Chough report: April 2019

By Liz Corry

Breeding out on the north coast has been in full swing this April. Thirteen nest sites have been recorded, two of which are new. We have a new site within the quarry and for the first time a nest-box installed along the north coast is seeing action. Sadly it looks like a territory in the south-west of the Island has been lost, but with 13 of our 15  males in action things are still looking good.

A pair of choughs copulating at the start of April. Photo by Liz Corry.

Ronez: same sites, different pairs

Working closely with Ronez Quarry staff we have been able to record eleven nests on their property.

Ronez Quarry pit (using a lens filter before you ask). Photo by Liz Corry.

It does look like we have lost Bean and males Q and Duke. Their ‘other halves’ are using the same nest sites they had last year this time with new partners.

All nest-boxes installed in the quarry are now being used and show promise. With help from quarryman Kevin Le Herrisier, Red and Dingle have been encouraged to nest in a box rather than on the hot pipes that cooked their eggs for the past two seasons.

A nest-box installed in the quarry to support the breeding population. Photo by Liz Corry.

Two external boxes are once again in use and are already having more success (now that they’ve evicted the kestrel). One of these boxes is being used by wild-hatched Percy and Icho who was released in 2014.

The really exciting news came from Toby Cabaret, Assistant Operations Manager. He reported hearing chick noises from the box. Considering it took a hydraulic crane to put the box up in the first place, Toby was a little unsure of what he was actually hearing.

You talking to me? Photo by Liz Corry.

I spent an hour observing the nest site from the newly installed viewing platform in the lower quarry. Accompanied by an inquisitive gull, I watched as Percy made four visits to the nest-box within a fifty minute period.

Either Icho is one demanding female or they have chicks. This was on the 11th which meant Jersey’s choughs had started early!

North coast nests

Once again, Earl and Xaviour are nesting out at Plémont. Visitors to Plémont Beach cafe are having regular flypasts if they spare the time to look up from their all-day breakfasts. This is the first nest site away from the quarry and is susceptible to human disturbance. The public cannot access the nest itself, but they can access the headland above even though part of it falls within the Seabird Protection Zone in place March to July. Low tide fishermen, walkers, drone users, and a gentleman in red speedos who takes a folding chair out to the furthest point on a regular basis so he can sunbathe  – the downside to having a good spotting scope – have been noted in the vicinity.

This has not deterred the pair from nesting, in fact we believe Xaviour is incubating eggs. The concern will be around fledging time when chicks are vulnerable and learning to forage on that particular headland.

As well as this natural nest site, we have nest-boxes along the cliffs stretching from Sorel to Devil’s Hole. One of these has been destroyed by rockfall (hopefully not with birds inside). Another has been used for the first time as an actual nest rather than rain shelter. Vicq, one of our foster-reared girls and now fully fledged ‘cougar’, has taken a shine to one year old Osbourne. As  Ronez’s CEO namesake, I guess he was destined to be the first of the 2018 wild-hatched choughs to pair up.

Osbourne taking an interest in what Vicq is doing inside the nest-box. Photo by Liz Corry.

When Vicq and Osbourne were seen for the first time using the box they were very attentive. They had already built the nest. Vicq was clearly very busy inside whilst Osbourne maintained a supervisory role (or didn’t have a clue what was happening). The next day they were still visiting the box albeit less frequently. A visiting student, Rachel Owen, observed the nest for a set time each day for the following week. Nothing! Not a single visit to the box by a chough. Vicq‘s first nest had failed; certainly one to keep an eye on next year.

South-west losses

Another failure this year has been the nest in the south-west of the Island. In fact the pair have not been seen at all this season by staff at Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd. I was beginning to get paranoid having visited the area a few times this year on a chough hunt and returned unsuccessful.

Student Rachel Owen, who was staying with friends in Corbière, spent two mornings walking the coastal path from Gorselands to the sand dunes. Again no choughs. Several other corvids around to test her ID skills, but clearly the pair who tried holding down a territory in this area last year have abandoned. Pleased to say Rachel stayed upbeat about it despite the miles she covered on foot.

Rachel Owen spent a week in Jersey working with the choughs as part of her studies. Photo by Rachel Owen.

Whilst we have no strong scientific data, we do know the pair returned every day to Sorel throughout 2018 to get food before roosting back in the south-west. Compare that to the Plémont pair and you can’t help thinking that the south-west provides a poor food resource. The other factor to consider is the unintentional human disturbance. The number of visitors to Corbière and the dunes meant the choughs were constantly moving around whilst foraging.

The sad news is that the female, Mary, has not been seen since the start of February. Partner Bo had a similar attendance record until we discovered he had just been incognito. He was one of two individuals we reported on last month for having identical leg rings. Bo is currently nesting in the quarry with a different female.

Pastures new

There have been several confirmed reports of choughs exploring the north-east of the Island. On the first Sunday in April, Glyn Young watched a pair fly between la Saie and le Coupe Bays. About an hour earlier, one of our keepers living near the zoo had spotted them flying in Glyn’s direction. The following weekend, a local birder recorded a pair near Anne Port, briefly stopping at Gorey Castle before heading west. The weekend after that I was alerted by a distinct call coming from the skies above my house! Two choughs meandering along on the thermals above Rozel Valley.

Are these weekend visitors? Presumably the same pair, if so which? To add to the mystery, another Durrell colleague reported four flying over her house east of the zoo on a Tuesday morning.

I contacted Jersey Heritage regarding the sighting at Gorey castle. To a pair of passing choughs, the 800-year old building offers numerous potential nesting opportunities.  A volunteer guide at the castle witnessed the same visit, but nothing else before or after. It doesn’t necessarily mean that is the end of the story.

There are plenty of foraging opportunities in the north-east if you look around. Rozel Manor for instance has land grazed by cattle. Nearby there are two smallholdings with pigs which get rotated around (field not pig!) so the land isn’t completely churned up. Plus plenty of large, horse paddocks as well as properties with extensive, well-maintained lawns. Providing pesticides are not being used there could be an untapped source of food for the choughs.

A “chough’s eye view” of the habitat around the north-east of Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sorel aviary ‘spring clean’

Much needed major repair work was carried out this month on the aviary at Sorel. We experienced a few setbacks in suppliers and contractors resulting in Durrell’s own Site Service team carrying out the work with a very short turnaround window.

We called in a favour with the Natural Environment team. States ranger Keiran drove the building materials and equipment to Sorel as we don’t have a suitable vehicle.

The States of Jersey kindly donated their time and vehicle) to help Durrell transport materials to Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Brand new netting has been fitted to the tunnel. Not a simple job as the timber framework it was attached to was rotten. All of the shelving in the tunnel has been replaced and most of the framework. It also meant that the hatches had to be removed, new marine-grade steel hinges fitted, and finally re-wired before fitting.

The aviary under repair. Photo by Liz Corry.

A metal pole has been installed running down the centre of the tunnel to support the hoops.

This was the original intention back when the aviary was first built, but never came to fruition.

Timber was used instead, which of course didn’t weather well and in certain places led to netting fraying.

 

There are still several DIY tasks that need to be completed in order for the aviary to function as a catch-up facility. It is, however, up and running again as a supplemental feed site and roost for those birds that need it.

Jersey Zoo’s breeding group

This year we have just one breeding pair of choughs in the zoo; Tristan and Penny (short for Pendragon). This is their first time together not that you can tell. They have made a perfect nest and began egg-laying on the 19th. Mum is tending to a clutch of four eggs with Tristan keeping her well-fed. We have to wait until May to see if they all hatch.

Gianna is still at the Zoo although now off-show in her foster-rearing aviary. We haven’t broken the news to her yet that we want the other pair to parent-rear their own chicks. Gianna hasn’t built a nest this year which is unusual. I think it is linked to the lack of attention she is receiving. The project has been without a student placement for several months now. Normally they would be visiting Gianna two to three times a day in addition to the keeper visits.

Any other business….YES loads!

April was definitely a busy month. To add to all of the above activities there have been several visitors all wanting to learn how the reintroduction and Birds On The Edge can be of benefit. Below is a summary although really they warrant separate blogs. In no particular order:

Author Patrick Barkham and his family spent the Easter Holidays at the Durrell Wildlife Camp. He managed to include a trip to Sorel where I could explain the work we do and show off the choughs. Inadvertently, Patrick helped with our data collection. As I stood on the cliff tops pointing to a nest-box and commenting on the lack of uptake, Vicq and Osbourne eloquently flew straight inside! Side note: highly recommend reading Patrick’s books, especially Islander and Badgerlands.

Vicq collecting material to build her nest at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Jersey zoo played host to  the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA) Directors’ Days conference. Over 130 zoo directors travelled to Jersey for the three-day event. This year’s theme was around leadership in conservation and how to encourage the community to set ambitious targets for greater conservation impact. The Birds On The Edge project was therefore a fitting optional field trip for the final day.

On the same day we also welcomed two guests from the Scottish Chough Study Group – Pat Monaghan, University of Glasgow, and Amanda Trask (now at ZSL). We are assisting in planning a translocation intended to ensure the survival of the remnant Scottish population. Also supported by improved supplemental feeding methods adapted from the lessons learnt with the Jersey choughs.

The two groups met out at Sorel providing Pat and Amanda with a bonus opportunity to network with Scottish EAZA members! Watch this space!

Great minds around a table in a castle – the start of something epic? Photo by Liz Corry.

Lastly, I escaped the rock for 24 hours to attend a workshop at Dover Castle, Kent. A PhD student is currently assessing the feasibility of reintroducing choughs to Kent. Historically, the species resided across the entire south coast of England not just Cornwall where you find them today. Plus choughs feature heavily in Canterbury heraldry.

The workshop was an opportunity to get project partners and experts together to discuss the next steps. Our good friends from Paradise Park were present allowing for a quick catch-up. There was a lot of enthusiasm in the room driven by Kent Wildlife Trust‘s latest goal to develop a wilder Kent. Again watch this space!

In the meantime, watch this video and reward yourself for reaching the end of April’s report!

Chough report: June 2018

By Liz Corry

Breeding success

The choughs have been busy ‘behind the scenes’ resulting in a record-breaking breeding season. By the end of June, we had found four active nests with a total of ten chicks. We knew four chicks had hatched at the end of May. We didn’t have to wait long before Ronez Quarry sent photos of a second nest with chicks.

Dusty and Chickay’s nest with three chicks safely tucked away in a quarry building. Photo taken under license by Toby Cabaret.

This nest belonged to Dusty and his partner Chickay: an astonishing and heart-warming sight. This was their third season nesting, finally they had chicks, and from the looks of things they were at least three weeks old.

The icing on the cake is the uniqueness of the coupling. Chickay was hand-reared, proving that our choice of methods worked, and Dusty is himself a wild-hatched chick.

Ronez hired equipment to access the chough nests under license. Photo by Liz Corry.

A site-visit was arranged for 16th June when the quarry was not in operation. Ronez hired a cherry picker to access the nests. What we found was a mixed bag of good news and bad news. Some nests had failed, some succeeded beyond expectations. And then one complete surprise; a nest we had no idea about.

This nest contained one chick approximately four weeks old. We also noticed twigs in a nest-box we had put up in 2014. This is the first time the birds have tried to use this box. Either they decided it wasn’t a suitable place to continue or the pairing just didn’t work out.

The table below aims to answer any queries the dedicated reader has about which pairs succeeded.

Pair Bred before? Nest status
Green & Black Yes empty
Dingle & Red Yes empty
Kevin & Bean Yes 3 chicks
Dusty & Chickay No 3 chicks
Q & Flieur Yes empty
Lee & Caûvette Yes 2 chicks
White & Mauve Yes empty
Trevor & Noirmont No no nest found
Pyrrho & Percy No empty
? & ? 1 chick
Total 9 chicks

 

However it also throws up a few queries, like “didn’t Kevin and Bean have four chicks in May”? Yes they did. Sadly one is no more, probably the runt of the clutch, but to have three chicks still alive and well is a first for Jersey’s choughs.

The nest belonging to Lee and Caûvette was found to contain two chicks. Photo by Liz Corry.

You might also be tempted to ask “does the mystery chick not belong to Trevor and Noir“? That, dear reader, is something I still don’t have the answer to a month after the site visit. And one that is driving me insane so lets return to June 16th; life was simpler then.

We had taken a licensed ringer into the quarry with us so we could ring the chicks and get DNA samples for sexing. This is supposed to be done when the chick is around three weeks of age. Clearly from what we were seeing these chicks were older. We did not want to risk disturbing them for fear they prematurely left the nest once we put them back. It is a long way to fall!

That is ok, we thought, we can just ring them once they reach the aviary. We can see which adults feed them and work out ownership that way.

How naive we were.

Fledged chough chicks reach the aviary

Below is a montage of footage taken during the supplemental feed once the chicks had fledged. Imagine having a baby that can fly and walk and scream for food whilst doing said actions. Then multiply by two or three. That is what it’s like for a chough parent for the first few months. Note how loud the begging starts off then trails away. Always lingering, never stopping.

From appearances, Chickay was not keen on parenthood. She left most of the feeding duties to Dusty. One of our daily reports records an observation of Kevin “karate kicking” a chick in response to the constant in-your-face begging. Quite often at the feeds you would see chicks accidentally push the parent off the food-stand or shelf in the frenzy to beat its sibling to the food on offer. You also saw them beg at non-breeding individuals who looked more than a little perplexed by the situation.

Throughout all this, the three newbies (Han SoloChewy, and Skywalker) remained locked in quarantine in one half of the aviary. We could not attempt to catch-up and ring the wild chicks until the three had been released. That was scheduled for July.

All we could do in the meantime was try and figure out how many chicks each set of parents had. Lee and Caûvette made things easy as they continued to visit Les Landes and Grosnez, taking their chicks away from the mayhem for a few hours each day. We knew both of their chicks seen on the 16th had survived and arrived at the aviary the last week of June.

Family portrait: Lee and Caûvette with their two chicks at Grosnez. Photo by Mick Dryden.

Lee with his two noisy chicks. Photo by Mick Dryden.

Dusty and Chickay were tending to three chicks (well Dusty was at least). They would take them back and forth between Sorel and the south-east corner of the quarry. Initially there was concern over one of the three chicks as it looked relatively lethargic. We put this down to the heat and that it could be the youngest, struggling to keep up. Dusty was always very sensible, taking his chicks into the shade to rest.

Dusty and Chickay keeping their chicks in the shaded parts of the quarry. Note the chick lying down next to dad whilst the other two preen next to mum. Photo by Liz Corry.

Kevin and Bean‘s three also made it from nest site to Sorel. However, they made it a little harder. Most of the time their chicks were kept around Sorel Point. Often out of sight, but not earshot. 

View across the quarry from Sorel Point. Photo by Liz Corry.

Then the mystery deepened. Q and Flieur turned up to the supplemental feed with two chicks. “But their nest was empty?” you cry. Yes, yes it was. “And the surprise nest only had one chick in it?” you answer back. Yes, yes it did.

The Plémont pair

Earl and foster-reared Xaviour, or the Plémont pair as we call them, are still roosting out at Petit Plémont. Their amazing choice of nest site has made it impossible to tell exactly what they have been up to this breeding season. We did suspect, from the couple’s behaviour out of the nest, that the female was incubating eggs.

Earl taking a break on the WW2 bunker ruins at Petit Plémont. Photo by Liz Corry.

One was seen carrying something white away from the nest. An optimistic observer thought it was a faecal sac. These ‘sacs’ are produced by chicks and carried away from the nest by the parents. He changed his mind when he saw the adult pecking away at it. The white object started to look more like an egg, but smaller than a chough egg. Out of reach of the observer, we will never know the true-identity of the object.

In the days the followed, hope of a successful nesting attempt began to fade. Xaviour was spending more time away from the nest. Foraging around the headland and neighbouring cliff tops to feed herself rather than take back to an expectant nest.

The pair are young. This year should be taken as a positive step forward in their development. They remain the first pair to set up a territory away from the release site. As they mature they will no doubt see success with their nest.

Star Wars saga continues

Han Solo, Chewy, and Skywalker continue to adjust to life at Sorel whilst in quarantine. Faecal samples from the two Paradise Park birds tested positive for nematodes.

Staff began to hear sneezing from the confined group a week or so after their arrival. Nothing to cause alarm, but enough to warrant a wormer pre-release.

This was scheduled for 20th June. On the 17th the Bird Department received a call to say that there were only two choughs locked in the aviary. Skywalker was missing. Scanning the aviary, it became apparent that he had not used Jedi mind tricks to escape. He had in fact managed to squeeze out through a hole in the netting, no doubt created by rodents.

He was not with the free-living choughs at Sorel. Well not in plain sight at least. The following day he couldn’t be any more obvious if he tried. Skywalker was on the roof of the aviary alongside Zennor a young female.

Since the boys arrived at Sorel, Zennor has shown a keen interest in them. She sits, on the opposite side of the netting during every feed whilst everyone else is tucking into their meal. We thought her interest was in Han Solo as they had touched bills through the netting; fiction becoming reality? Alas, it was Skywalker she wanted which worked to everyone’s advantage as he had another chough to follow, returned to the aviary, and we managed to get him safely back inside.

Return of the Jedi: Skywalker shortly after being trapped back inside the aviary. Photo by Paul Pestana.

All in time for the vet to visit on the 20th, give all three a wormer, and fit Han Solo with a transponder chip just like all the other captive-bred birds have. Bird Department staff also kitted them out with shiny new leg ring combos to make it easy to tell them apart once released.

Luckily the States Vet agreed that no extra time needed to be added to their quarantine period. Once complete, at the end of June, they can be released.

May the force be with them.

Aviary maintenance

Despite the recent rodent-proofing at the release aviary there are still weak points in the defences. As exemplified by Skywalker’s escape. Without a major overhaul of the aviary design there is not much to be done.

Mind you, that overhaul may come sooner than imagined. The shelving has now warped so badly that bolts keeping the hatches closed no longer reach. The hinges on the external keeper door snapped right off due to rust.

This is the first year the pre-release group have not had full access to the flight tunnel in a bid to avoid further premature releases. Once the new boys have been released and settled into life at Sorel we can start repair work.

Supplemental feeds

The choughs have seen a few changes to the menu this month due to food shortages. There is still no Remilline pellet in stock in Jersey, so the egg-based diet returned to the menu. The live-food manufacturer has been experiencing issues with their mealworm stock resulting in fewer or no insects being delivered. Not the best of timing. We had to increase the amount of supplemental food this month in response to an increasing demand. Obviously with mouths to feed, the breeding pairs become more dependent on the aviary feed.

Lights, camera, action

Ronez Quarry very kindly funded young film maker Sam Hertzog to fly to Jersey and produce a short film about the chough reintroduction project. Sam had four days to try and sum up the last five years into a seven minute documentary. To make the challenge that little bit harder we threw in rolling sea fog, a field manager dying of hay fever, and birds that never paid attention to the script.

Sam succeeded. You can view his film below. We are very grateful to his friend Elin Cunningham for proposing the idea and for being the boom operator, gaffer, assistant director, chauffeur….

Chough report: May 2018

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By Liz Corry

Spoiler alert! Ronez Quarry found the first hatched egg shell of the year on 23rd May. However, there are so many more things to report about from May that we will leave that golden nugget of information for later.

Spreading their wings

Reports continue to come in from both the south-west and north-west corners of the island. The pair roosting in St Ouen’s Bay repeatedly foraged around Corbière Lighthouse, the desalination plant, and the sand dunes. And they are just the places we know about. I suspect they have taken a cheeky gander at the golf courses that lie to the north and south of their roost.

Choughs foraging by the old radio tower at Corbiere. Photo by Liz Corry.

Mary and Bo searching for found near the lighthouse. Photo by Liz Corry.

Looking at the hard granite around Corbière you would think it slim pickings on the menu for the chough pair. However, if you watch closely they are quite adept at finding tasty morsels. Take a look at this video for example. Not entirely sure what it is they have found, but obviously in high demand.

There is plenty of food on offer closer to the release site. Thanks to a local resident sending in a photo, we found a group of choughs hanging out at a ‘secret’ spot behind Sorel Farm. A horse field currently vacant except for rabbits, pheasant, swooping house martins, and aforementioned choughs. Short pasture, dung, and very little disturbance. Idyllic. For choughs at least.

This is a video of a few in a different horse field by the quarry.

The pair at Plémont are still going strong. They abandoned their nest in a sea cave and relocated to a crevice outside. We have not seen them at Sorel for a very long time. They appear to be finding plenty of food where they are. As the swifts start their summer residency in the same area we could be in for some interesting interactions. It is certainly an impressive sight to see the acrobatic flights of both species together.

Chough exchange

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On 22nd May four choughs from Jersey Zoo were caught up and transported to Paradise Park as part of our animal collection exchange. The birds travelled by boat in the Zoo van driven by our Head of Operations and a senior mammal keeper.

None of the choughs hold a valid license.

Gwinny, one of the four, has been with us at the Zoo since the very beginning. However, she failed to find a partner who shared her chick rearing aspirations. Maybe she will find her Mr Right in Cornwall.

On the return trip the van was loaded up with four different choughs, two Namaqua doves and a Madagascar partridge (pear tree to follow). They travelled on the freight ferry which meant a 4am, repeat 4AM!!, arrival in Jersey – a fog covered Jersey to boot.

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Two new arrivals to a fog bound Jersey at sunrise (not that you can tell). Photo by Liz Corry.

Two of the choughs headed to Sorel where they will spend a month in quarantine acclimatising to life on the coast. We moved Han Solo, Jersey Zoo’s male, to the aviary the day before they arrived.

All three looked to be in good condition. We discovered Han Solo had a new claw growing through suggesting damage at an earlier date. He clearly has not been in any discomfort so no need to treat him.

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A new claw growing out after previous damage resulted in loss of the old claw. Photo by Liz Corry.

The three boys will be housed separately to the free-ranging choughs during quarantine with opportunity to socialise (between ‘bars’) at feed times. In fact the first meeting between the two groups happened within minutes of reaching Sorel. Lots of shouting and displaying from the outside group at first thought to be directed at the newbies. After ten minutes of observations it became apparent they were just after the food locked away inside!

If all goes to plan the two males from Paradise Park and Han Solo from the Zoo will be released at the start of July.

In case any of you were curious as to the names of Han’s new friends…Chewbacca and Skywalker of course.

solo

 Let the judging commence

Capture

Judges visited Jersey’s short-listed contenders for this year’s Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards on May 23rd.

Ronez Quarry nominated our chough project for the work we do in collaboration with them to monitor and protect the wild population.

The quarry has been home to the choughs since the first soft-release back in 2013. This season we had at least eight pairs trying to raise chicks in the quarry.

Winners will be announced on 27th June. There are several awards up grabs with a total prize fund of £3,750. One of the awards is a People’s Choice Award worth £500. Social media voting will begin in June – get clicking!

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Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards judges at Ronez Quarry. 23rd May 2018. Photo by Liz Corry.

If we are fortunate enough to receive any money it would go towards providing an educational experience for school groups visiting the quarry. A chance to learn about natural resources, coastal conservation, and of course the choughs. Any remaining money would go towards covering the costs involved in ringing and DNA sexing chicks (approximately £18 per chick).

Ronez quarry viewpoint image

Ronez Quarry

Wild nest updates

If all goes well then Han Solo and the boys will be joined by several wild-hatched fledglings in July. The day the judges visited the quarry was the same day we discovered the first chicks of 2018 had hatched.

Toby Caberet had found hatched egg shell near one of the known nest sites. Using a handheld endoscope camera we were able to confirm a record number of four chicks in a single nest.

Four recently hatched chough chicks in a nest at the quarry. Photo taken under licence by Toby Caberet.

This is amazing news as this particular pair are first time parents. The chicks are very young. They have a further six weeks before leaving the nest and, as we learnt last year, that still doesn’t guarantee they will make it to Sorel. As long as the parents can find enough insects they stand a good chance.

All the more reason to rejoice in the next bit of news.

(St) Mary had a little lamb, and St John and St Peter…

This month the Manx loaghtan lambs were moved from the farm in St Catherine’s to the grazing site at Sorel. They are now old enough to roam the cliff tops. Still very vulnerable. Bleating can be heard far and wide from ‘lost’ lambs whose mothers are two feet away hidden in the gorse. Please remember to close gates and keep dogs under control. Any mountain bikers, be alert! It might not be a brown rock on the path that you are about to ride over.

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Ewes and their lambs are now out roaming free at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

A new grazing site in St Peter’s Valley has become home to another flock of Manx loaghtan sheep brought in to graze the meadows and hopefully improve biodiversity in the area. You can see them if you visit Quetivel Mill, a National Trust property open every Monday and Tuesday (10am-4pm).

Lambs are now out and about at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

And finally, we couldn’t sign off without including the following picture taken by Mick Dryden at Sorel Point. A rare spring migrant to the Island, a honey-buzzard, flying alongside one of our choughs. I bet that was a sight no one predicted they would see five years ago!

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Honey-buzzard and chough at Sorel Point. Photo by Mick Dryden.

Chough report: April 2018

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

by Liz Corry

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

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

Nesting ambitions of Jersey’s choughs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dave Warncken Chough desalination plant 21April2018_05

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

Dave Warncken Chough desalination plant 21April2018_03

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

Funding for nest monitoring awarded by the Ecology Trust Fund.

JerseyEcologicalFund

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

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

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

Island Insurance Corporation awards

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

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

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

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

Replacement rings

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

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

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

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

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

Zoo news

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

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

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

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

Foster rearing might not be on the cards this year

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

 

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Gianna enjoying her morning preen. Photo by Liz Corry.

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

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

That, and May’s monthly report!

Chough report: March 2018

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A chough collecting nest material for the 2018 breeding season. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Nesting underway with the wild choughs

The choughs started nest-building this month. Established pairs returning to their faithful nest sites and younger pairs setting up in new locations. Green and Black were the first pair seen taking wool and dry grass from Sorel across into the Quarry. Rather apt at Easter time. Yes Green & Blacks we will accept sponsorship. Yes payment can be in the form of chocolate (sustainable/palm oil free).

Whilst we have only witnessed a few individuals carrying nesting material we suspect all twelve males will attempt to breed. Some may simply carry twigs following the lead of the female. We hope the majority will go all the way and raise chicks. A lot of the success is dependent on age; three-years old being the average age females start laying eggs.

Trying to follow twelve males around Jersey is proving challenging for myself and our student Elin. We are being helped by Ronez Quarry staff and reports from the public (including zoo keepers on their days off – no rest for the wicked). We do suspect a small group of choughs are flying under the radar exploring new parts of the island.

We had our first confirmed sighting of choughs over the Zoo. Five were spotted by our Conservation Learning manager flying in a westerly direction over the car park. This was the same week we had an unconfirmed sighting by a member of the public of two choughs sat on a roof top in Gorey.

It definitely looks set to be an interesting breeding season. As always please do send in your sightings to bote@gmail.com or phone 01534 860059.

Gianna undergoes her cataract operation

Gianna, our ‘foster mum’ for the captive breeding programme, had developed cataracts in both eyes. We called in specialists from the UK to assess Gianna’s condition with the view to operate. Ophthalmologist Claudia Hartley and nurse Kelly Shackleton from Langford Vets, Bristol, flew over at the end of February. Claudia has previously helped Jersey Zoo to save the sight of one of our lemurs so we knew Gianna was in good hands.

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Operating theatre at Jersey Zoo. Photo by Liz Corry.

As you can imagine cataract removal is a very delicate operation. The delivery and maintenance of anaesthetic in a patient weighing less than 300g is equally sensitive. The operation had to be aborted on the first two attempts due to equipment malfunctions in the operating theatre. Understandably staff did not want to chance anything. The operation was postponed until March.

Langford Vets and the Durrell vet team attempt to remove cataracts from Gianna’s eyes. Photo by Liz Corry.

They say “third time lucky”, but luck had nothing to do with it. Perseverance, dedication, and immense skill meant that the third attempt was successful. Gianna’s operation took nearly three hours from ‘knockdown’ (going under anaesthetic) to stitching and waking up.

Now for the technical bit…Durrell Vet Alberto Barbon who assisted with the op said that Gianna underwent a bilateral phacoemulsification to remove cataracts. Surgery and anaesthesia went well, although she developed a hyphaema in the right eye following the surgery, we are hoping that this will resolve over the next two weeks”. In simple terms she has a sore eye, but it will heal and she will regain full sight.

Bird Department staff have taken good care of her providing medication and much needed TLC. Hester Whitehead, Senior Keeper, reports that Gianna is “clearly able to see much better already – in fact her demeanour was different as soon as she was returned to her aviary. She is on a course of daily anti-inflammatories, and really appreciates the extra attention the team has been giving her during her recovery.”

We are very grateful to Claudia and Kelly for helping Jersey Zoo once again. They also found time to perform sight-saving surgery on seven dogs and two horses at New Era vets before they left Jersey!

****WARNING: Image from Gianna’s operation below. Scroll down to ‘Rodent proofing at Sorel’ if you are squeamish about eyes and needles*****

 

Cataract removal in a chough at Jersey Zoo. Photo by Alberto Barbon.

Rodent proofing at Sorel

Upturned guttering fixed to the polytunnel to deter rodents climbing up and chewing holes in the netting. Photo by Liz Corry.

Up-turned guttering has been fitted around the edges of the netting at the release aviary. In theory, the slippy plastic and angle of guttering prevents rodents from reaching the net.

We have already noticed a difference and are now working on making sure there are no rodents trapped inside the aviary through adding this.

We are very grateful to the Royal Bank of Canada who provided funding for the guttering and fixtures.

The enclosed food tray mentioned in last month’s report has not met with approval from the choughs. This would have alleviated the rodent problem by preventing food spillage. We will have to come up with another design.

Ecological restoration expert visits Sorel and the Birds On The Edge project

Dr Robert Pal, director of restoration at Montana Tech of the University of Montana recently visited Jersey as part of his whirlwind tour of the UK. He was invited over by his friend Lee Durrell and kindly gave a talk to staff and volunteers at Jersey Zoo.

Dr Pal’s main research focus has always been the study of the flora and vegetation of disturbed habitats, including agricultural and urban areas. Terrestrial restoration to native communities and ecosystems is often hampered by exotic invasive species. The talk entitled “Exotic invasions and restoration – parallel paths in ecology” explained how fundamental ecology, restoration, and exotic invasion can be jointly interpreted and merged into an integrated framework.

The Manx Loaghtans contribute to the ecological restoration of Jersey. Photo by Robert Pal.

Naturally he was inquisitive about the Birds On The Edge project and managed to squeeze in a visit to Sorel before his flight left. Dr Pal said “It was fantastic to see this project and have first hand experiences on it, congratulations.

Dr Robert Pal with Durrell student Elin Cunningham. Photo by Judit Nyulasi.

Student Research
We always encourage students to consider the Birds On The Edge project when they are deciding on their dissertation projects both undergraduate and postgraduate. This year has seen quite a bit of attention with three projects either underway or in the pipeline.
The current chough placement student, Elin Cunningham, is studying Bioveterinary science at Harper Adams University. Whilst she assists with day-to-day management of the chough project she is also collecting and analysing faecal samples from captive and wild choughs to assess parasite levels. More to follow when she writes her blog for this site.
Miriam Lord, from Oxford University, visited this month to do some scoping work for her dissertation. Miriam will be assessing public awareness and attitudes to the chough reintroduction. She plans to return in summer to conduct questionnaires with people in the Zoo and in St Helier town centre.
A similar project will be undertaken by Catherine Firth, Nottingham Trent University. Her focal group will be primary schools. As well as gathering information Catherine hopes to provide educational talks to schools willing to participate. This will commence in June before schools break for summer.

Cauvette the chough will be making an appearance this summer – which lucky student will get the privilege? Photo by Tiffany Lang.

Cornish choughs, Channel Island choughs, and Kentish choughs?

Canterbury coat of arms circa 1925. From www.Heraldry-wiki.com

Continuing the student theme, we had a visit from Jack Slattery who has started his PhD looking into the feasibility of reintroducing choughs to Kent. This is with the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) based in Canterbury, Kent.
As a bird enthusiast Jack was impressed with the project in Jersey. His interest, as part of the study, is less about how we reintroduced the choughs and more about stakeholders involvement and attitudes. Stakeholders include a wide range of people such as our project partners, landowners, and the general public. We have been quite fortunate in Jersey to receive a lot of positive support. Jack has to predict whether or not Kent will see the same.

Chough report: May 2017

Wild flowers at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Jersey’s coastal habitat was home to spring lambs, wild flowers, and baby choughs this month. Here is what the choughs got up to. Or, as we can now call them, what the award-winning choughs got up to!

May the 4th be with you

On May the 4th the first of the three eggs in Issy and Tristan’s nest hatched. Staff were naturally excited and considering the date, the geeks amongst us (i.e. everyone), started putting bids in for Star Wars related names for the clutch.

Chough eggs hatch sequentially so we expected it to take a few days. However, the days passed and it became clear that this would be the only egg to hatch.

Han Solo was duly christened.

The parents were keen to remove one of the failed eggs. The other was left in the nest for quite sometime.

With only one chick to care for, Han Solo was well fed and grew steadily day by day.

Breeding in the wild

This year’s wall planner had a rather colourful month in store with various predicted hatch dates starred and scribbled in colour-coded marker. First off the blocks were to be Red and Dingle (hand-reared) who raised their first chicks last year. This year’s eggs were due to hatch around the first week in May. A change in Red‘s behaviour on 4th May suggested the eggs might have started hatching. Instead of waiting for the cue from Dingle, she was already waiting at the aviary for food in the morning. As soon as she picked up a mouthful of mealworms she zoomed back to her nest.

We asked Kevin le Herissier, responsible for ‘their’ building (Ronez naively still believe that the buildings are theirs not the choughs’), to check the nest the following week. This was to allow time for the entire clutch to hatch and so that the parents were not as sensitive to disturbance.

To our bemusement the photo he sent back was of a perfect nest containing four eggs.

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Red and Dingle’s nest early in May. Photo by Kevin le Herissier

A follow up check on the 19th also found four eggs. Guess what was found when the nest was checked for a third time on the 31st? Sadly, not a case of third time lucky. Still four eggs. Under license by the States of Jersey, these eggs were candled in the nest to find answers to what had happened, why they hadn’t hatched. One egg had failed during embryonic development while the others looked like they contained almost fully developed chicks. The eggs were returned to the nest.

New nest-site discovered

Student John Harding and Ronez operational assistant Toby Cabaret checked on the nests in the quarry on the 19th. Armed with a GoPro and a very long pole they checked nest-boxes and known nest sites. One of the nest-boxes we fitted in the quarry in 2015 had nesting material in it. What flew out wasn’t a chough though. It was a kestrel!

Most of the nests were just centimetres out of reach of the pole and suspiciously quiet. The team did, however, spot a female on a nest in a building not previously used by the choughs. With no wish to disturb her the nest was left alone. We now have the task of trying to work out which pair this nest belongs to.

A neighbouring building was also found to have a nest. This one didn’t have a female on it, but from the begging noises it was clear there were at least two chicks in there. Again this is a new site and new pairing.

This video shows Toby and John trying to use the GoPro to check the cheeping nest. They didn’t realise at the time how close they were to the nest. You can see the chicks.

They look extremely young. Normally we would avoid disturbing a nest at this age. From our calculations we expected any chicks to be a few days older. From their begging they look strong.

All nest checks are done under license from the States of Jersey.

Chick ringing and revelations

On the 31st we returned to the nest sites. This time with Channel Island ringer Dave Buxton in case the chicks were old enough to fit with leg rings. We were also armed with a new piece of equipment…a USB endoscope camera. It doesn’t provide HD images like the GoPro. However, it is equipped with LED lights and a lot more manoeuvrable (and only cost £25).

Toby Cabaret checking a chough nest with the Potensic endoscope. Photo by Liz Corry.

Three chicks could be seen with the endoscope plugged into a smartphone. Photo by Liz Corry.

Due to health and safety concerns, two nest-sites were out of bounds. We were able to check the nest with the cheeping chicks. This time eerily silent, although it was clear from the endoscope image that there were three bills. They still had pin feathers on their heads and from their size they looked no more than two weeks old. Too young to fit rings.

Before leaving the building John and Toby went a checked the next floor up on a hunch that there could be something. They were right! They found a nest tucked away behind girders.

Spot the nest? Photo by Liz Corry.

Despite a grainy image, the colour and shape of a bill could be seen and possibly a second body. The image below is a snapshot from the endoscope. The image is less clear than in realtime. You will be forgiven if you can’t spot the head of a chick.

Screen grab of endoscope view in nest showing the pale bill of a chick (far right). Photo by Liz Corry.

Whilst checking this nest Kevin and Bean flew in and appeared slightly aggrieved that we had discovered their little secret. The disappointment of the chicks once again being too young to ring was quickly overshadowed by this news. Bean is one of our hand-reared females released as a juvenile in 2014 and now, three years later, rearing chicks of her own!

Chough-watch

We received several reports of choughs out and about this month from members of the public. Of interest was a report of a pair from Tabor Park, St Brelade. They had been seen on the allotments, but flown before leg rings could be read. Five days later another report came in of a chough calling at the desalination plant by Corbiere.

We have radio-tracked choughs to the south-west before in 2014 and 2015. Since then there have been a handful of sightings around Gorselands, Le Creux and Red Houses.

Choughs on the move. Photo by Liz Corry.

Regular chough watchers Mick Dryden, Tony Paintin, and Piers Sangan reported choughs at Crabbé, Île Agois, and Grosnez during the day. We assume these are the sub-adults and non-breeders who don’t have commitments at the quarry. Without leg ring records we can’t be sure.

Grosnez to Plémont with Sorel point in the far distance: areas visited by the choughs this month. Photo by Liz Corry.

Personality research with Nottingham Trent University

Guille Mayor arrived this month to start his MSc research looking at personality traits in released choughs. He is trying to see if personality relates to dispersal distances and success in the wild. Part of his work will involve behavioural observation at the release aviary and how individuals react to a novel object.

The trickier part of his study requires him to find where the choughs go each day. He obviously likes a challenge since only three in 34 have radio tracking devices and Guille is on a bicycle. If you do spot a chough away from Sorel please as also let us know. Send an email, call 01534 860059, or post on Jersey Wildlife Facebook page. Location, date, time, and, if possible, leg rings need including.

And finally

British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) held their annual awards at The Deep in Hull this month. Durrell had entered four categories and came away with three gold and one silver. We are delighted to announce that the return of choughs to Jersey was awarded gold in the conservation category.

Many thanks to everyone involved over the years that have helped plan, raise, release, monitor, and protect the choughs, many of which have volunteered their free time to do so. And of course our partners at the National Trust for Jersey, Department of the Environment, and our extended chough family at Paradise Park.

BIAZA award 2017

Choughs at Sorel Point May 2017. Photo by Mark Sleep