16-22 May is Jersey Invasive Species Week. There will be plenty of social media interest during the week #INNSweek #getINNSvolved and a series of events, lectures and field visits highlighting invasive species on the Island and their impact on our native species and the environment. All lectures and events are free to watch or join but you will need to book your place. There are QR codes to book the events here; however, you can also use the link here:
Monday 16th May –Introduction and impacts on terrestrial environment. Lunchtime Lecture by Cris Sellares at the Société Headquarters, 12:00 “Introduced Terrestrial Predators in Jersey and Biosecurity Around Seabird Colonies”
Tuesday 17th May –Impacts on freshwater environment. “Walk in the Park”, led by Tim Liddiard at Noirmont 14:00
Wednesday 18th May –Impacts on marine environment and small islands. Lunchtime Lecture by Chris Isaacs at the Société Headquarters, 12:00 “Marine Invasives Through the Lens”
Thursday 19th May –Impacts on people and urban environment. Lunchtime Lecture by Josh Smith at the Société Headquarters, 12:00 “Double Trouble: Invasive Species and Climate Change”
And: “How to use iRecord” at Hamptonne 18:30
Friday 20th May –Biosecurity. Botany Walk with Anne Haden, 18:00 at Corbière
Saturday 21st May – Activities. Invasive Species Fair – Stall Day at Francis Le Sueur Centre. 9:30 – 14:30
And: Botany Walk with Tina Hull at 14:30 from the Frances Le Sueur Centre
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.
We are delighted to be running this training session in person again and to be joined by Dr Robert Ward, Data and GIS Officer, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation who will be presenting at this event. Rob studied our local grass snakes for his PhD. He is extremely knowledgeable on Jersey reptiles and how to get the best chance of seeing reptiles locally.
What is Reptilewatch JE?
Reptilewatch JE is the successor to the National Amphibian and Reptile Recording Scheme (NARRS) which ran in Jersey from 2007 to 2018. During this time volunteers provided a great deal of information which has been used to inform the design of Reptilewatch as well as influence efforts to protect the species.
Reptilewatch JE is a project that aims to gather sightings of Jersey’s reptiles to help assess their conservation status, distribution and habitat requirements.
By taking part in the Reptilewatch scheme, you will be contributing important data to inform the ongoing conservation of these incredible creatures and helping inform future policies.
How can you help? There are opportunities for everyone to get involved. Depending on your interest, available time and experience you can currently get involved in two ways. • Level 1 – spend 30 minutes looking for reptiles No experience or training is required. • Level 2 Wall lizard – carry out six visual surveys, each taking 30 minutes No previous experience needed but attendance at this training session is required.
Schedule of the day (provisional): • Welcome and Introduction • Reptile Identification – how to identify reptiles and some of the other animals you might encounter • How to get involved Level 1 and how to record your findings • How to get involved Level 2 -Wall Lizard and how to record your findings • Field Session • Opportunity to sign up and network with other volunteers.
Please don’t forget to wear appropriate clothing and footwear for the field session.
If we are lucky enough to have good weather on the day, please bring a hat and appropriate sun protection and some drinking water. Also, if you have any close focusing binoculars, please bring these with you.
Please take a COVID lateral flow test before attending. Please don’t attend if you feel unwell or have a positive COVID test result.
The Arrival of the Puffins is a unique festival that highlights the plight of these wonderful birds and the key role Jersey has to play in in order to protect and save the puffins and other seabirds.
Join us to celebrate the arrival of the puffins of Jersey back to their breeding cliffs, as well as the arrival of the willow puffins to the National Trust grounds at Plémont.
There are a series of activities as well us the unveiling of the magnificent puffin – willow sculptures that have been created to highlight these challenges. This event is open to everyone so please come along and join us!
You can drop by anytime between 11am and 1pm and you will find opportunities to watch puffins and other seabirds (if they are about!), walks of the Seabird Trail, and live music to celebrate the puffins and other sea folk.
Programme: – Between 11am and 1pm: Puffin Watch at the Stone Circle – with Alli and Neil from Birding Tours Jersey. Just drop by, scopes and binoculars will be provided. – At 11h and at 12h: Live music next to the willow puffins, with Aureole Choir and local folk band Sonneux. Be ready to sing along, lyrics will be provided! – At 11.30h and 12.30h: Seabird Trail taster walks with local birding expert and photographer Romano da Costa. Bring your binoculars and cameras if you have them.
See you at Plémont on Sunday, and hopefully the real puffins will be there too!
Sculptures built in partnership with Geomarine. Event kindly supported by JDC (Jersey Development Company).
Jersey’s annual Great Garden Bird Watch returned some interesting results this year. Held on 5th and 6th February, Islanders were asked to spend an hour in their garden and list all the birds they could see.
For the first time in its twenty-one year history, choughs were recorded. Not only that, they were spotted on a bird feeder filled with peanuts, sunflower hearts, maize, pinhead oatmeal and millet.
A pair of choughs demonstrating how resourceful corvids can be. Photo by Robert Graiger.
After digging a little deeper, we discovered that some of the choughs have been visiting this garden since 2020. The photos submitted identified breeding pair Trevor and Noirmont, prior to that, we know a young female has also visited with the pair.
Whilst surprising, it is not unheard of for wild choughs to use bird feeders. There are a few of reports from Cornwall and Wales of chough opportunistically feeding from garden bird feeders. In each case including Jersey, the gardens are not your typical urban estate fenced-in garden. Trevor and Noir have been visiting property at Grantez which surrounded by grazed land (sheep, horses, and donkeys). From Grantez’s vantage point, you can see the entire west coast from L’Étacq to Corbière, both areas favoured by choughs.
Donkey-grazed grassland is not your typical garden view. Photo by Liz Corry.
The interesting information from this report is the type of food they are eating. Pinhead oatmeal forms part of the supplementary diet provided to Scottish choughs in Islay. Its not considered as typical wild chough diet, but does suggests there is something in the mix that the birds are looking for. We are hoping to carry out research into diet preferences in the near future. This exciting discovery is certainly food for thought.
Foraging further afield
As mentioned above, the choughs have been visiting Grantez. In addition to the garden report, the National Trust Rangers have seen choughs foraging near the dolmen on Grantez headland.
Choughs are also visiting Corbière, Les Mielles dunes, and potentially back at Crabbé where a pair roosted in 2020. The gun range, sheep-grazing, and now goat-grazing, provide great habitat for choughs to find food. Farm structures and cliff faces offer ample nesting opportunity for a pair looking to setup a new territory.
Someone looks very warm out at Crabbé on a cold February morning. Photo by Liz Corry.
We are also keeping our eyes peeled around Trinity again. There is a good chance Pinel might try to set up a territory again this time with his new female. The roost site used in 2021 is surrounded by horse paddocks which provide foraging opportunities and nesting material – choughs sometimes use horse hair!
Choughs have been visiting the dolmen at Grantez. Photo by Liz Corry.
Catch-ups with the choughs
We finally managed to trap the elusive Bo and Flieur in the aviary to replace their leg rings. I say elusive, but I could equally use stubborn/clever/annoying/uncooperative… This is the pair who always fly to the aviary with the others yet refuse to go inside when they know we are trying to catch choughs. Bo in particular keeps both eyes firmly fixed on staff. Flieur might break once in a while and tempt fate, but flees at the first inclination that the hatches might be about to close.
I struck lucky on Monday 7th when all thirty choughs turned up for the feed all showing signs they were hungry. Typically had to be the day I was working alone although maybe that is why Bo’s guard was down.
I replaced Bo’s missing plastic ring and swapped Flieur’s faded pale grey for something more obvious. It felt wrong. No one likes change. Flieur has been grey since she arrived at Sorel. Grey is her identity.
It’s also a really stupid colour to use in the wild in a climate where grey skies prevail. So out with the grey in with the mauve.
Flieur’s new mauve leg ring sets her apart from the other 2014 (blue) hatched birds. Photo by Liz Corry.
Storm damage at Sorel
The Island has seen its fair share of storms this year. February’s Storm Eunice and Franklin delivering devilishly strong winds (55-63 mph or 89-102 km/h). Yet somehow the aviary miraculously remains standing.
Choughs arriving for the supplemental food. Photo by Liz Corry.
The winds did create new rips in the netting and annoyingly re-opened ones we had sealed last month. Another trip to Sorel with the Henchmen ladder is in the pipeline. We have budgeted for new netting to be fitted later in the year. Hopefully the current net will hold out until then.
What didn’t remain standing was the Birds On The Edge sign at Sorel car park. Cue a phone call on my morning off followed by a spot of coastal ‘carpentry’. I couldn’t unscrew the sign from the posts to fit it in the car so the logical solution…saw off the posts! In my defence, they were rotten at the base, and we reused the wood at the aviary. The sign and fencing will be replaced by the Countryside Rangers in the near future.
It was like that when I got there your honour! Photo by Liz Corry.
Grazing returns to Sorel
Very pleased to see the return of the Manx loaghtans to Sorel this month. Perfect timing for the choughs who will soon need wool to line their nests.
The sheep have returned to graze Sorel and Devil’s Hole. Photo by Liz Corry.
It also means we should hopefully see the return of dung invertebrates (aka chough food) who depend on the sheep faeces. Not sure which made me more excited, the choughs foraging in amongst the sheep or the return of mating dung flies. If you haven’t already, please checkout our article about Dung Beetles for Farmers.
A pair of yellow dung fly making the most of the fresh dung. Photo by Liz Corry.
Avian influenzas confirmed in Jersey
Two wild buzzards have tested positive for avian influenza: the first confirmed cases in Jersey. This was followed shortly by the death of a red-breasted goose in the Zoo who also tested positive for the strain H5N1.
Choughs are considered to be at low risk of infection, and we do not foresee any major changes in how we manage the supplementary feeds. To reduce the chance of transmission between field sites and the Zoo, we have set up a disinfectant foot bath at the aviary with dedicated footwear. We continue to maintain high hygiene standards at the aviary and have separate footwear for in the Zoo and out in the field.
We will of course monitor the situation and consult with the States Vet if any changes occur.
Plans to return sheep to the sand dunes of Les Blanches Banques and grazing to revitalise the grasslands
By Tim Liddiard
Les Blanches Banques
The sand dunes of Les Blanches Banques, set in and around St Ouen’s Bay in St Brelade and at the heart of the Jersey National Park is recognised biologically as being one the richest sites of its kind in the Island and has been described as ‘undoubtedly one of the premier dune systems in Europe for its scientific interest’. As the most extensive area of sandy soils in Jersey, the dunes support good populations of many animals and plants on the Island that are not found elsewhere.
During the Medieval period, the dune grasslands were used for sheep grazing and stacking sea weed to dry, the latter was used as fertiliser, or was burnt on the dunes to produce potash.
In the absence of a grazing regime on the sand dunes in recent years, due to the processes of seral succession it is evident that the important grasslands habitats are being subsumed by the spread of mixed scrub.
Currently an amount of grazing is being provided by rabbits but not at a level sufficient to halt or reverse the loss of the important dune grasslands, a key habitat in the Biodiversity Strategy for Jersey 2000 and home to a number of notable plants and a host of other wildlife.
A total of over 400 plant species have been recorded on Les Blanches Banques, many being unique or special to our shores.
Amphibians and reptiles enjoy life on the sand dunes, which harbours five of Jersey’s seven species. Palmate newt and slow worm are present but a visitor from mainland Britain will perhaps be more excited by the exotic looking green lizard with its emerald and aquamarine colouring. Also the western toad is found here rather than the common toad of Britain and northern Europe. The grass snake can be seen here on occasion, they are one of Jersey’s rarest animals and the sand dunes remains one of their few strongholds.
The skylark, a ground nesting bird with an enchanting song is in decline across Europe and is a local Action Plan species, as is the stonechat, a bird whose call resembles the sound of two pebbles being knocked together. The chough, one of the great successes of the Birds On The Edge partnership is known to forage on the sand dunes and the conservation of the grasslands along with the addition of dung and its associated invertebrates will help provide these wonderful birds with an ongoing food source.
It is accepted best conservation practice to graze stabilised dune systems with livestock and the purpose of this project is to trial the grazing of Manx loaghtan sheep in scrub habitats and adjacent grasslands. These habitats have an abundance of burnet rose and other plant species which are becoming dominant over the more desirable dune vegetation which includes orchids, dwarf pansies, sand crocus and much more.
The area selected for initial grazing trials is on the escarpment north of La Moye Golf Club in an area known as Le Carriere. A combination of winter and summer grazing is the ideal, providing the chance to control holm oaks and other evergreens during the winter months and stripping foliage from other target plants (including privet, blackthorn and burnet rose) during the summer. Throughout the project the sheep’s food preferences will be constantly monitored with the hope that they will target the more undesirable plant species.
The sheep are planned to be on site from late February until May 2022.
Importantly, this area currently attracts a low level of public access and will not have a large impact on where people are able to walk.
Our thanks are extended to La Moye Golf Club for allowing the fenceline to tie into their existing fence which allows for a larger area to be grazed.
Benefits to habitats
• To prevent and reverse grassland succession towards mixed scrub within areas being grazed • To maintain and increase plant species diversity within these areas and encourage some bare ground • To introduce and maintain age mosaics throughout gorse and scrub dominated communities • To encourage the reinstatement of species rich grassland especially in grassland ‘islands’ which are contained within the scrub area which are being lost to scrub • To trial which plant species the Manx loaghtans forage on the most, thereby identifying their effectiveness in the control of scrub intrusion onto dune grassland habitats.
Benefits to species
• To provide bare ground for seed germination of dune grassland associated herbs and grasses • To provide bare ground for associated invertebrate species • To identify the effects of Manx loaghtan foraging behaviour on particular plant species , notably burnet rose, bracken, privet and blackthorn • This area is recognised as being important for grass snakes and the creation of grass glades amongst the scrub will provide welcome basking areas for them • There is a strong association and reliance between foraging choughs and short grassland, especially when grazing livestock and their dunging encourage the presence of dung beetles.
Jersey Great Garden Bird Watch – 5th & 6th February 2022
Jersey’s very own garden birdwatch, the Action for Wildlife and Birds On The Edge Great Garden Bird Watch in association with the Jersey Evening Post will be 21 this year! Which bird species will be the most recorded across the Island’s gardens this year? Will it still be the house sparrow, they have had their ups and downs over the years?
House sparrows in Jersey gardens 2002-2021
The full list of last year’s most frequently recoded birds and squirrels is (with mean number of birds per recording household):
1. House sparrow 6.6 2. Goldfinch 2.4 3. Great tit 2.1 4. Starling 2.0 5. Blue tit 1.8 6. Wood pigeon 1.6 7. Chaffinch 1.4 8. Magpie 1.42 9. Robin 1.36 10. Blackbird 1.2 11. Collared dove 1.0 12. Greenfinch 0.5 13. Pheasant 0.2 14. Blackcap 0.15 15. Song thrush 0.18 16. Great spotted woodpecker 0.19 Red squirrel 0.6 (equivalent of 12th)
Method for recording
The method of the count is very straight forward. Basically you just need to choose one of the two weekend dates (5th or 6th 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 online here, in the JEP or, alternatively, you can download a form here and email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Your observations are of great importance in our understanding of the situation with the birds that we live closest to. 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 previous results of our survey in the Jersey Garden Birdwatch Report 2002-2020here
Keep a look out for coal tits this winter. You never know! Photo by Mick Dryden
There are changes afoot, or should I say under your foot, at Les Landes this month! The Government of Jersey has closed some of the footpaths around Les Landes to help protect Jersey’s rare Crapaud.
Jersey’s crapaud aka the western toad. Photo by John Wilkinson
For those not in the know, the crapaud is not a mythical beast but the Jèrriais name given to the western toad (Bufo spinosus). Les Landes is a very important breeding site for the toad. Seasonal ponds and puddles scattered around the site, often across public footpaths, are used for spawning. With adult toads on the move to reach these water bodies it is important we remove as many threats as possible and protect spawn, hence the closures.
Seasonal water bodies like this one at Les Landes are spawning sites for toads.
The toad is one of Jersey’s most abundant amphibian species and possibly most surveyed. However, there is still a lot we don’t know, especially when it comes to urban environments and coastal heathland. Particularly the importance of connectivity between sites. There is little point in protecting a spawning site if the adults get squished before reaching it. “Build it and they will come” isn’t always applicable!
If you find yourself out and about at Les Landes, please respect the area, follow the rules sign-posted on the footpaths…and report any choughs you see (ok so the last bit is not mandatory). Click here to see the public countryside access map and learn about the codes of conduct.
If you want to know more or way you can help Jersey’s crapaud and other amphibian islanders, then head to PondwatchJE. There will also be an in-person training event on the 12th of February at the Frances Le Sueur Centre, St. Ouen. Islanders can register via Eventbrite using the link below.
At the start of November, I was still wearing shorts to work. By the end, several layers, gloves, a woolly hat, and the obligatory waterproofs. The choughs also noticed the change in weather. The entire flock are now waiting for supplemental food each afternoon. Some birds even wing-begging for food. Clearly, wild supplies of invertebrates were not meeting energy demands for birds battling winds and trying to stay warm.
The sheep left. Not necessarily related to the weather, I think they have been moved to St Ouen. This might add to the choughs’ hunger if there are less dung invertebrates around Sorel in the sheeps’ absence.
Hungry choughs waiting for the supplemental food. Photo by Liz Corry.
Storm Arwen caused more minor damaged at the aviary. Of note, the keeper door had been blown wide open when the force of the wind bent the bolt out of place!
I was quite surprised we didn’t suffer more, especially considering last month’s gale damage. Luckily, I managed to fix the damaged panelling before Storm Arwen hit.
Lily leaves the flock
Lily, a three-year old female, appears to have either perished or left the Island. She was last seen on 5th November at Sorel. She has not been reported elsewhere.
Lily is an example of how post-release management has played an important role in the project’s success. Lily hatched in the wild in 2018. We had to catch her up in December that year when we spotted her digit caught in her ring. Durrell vets had to intervene as the toe needed amputating (click here to learn more). She was released back into the wild the same day and formed a partnership with another female looking out for each other over the years.
Lily and Vicq hanging out together this summer. Photo by Liz Corry.
Since Lily disappeared, her ‘partner’ Vicq has been seen preening Pinel. He is a wild hatched bird from 2020. If this new partnership continues over winter, it could mean a new breeding pair.
Likewise, Danny and Portelet are also showing promising signs of being a new pair for 2022. Both pairings will need to find a nest site and establish a new breeding territory. No doubt keeping the project team on their toes next season.
We have been without a student placement all November which has restricted certain tasks, one being the biannual roost checks. I’ve not been able to check all the known roost sites due to sunset times clashing with the supplemental feed.
I have been able to monitor the aviary and, as suspected, several of the quarry birds are roosting at the aviary again. I suspect they will switch back to the quarry once sunset times start occurring after Ronez have clocked off for the day.
We finally managed to trap Monvie in the aviary to fit her metal ring. This is engraved with details of Jersey Museum in case the bird is recovered by a member of the public. Also, it comes in really useful when a plastic colour ring drops off and we can’t be sure on identity. Case in point, Archirondel, who we also managed to catch the same day and replace her white ring.
Monvie having a metal leg ring fitted by a licensed ringer. Photo by Liz Corry.
Bo and Minty evaded several catch-up attempts this month. We will keep trying although, at least for now, we can still distinguish them in the flock. Then on the 29th, Lee arrived missing one of his rings so he gets added to the ‘to do’ list for December.
Our friend Yann commented on last months’ report to say he has not seen Cappy since spring. Disappointing if she has perished although not a surprise. It would be nice to think she has moved south, along the coast towards Brittany under the radar of French birders.
Camera trap footage at Sorel often throws up a few surprises. This month it was the camera itself with the surprise. I found an orb weaver (spider) and ladybird ‘hiding’ behind the camera. The spider’s full name is Nuctenea umbratica, commonly known as a walnut orb-weaver. Apparently also known as the toad spider although I’m not sure why – a tendency to hide behind things?
At the start of September, a group of Durrell volunteers responded to the call for help at Sorel to remove bracken alongside the aviary and patch up holes in the netting.
Volunteers removed bracken at Sorel, ruining Dot’s game of hide and seek. Photo by Emily Hewinson.
The weather was less forgiving than anticipated with soaring temperatures and no shade other than the shadow of the choughs occasionally flying overhead. Fuelled by caffeine, cold water, and chocolate digestives they managed to finish the tasks in time for the choughs’ supplemental feed.
Sewing skills were put to the test on the aviary netting. Photo by Emily Hewinson.
The only real challenge that day was working out how many bags of bracken can fit in the back of a Dacia. Spoiler alert – its two. Which meant two trips to the burn pile at the Zoo as we had managed to fill four bags clearing the one tiny strip.
The project vehicle was put to the test this month transporting bracken. Photo by Liz Corry.
Having the holes in the netting closed up will allow us to start catching up choughs again to replace leg rings. We still have one youngster in need of a metal ring.
To catch a chough in the aviary first requires the chough to enter the aviary. Something the Jersey birds decided they didn’t want to do this month. At least not in front of staff.
We are hoping to setup a postgraduate research project next year that investigates the choughs’ use of the supplemental feed site with the help of RFID technology. From bank cards to cat flaps, the day-to-day use of chip reading technology is increasingly being applied to wildlife conservation and research.
We can potentially use the technology to tell us which birds are visiting the aviary, how often, for how long and what times of day, the list goes on. There is even the possibility of remotely weighing individuals and calculating how much food they take on, on an individual and group basis. The challenge is designing a setup suitable for choughs, their behaviour, and their environment. A perfect puzzle for a post-grad.
In the meantime, we are kick starting the study by finding out what size and shape antennae we could use to read the RFID chips attached to the birds as a leg ring. An off-the-shelf bird counter is available using a square antennae. Will a chough happily walk through this?
Instead of spending £800 up front to find out the answer is no, we are going to play around with hatch sizes at the aviary. They already pass through a 40cm by 60cm rectangle. Can they cope with 25cm by 25cm?
This means we need to spend lots of time watching, recording, and trawling through camera trap footage. It’s actually more entertaining than it sounds.
WildSnap! at Sorel
Speaking of camera trap footage…Durrell launched a nature connections programme in summer called WildSnap aimed at teenagers and their tech savvy brains. In partnership with My Naturewatch using a combination of Raspberry Pi electronics and Blue Peter magic, you build your own camera trap then go out and see what wildlife you can find.
The kit costs roughly the same price as a cheap bog-standard camera trap you can buy from the site that rhymes with Glamazon (especially if you live in a VAT-free country). Naturally we were keen to put one to the test and see how useful it could be on the chough project.
Image quality is equal if not better than a budget priced shop-bought camera. The design might not be the most robust, but it does the job taking video or photo.
For any non-teens who want to try building their own camera, check out the how to video below. Raspberry Pi products are widely available these days. Just remember to drop the ‘e’ when Googling!
Whilst staff attention focused on the aviary, the choughs decided September was best spent away from Sorel. Once again, Les Landes to Plémont became a popular playground as well as food source.
Portelet looking for food at Les Landes. Media by Jo Bramley/Jersey Wildlife Facebook group.
There were several consistent reports of choughs in the south west of the Island too. Enough to suggest a small group had made the visit their daily morning routine.
One colleague reported her delight in seeing the birds outside her window whilst staying at the Corbière radio tower. Quite an impressive view made even more memorable by the charismatic choughs.
Not so many reports from east of Sorel. It’s unclear if the parish of Trinity still has a resident chough or two. We are entering the time of year when choughs tend to disperse further afield. Residents in the other Channel Islands and the French coast should start keeping their eyes peeled!