Chough report – December 2022

By Charlotte Dean

Juveniles taking their pick

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.

 

January volunteer activity

Sunday 8th January 2023 – Les Blanches Banques, St Brelade 10:30-13.00

From Jersey Conservation Volunteers 

Happy New Year!!!

A new year, and a great task to burn off some of the Christmas indulgence 😊

Task In 2022 sheep grazed an area on the dunes for the first time and to add to their great work we will cut back blackthorn to improve floral diversity on this very special dune system.

If you have any questions, or if you wish to be added (or removed) to/from the Wild About Jersey email list, please contact either Julia Clively (tel: 441600; j.clively@gov.je) or Jon Parkes (tel: 483193; jon.parkes@nationaltrust.je).

The site Meet at La Carriere car park, Les Blanches Banques SSI (sand dunes)

Jersey Phone Directory Map 12, F16. Google maps here  

Time Meet at 10.15, ready to start work at 10:30. We will finish work at approximately 12:30 to give us the chance for a catch up over a cuppa.

Parking See maps above.

Tools needed We shall provide some tools but if you have loppers or pruning saws, they will be useful. Please do bring your own gloves if possible.

Clothing needed Please keep an eye out for the weather forecast as it could be wild and wet, so please wear appropriate (waterproof) clothing and sturdy boots and gloves.

Children All are welcome, although we do ask that volunteers under 16 years of age are accompanied by an adult. Due to the uneven ground, a reasonable level of fitness is required.

Refreshments 

*Please make sure you bring your own mug or reusable cup*

Kim the Kake will provide us with some of her excellent home-made cake and a hot drink at the end of the task.

Hope to see you there!

Sheep on Les Blanches Banques

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.

Some of the plants found on the sand dunes which are recognised as being of scientific interest include the lizard orchid, with its flower resembling its reptile namesake; the dwarf pansy, in Great Britain only found on the Isles of Scilly and the Channel Islands, the heath dog violet which is Near Threatened in the UK and the sand crocus with its diminutive mauve flower.

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 blue winged grasshopper, the firebug, the Queen of Spain fritillary butterfly, the lesser bloody-nosed beetle, exuding a minute drop of blood when alarmed and the sand bear wolf spider which ambushes its prey from the entrance of its burrow are all invertebrates of particular interest to Jersey and our sand dunes.

 

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.

Grazing Plans

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.