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.
Just in case their calls were not loud enough. Photo by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
Breeding season roundup
Don’t let the sound of a begging youngster fool you. The 2021 chicks are now fully independent. They just like to try their hand (or wing) once in a while with their parents.
Four youngsters have survived. This is a disappointing number although four is better than none. Thankfully, each from a different family which helps a little to spread the genetics around. Speaking of which, their DNA sexing results came in at the start of August. We have one male and three females. They all have names now too:
Rocky, breaking gender conformity with his bright pink leg ring, is the offspring of Dusty and Chickay.
Rémi, as reported last month, is wild-hatched Minty and Rey‘s first chick. She might be a St Ouen parishioner, but certainly isn’t seen as an outsider by the St John residents.
Wally Jnr. shares a lot of characteristics with her mother Wally when she was a fledgling at the aviary. There may have been a Kevin Jnr. but we never managed to sample the second chick before it perished.
Monvie is Bo and Flieur‘s girl who sports a mauve over yellow ring. Her name is taken from the Jèrriais greeting Man vyi meaning my old mate/friend (if addressing a woman it is Ma vielle). Its pronounced a little like you are saying ‘mauvey’ which helps to remember her leg ring colour. Learn more about the language at L’Office du Jèrriais.
Sadly, but not surprisingly, the body of the missing fifth chick was found by Ronez Quarry staff on the 16th. We ringed it on 30th June so we knew it was Dusty’s and now know it was male. Judging from the state of the body he had died when we first reported it absent from the feed.
Two breeding pairs at Sorel resting in the rocky shade. Photo by Liz Corry.
Not all of the breeding pairs survived the season. We lost a male resulting in a ‘divorce’ of another pair and the re-joining of old flames. It also looks like we have lost the female who roosted and tried building a nest in Trinity. She has not been seen anywhere since early summer.
All being well, we will have two new pairings attempt to nest in 2022 bringing it to eleven pairs. The same as in 2021 despite our losses.
West is best
View of Grosnez with the other Channel Islands on the horizon. Photo by Liz Corry.
The choughs still preferred to hang out on the north west coast in August. Who could blame them with the views.
Cliffs from Grosnez to Plémont are frequently visited by choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
Not to mention the ‘playground’ that is Les Landes with the racecourse, stables, paddocks, rooftops, and scattered WW2 German-made structures.
As long as they keep out of the way of the occasional model aircraft and, more permanent, resident peregrines!
This peregrine at Grosnez might be more familiar with choughs than I would like. Photo by Liz Corry.
Food for thought
From March to July this year we had a student placement working on the project. Riccardo rose to the challenge of re-establishing our breeding colony of mealworms for the supplemental feed.
We have never really had enough continuity and/or success to fully rely on in-house production. We buy in 1.5kg-2kg of mealworms per week from the UK to supplement the choughs’ diet. We get a discount since it comes with the bulk order for Jersey Zoo’s residents. Yet this still equates to hundreds of pounds a year.
Thanks to Riccardo’s efforts we might be making a breakthrough. After a month of breeding we have produced about 500g of mealworms. Not enough to cancel the UK order, but it should keep our costs down.
There is potential to expand the operation…providing a certain DIY store continues to stock our ‘high-tech’ housing facility aka drawers.
Mealworm breeding setup for the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.
It’s a delicate balance of temperature, humidity, and the right amount of nutrients appropriate for each of the four life stages. Fingers crossed; we can continue Riccardo’s good work now he has returned home to Italy.
Next time you see an advert for ITV’s I’m a Celebrity….just think about the effort and expense that goes into raising mealworms. And then the waste!
Last month we reported our first successful rearing of young from a wild-hatched pair. Three chicks in the Plémont nest followed by the subsequent fledging of two.
Then, like a high street in lockdown, it went eerily quiet.
There was no sign of the third chick out and about. The Plémont cliffs are not very forgiving at high tide for a young bouldering chough. Easy to imagine it not surviving. Yet also hard to determine since we weren’t seeing any members of the Plémont family.
When Minty and Rey, the parents, eventually appeared at the feed they showed no interest in any of the juveniles. Observations were further hampered by the lack of choughs at the feed. We had to put in the extra mileage, literally, to travel in search of choughs or wait until the evening when they start heading home to roost.
A roost check at Plémont provided no answers just a stunning sunset.
The only info we had was from a member of the public who had photographed Minty and Rey with one unringed juvenile at the Pinnacle on the northwest coast. This was taken in June before we had managed to ring any of this year’s young.
The first Jersey juvenile from wild-hatched choughs. Photo by Anthony Morin.
Four weeks of not knowing then suddenly we had our answer. Reviews of camera trap photos set at the aviary showed Minty passing food to a chick. A chick we had ringed on 14th July and had seen at the feed every day since! Until that last week in July we had never witnessed Minty or Rey show any interest in the youngster.
Maybe that is their parenting style? The young chough is fairly robust, gets on with things, is confident around the aviary and within the flock. They raised her well.
We have named her Rémi which means ‘the first ones’ in Gaulish. Rather apt for the first true Jersey chough resulting from the reintroduction.
Family hierarchy: Rey. Minty, and Rémi. Photo by Liz Corry.
Five ‘gold’ rings
With much effort, we continued to try and trap unringed juveniles in the aviary. As already mentioned, the birds were not hanging around Sorel as much as in previous years. Leftover supplemental food and their preference of sites such as Grosnez, Les Landes, and L’Étacq implied they had resources elsewhere.
When choughs were present at the aviary they were, and still are, not as confident about going inside. No doubt for multiple reasons although strong influences will be the peregrines hunting above the aviary field and the overgrown vegetation potentially harbouring threats.
We switched tactics to try catching later in the day, around 7pm, by which point choughs roosting at Sorel or Ronez would be foraging closer to home. This worked on two occasions allowing us to ring, measure, and sample two juveniles.
By the close of July there were no more unringed choughs to be found. In total we had ringed five chicks all with a yellow ring to represent 2021 and a second unique colour. Sadly, that meant some youngsters had perished.
The yellow ring represents 2021, the bird’s year of hatch. Photo by Liz Corry.
2021 Breeding Season summary
Of the ten nests we knew about, only 50% survived to fledge a chick or more. We accounted for twelve fledged chicks yet only four still alive.
There is a slim chance a fifth chick, ringed pale blue over yellow, is simply playing an unintentional game of hide and seek with us. Seven adults are consistently absent at the afternoon feed. A few of those have been spotted along the coastline from Grosnez to Le Pulec. Is the missing chick with them? A task for August will be monitoring this northwest corner and determine the whereabouts of the pairs.
Wally Jnr. keeping close to her parents at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
There was an eleventh pairing in spring who were busy collecting nesting material in Trinity. As first timers we did not hold out much hope. It appears they did not even make it to the egg laying stage. No nest was found. Lots of false hope through seeing them steal twigs from pigeon nests. No actual Trinity chough nest.
This may or may not be related to the disappearance of the female. Then this month, the male was seen with a different female over in… guess where…Grosnez.
Tracking down choughs at Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.
Pinel was starting to worry us until we found him at Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.
We are carrying out several ‘gardening’ tasks around the aviary to create a less imposing surrounding for choughs, open up some foraging opportunities for them, and allow us to see when operating the hatches from the adjacent field. It should also mean less cover for feral ferrets to hide in and less attractive areas for rats.
Where are the sheep when you need them?! Photo by Liz Corry.
This meant a lot of grass strimming and removal of bracken. Hedgehogs, slow worms, and green lizards inhabit the embankment, so care is required. I also discovered a bumblebee nest and several ant nests; the latter a favourite of wild choughs.
Slow worm and an ant nest uncovered at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
In amongst the bracken there are shrubs the National Trust planted about ten years ago. Each year we try and help these out by removing the vegetation suppressing them like the delightfully named sticky willy. I’ve left the aromatic wormwood…how do we feel about a Birds On The Edge branded absinthe? We could raise a glass to toast the wild Jersey choughs!
Wormwood Artemisia absinthium, is one of many herbaceous plants found at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
A female chough incubating her clutch. Photo under license by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
We have managed to identify ten nests. All of which appear to have females incubating eggs. Bonus news, one of those nests belongs to a wild-hatched pairing. Up until now, pairings have comprised Jersey Zoo or Paradise Park birds we have released or a 50:50 mix of captive-bred and wild-hatched choughs.
(H) = hand-reared
The other point to note is that the Jersey flock now only has twelve males and eighteen females. The two males that are not paired up only hatched out last year. You wouldn’t expect them to be breeding yet. Then again, if you read last month’s report, never make assumptions with choughs…
Bo and Flieur probing for insects at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
The Trinity Trio
Reports started coming in over Easter weekend of three choughs visiting horse stables near Les Vaux valley behind the Zoo. Working closely with the owner we investigated, did some probing, if you pardon the pun, and discovered a few interesting facts.
A pair of choughs had been using the stables in 2020. The building is like a smaller version of one the quarry buildings and surrounded by several properties with horse-grazed fields. The owner had not noticed the choughs in a while so assumed they had gone.
Now a/the pair had returned, this time with nesting material. However, what appears to be happening is that they are removing material (silver birch twigs) from abandoned pigeon nests and flying off somewhere else.
On one occasion there was an almighty ruckus as the pair flew in to be greeted by a third chough. A phone call on Easter Saturday saw me drive round to the stables in the evening and find a solitary chough roosting in the rafters.
The leg rings identified the bird as Bee the same chough regularly visiting the Zoo. This made sense, answering the question where does she go at night. It didn’t tell us who the other two were. That was until….
After Easter we received reports of two choughs visiting Peacock Farm. This belongs to the Jersey Royal Company of the famous Jersey royal potatoes. The farm also happens to be behind the Zoo and about a kilometre from the stables!
A pair of choughs were being seen, almost daily, on the site often with twigs in their bills. A neighbour managed to pinpoint which building they were going to. We met with two of their directors outside this building to introduce ourselves and explain about the chough project. Almost instantly, two choughs flew out from inside and started shouting at us.
I would like to tell you that we read the leg rings, know exactly who the pair are and can confidently say there is an eleventh nest in Jersey. A royal one no less.
However, observations over the next few weeks left us a bit muddled. We know that the frenzy of twig trafficking slowed down. When the owner of the stables moved house we naturally stopped getting reports. We have not seen Bee over the Zoo as much. Likewise, chough sightings at the farm have dropped off.
Choughs Pinel and Bee at Peacock Farm, Trinity. Photo by Hannah Clarke
We do know that Bee and Pinel were photographed at Peacock Farm on 17th April. Bee frequently visits Sorel for supplemental feed. We have never seen any inclination that she is paired with Pinel. So if Bee and Pinel are a pair, who the heck was the third chough? Why wasn’t Pinel roosting with Bee at the start of April? Is this a new romance, could there be four choughs residing in Trinity?
The choughs appear to be horsing around this month. Photo by Liz Corry.
Who knows! Thank goodness the Plémont pair are straight forward. Oh wait…
Plémont, pesky choughs and puffins
The Plémont pair look to be progressing well. The female is incubating and the male is doing his best to defend the nest. We are managing to make weekly visits supported by several public sightings.
The Plémont male feeding the female as she takes a break from incubating their eggs. Photo by Liz Corry.
The puffins have now returned to Jersey to breed along the Plémont to Grève de Lecq coast. Puffins nest in burrows often in the same habitat choughs use for feeding and nesting. Our Plémont pair often crop up in reports from the seabird monitoring ‘arm’ of Birds On The Edge. Typically, they are in flight so leg ring colours aren’t seen. That’s fine though right? Two choughs, one nest. All we need to know is when the chicks are due and if there are any disturbance/predation issues.
Wrong! Remember, never assume. Turns out there has been a switch-a-roo when we weren’t looking. In March we reported Beanie baby had lost her male and paired up with Minty, re-building the nest at Plémont. Jump to April and Minty is at Plémont but it’s not Beanie baby on the nest. It’s a younger female. Scandal!
Leg rings helped staff identify Rey as the female now on the Plémont nest. Photo by Liz Corry.
We haven’t seen Beanie baby all month. Was she ousted by the female or fell victim to the Plémont peregrine? We might never know. All I can say is Rey is incubating eggs at Plémont with Minty. Fingers crossed both Rey and Minty are rearing chicks come May.
Catching up with the choughs
We carried out a couple of successful catch-ups this month with the choughs to replace leg rings. All birds caught looked to be in good health and expected body weight. You always have to be extra cautious at this time of year. You want to be as quick as possible so as not to keep the parents from their eggs or chicks. Breeding females should only be caught if absolutely necessary and handled with care if doing so.
Which is my excuse for not taking any photos of the birds getting their new rings. Instead here is Riccardo trying to pretend everything is normal and that he isn’t holding the hatch door wires posed to drop them. See if you can spot the green lizard that clearly had me distracted from the job at hand.
Waiting to ambush the choughs at the aviary whilst being distracted by the basking green lizards. Photo by Liz Corry.
The aluminium sheeting has been fitted to the aviary to deter rat access. Our next steps are ensuring no rats are living inside. Riccardo is monitoring with the aid of camera traps. Once the all clear is given, the aviary can be used to confine choughs if needed for example for veterinary reasons.
April’s weather has left us without rainwater on several occasions and we have ferried containers up there and altered our cleaning regime to accommodate.
Vegetation-wise, everything is growing which means regular strimming and mowing to maintain chough-friendly habitat.
Sorel sheep set to work grazing a field previously used for winter bird seed crops. Photo by Liz Corry.
Meanwhile, the eco-friendly lawnmowers sharing the field with the aviary have set to work in another National Trust owned field. Don’t be alarmed if you visit and think a bunch of sheep have escaped. There is a hot wire around the perimeter.
Et maintenant, les nouvelles
Cappy is still happily living in Carteret, France. Photo by Catherine Bataille.
Cappy is still in Carteret. Yann has kindly kept us updated. We even had a photo sent in via Durrell’s Facebook site from a sighting on 11th April just north of Carteret. Read the news from France
From Wild About Jersey Islanders are being encouraged to consider joining the No Mow May campaign by not using mowers or strimmers for the whole of May.
The campaign run by the British conservation charity, Plantlife, asks you to leave your mower in the shed for No Mow May and let the flowers grow.
Research Ecologist, Nina Cornish, said: “No Mow May fits in well with our Pollinator Project which is a Channel Island initiative designed to prevent pollinating insects such as flies, beetles, butterflies and bumblebees from declining. Our animation highlights why ‘Protecting Our Precious Pollinators’ is so important and what you can to do help.
“This campaign is a fantastic opportunity for Islanders to do their bit for the environment. We see the most nectar and flowers in gardens that are mowed no more than once every four weeks. Every year around this time we see lots of hedgehogs injured or killed due to strimmers, so this campaign will also benefit their welfare.”
Islanders must still comply with Branchage rules by cutting any plant overgrowth that is obstructing public roads or footpaths. Branchage inspection will take place in June.
Senior Operations Manager of Park and Gardens and Cleaning Services, Bruce Labey, said: “Last year we updated the mowing regime to reflect current UK guidelines, so now we only mow a one-metre strip along most of our grass verges which still keeps us on the right side of the Branchage regulations, but allows wildflowers and grasses to develop which has a huge benefit to pollinators and wildlife.
“My team and I are excited to take part in No Mow May for a second year running, so if the grass looks a bit longer than normal, you’ll know why.”
Birds On The Edge is delighted to announce that Jersey’s Atlantic puffins have started to arrive to their breeding cliffs on the Island’s north coast.
This small colony has comprised only four breeding pairs in the last few years, and it is hoped that at least as many will return this year. The puffins have been a bit late to arrive, with only one or two having seen so far over the past few days.
This is the most delicate time for our puffins, as they settle back in their nests and wait for their mates to arrive. Any disturbance or negative experience could put them off and make them abandon the area, sending them off to look for quieter breeding grounds elsewhere. After they have settled, the presence of boats and other watercraft near their breeding sites might disrupt or affect natural behaviours, such as incubation of the egg, fishing, or feeding their chick.
Birds On The Edge asks everyone to follow the guidelines of the Seabird Protection Zone (SPZ) between Plémont and Grève de Lecq, and avoid visiting this area by boat, kayak, paddle board or any other type of watercraft between March and July. These guidelines are already observed by boat and kayak tour operators, who avoid this area at this sensitive time, as well as by the local fishermen, who only visit the area briefly to check their pots.
The presence of watercraft in the Seabird Protection Zone is monitored during regular puffin and seabird surveys. In 2020 a steep increase of leisure craft in the SPZ was noticed in comparison with the previous year. The number of private boats and kayaks recorded per hour increased by 360%. This was believed to be a result of the travel and lockdown restrictions put in place during the pandemic. It was hoped that this year all private boat and kayak users will avoid the area completely until the breeding season is over. However, Birds On The Edge has already received reports of people on kayaks going through the SPZ over the past week.
It is worth remembering that puffins and their relatives, the razorbills, can be found all across the north coast, but as their breeding is restricted to this area, it is extremely important to give them peace and quiet in order for them to return to their nests.
The safest way to enjoy puffins is from the public footpath between Plémont and Grève de Lecq. As the Jersey puffins nest in rock crevices and between boulders below the coastal slopes, they are out of sight when in their nests. However, they spend a lot of time sitting on the water below the cliffs, and the safest way to watch them, for both puffins and people, is from the footpath between Plémont and Grève de Lecq, looking down to the water. The various vantage points, benches and bunkers along the footpath are good spots to watch puffins and other seabirds from.
The public is also invited to join one of the free ‘Puffin Watches’ that will take place at Plémont over the Easter holiday break. For further details please consult the Facebook pages of Jersey Birding Tours and Jersey Wildlife.
Choughs arriving for the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.
By Liz Corry
Ahead of the Island census next month we have taken account of Jersey’s chough numbers. We are missing several birds from the Sorel feeds. It is becoming increasingly harder to conclude that a chough missing at the feed means a dead chough. The chough in France is testament to that! However, the chances of them being alive are very slim if we don’t have any sightings elsewhere, there has been a long and consistent absence from Sorel, and/or their partner has re-paired.
With that said we have nine birds who have become ‘missing presumed dead’ over the last six months. This potentially brings the Jersey population down to 34 from 43 and one female in France.
Flieur looking a bit dubious about the makeover Bo is giving her. Photo by Liz Corry.
I have managed to carry out one catch-up to replace missing rings. We now have a few more birds with missing or broken rings. This adds to the confusion of who is present or not.
The situation at Plémont has been a bit of a mystery. Beaker has still not been seen despite the female, Beanie Baby, regularly showing up for supplemental feeds. Only one chough was seen at Plémont. Then towards the end of the month, two choughs were flying around. This coincided with Beanie Baby preening and foraging with a new male at Sorel!
We need to confirm which birds are at Plémont. Gut feeling says Beaker is no more, Beanie has found a new partner, and is having another go nesting at Plémont.
Beanie Baby (Green/Black) surrounded by male suitors. Photo by Liz Corry.
Another curve ball…the female hanging out at Corbière has not been seen in a long time. Her partner, Minty, has been at Sorel every afternoon for the feed. Here is the ‘fun fact’, Minty is now paired with Beanie Baby.
Choughs have been visiting the Zoo again. One in particular. In fact, of all the times we have been able to identify leg rings, it has been Bee or Bee with Pinel a young male. She visited the Zoo last year when she was paired with a different male, Mac. Whilst never confirmed, we assumed Bee and Mac were the pair regularly spotted around Trinity and St Martin.
Bee renewed her membership to the Zoo so she could visit the chough aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.
Mac has been missing for a while. Bee might be visiting the chough aviary in the Zoo looking for a new partner. There are still three single males in with the breeding pair. She might simply be looking for free food whilst away from Sorel. She has been observing the keepers and now tends to arrive shortly before a feed is due then disappear until the next feed. The Zoo choughs get three feeds a day.
Bee making herself comfortable on top of the Zoo aviary. Photo by David Mulholland.
Breeding pairs for 2021
We have ten pairs going into the 2021 breeding season. We only have twelve males in the flock, two of which are only one year of age, so ten is good going. Half the pairings are proven, having produced one or more broods in the past.
Hopes for a Trinity nesting pair now seem very slim. Plémont still has promise although unintentional public disturbance could be an issue if the 2020 nest site is used. As always Ronez Quarry will be the stronghold and the focus of our monitoring.
Observations at the supplemental feeds suggest the nest building or, for some, nest-refurbishment started this month. We think at least one female has started egg laying. Could we have Easter chough chicks?
Cappy in Carteret
Cappy is still alive in Carteret and starting to gain followers in France.
France and the Écréhous (foreground) are visible from Jersey’s north coast (through a 60x zoom!). Photo by Liz Corry.
Keepers managed to catch-up the three boys from the display aviary in the zoo and move them to an off-show holding area. This allows Tristan and Penny to start breeding without territorial disputes.
A very happy keeper (Cian) after a tricky catch-up in the Zoo chough aviary. Photo by Bea Detnon.
All three males looked healthy and were implanted with transponders for ID. All of the captive-bred birds have them. They will be exported to Paradise Park when travel permits.
A Jersey Zoo chough getting a transponder fitted under the skin for identification purposes. Photo by Bea Detnon.
Whilst travel doesn’t permit…
I have attended several online planning meetings over the past few month regarding proposed chough work in the UK. I tend not to mention them as they are quite heavy going, tedious things…
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.
The 20th Jersey Great Garden Bird Watch will be held over the weekend of 6th and 7th February
20 years? Yes, the annual Action for Wildlife Jersey and Birds On The Edge garden bird count has reached this significant milestone. Although, it won’t have been undertaken in circumstances quite like these before! Last year, little did we know what was coming. The count has a long tradition of seeming to encourage bad weather so our fear was of the Pest From the West. Did it happen? Does anyone remember February 2020? Well, you warmed up with the RSPB’s UK garden bird watch last weekend so now take part in Jersey’s own watch, one with great significance to our understanding our closest bird neighbours. We really do need as many households to take part as possible. And what else were you planning on doing?
Song thrushes, who gave us cause for alarm only a few years ago as populations dropped rapidly, show signs that they may be recovering in Jersey. This rather strident singer is getting warmed up around now so, while half their number seem to quietly go about searching for worms on the lawn, the other half sit up in the leafless trees and belt out their (and I’m going to say it) rather monotonous song. Let’s hope that song thrushes feature in this year’s count.
Method for recording
The method of the count is very straight forward. Basically you just need to choose one of the two weekend dates (6th or 7th February), look out into the garden for a few minutes, or as long as you like (I just look out the kitchen window) and write down what birds you see and the maximum number of each species. And, of course, red squirrels count again as birds this year. Just for one weekend!
Once you’ve counted the birds (and squirrels) on your chosen day please fill out the form onlinehere. Alternatively you can download a form here and email to email@example.com or fill out the form in the JEP. This year, we unfortunately won’t be involving the garden centres because of the pandemic restrictions.
Your observations are of great importance in our understanding of the situation with the birds that we live closest too. Don’t forget, how these birds are fairing in the 21st century says a lot about our own lives and our own environment. You can read about the results of our survey to date in the Jersey Garden Birdwatch Report 2002-2020here
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit puffin. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit puffin-hole, and that means comfort.”
And so the story begins for the puffins, I mean the hobbits, according to J.R.R. Tolkien, of course. I could be forgiven for hoping that J.R.R.Tolkien was inspired by puffins when he devised the short, wobbly, round-bellied, food-loving, funny-looking creatures that live in a hole in the ground, which he named hobbits. Even his own fictional etymology traces the word to ‘holbytla’, which he created by combining the two real Old English words ‘hol’ (hole) and ‘bytland’ (to build) – a name that would be not completely unfit for the puffins either.
Like hobbits, Atlantic puffins build their homes underground, digging holes using their bills and powerful claws, to create a tunnel that leads to a larger inner chamber for the nest. And also like hobbits, puffins like their home comforts and line their nests with soft grasses and feathers, to keep the egg and later the chick safe and warm. They are very tidy too, and manage to keep the chick clean by using a toilet chamber located in a bend before the main room.
And finally, like hobbits again, they do not like unexpected visitors, defending their burrows from envious neighbours, fighting food thieves like gulls, and avoiding, however they can, attacks from invasive predators such as rats, cats and ferrets.
Knowing all this, Birds On The Edge has been trying to improve the homes and breeding grounds of our Jersey puffins, especially in view of he precarious state of the population – down to four pairs from more than a hundred in the space of a century. Sadly, this follows the trend of many other puffin colonies around the world, which have declined or collapsed due to causes ranging from loss of habitat, predation from invasive species and human-caused disturbance, amongst others.
Over the last year we have been monitoring the puffins and other seabirds in their breeding cliffs of the north coast, studying the potential predators in the area and noting the presence of people for leisure and commercial purposes too.
We have also built and installed puffin nest-boxes in some cliffs in the north coast, so that they can be used as artificial burrows by prospecting new pairs. Our breeding puffins, all four pairs of them, already go back to the same burrow each year, so with the boxes we are hoping to attract new pairs recruiting into Jersey’s population, especially ones who were born here and are ready to settle (puffins take 5-6 years to be mature).
As for the boxes themselves, there have been various designs, all following the concept of a tunnel leading to a main chamber. We have stuck to this, building a closed box with a roof, which is completely buried. The access to the chamber is via a 1m-long pipe which is buried too, so that the entrance from outside looks like a hole in the ground. The box is almost one metre long and has a small partition near the entrance, to create the illusion of the toilet chamber, should they like to use it for this purpose. As finishing touches to the installation we packed a layer of mud and soil against the back wall, to give the puffins the chance to dig a bit if they wanted to, without going too far, and for the same reason the boxes have no floor, but a good layer of soil so that the puffins can shift the ground about and decorate their nest as they please.
Digging and burying the boxes in the cliffs wasn’t an easy task; Geomarine sent their “rope team” to assist the rangers of the National Trust and Natural Environment for the job. The team successfully installed some of the boxes in an otherwise inaccessible slope, which was deemed suitable for the artificial burrows.
With the breeding season upon us and our puffin pairs due to arrive anytime now, we will be keeping a close eye on the seas around Plémont, hoping to see the faithful locals come back to their usual spots, and even better to see new pairs flying into the cliffs, their purpose-built homes waiting for them.
The boxes might be a bit too small for a hobbit, but we hope our puffins will approve of their very own Puffin Shire.