We may not have all our chicks blood sampled and sexed yet but there are plenty of signs of relationships developing between the juveniles and a few of our young females. We’re still seeing Sallow, a (potential) male chough from Kevin & Wally’s brood, getting very friendly with Portelet, a female which was wild hatched in 2020. Birch, another potential male chough from Dusty & Chickay’s brood, is becoming acquainted with Chewbacca. As the juveniles settle into their places within the flock, more may be taking their pick of the single ladies of the group. Rocco who was wild hatched in 2020 has been seen arriving at the aviary and allopreening with Alder another potential male from Dusty & Chickay’s clutch. Without the blood sample results we cannot be one hundred percent certain yet that these are true pairs emerging, but looking at the size of these birds, and we have some weights, we have a good idea that they are. Looking at behaviours we’ve been seeing between these new acquaintances too, it could be that within the next few years, or even next year, we’ll hopefully have a few new wild hatched pairs to produce truly wild chicks!
Grazers bring the goods
The National Trust for Jersey’s shepherd is currently managing the coastal landscapes by moving sheep (the grazers) around the Island. Some of those sheep are currently in several fields around Sorel, where the choughs spend most of their time foraging alongside them. The sheep act as a natural land management tool to help restore vegetation and plant and bird communities. The sheep graze in neighbouring fields around the aviary and on the coastline giving our choughs and other bird species a good place to forage. Choughs, favour shorter length grasslands and this is typically where insect diversity is higher. But the choughs do not only forage alongside the sheep, the sheep also provide the choughs with tasty insect larvae that are found in their faeces. During the year we’ve had sightings of the choughs regularly returning to a field containing cattle in St Mary; cattle provide similar benefits to the sheep. But once the cattle were moved, it was not a shock to find that the choughs had moved on to a new foraging spot. It won’t be too long until the choughs start using the grazers for another purpose too – their wool!
Everyone deserves a present
It’s coming to the end of the year, 2022, and we all know what that means, Christmas! But it’s not only us humans who get to enjoy celebrating over the Christmas holidays; the choughs deserve a piece of the joy at Sorel as well. The keepers got creative this year by making some ‘Christmas present’ enrichment. Compared to the scary bright orange pumpkin that loomed in the field at Halloween, the choughs were much less cautious of their new ‘Christmas present’ in one of their usual foraging fields. With some insect persuasion it wasn’t long until the choughs approached their Christmas gift. Interestingly, it was not the juvenile choughs that approached the present first, it was the adults.
End of year review
The wild chough flock on the island has a population of 43 currently. To our knowledge we’ve had no adults go missing over the course of this year. We have also had our highest record of chick survival since the project began; lucky number thirteen. There may be more breeding pairs in the coming year too, not just from the juveniles, as we located our highest number of nest sites around the Island – 15 nests! Who knows, we may even have a breeding pair nest in Guernsey as we know at least two of our females enjoyed a weekend trip away. The chough team are looking forward to what the new year brings for this growing population.
The wind and rain have been battering the aviary a lot this month, so the keepers have been kept hard at work carrying out regular aviary structure checks, keeping the hatch wires tight and tying down and fixing any loose panelling. With all these strong winds, the aviary definitely has a low groan, while still standing strong. Thanks to the strong winds and heavy downpours it’s been a month of aviary surprises. As you will see in the photograph, one of our release hatches broke at the hinges – just goes to show how windy it has been! Thankfully, it wasn’t a hatch that is regularly used so it didn’t cause any harm to the keepers or the birds. The hatch was fixed but will eventually be replaced with a new one in the New Year. Considering the aviary was built almost 10 years ago, it is surprising that it doesn’t have more wear and tear and, despite the terrible weather, it is quite clear that it doesn’t stop the choughs from having fun!
It has come to that time of year when colour rings start dropping off our choughs; this is most likely caused by the drastic change in temperature making the already long worn colour rings brittle enough to fall off. This in turn can bring identification concerns, but nothing a catch-up and re-ring can’t fix! If we can catch them that is. We have recently had a few of our adults fly into the aviary with colour-rings missing but thankfully these are some of our pairs and, therefore, it’s easy to know who’s who by identifying the other bird in the pair. We can just be thankful though that they’ve been lost and haven’t caused any ring-related issues. As choughs are relatively large birds, we use ‘wrap-around’ plastic rings which can, luckily very rarely, trap toes and/or claws; but in most cases, other ring options can have similar problems.
When a chough has its toe and/or claw stuck in a colour-ring, it doesn’t worry the keepers too much as this is a common occurrence for some birds. Furthermore, trapped digits are often more common in female choughs during the breeding season as their rings get stuck while they’re incubating. However, the birds generally manage to correct themselves without the keepers intervening. At the moment, however, we have a two adults in the flock that have their digits stuck in their colour rings, which we are closely monitoring. So far, they’ve not shown any signs of injury, but it may be that they will be caught up in the near future if the problem doesn’t naturally correct itself.
An attempt was made at the end of November to catch some adults with plastic ring issues; however, as ever, the adults outsmarted the keepers and flew away before they had a chance to set up! As we had arranged a ‘back up’ of other happy helpers to the aviary, we took the opportunity to catch some unsuspecting juveniles that let their hunger get the better of them by entering the aviary. So, five of the thirteen 2022 chicks were caught in the aviary. Although the newest additions to this wild populations have already been given names, we took blood samples from the briefly held juveniles to find out their sexes! The first five choughs caught, and blood sampled were: Willow, Liberty, Pine, Sallow & Birch. The blood samples themselves will take a few weeks to be processed and for us to receive the results. However, on visual observations, some choughs are more obvious through sexual size dimorphism than others. Male choughs are generally much heavier and larger than female choughs. On close inspection it became very clear that Sallow is a very large bird and most likely a male, it was the largest of all five caught. Portelet, a female which hatched in 2020, has been warming to Sallow of late and was spotted waiting outside the aviary for Sallow’s release. This brings great hope for a new pairing of Sallow & Portelet in the near future. Birch was quite average in size, however, but like Sallow & Portelet; Chewbacca was also seen waiting outside the aviary for its release so there could be another pair on the horizon. In the meantime, watch this space!
It has been fantastic to watch as the chicks of 2022 learn and grow their skills within the flock. Some are trying to mutually preen the adults; many are swatted away. When attempting with other chicks and/or siblings it results in a play fight until one gives in. However, there’s one chick that we’ve been keeping a close eye on lately, and that is Sallow. Sallow has been trying to preen Portelet, a female which was wild-hatched in 2020. At first, Portelet had been dismissive but, we are now noticing Sallow & Portelet arriving to the aviary together and Sallow is regularly preening Portelet with no resistance. Could this be a new pair bond blossoming? Could these two become a new breeding pair in the near future? Only time (and blood tests) will tell, but we stand hopeful.
We’re always looking for new ideas to spice up the wild choughs’ lives at Sorel and being the month of Halloween; we had plenty of fun ideas for spooky enrichment. Our chough student, Kira, was given the task of carving out a little pumpkin for the wild chough and what a good job she did! For starters, it was placed inside the aviary but it became quite clear, however, that the choughs were slightly concerned when it came to this very bright orange object looming in their aviary as they were very reluctant to go near it. So instead, we placed it into the sloping field behind the aviary allowing them to freely decide if they wanted to advance any closer to it. With a little encouragement with tasty insects, some of the choughs did start to explore this new scary bright orange object in one of their foraging spots. The adults seemed to be the most reluctant to check out this new object. However, the 2022 chicks were the brave ones with Hazel & Birch both being the main two approaching this chough inspired pumpkin.
Apart from giving the choughs a ‘scare’, we’ve been giving the aviary some well-deserved TLC of late. With the colder and wetter weather setting into Jersey; it’s a good time to make sure the aviary is in tip top condition. This involves, and is not limited to, updating old bolts. As the aviary is situated in the elements all year round, the weather can certainly take its toll on the aviary including the metal structures such as padlocks, bolts, hatches and hinges. The keepers do their best to ensure that all the metal structures are well looked after by regularly greasing them for extra waterproofing protection. However, constant weathering over time is inevitable and metals do become rusty and must be removed and replaced. Some jobs are easier to complete than others; but that’s all part of the aviary maintenance challenge. This newly installed bolt will allow easy keeper access inside the aviary as well as keeping the door safely shut when the weather is blowing a gale – which in turn prevents any chough related accidents!
Camera trap capture success
We’ve kept our camera-trap strapped around a feeder stand in the aviary to see if we could find our hole and mound-making rodents that are obviously thriving in the aviary. We managed to capture one of the cheeky wood mice that lurk in the aviary while the keepers weren’t present. The wood mouse is a very common mouse found across the whole island. They are generally nocturnal and live in complex underground burrows where they nest and keep food stores of fruits and seeds. However, there are plenty of other small mammals such as bank voles and shrews that also use burrows. So, this wood mouse most likely isn’t the only culprit involved in creating these holes throughout the aviary, but it is definitely one of the contenders.
This month, the aviary has been surprisingly quiet. Now that the fledgling season and drought is over on the Island; the choughs seem to be less frantic when it comes to gaining sustenance within the aviary. Choughs arrive to the feed in small trickles on the majority of days. The young choughs are arriving earlier than the adults to wing-beg at the keepers and presumably to get their fill before the adults take over feeding stands. The lack of food desperation is allowing adult pairs in the flock to express their affections towards their partners more often as of late. As choughs are generally monogamous, it’s brilliant to see that the parent pairs of this breeding season still have a great bond. This can be observed as pairs allopreen and/or feed one another. Hopefully they will bring more success in their next breeding season.
Queen Elizabeth II
The choughs have seen some big events in Jersey since 2013 and on 8th September they were witness to the passing of HRH Queen Elizabeth after 70 years on the throne. The Queen has been known locally as ‘Duke of Normandy’ and toasted as ‘La Reine, notre duc‘ (‘The Queen, Our Duke’), although this tradition can be very confusing. Jersey had a public holiday for the funeral on 19th September and the Zoo was shut that day; but for the team, and the choughs, life went on.
Eyes, head, legs & feet.
What are we referring to? Ticks of course! They don’t only affect mammals; they affect all species, so that includes birds. It’s come to that time of the year where the ticks become more active. A bite from a tick can spark many detrimental cascading affects in both birds and mammals. This means the keepers need to be extra vigilant when it comes to monitoring their birds. Thankfully, as choughs have a communal based social life it poses less of a threat due to their mutual preening.
Strimming in session
It may still be a hot September so far; but the drop in temperature from the past few months has allowed the keepers to change their priorities to some well needed vegetation clearing. The hedgerow to the right of aviary was becoming so over-grown that the team couldn’t see over the bank to the field behind. The view isn’t a necessity but is useful to see what and/or where the choughs are if they haven’t braved (or bothered?) going inside the aviary for the supplementary feed. But it’s not just the view that this over-grown bank causes as a problem; it also greatly reduces the functionality of the hatch wires. The wires can easily get tangled between the fern and other vegetation on the bank. Now that it’s been cleared, we should be able to carry out more catch-ups in the future if necessary, with ease – if the choughs don’t out smart us!
Although in Jersey we’re now starting to get some wet weather, it seems that a few furry friends are still making their way into the Sorel aviary to make use of our water tray and likely, some free food. As we have no intention in trapping protected species, the team came up with a great idea to try and identify the culprits, on camera with the use of camera traps. However, we’ve not managed to get any footage of our four-legged friends. So far, the main footage captured has been magpies enjoying a good bathe. The rodent population may have foiled us so far, but the camera traps did make light by capturing some rather elegant footage of two choughs drinking from the water tray in synchronous drinking.
A very special guest
On 28th September we were very pleased to show Max Benatar, visiting the Island from Germany for a course at Durrell, the choughs at Sorel. Max is no stranger to the birds; he was our student in 2014 and formed a great affection for the chough flock. While Max was proud to have been part of the project and to learn of its ongoing success, he was possibly most pleased to catch up with an old favourite, Dingle. The photographs show that Max has changed his appearance over the years, while, and take it from us, Dingle looks just the same!
This summer is proving to be a particularly hot one; one which we probably shouldn’t complain about! With rising temperatures and further limited rainfall though, the struggle for water supplies up at the Sorel aviary are beginning to show. At Sorel, it is clear how little rain we’ve received over the past month or so as the water butt, which is usually filled by Jersey’s plentiful rainwater, has been getting topped up by keepers. It may be physically challenging lugging water containers to the aviary in the recent heat but at least the choughs have clean water, and the keepers are becoming that little bit fitter! But, with rainwater being in short supply, lack of water wasn’t the only worry as the ground became hard and compact, potentially making foraging spots for choughs a little sparse; not an ideal start for the choughlets. Our Plémont pair Minty & Rey are normally rarely seen at the aviary but have been very frequent as of late; making us worry more about the state of foraging across the Island.
Bird flu, captive and wild bird devastation
The other worry on the Island is bird flu. So, what is bird flu? Bird flu is a type of influenza virus which is mainly spread amongst birds. The virus itself can be spread in two ways; directly (through contact) or indirectly (through faecal matter). It can affect mammals, but the risk is very low compared to the transmission between bird species. Bird flu was found on the Island in February this year and has caused quite a stir. This month, the number of cases seen across the Island has increased and the coasts are becoming scattered with many suspected avian flu fatalities, mostly seabirds. It is very important for us to state that the public must help prevent further spread by following the Government of Jersey Natural Environment guidelines and not picking up, touching or going near wild sick or dead birds. However, it is useful for the public to notify Natural Environment about any dead birds; especially if several dead birds are found in close proximity of each other. The most susceptible wild birds seem to be birds of prey, owls, wildfowl and seabirds. Notifying of dead birds will allow Natural Environment to test and confirm any new cases on the Island and set quarantine protocols. Although the photos below show herring gull fatalities across the cliffs at Devil’s Hole (which is very close to Sorel); we’re thankful to announce that the wild chough population is currently stable/unchanged.
Praising mother nature
The keepers couldn’t have been happier to see some much-needed rainfall and accompanying thunderstorms when they came, to clear away some of those high temperatures. We finally had a significant amount of rainfall. The ground around the aviary is still feeling pretty tough but at least it’s gained some form of hydration this month. Once we’d had a few days of rainfall, the grass in the aviary was looking a healthy green again after many months of looking very dried out and brown. But with rainfall comes plant growth, and it is truly amazing how much grass grows after a bit of rain! The keepers are now back into their routine of regularly mowing and strimming the grass inside and outside the aviary – hopefully giving the choughs another great foraging spot for tasty insects.
As we came closer to the end of August, the aviary became less ‘noisy’ as the youngest chicks belonging to breeding pair Bo & Flieur were becoming independent feeders. Less ‘choughlet’ begging behaviour at their parents and more wing-begging behaviours directed at the keepers! The young choughs are now arriving in their own little flock for the supplementary feed; it’s quite fantastic to see how they’ve learnt, grown and thrive, especially with all this hot weather. Although the feeds may have become quieter in regard to chick begging behaviour, there were still plenty of social hierarchy challenges amongst the young choughs and the adults. Plenty of scrabbles between siblings, young choughs of different parents as well as between some young choughs and adult pairs – the young choughs will soon find their place within the flock’s social structure.
Now that the young choughs are more independent; the parents are becoming less attentive. When the chicks started to feed for themselves the parent pairs would land on a food stand, allow their chicks to join and then move themselves to another stand; almost as if to give the young birds a fighting chance of a free meal before another more dominant pair took over the stand. However, now, the parent pairs will bat away any chicks, including their own! Since the aviary has become quieter, more pairs and other adults that have rarely been seen over the breeding and fledgling season became more frequent visitors such as Corbière pair Danny & Jaune. These two, along with other adults, have been known to avoid the aviary in fledgling season; and I don’t blame them, the choughlets are very noisy and demanding from anyone who will feed them!
A successful start to the month: Catch ups! The start of July brought more ‘catch ups’ at the Sorel aviary. Great success as we caught five ‘choughlets’ in the space of two days – we really must have found them off guard! The most recent chicks in the ‘catch up’ belonged to Lee & Caûvette (one), Percy & Icho (one), Green & Pyrrho (two) and Bo & Flieur (two). Only three were left (see below).
Bidding farewell This month we said goodbye to our second valued team member for the chough project this year. Jane, a fellow chough enthusiast and a chough field volunteer with Durrell who has dedicated five years of her life to the chough project. It’s sad for her time to be over on the project, like the other staff and volunteers who have been involved in the past but, with time comes growth and new career opportunities. They may be relocating but I’m sure they will miss the chatter within our wild flock. If you are a chough enthusiast, don’t forget that you can help by reporting your sightings of any choughs seen around. Anthony Morin took these wonderful photos at Les Landes:
Harvest season There are eight species of small mammal in Jersey including four rodents. The choughs’ aviary is more active with rodents in different seasons of the year. At current, it is quite clear that, with all the harvesting being carried out in the surrounding fields, there is a greater abundance of rodent activity as of late. This can pose a problem through diseases they may carry and the holes they create around the overall structure of the aviary itself. A few of the small mammals that have been spotted in Sorel are protected under the Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2021 including the Jersey bank vole Myodes (Clethrionomys) glareolus caesarius, lesser white-toothed shrew Crocidura suaveolens and Millet’s shrew Sorex coronatus. The best way for us to keep the rodents out of the aviary is by reinforcing any entry and exits by repairing aviary netting, covering over holes and, the main factor, keeping any food at the aviary out of reach and/or secured in rodent-proof containers.
Drought This July, Jersey was officially considered to be in a drought. A drought in Jersey is confirmed by 15 consecutive days without measurable rainfall. The last measurable rainfall recorded occurred on Saturday 2nd July. Jersey is known for its limited underground reserves of water and no links to external water networks; therefore, it is important for Islanders to preserve water were possible. Anyone who is environmentally conscious will tell you that we should be using water wisely on a daily basis regardless of the weather; but it is even more important to when the Island is in a drought. There are many ways in which homeowners can reduce their water waste; here are some examples: • If its yellow, let it mellow – resist the urge to flush a toilet unless completely necessary • Taking shorter showers, using plugs in sinks to avoid running taps for long periods of time • Only using the washing machine and/or dishwasher when at full capacity • Not washing your car (including the ‘choughmobile’) or leaving sprinklers on the grass as often • Installing ‘low-flow’ equipment to all your water outputs • Fix your holey clothes instead of throwing them out for new plus shopping in charity shops.
Ok, scrap last month’s “hottest day of the year” Last month in Jersey we saw soaring temperatures of 33.1°C. However, on Monday 18th July, this was beaten by a scorching temperature of 37.9°! The highest temperature recorded in Jersey previously had been 36°C; this occurred 19 years ago. As summer is still in full swing, we worry what August’s temperatures will bring as things are only getting hotter with global warming. At the Sorel aviary we usually provide just the one water source for the choughs but with these rising temperatures, more water has been provided. The choughs, adults and chicks were all seen gular fluttering at the feed of the 18th; however, it was good to see that they were lining up next to the water trays to make use of the water provided in the aviary.
The last three chicks It was nearing to the end of the month, and we still had three more un-ringed chicks left to catch up. By this point in chick catch ups; the chicks are getting clever. The choughs know that, when two keepers come to the aviary, they need to be extra cautious, especially those that have been captured recently. But it brings me great joy to state that we caught the last three chicks all together, so now all the chicks that have fledged this year have been captured and colour ringed. We are scheduling a licensed ringer to place Jersey metal rings on the chicks sometime next month. We’ve not seen any more chicks arrive at the aviary now, so our fledged chick count for this year is a very respectable 16. Which is certainly nice as during our Ronez Quarry visit we only counted 14 chicks in the five accessible nests of our breeding pairs.
Table 1. A comparison of chicks found in nests at Ronez Quarry (plus one pair from Plémont), to the number of chicks that have fledged to the aviary this year.
The choughs greeted the keeper closer than ever! It’s quite clear at this time of year that the choughs recognise the keepers. They spot you on the walk up the coastal path towards the aviary, circling and vocalising loudly, following you along the foot path before finding a place to land. As you can see, the closest and safest spot was the entrance gate to the National Trust’s land. The choughs wing-begged and shouted, they really do know how to welcome their food providers!
Now is an even more important time than ever to be keeping up to date on our aviary maintenance. At this time of year, we are eagerly anticipating the arrival of ‘choughlets’ (chough fledglings) at the aviary. About four weeks after fledging, the chicks’ parents will stop feeding them so it’s essential for the chicks to watch their parents and learn how to forage for themselves. Choughs forage over coastal grasslands; they are often spotted in shorter grass fields, and this is because the insect abundance is generally higher where grass is short. Therefore, mowing the grass, strimming the hedgerows and neatening edges within and outside the aviary is important as it acts as a natural food source for the choughs and chicks that come to the aviary. Along with keeping the grass length short, we also provide ‘enrichment squares’; this is an added foraging obstacle which includes pinecones, slates and branches. These squares engage the choughs to lift and move objects to find the scattered insects – enabling them to work for their ‘free food’.
Is that a ‘choughlet’ I can see?!
Exciting news! We had our first ‘choughlet’ appearance at the Sorel aviary on 10th June! But there wasn’t just one chick, there were three! Our first sighting of the fledglings was in a field opposite the aviary – they were causing quite a stir in the flock. It wasn’t long until they flew in and landed on the aviary roof with Kevin & Wally. We assumed that these three must be theirs as they arrived together, and we had predicted this pair’s fledging dates back in May when we visited their nests to ring and age them! While monitoring the choughs at the aviary, it became clear that these three chicks were definitely from Kevin & Wally’s nest as we’ve witnessed many parent to chick feedings on top of the aviary. It wasn’t long, however, that more fledglings started arriving at the aviary. The next breeding pair’s chicks to arrive at the aviary belonged to Dusty & Chickay – four chicks on the 13th! Dusty & Chickay have always been pretty consistent with four chicks in the past; but it’s exciting to see the chicks that we saw in the nest arrive at the aviary happy and healthy!
Since those first arrivals, we’ve had Trevor & Noirmont’s chick, Manitou arrive at the aviary being very vocal, much like the majority of the chicks. It’s good to see the one chick we managed to ring at the nest arrive safely. By mid-month we started to see other breeding pairs bringing their chicks too, including Green & Pyrrho and Percy & Icho with their two chicks and Lee & Cauvette seen with one chick so far. It’s safe to say that the supplementary feeds at the aviary have been very loud and eventful this month! We may not have seen all of the chicks that were viewed at the quarry nests yet; we are still hopeful for more arrivals!
The past few weeks have been pretty hectic, but our former colleague Paul has been very useful in helping us monitor our chough activity in Ronez Quarry. We had our estimated fledging dates but hadn’t seen all chicks arrive at the aviary. But sure, enough there were plenty of chicks flying around the Sorel Lighthouse and quarry as acknowledged by Paul. The chicks will practice their flying before they are strong enough and brave enough to join their parents at the aviary for the supplementary feeds. We greatly appreciate the many chough enthusiasts that help us with our chough project; but don’t forget that anyone can help.
Follow this linkand you can do your bit by sending in public sightings of any choughs you see around Jersey Island!
Catch up time!
As the chough chicks keep arriving; it was time to take action and loosen up the hatch wires for the first chick ‘catch ups’ at the aviary. Why are we catching them up you ask? It’s to be able to identify each individual for monitoring with the use of colour-rings (which in turn allows us to know which breeding pair the chick belongs to through observations – see below), to indicate that they are owned and thrive in Jersey, to measure their bills, tarsus and weight. This is essential information we collect and keep records of for all the individuals in the wild free-flying flock. We haven’t needed to ‘catch up’ any choughs in quite some time so it took a few tries to loosen the hatch wires! But between the team, we’ve currently caught eight of the current fifteen chicks floating around with their parents.
Not something we want to see
One of Kevin & Wally’s fledglings had been limping since the first time it was seen arriving at the aviary. It was clear it had quite a large laceration to its left tarsus; but to be able to examine it properly we had to wait until the fledglings were more confident in going in and out of the aviary to carry out a ‘catch up’. We closely monitored the chick until we could catch it up within the aviary. On close examination it was clear how large the injury was but thankfully it had already scabbed over nicely and had no sign of infection, therefore, no additional action was needed. Fledglings are not always the most agile in flight and/or landing at first, something that is learnt over time. One can only assume that it crash-landed somewhere causing itself an injury. But one thing is for sure, it’s now a much better flier!
During these catch-ups we also quickly put the temporary, coloured plastic, rings on the chicks. We only have a short window of opportunity to see exactly which chick belongs to which pair of adults. After only a fairly short time, the chicks start to feed themselves, beg from their parents less and join groups of other juveniles. Groups who take great delight in begging from any passing adults (adults who aren’t fooled) and confusing the patient observer. As opportunities to catch newly arriving chicks inside the aviary are hard to predict, we do these catch-ups fairly randomly – often with long frustrating periods of watching a chick stare imploringly at their parents through the netting, through an open hatch, field etc and our sitting in the bracken or lying in a spot on a field that the sheep have only recently vacated. With everyone identified and, in a few weeks’ time, more likely to go into the aviary when we want them to, we will ask the licenced ringers from the Channel Islands Ringing Scheme to put permanent, numbered metal rings on.
Hottest day on record since 1894!
Between our catch ups, on Friday 17th June 2022, we had the highest June temperature in Jersey since records began in 1894. The temperatures hit a scorching 33.1 degrees Celsius. It’s not surprising that on this day most of the choughs were seen with their beaks wide open. This is because unlike most mammals; birds lack sweat glands and, therefore, they cool themselves down by keeping their beaks open. This is called ‘gular fluttering’ it is the avian equivalent of panting. Gular fluttering is just one of the few behaviours bird species express to stay cool in those hot weather days. Birds also submerge themselves in water either to swim and/or bathe. Sometimes you’ll catch a chough all wet and puffed up sitting on top of the aviary; this is their way of letting the breeze through their wet feathers to help them stay cool. As much as the choughs distinct jet-black plumage and striking red beak are beautiful; I do not envy them their plumage in that heat!
For a second year in a row the chough pair at Plémont have successfully hatched three chicks. We discovered the happy news at the end of the month. Using a very, very, very, long lens we were able to get photos of the chicks’ heads whilst begging for food.
It is hard to give a precise age without seeing the rest of their body, but best guess is a week-old give or take a day. This would also match up with nest observations we made over April; our estimated hatch date was the 22nd. Returning the following week further confirmed our age estimate as their little heads were still relatively bald.
Both Plémont parents are now out and about in search of food for their young. Concerns were raised when we started seeing both parents at the Sorel supplemental feed desperate for food. Choughs nesting at Plémont do not normally return to Sorel until their chicks fledge or the nest fails. This was the first time in five years. Chough chicks devour a lot of insects whilst in the nest, so chough parents tend to forage close-by to conserve their energy.
Petit Plémont and grassland above the cliff path are used by choughs searching for food. Photo by Liz Corry.
There has been a big increase in footfall at Plémont this month which could deter the choughs from foraging close-by. It has also been relatively dry so the soils around Plémont are not as favourable to soil-dwelling invertebrates. There are many other reasons why the parents might be visiting Sorel, the good news is that the chicks are still alive and begging well.
All being well the chicks should fledge at the end of May, start of June. We will be monitoring more closely this year around the fledging period. Last year we knew that two of the three chicks fledged, but don’t know what happened to the third. Then one disappeared within the first week of being out. If that happens again this year, it would be good to try and understand why.
Potential success at Ronez once again
We believe at least five of the eight nests in the quarry have chicks. This is based on behaviour of the pairs at the feeds and in the quarry. The females had been suspiciously absent. Then when they did turn up, they were very noisy. Pyrrho and Icho in particular would fly in vocalising, then follow their partner like a noisy shadow demanding food and being fed instantly. It’s quite an interesting sound they make trying to beg and swallow the food at the same time!
Ronez Quarry continues to be a successful breeding site for choughs in Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.
At the end of the month, we were then seeing the male and female in a pair making repeat trips between aviary and nest site. This tends to be when they are feeding chicks although we have no definitive proof yet. We are trying to arrange a quarry visit for May.
Our Jersey Zoo pair also had success this month with their first chick hatching on the 28th followed by number two the next day and number three shortly after.
Nest cam footage showed the moment the first chick hatched whilst mum looked on. Photo credit Durrell.
There was a fourth egg…spoiler alert…it failed to hatch. The nest camera shows the parents still holding out hope until May 2nd. Mum took the executive decision to remove the egg from the nest around lunchtime. You can see this in the video below around 40 seconds in.
We may send the chicks over to the UK shortly after they fledge so they can become part of the release project in Kent. This is very much dependent on the Jersey and UK Government’s rulings over exports and imports of birds from a bird flu protection zone. Restrictions for indoor housing of poultry will be lifted in Jersey on May 9th.
No success in the new territories
The Trinity pair appear to have abandoned their nest and are spending more time at Sorel. They still visit the stables but the nest is now being used by doves. We had hoped that the choughs had found a more favourable site in the Parish yet their casual behaviour at the aviary suggests they’ve given up.
An article will be published in the summer edition of the Trinity Tattler magazine asking residents to report any sightings. This might shed some retrospective light on the situation. I’m not holding out hope that there will be a surprise nest discovered.
In similar circumstances, we are now seeing the ‘Corbière pair’ back at Sorel. Their suspected nest was last seen being used by pigeons. We are used to seeing choughs fail at establishing territories in the south west. Food supply, or lack thereof, may play a role in this. The cliff tops are choked with invasive sour fig (or Hottentot fig) (Carpobrotus edulis) and the exposed ground isn’t very accommodating to soil invertebrates.
Cliffs around Corbière could offer potential nest sites for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.
Sour fig (Hottentot fig) might look pretty when flowering, but its choking Jersey’s cliff tops in the south west. Photo by Liz Corry.
Return visit to Guernsey
We have seen another report of chough posted on the Guernsey Birdwatching Facebook group. Dated 16th April, it is clear that the bird is one of ours from the red and white striped ring, but that is all we know unfortunately. They were foraging at Pleinmont again. Clearly a popular site.
A chough was spotted at Pleinmont, Guernsey this month. Photo by Chris Wilkinson/Facebook
It just so happens that Portelet and Archirondel were missing from the Sorel feed that day. Coincidence? This is very exciting news if they have made a second round trip between islands to forage.
Sark and Guernsey can be seen on the horizon from Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.
Boring but necessary aviary stuff. April has brought sea fog, hail, downpours of rain, but mainly sunny days perfect for grass growing which means we do lots of grass mowing; weekly almost daily depending on how much time we have spare and how long the strimmer battery lasts.
Keeping the grass short inside the aviary has multiple benefits. Photo by Liz Corry.
The holes in the netting we had repaired earlier in the year have reopened with extra wear and tear. Nothing to do with rodents just weathering and strain on the netting. We need to get the henchman ladder back up to Sorel to carry out the repairs.
We have replaced a couple of rotting hatches, rusted door bolts, replaced food stands and repaired benches for accessing hatches.
Holes have reappeared in the netting along the central pole. Photo by Liz Corry.
Unexpected restaurant décor in Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.
This will be my last chough report for Birds On The Edge and Durrell. I’ve been with Durrell for eighteen years and worked with the choughs since they arrived in the Zoo in 2010. It was a hard decision to make as I’m leaving both my job and the island I’ve called home for the last sixteen years.
I’m not quite leaving the choughs though as I will be taking up a new role as chough release supervisor in Kent for The Wildwood Trust. No doubt I will keep popping up from time to time on Birds On The Edge or at the Inter-Island Environment meetings. Like Where’s Wally minus the red and white striped top.
I’m extremely proud of what the team has achieved over the years, and I often forget letting the day to day stresses of running the project take over. Plémont is the perfect place to remind me. When I first visited the bay in 2006, I didn’t know the Channel Islands were once home to choughs. Eight years later I remember visiting Plémont café with friends and musing over the idea of one day seeing the then recently released choughs utilise the cliff tops and caves. And now, well why don’t you find out for yourself. Head to the café (I recommend the waffles), sit outside, soak up the rays, and listen…
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.