in Endangered Species Recovery and Conservation at Nottingham Trent University. She is currently working as a Conservation Knowledge intern at Jersey Zoo.

 

Chough report: August 2018

One of this year’s chicks in need of a name. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Zoo choughs

Keepers were in shock this month after the loss of two choughs in the Zoo. On 8th August a male was discovered by a keeper on the floor of the aviary. From his physical appearance, staff assumed the chough had been in a fight with Tristan, the only other male in the group, and lost.

The male chough had x-rays taken to assess injuries. Photo by Liz Corry.

When a second chough, Issy our breeding female, became ill we suspected there was more to it. The male’s condition gradually worsened despite efforts and eventually the bird had to be euthanased. Sadly, the female died a few days later.

Andrew Routh, Head Vet, explains “We took blood samples that were analysed in-house, at our usual diagnostic laboratory in the UK and, additionally, forwarded on by them to a specialist also in the UK. We will be re-sampling the remaining three birds in the collection. Full post mortem examinations were carried out on both birds and a comprehensive set of tissues from each sent for analysis by board-certified pathologists in the UK. No conclusions yet on the cause though further tests are pending.”

The remaining three birds have been taken off-show to individual enclosures for close monitoring. So far, they have shown no signs of ill health, are eating well and chatting loudly. Gianna, the Italian diva that she is, is a tad miffed we have taken her away from her public. Hopefully we can return them soon at which point the chough keeper talks will resume.

Wild chicks update

The last unringed wild chick was caught up on 1st August to be fitted with leg rings. Whilst in the hand, the chick made noises we’ve never heard before. And no, it wasn’t because we were squeezing too hard! There is debate as to whether the sounds were more gull-like or goose-like. Either way the ‘meeping’ chick became the first of the 2018 group to be named – Beaker.

The last of 2018’s chicks to be ringed (left!) and his namesake Beaker (right) – both emit unusual sounds. Photo by Elin Cunningham.

Two weeks later the DNA results returned form the UK lab. Whilst teenagers across the land were jumping for joy over their exam results, we beamed with delight upon hearing we have five males and four females.

This is great news for the Jersey population because:

(1) The sex ratio for wild-hatched choughs in Jersey is now 1:1. For the entire flock, it is more like three females for every two males. Not quite as catchy. Still a good result;

and

(2) We can name the new chicks! Aside from Beaker we had names lined up for Dusty’s chicks. In honour of Ronez’s assistance with the project, the three boys are now known as Clem (who found the chicks), Toby, and Osbourne (Ossy for short).

Tempting as it might be to call Beaker’s sister Dr Honeydew, her name is still open to debateWe are still searching for appropriate Jersey-related names for four females and a male. Please use the comments box to put forward any suggestions.

Parents Chicks 
Dusty & Chickay Clem (male) Toby (male) Ossy (male)
Kevin & Bean Green (female) Orange (female)
Lee & Caûvette Yellow (female) Black (male)
Q & Flieur Mauve (female) Beaker (male)

The 2018 chicks now have the adult colouring in their legs and bills (adult behind the chick). Photo by Liz Corry.

Spreading their wings

The flock have shown a distinct change in behaviour this month. After the chaos over June and July when chicks had to be fed and wild food supplies had dried up, the adults are relaxing back into their normal routines. One fortunate member of the public snapped a photo of 30 choughs flying over Plémont. On the back of this, social media reported seeing ‘large’ groups back at Les Landes.

Choughs flying over Plémont headland. Photo by Anne Gray.

The change is partly due to the chicks becoming independent and feeding themselves.

A major factor will be the rise in wild food supplies thanks to the shift in weather. Leatherjackets in the soil and dung-loving insects will provide the calories needed to fly back and forth around the north-west coast.

We are seeing an average of 24 choughs at the supplemental feeds. They appear to be the same individuals; all families bar Lee and Caûvette‘s making up half the group. Their willingness to enter the aviary has taken a knock since the recent spate of catch-ups. We have to reassure them that entering the aviary does not always result in humans waving nets around.

Having a wild food source around provides them with options. Great for them. For staff not so much, as it means the birds are less likely to hang around the aviary. Health screening, weight checks etc. are not as easy.

Chough chick photographed back in July at Sorel. Photo by Peter G. Hiatt.

Now you sheep me, now you don’t

Lack of choughs at the aviary is being compensated by appearances of sheep within the perimeter fence. The first sighting was on one of the hottest, driest days of the summer. A young sheep was happily curled up in the shade of the aviary sheds munching on lush green grass whilst the others were lined up along the hedgerows competing for shade. Much to the sheep’s dismay it was returned to the flock.

The next day it was back! And once again returned to the flock. A day or so later a different sheep was present. Neither student or I could figure out how on earth they were getting through the locked gate and wire fencing.

Days passed, sheep were absent. Or so we thought. Camera-trap footage to investigate chough roost activity threw up a different mystery. A ewe present in the morning, had gone by the afternoon. Clearly they were playing games with us.

Camera trap image inside the aviary showing a sheep within the aviary perimeter.

They upped the stakes in the last days of August. Having hidden in the bracken, ‘Houdini’ found her way inside the aviary. True magicians never reveal their secrets – except when their hooves and horns knocking equipment over in the keeper-porch give them away. I had left both doors open, not expecting her to follow me in, but it meant she could safely hang out in the aviary until the shepherd reached Sorel. And saved me a job with the lawnmower.

Yet another prime example of how the conservation of one species can benefit others.

Chough report: April 2018

Dave Warncken Chough desalination plant 21April2018_01

Choughs are now frequently foraging on the southwest tip of Jersey. Photo by Dave Warncken .

by Liz Corry

There is a hashtag floating around the social media stratosphere at the moment, #conservationoptimism, which pretty much sums up this month’s chough report.

When the reintroduced choughs started breeding in the wild in 2015 there were just two males and four females. Three years later we have twelve pairs all eager to contribute to the growing population. Furthermore, two of those pairs have decided to branch out and nest in other parts of the Island.

Nesting ambitions of Jersey’s choughs

A male displaying to his female to encourage ‘sexy time’. The female reciprocating with a suitably unimpressed look. Photo by Elin Cunningham.

We have been able to identify a record number of ten nest sites this year.

Specific details of nest localities will remain guarded in order to protect the pairs. I can, however, let you in on some of the ‘highlights’ we have witnessed in April.

All of last year’s sites in Ronez Quarry are being used again with slight tweaks here and there.

There is concern for Red and Dingle as they are using the nest located on hot piping again. Ronez Quarry are helping us look into ways of raising the nest off the pipes without destroying the integrity of the nest. We wouldn’t want their eggs to overheat like last year.

Red and Dingle’s nest guarantees chicks won’t fall out – providing the eggs survive the heat from pipe work underneath. Photo by Liz Corry.

Dusty has strengthened his bond with Chickay after Egg died and continues to use the upper quarry away from the hubbub of the other nest sites. They have built a very nice nest which should be easy for us to monitor.

20180418_152603

Ronez Quarry with Sark in the background. Photo by Liz Corry.

The first nest located away from Sorel was discovered by one of our zoo keepers on their day off. Anyone visiting Plémont in April will more than likely have heard if not seen a chough or two. In the months leading up to the breeding season we had assumed it was the Les Landes pair. And more often than not it had been. However, on reading the leg rings of the twig-carrying choughs it was clear we had a different pair.

P1000301

Plémont Headland. Sorel Point lighthouse just about visible in the background. Photo by Liz Corry.

Finding the nest was a little trickier and not for the faint hearted. It is within the Plémont seabird protection zone which imposes public access restrictions from March to July. Plémont’s cliffs, notorious amongst Jersey’s rock climbers, are described as being ‘Weetabix’ like in structure and to be avoided at all costs. All in all there should be little human disturbance at this site adding to our growing optimism.

Not only is this the first nest discovered away from the release site, it is the first to belong to one of our foster-reared females – Xaviour! She has partnered with a male of her own age, Earl, and as such we are not expecting too much from them. At two-years old they are first timers with no knowledge of exactly what is involved in parenthood.

Regardless, this is a small victory for the project; foster-reared birds can pair up, they can build nests, and not just any nest, a truly wild nest. Fingers (and primaries) crossed for the next few weeks.

20180409_160420

A male chough displaying his ‘excitement’. Photo by Liz Corry.

The record-breaking didn’t stop there. The choughs added a third parish to their tick list of breeding sites. Mary and a wild-hatched male from 2016 were found to have moved roost site 7km to the parish of St Peter. They have been a fairly permanent feature of Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd since last year. Jason Simon, Managing Director, reports seeing three choughs around, but of late one had been ‘pushed out’ by the pair.

Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd located in St Ouen’s Bay is home to sand martins and now choughs too. Photo by Liz Corry.

Two choughs have taken up residence at Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd in St Ouen’s Bay. Photo by Elin Cunningham.

Twigs are visible in the location where the pair roost. It could be a red herring as the site is also used by pigeons. From observations, Mary appear’s quite faithful to that particular spot.

The pair continue making the return trip to Sorel for the supplemental feed. You would assume from this that they are not finding what they need in the wild travelling at least 14km a day for the guarantee of food.

Not so. Thanks to several public sightings, and wonderful photographs, we know that this pair are frequenting Corbière, the southwest tip of the Island.

Dave Warncken Chough desalination plant 21April2018_05

Wild-hatched chough hanging out at Corbière 21st April 2018. Photo by Dave Warncken.

Dave Warncken Chough desalination plant 21April2018_03

Mary and a wild-hatched chough have become permanent residents of the southwest corner of Jersey. Photo by Dave Warncken.

Funding for nest monitoring awarded by the Ecology Trust Fund.

JerseyEcologicalFund

We are very proud to receive funding this month from the Ecology Trust Fund.

This is a Jersey-based  fund established in March 1991 by the States of Jersey with a sum of money received in an insurance settlement from the Amoco Cadiz oil tanker disaster of 1978. Annual interest accrued is used to finance multiple projects each year within the environmental sector.

The money will be used to purchase equipment to help the team monitor chough nests around Jersey. Increasingly important as our birds ‘leave the nest’ and set up home around the Island.

Island Insurance Corporation awards

CaptureStaying on a funding and monitoring theme, we are very honoured to hear that Ronez Quarry have nominated the chough project for the Islands Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards. The choughs have frequented the quarry since the trial release in 2013 which is now permanent residence for several pairs.

There are prizes to the value of £1000 and £500 available. If awarded, we will be able to cover the costs of monitoring, ringing, and sexing the wild-hatched chicks. DNA sexing tests, for example, cost £14 per bird.

With 10 potential clutches this year the costs could soon spiral.

Judges will visit the short-listed projects in May after which voting will open for the People’s Choice Award. We will circulate details as soon as voting opens.

Replacement rings

This chough had lost both plastic leg rings. The unique metal ring is impossible to read at a distance. Photo by Liz Corry.

As previously reported, several of the choughs have been losing their plastic rings. Or in the case of Zennor switching them around. As if the team needed more of a challenge to monitor breeding pairs!

On 26th April a group of choughs were caught up at the supplemental feed. Nine of the 25 birds arriving for food were caught up, weighed, and given new replacement rings. White was the only exception in that we had run out of white rings and given grey instead. Off-White if you like.

They all looked to be in good health. None of the females sported brood patches to suggest they had started incubating. I suspect that will have happened towards the end of the month or early May.

We still have two birds requiring replacement rings. They happen to be two of the four now living away from Sorel. Unlikely we wil get them in the aviary anytime soon.

Zoo news

Change is afoot with the Zoo choughs. We are exchanging chough pairs with Paradise Park, Cornwall, as part of our wider departmental collection plan. Paradise Park have kindly agreed to take Lucifer back after loaning him to us in 2012. Hopefully they can address his egg-smashing behaviour.

Jersey Zoo will continue to house two breeding pairs; Tristan and Issy and a new established pair. The move has been delayed until May which will disrupt the breeding season. With a quarantine period of thirty days it is unlikely the new pair will breed at Jersey this year.

Tristan and Issy remain in the Zoo’s on-show aviary and have already started nest building. Keepers found a discarded egg and the nest-liner on the floor of the aviary towards the end of April. Something obviously unsettled them, but they have started gathering wool again to repair their nest.

20180418_135609

Tristan and Issy collect wool to line their nest in the Zoo. Photo by Liz Corry.

Foster rearing might not be on the cards this year

Gianna is making good progress since her cataract operations. It was clear that she had regained sight post-op, but she was not her normal self. At lot was due to a knock in confidence. Living in the dark for several months and then placed in a different enclosure must be disorientating. She also behaved in a way that suggested her depth perception was a little off. Over time she has improved although it could take a couple more months to be fully adjusted.

 

20180426_095739

Gianna enjoying her morning preen. Photo by Liz Corry.

She is now in the off-show foster aviary allowing her to go through the motions of nest-building and such. A great deal of enthusiasm has been expressed although she still doesn’t have a complete nest. By now she would have finished and be eager to start laying.

Tristan and Issy did not need any assistance last year with raising their chick. As the only active breeding pair this year it is unlikely we will need Gianna’s help. Only time will tell.

That, and May’s monthly report!

Chough report: October 2017

A few of the Jersey choughs signalling dinner time. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

As October drew to a close it was achingly apparent that the chough flock was down from 38 to 36 individuals. The two wild-hatched females who went missing in September had still not made an appearance, forcing us to reluctantly record them as missing presumed dead.

This is the first time we have lost wild-hatched birds post-fledging period. One can’t help feel a sense of responsibility. These individuals were known to have a nematode infection, but attempts to medicate them had failed before they went missing. All we can do now is monitor the remaining choughs to ensure the same fate doesn’t befall them.

So we did, and guess what…two of the adults started sneezing. Egg and Helier began with the ‘I’m not sneezing, just clearing my nostrils’ subtle sneeze. After a few days Egg stopped whereas Helier continued and progressively worsened.

After a few failed catch ups due to jammed hatches, intelligent corvids, and of all things Portuguese forest fires (see ‘Sepia skies’ below) Helier was finally locked in the aviary allowing her to be treated by the vet team. She was released back into the wild straight after her worming injection and appears to be much improved.

Nematodes are part of the natural ecosystem. Choughs feeding in the wild will be exposed to them and have to tolerate or succumb. This year is turning out to be the worst since the project began in terms of number of infected birds and fatalities warranting further investigation.

Sepia skies

Having worked at Sorel for several years now you would have thought that everything that could go wrong in a catch up had done or at least been theorised and accounted for. Hinges sticking on trap doors, birds not showing up or not hungry enough to want to go inside, mountain bikers zooming past scaring the flock into the air, etcetera. Not once had we thought to account for Caribbean hurricanes and Portuguese forest fires!

On the morning of the first planned attempt to catch up Helier the skies in Jersey, and parts of the UK, were looking very ominous. Walking around Sorel it felt like someone had put a sepia filter on the world. Frustratingly my camera phone kept adding its own filter so the photos below don’t fully set the scene.

20171016_131759

On 16th October 2017 the skies above Jersey turned a sepia colour. Photo by Liz Corry.

Low cloud filled the skies throughout the morning. Around lunchtime the sun made an appearance, but looked more like Mars than our beloved sun. There were no horsemen on the horizon so instead of embracing impending doom I turned to the Gods of Google.

A red sun breaking out from the cloud of dust and ash in the atmosphere. Photo by Liz Corry.

An explanation for the near apocalyptic conditions was provided by the BBC. Remnants of Hurricane Ophelia passing over the south of England and Channel Islands were dragging dust from the Sahara and smoke from the devastating forest fires in Portugal and Spain across our skies.

I tried explaining this to a very confused flock of choughs who were clearly conflicted about what time they should go to roost. One might think this would be advantageous to someone trying to lock birds in an aviary. Nope. Instead it meant they just sat and stared at me in their perplexed state. A twenty-minute stand-off resulted in a dejected keeper walking away left to come up with a Plan B.

Roost check

Plan B failed. In fact it wasn’t until Plan E was executed that we were able to lock the sick chough in the aviary. The new plan arose from the need to know who was roosting in the aviary in case we had to lock in the sick bird for longer than a day. There was a small chance she roosted in the aviary already rather than the quarry. If so, all we had to do was wait until the birds had gone to roost and quietly shut the external hatches.

Cut to the scene of a person in dark clothes vaulting a field gate at night only lit by the stars and the dim headlights from a teenager’s car (one assumes from the discarded firework packaging and soda cans found the next morning) idling at Sorel Point.

The operation provided extra information other than Helier’s roosting site. A total of twelve choughs were roosting inside the aviary including Dusty the very first wild-hatched chough and the two females who follow him.

Kevin and Bean were hanging around outside the aviary. They could have used one of the external roost spaces at the aviary or simply flown over from the quarry at first light to forage nearby. The other interesting find was the kestrel who shot out of the external roost box when I arrived in the morning to check on the choughs.

There are no photos from Operation If this doesn’t work we’re screwed. So instead here are a couple taken at Les Landes when checking for signs of choughs at sunset.

A view of the Pinacle at sunset. Photo by Liz Corry

Sunset at Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry.

The Women’s Institute expedition to the north coast

Earlier in the year the ladies of La Moye WI had invited me to give a talk about the choughs. Several of their members were already aware of the project, but had not realised that the historic breeding sites for Jersey choughs were in fact along the coastline at La Moye.

Enthusiasm for the project continued to grow as the evening went on, fuelled by the obligatory tea and cake, and by the end of the night a trip to Sorel was penned in the diary.

After a few clashes in the calendar a small group from La Moye finally made it up to the north coast this month. Glyn walked them around the conservation fields and release site. Not all of the choughs were present, but certainly enough to make an impact and demonstrate their amazing flying skills. I sadly missed out as I was in England, but from the looks on their faces I think they enjoyed it.

La moye WI (1)

 

Chough report: July 2017

One of this year’s wild-hatched chicks arriving at the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Fledging news!

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

BOTE award 001 (2)

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!

More information about the Parish in Bloom event run by Natural Jersey can be found at http://www.parish.gov.je/Documents/NatJerBrochureA4_ParishSites.pdf.