Chough report: July 2021

By Liz Corry

Plémont success

Last month we reported our first successful rearing of young from a wild-hatched pair. Three chicks in the Plémont nest followed by the subsequent fledging of two.

Then, like a high street in lockdown, it went eerily quiet.

There was no sign of the third chick out and about. The Plémont cliffs are not very forgiving at high tide for a young bouldering chough. Easy to imagine it not surviving. Yet also hard to determine since we weren’t seeing any members of the Plémont family.

When Minty and Rey, the parents, eventually appeared at the feed they showed no interest in any of the juveniles. Observations were further hampered by the lack of choughs at the feed. We had to put in the extra mileage, literally, to travel in search of choughs or wait until the evening when they start heading home to roost.

A roost check at Plémont provided no answers just a stunning sunset.

The only info we had was from a member of the public who had photographed Minty and Rey with one unringed juvenile at the Pinnacle on the northwest coast. This was taken in June before we had managed to ring any of this year’s young.

The first Jersey juvenile from wild-hatched choughs. Photo by Anthony Morin.

Four weeks of not knowing then suddenly we had our answer. Reviews of camera trap photos set at the aviary showed Minty passing food to a chick. A chick we had ringed on 14th July and had seen at the feed every day since! Until that last week in July we had never witnessed Minty or Rey show any interest in the youngster.

Maybe that is their parenting style? The young chough is fairly robust, gets on with things, is confident around the aviary and within the flock. They raised her well.

We have named her Rémi which means ‘the first ones’ in Gaulish. Rather apt for the first true Jersey chough resulting from the reintroduction.

Family hierarchy: Rey. Minty, and Rémi. Photo by Liz Corry.

Five ‘gold’ rings

With much effort, we continued to try and trap unringed juveniles in the aviary. As already mentioned, the birds were not hanging around Sorel as much as in previous years. Leftover supplemental food and their preference of sites such as Grosnez, Les Landes, and L’Étacq implied they had resources elsewhere.

When choughs were present at the aviary they were, and still are, not as confident about going inside. No doubt for multiple reasons although strong influences will be the peregrines hunting above the aviary field and the overgrown vegetation potentially harbouring threats.

We switched tactics to try catching later in the day, around 7pm, by which point choughs roosting at Sorel or Ronez would be foraging closer to home. This worked on two occasions allowing us to ring, measure, and sample two juveniles.

By the close of July there were no more unringed choughs to be found. In total we had ringed five chicks all with a yellow ring to represent 2021 and a second unique colour. Sadly, that meant some youngsters had perished.

The yellow ring represents 2021, the bird’s year of hatch. Photo by Liz Corry.

2021 Breeding Season summary

Of the ten nests we knew about, only 50% survived to fledge a chick or more. We accounted for twelve fledged chicks yet only four still alive.

There is a slim chance a fifth chick, ringed pale blue over yellow, is simply playing an unintentional game of hide and seek with us. Seven adults are consistently absent at the afternoon feed. A few of those have been spotted along the coastline from Grosnez to Le Pulec. Is the missing chick with them? A task for August will be monitoring this northwest corner and determine the whereabouts of the pairs.

Wally Jnr. keeping close to her parents at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

There was an eleventh pairing in spring who were busy collecting nesting material in Trinity. As first timers we did not hold out much hope. It appears they did not even make it to the egg laying stage. No nest was found. Lots of false hope through seeing them steal twigs from pigeon nests. No actual Trinity chough nest.

This may or may not be related to the disappearance of the female. Then this month, the male was seen with a different female over in… guess where…Grosnez.

Tracking down choughs at Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.

Pinel was starting to worry us until we found him at Grosnez. Photo by Liz Corry.

Green fingers

We are carrying out several ‘gardening’ tasks around the aviary to create a less imposing surrounding for choughs, open up some foraging opportunities for them, and allow us to see when operating the hatches from the adjacent field. It should also mean less cover for feral ferrets to hide in and less attractive areas for rats.

Where are the sheep when you need them?! Photo by Liz Corry.

This meant a lot of grass strimming and removal of bracken. Hedgehogs, slow worms, and green lizards inhabit the embankment, so care is required. I also discovered a bumblebee nest and several ant nests; the latter a favourite of wild choughs.

Slow worm and an ant nest uncovered at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

In amongst the bracken there are shrubs the National Trust planted about ten years ago. Each year we try and help these out by removing the vegetation suppressing them like the delightfully named sticky willy. I’ve left the aromatic wormwood…how do we feel about a Birds On The Edge branded absinthe? We could raise a glass to toast the wild Jersey choughs!

Wormwood Artemisia absinthium, is one of many herbaceous plants found at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

Chough report – June 2021

A chough sunbathing in June’s mini heatwave. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

June. The month chough chicks leave the nest and, after a long wait, the month I leave Jersey to see family and friends. That being said I still have a lot to write about despite having half of June off.

Plémont celebrations

I was on staycation for the first week in June. Naturally that meant a visit to Plémont to check on the nest. Coffee, cake, and chough chicks. Perfect holiday setup. By this stage the chicks were large enough to be seen and loud enough to hear from Sorel! OK, maybe not, but they certainly were not inconspicuous whenever the parents returned with food.

Two weeks later one brave chick started bouldering outside of the nest clinging to the cliff face making mum and dad work even harder. This coincided with my trip back to England. Typical!

Paul Pestana, ex-Durrell and onetime student on the chough project, kept me updated with their activities. The current student, Riccardo, did his best to keep track of them too. Every time he went it was either raining (and therefore the birds were sheltering out of sight) or the family were off gadding about. It’s almost as if the choughs were playing a game with us. 

Paul spotted two of the three chicks out by the 20th and up at the headland near the main car park. These are the first chicks whose parents are both wild-hatched. Genuine Jersey choughs! 

Fingers crossed all three chicks continue to avoid peregrine and black-backed gulls and find enough food to survive into July. At least they have their parents to follow around for several weeks before becoming independent.

Ronez nests fledge

Plémont was one of the last nests to fledge. The first of the eight surviving nests in Ronez Quarry began fledging at the start of June. The youngsters could be seen outside of their respective nest buildings practicing flying and building confidence. The chicks had to compete to be heard over the noise from several black-backed gull and dozens of herring gull nests.

Prize for spotting the four choughs in this photo! Photo by Liz Corry.

Kevin and Wally’s chicks made their first appearance at the supplemental feed on the 7th shortly followed by Dusty’s three chicks on the 10th.

A recently fledged chough with her mum Chickay arrived at the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.

As reported last month, we knew Dusty and Chickay had three chicks in the nest and it was really pleasing to see all three fledge. The other nests remained a mystery until fledging because our plans to ring chicks in the nest had to be cancelled twice. On one occasion we postponed due to the force 9 gales blowing around the bottom quarry. Not the best time to be up a ladder!

On the 16th, Bo and Flieur arrived with three chicks in tow. The following day Trevor and Noirmont arrived with two chicks and Lee and Caûvette  were next with one chick. So far, the other three pairs have failed to show with chicks.

Kevin and Wally were the first to bring their fledged chicks to Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

One pair have good reason. We believe the male is missing presumed dead and his partner, Pyrrho, has re-paired with Green whose brood died last month. The other two pairs, nesting in boxes, should have fledged chicks by now so it appears the chick(s) perished before making it over to Sorel.

Icho seems to have been unlucky this year unless her chicks are late bloomers. Photo by Liz Corry.

As the month came to a close, we had accessioned twenty chicks. Eleven of which had joined the flock at the supplemental feed.

Expectant offspring at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Ringing chicks at the aviary

Once fledged, the young will remain with their parents for several weeks following them around begging for food. They gradually learn to become independent, growing in confidence every day. You can see this happening in real time when you visit the supplemental feed site: at first, they sit on the roof of the aviary expecting their parents to go get the extra food. It takes about a week before they start getting confident enough to venture inside. A few weeks later and they race their parents to get to the food.

To be inside or not to be inside, that is the chough chick dilemma when they first arrive at the feeding site. Photo by Liz Corry.

For us, this means we have to bide our time before we can start trapping young inside the aviary to fit identity rings and get DNA samples to determine sex. Our first attempt this year was on 30th June.

We managed to trap three of the new chicks inside the aviary along with several adults. This year’s colour ring is yellow; the yellow rings also have a number stamped on to help ID in the field.

Yellow (stamped with a number) is the colour ring indicating a chough hatched in 2021. Photo by Liz Corry.

The ‘Jersey’ red and white striped rings are no longer available. Until we can find a new supplier the birds will just have the metal Jersey Museum ring on one leg and two plastic rings on the other. We might stick with this combo as it means less ‘baggage’ for the birds.

One of the chicks was noticeably smaller and still had some grey colouration to its bill. This suggests it was younger and, therefore, from a different brood.

You can approximate the age a chough by the colour of their bill. Photo by Liz Corry.

Of the adults, we had caught Minty and Rey which meant we could replace Rey’s missing white and faded cerise rings. We released them and the other adults immediately so they could return to their chicks.

Dusty and Chickay were the only choughs to stick around outside the aviary whilst all this was going on. Upon release, two of the chicks flew directly to them heavily hinting at possible parentage. We now get to play match-the-ringed-chick-to-the-adult as they continue to feed their young. If we can catch them in time!

Zoo surprise

Far easier to manage are the chough chicks in the Zoo. Penny and Tristan have reared another brood. Well mostly Penny has since Tristan was temporarily moved out when he started showing signs of aggression. We knew we had at least two chicks from the begging noises coming from the box. Electrical issues with the camera set-up meant we had to wait until we ringed them in the nest to discover we actually had four chicks!

All four were ringed and DNA sexed and are now flying around on public display.

Four Zoo chough chicks were ringed in the nest this month. Photo by Bea Detnon.

 

Chough report: May 2021

Broken and faded leg rings used on choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Housekeeping

Another ‘catch up’ with the choughs this month. This time BoPercyTrevor, and Chickay all needed replacement leg rings. It provided an opportunity too to check their general health through body weights and visual inspection of feather and body condition.  

Happy to report they all looked well and it’s always nice to reconnect with Chickay again who we hand-reared back in 2014.

In contrast, we declared six adults and four juveniles (< 12 months of age) as missing, presumed dead. A few had been missing for a while; in particular, the juveniles who in this species tend to struggle to get through their first winter. Others like Beanie Baby had suddenly gone from their territory making it more obvious to detect the loss. An updated ID list for the Jersey flock is available here. 

Mystery chough in England

Of course one or more of the missing list may have taken flight off-island. No COVID-restrictions for them! A chough of unknown origin was spotted in Dorset early on in May. The video below was taken at Portland Bill near Weymouth. There was a later possible sighting on the Isle of Wight.  

 

The bird in Dorset was unringed and likely to be a Cornish bird dispersing along the coast. Devon have carried out a lot of habitat management to try and encourage choughs to disperse east from Cornwall, which might have helped this one to reach Dorset.

Whilst doubtful it was a Jersey traveller; I contacted the Portland Bird Observatory just in case. All our captive-bred released birds are fitted with transponders. A quick scan with a pet microchip reader would detect if a transponder had been fitted. This requires the bird to be in the hand, a long shot for Portland, but at least they now know about our project and can bear it in mind next time they have a surprise visitor. 

Choughs travel with Blue Islands airline

England did receive one influx of Jersey choughs this month though. The three males we bred in the Zoo last year finally secured passage to Paradise Park, Cornwall. Ever changing COVID travel restrictions in both the UK and Jersey had placed the export on hold for several months.

Pre-export checks include checking the chough’s transponder number matches the paperwork. Photo by Liz Corry.

Export routes are limited now because only certified ports are permitted live animal transfers. Portsmouth (ferry), Heathrow and Gatwick (plane) are the usual routes we use to transfer zoo animals between the UK and Jersey. Neither were an option this time around and after a lot of ‘blue sky thinking’, red-tape cutting, paperwork signing, and (I imagine) a magic 8-ball, our Animal Registrar managed to open up a route via Exeter. This relied heavily on the generosity of Blue Islands airline who have previously supported Durrell’s work. Port staff handling the transfer at Exeter were equally helpful and handed over the birds to David Woolcock who then drove them down to Hayle.

Once they clear quarantine, these males will join the non-breeding flock housed at Paradise Park and eventually be paired up for 2021. They may even find themselves travelling back past Exeter on to one of the planned reintroductions in Kent or the Isle of Wight.

Hatching underway in Jersey

The wild Jersey breeding pairs became very active at Sorel as hungry bills started to hatch out. We think that the first nests to hatch belonged to  Betty and Pyrrho and Percy and Icho. The males would be waiting at the aviary for the supplemental feed, snatch what they could and zoom back to their quarry nests. They would then return with the females to repeat procedure and spend the next hour or so flying back and forth roughly every five minutes.  

Females tend to stay on the nest for the first week post-hatch when the chicks are most vulnerable. Once they get their body feathers, mum will help in collecting food such as ant eggs/pupae, beetle larvae and, in Jersey, the supplemental diet of mealworms. 

Ronez Quarry reported a new nest in a building the choughs have not used before. We suspect this is Betty and Pyrrho since her last known nest site no longer exists. Ronez also sent through photos on 11th May confirming Dusty and Chickay had succeeded in hatching three chicks. These were the first to be accessioned in 2021 and given temporary names of PP066PP067, and PP068. Whilst not the most attractive of names it signifies that they are the 66th, 67th, and 68th chicks to hatch in the wild since the reintroduction began. 

Chough chicks around 17 days old) in the quarry. Photo taken under license by Toby Cabaret.

I should add that some chicks hatch out, die, and get discarded from the nest without us knowing, therefore, the total number hatched is likely to be higher. The same day we were given the good news about Dusty’s family, Ronez called again to say they had found three other chicks prematurely out of their nest.  

The nest these chicks were from is in a box in the secondary crusher building used by Green and his new partner Vicq. Standard procedure would be to return the chicks to the box and hope the parents continue to feed. This option was off the cards as access to the box requires a scissor lift and at 5pm, with hire companies closed, we had to think outside the box. Sorry, even I just sighed at that pun.  

Luckily Ronez had a spare nest box which they placed on the elevated walkway inside the building. One chick was wobbly to say the least when he was picked up. The other two seemed ok despite the fall. Whilst not ideal it meant the chicks were off the ground out of the way of gulls, predators, and morning site traffic. 

Unfortunately, the three chicks did not survive the night. I collected the bodies on the way to work for the Durrell vet to carry out post mortems. He believes at least one was still being fed by the parents judging by the quantity of undigested mealworms he found.

We don’t know how or why the chicks found themselves on the floor. I suspect the nest box is too small to provide adequate air flow in that quarry building which can lead to over-heating, aspergillus, and/or compromised breathing. We had planned to replace the box with a bigger one for the 2020 breeding season. Lockdown stopped that then and again in 2021.  

Even more of a mystery was what happened next with Green and Vicq. The day after the nest failed, Green was seen flying around with his old partner Pyrrho. Then Vicq reunited with her ‘best friend’ Lily who she spent most of 2020 preening and hanging out with.  

Plémont hatch-trick

Plémont Bay. Photo by Liz Corry.

We all needed some good news after that which is where the Plémont pair come in. Minty and Rey started behaving like new parents desperately looking for food around 14th May. There is sparse foraging habitat within the immediate vicinity of the nest. 

Bracken smothers most of the land in the immediate vicinity of the Plémont chough nest. Photo by Liz Corry.

However, 800 metres away at Les Landes there are fields grazed by horses and the racecourse next door. The male could be seen making regular visits to this site whilst the female remained with the nest. 

The Plémont pair source food for their chicks from paddocks like these around Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry.

On a visit to the nest on the 19th, I heard the unmistakable sound of a begging chough chick. Too young to be visible. The parents on the other hand were visible. Especially if the raven family flew past. Minty has done a sterling job of keeping the nest predators away shouting at any who dared to go near.

Choughs are expert rock-climbers. Photo by Liz Corry.

By the end of the month, we had visual confirmation of chicks in the nest. Minty and Rey were still busy feeding and nest visits every five minutes gradually changed to every twenty minutes or so as the chicks grew and gained strength. The site of a parent carrying away a faecal sac from the nest is a joyous one. To a select few I guess. We are extremely excited to see what June has in store.

Rey, the female chough brooding chicks at Plémont. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

Chough report: April 2021

A female chough incubating her clutch. Photo under license by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Egg-cellent news

We have managed to identify ten nests. All of which appear to have females incubating eggs. Bonus news, one of those nests belongs to a wild-hatched pairing. Up until now, pairings have comprised Jersey Zoo or Paradise Park birds we have released or a 50:50 mix of captive-bred and wild-hatched choughs.

Nest  Sire Dam
1 Captive-bred Captive-bred (H)
2 Captive-bred (H) Captive-bred
3 Captive-bred  Captive-bred (H)
4 Captive-bred  Captive-bred (H)
5 Captive-bred  Captive-bred
6 Wild-hatched Captive-bred (H)
7 Wild-hatched Captive-bred
8 Wild-hatched Captive-bred
9 Wild-hatched Captive-bred
10 Wild-hatched Wild-hatched

(H) = hand-reared

The other point to note is that the Jersey flock now only has twelve males and eighteen females. The two males that are not paired up only hatched out last year. You wouldn’t expect them to be breeding yet. Then again, if you read last month’s report, never make assumptions with choughs…

Bo and Flieur probing for insects at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

The Trinity Trio

Reports started coming in over Easter weekend of three choughs visiting horse stables near Les Vaux valley behind the Zoo. Working closely with the owner we investigated, did some probing, if you pardon the pun, and discovered a few interesting facts.

A pair of choughs had been using the stables in 2020. The building is like a smaller version of one the quarry buildings and surrounded by several properties with horse-grazed fields. The owner had not noticed the choughs in a while so assumed they had gone.

Now a/the pair had returned, this time with nesting material. However, what appears to be happening is that they are removing material (silver birch twigs) from abandoned pigeon nests and flying off somewhere else.

On one occasion there was an almighty ruckus as the pair flew in to be greeted by a third chough. A phone call on Easter Saturday saw me drive round to the stables in the evening and find a solitary chough roosting in the rafters. 

The leg rings identified the bird as Bee the same chough regularly visiting the Zoo. This made sense, answering the question where does she go at night. It didn’t tell us who the other two were. That was until….

Peacock Farm

After Easter we received reports of two choughs visiting Peacock Farm. This belongs to the Jersey Royal Company of the famous Jersey royal potatoes. The farm also happens to be behind the Zoo and about a kilometre from the stables!

A pair of choughs were being seen, almost daily, on the site often with twigs in their bills. A neighbour managed to pinpoint which building they were going to. We met with two of their directors outside this building to introduce ourselves and explain about the chough project. Almost instantly, two choughs flew out from inside and started shouting at us. 

I would like to tell you that we read the leg rings, know exactly who the pair are and can confidently say there is an eleventh nest in Jersey. A royal one no less.

However, observations over the next few weeks left us a bit muddled. We know that the frenzy of twig trafficking slowed down. When the owner of the stables moved house we naturally stopped getting reports. We have not seen Bee over the Zoo as much. Likewise, chough sightings at the farm have dropped off.

Choughs Pinel and Bee at Peacock Farm, Trinity. Photo by Hannah Clarke

We do know that Bee and Pinel were photographed at Peacock Farm on 17th April. Bee frequently visits Sorel for supplemental feed. We have never seen any inclination that she is paired with Pinel. So if Bee and Pinel are a pair, who the heck was the third chough? Why wasn’t Pinel roosting with Bee at the start of April? Is this a new romance, could there be four choughs residing in Trinity?

The choughs appear to be horsing around this month. Photo by Liz Corry.

Who knows! Thank goodness the Plémont pair are straight forward. Oh wait…

Plémont, pesky choughs and puffins

The Plémont pair look to be progressing well. The female is incubating and the male is doing his best to defend the nest. We are managing to make weekly visits supported by several public sightings.

The Plémont male feeding the female as she takes a break from incubating their eggs. Photo by Liz Corry.

The puffins have now returned to Jersey to breed along the Plémont to Grève de Lecq coast. Puffins nest in burrows often in the same habitat choughs use for feeding and nesting. Our Plémont pair often crop up in reports from the seabird monitoring ‘arm’ of Birds On The Edge. Typically,  they are in flight so leg ring colours aren’t seen. That’s fine though right? Two choughs, one nest. All we need to know is when the chicks are due and if there are any disturbance/predation issues.

Wrong! Remember, never assume. Turns out there has been a switch-a-roo when we weren’t looking. In March we reported Beanie baby had lost her male and paired up with Minty, re-building the nest at Plémont. Jump to April and Minty is at Plémont but it’s not Beanie baby on the nest. It’s a younger female. Scandal!

Leg rings helped staff identify Rey as the female now on the Plémont nest. Photo by Liz Corry.

We haven’t seen Beanie baby all month. Was she ousted by the female or fell victim to the Plémont peregrine? We might never know. All I can say is Rey is incubating eggs at Plémont with Minty. Fingers crossed both Rey and Minty are rearing chicks come May.

Catching up with the choughs

We carried out a couple of successful catch-ups this month with the choughs to replace leg rings. All birds caught looked to be in good health and expected body weight. You always have to be extra cautious at this time of year. You want to be as quick as possible so as not to keep the parents from their eggs or chicks. Breeding females should only be caught if absolutely necessary and handled with care if doing so.

Which is my excuse for not taking any photos of the birds getting their new rings. Instead here is Riccardo trying to pretend everything is normal and that he isn’t holding the hatch door wires posed to drop them. See if you can spot the green lizard that clearly had me distracted from the job at hand.

Waiting to ambush the choughs at the aviary whilst being distracted by the basking green lizards. Photo by Liz Corry.

Aviary maintenance

The aluminium sheeting has been fitted to the aviary to deter rat access. Our next steps are ensuring no rats are living inside. Riccardo is monitoring with the aid of camera traps. Once the all clear is given, the aviary can be used to confine choughs if needed for example for veterinary reasons.

April’s weather has left us without rainwater on several occasions and we have ferried containers up there and altered our cleaning regime to accommodate.

Vegetation-wise, everything is growing which means regular strimming and mowing to maintain chough-friendly habitat. 

Sorel sheep set to work grazing a field previously used for winter bird seed crops. Photo by Liz Corry.

Meanwhile, the eco-friendly lawnmowers sharing the field with the aviary have set to work in another National Trust owned field. Don’t be alarmed if you visit and think a bunch of sheep have escaped. There is a hot wire around the perimeter.

Et maintenant, les nouvelles

Cappy is still happily living in Carteret, France. Photo by Catherine Bataille.

Cappy is still in Carteret. Yann has kindly kept us updated. We even had a photo sent in via Durrell’s Facebook site from a sighting on 11th April just north of Carteret. Read the news from France 

 

Chough report: March 2021

By Liz Corry

Breeding season

The chough pairs have been busy at their nests. Wool, horse hair and moss were being transported between Sorel and Ronez Quarry at the start of March.

The few cold snaps, where temperatures went below 4°C look to have interrupted the normal progression of things and pairs were still moving nesting material at the end of March. We think that at least one pair began incubating this month though, based on pair behaviour at the aviary. Nothing is certain. As the following will show.

Horsing around

It might well be the Plémont pair that have been visiting the stables at Les Landes Racecourse. A friend sent a photo of a chough on the window ledge as she was mucking out. Nest prospecting, after lining material, or just popping in to say hello? Not sure, but it started a trend that week for horse-related chough news. 

I found horse hair in the Sorel aviary on Monday afternoon (26th). On Wednesday came the report from Les Landes stables and, on Thursday, I took a phone call from a lady in Trinity who wanted to report choughs nesting in her stables. She had tried calling the day before, but the Zoo switchboard experienced technical issues. If she had got through, I would have been able to witness a flurry of twig movement in the empty stables and a shouting match between three choughs!

Choughs have been moving twigs around in a stables in Trinity as evident from the mess on the floor. Photo by Liz Corry.

We already knew about Bee visiting the Zoo and roosting somewhere nearby. Three days prior to the Trinity ‘battle of the twigs’,  a pair was spotted feeding by Jersey Dairy late in the afternoon and I spent two hours after work the next day staking out the area to no avail. The next day, keepers spotted three choughs over the Zoo. Then twig-ageddon.

Jersey dairy HQ where two choughs were seen feeding this month. Photo by Liz Corry.

The Royal Jersey Showground is next door to Jersey Dairy and offers more foraging habitat for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

These must be the three choughs involved in the Trinity stables squabble? Exactly which three remained a puzzle. At least for a couple of days. Easter Saturday, at around 8am, I got the call that the pair were back in the stables. Having just got out of the shower, I raced over with breakfast in hand to….oh wait, this was now April. I can’t tell you until the next report!

Plémont 

We definitely have a nest at Plémont. As do the raven pair and peregrines. Talk about unwelcome neighbours! We are a bit concerned about unintentional public disturbance and whilst you can’t physically access the nest, you can walk close to it. A few reports have included that the pair fly out to defend the site when people or dogs have approached.

Plémont, home to a pair of choughs, adjoins foraging favourites Grosnez and Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry.

As most of Jersey’s choughs nest in the very active Ronez Quarry, you would expect them to be used to disturbance. However, two cautionary points (1) this pair has never roosted/nested in the quarry and (2) disturbance is a regular 7am-4pm at Ronez with 1-2days off a week. 

All we can do is monitor the situation and evaluate at the end of the season. There isn’t any signage at Plémont to raise awareness. Then again, it might just have the same effect as a sign over a big red button that reads “do not press”. 

Catch-ups

We’ve attempted several catch-ups this month to replace missing or broken rings. The choughs are understandably vigilant during the breeding season. That being said, we succeeded a couple times resulting in a surprising revelation. 

Green, the ‘forefather’ of the Jersey choughs, paired up with Pyrrho at the start of 2020. She wears an orange and white ring combo. So, this year when the female turned up with only an orange ring we thought nothing of it. That was until we managed to catch up, check the metal ring number, and discover it was Vicq

What have we learnt from this?

  1. Green is really unlucky having now found himself with ‘wife’ number 4 since 2015
  2. Vicq finally stands a chance at breeding, having spent the last two years in a female pairing
  3. Never make assumptions where choughs are involved!

The other solved mystery involved two choughs sporting only a yellow leg ring. We knew that one was Dingle as he is busy nest-building with his partner Red. The other, once caught, turned out to be Jaune so we replaced her missing cerise ring.

Tupperware party @ Sorel, 3pm

We have phased out the use of ceramic dishes for the supplemental feed. I’ve managed to find suitable sized Tupperware boxes with robust lids into which I drilled holes (16-19mm dia.). The holes allow slender chough bills to get to access the food. Spillage, aka rat food, is stopped by the lid. As too is rain, well light rain at least.

New food stations for the choughs to stop spillage and limit thieving magpies. Photo by Liz Corry.

The choughs initially ignored the Tupperware hence phasing in rather than completely switching. Once confident they were not a trap, the birds happily tucked in. The containers are screwed into the food stands for stability and easily removed for cleaning.

Release aviary modifications

We have bought aluminium sheeting from metal fabricators Raffray Ltd. They have cut and bent to shape the panels we need to attach to the aviary to stop rats climbing up and getting inside. The order arrived this month and will be fitted sometime after Easter. 

Raffray’s aluminium panels have arrived for the release aviary modifications. Photo by Liz Corry.

Rewild Jersey wheels

Another modification underway this month saw the project vehicle transform to Rewild Jersey featuring an agile frog and a chough. The new signage is all thanks to the design team at Durrell and Signtech.je.  Fingers crossed we don’t scratch it on the brambles driving down the Sorel track.

SORG spawn

Speaking of amphibians, the toads returned to the chough aviary in the Zoo (also known as SORG), and spawned in the shallow pond. Pond is probably too grand a term. Not that the toads seem to mind. The chough student, who services SORG each morning, has been keeping the water levels topped up and we now have tadpoles. I’m not sure which we will be more excited to see this year, chough chicks or toadlets?

British Ornithologists’ Union (BOU) Conference 2021 

The choughs fought off stiff competition to secure a poster presentation slot at the 2020 BOU conference. Then Covid hit and the conference was cancelled. Not to be defeated, the entire event was transferred online via Zoom, Slack, and Twitter and held this month over three days.

For those of you on Twitter, search #BOU2021 and #chough or @Corry_Liz for the six tweet poster presentation thread. The poster itself can be viewed here:

 

Endangered puffins and the Seabird Protection Zone 

Press release from Birds On The Edge 

Birds On The Edge is delighted to announce that Jersey’s Atlantic puffins have started to arrive to their breeding cliffs on the Island’s north coast.

This small colony has comprised only four breeding pairs in the last few years, and it is hoped that at least as many will return this year. The puffins have been a bit late to arrive, with only one or two having seen so far over the past few days.

This is the most delicate time for our puffins, as they settle back in their nests and wait for their mates to arrive. Any disturbance or negative experience could put them off and make them abandon the area, sending them off to look for quieter breeding grounds elsewhere. After they have settled, the presence of boats and other watercraft near their breeding sites might disrupt or affect natural behaviours, such as incubation of the egg, fishing, or feeding their chick.

Birds On The Edge asks everyone to follow the guidelines of the Seabird Protection Zone (SPZ) between Plémont and Grève de Lecq, and avoid visiting this area by boat, kayak, paddle board or any other type of watercraft between March and July. These guidelines are already observed by boat and kayak tour operators, who avoid this area at this sensitive time, as well as by the local fishermen, who only visit the area briefly to check their pots.

The presence of watercraft in the Seabird Protection Zone is monitored during regular puffin and seabird surveys. In 2020 a steep increase of leisure craft in the SPZ was noticed in comparison with the previous year. The number of private boats and kayaks recorded per hour increased by 360%. This was believed to be a result of the travel and lockdown restrictions put in place during the pandemic. It was hoped that this year all private boat and kayak users will avoid the area completely until the breeding season is over. However, Birds On The Edge has already received reports of people on kayaks going through the SPZ over the past week.

It is worth remembering that puffins and their relatives, the razorbills, can be found all across the north coast, but as their breeding is restricted to this area, it is extremely important to give them peace and quiet in order for them to return to their nests.

The safest way to enjoy puffins is from the public footpath between Plémont and Grève de Lecq. As the Jersey puffins nest in rock crevices and between boulders below the coastal slopes, they are out of sight when in their nests. However, they spend a lot of time sitting on the water below the cliffs, and the safest way to watch them, for both puffins and people, is from the footpath between Plémont and Grève de Lecq, looking down to the water. The various vantage points, benches and bunkers along the footpath are good spots to watch puffins and other seabirds from.

The public is also invited to join one of the free ‘Puffin Watches’ that will take place at Plémont over the Easter holiday break. For further details please consult the Facebook pages of Jersey Birding Tours and Jersey Wildlife.

Chough report: June 2020

And they’re off… 

This year’s chicks have started to fledge and make their way over to Sorel. First out, and no surprise, were Dusty and Chickay’s chicks on the 9th. The only surprise was the number. Four! This is our largest brood recorded having made it from nest to supplemental feed. 

Kevin and Wally with one of their chicks. Photo by Liz Corry.

Ronez staff reported seeing a chick bouldering next to Lee and Caûvette’s nest and at least one still in the nest. Sadly, on the 15th they recovered a body which we assume was one of these two chicks. We have not seen Lee or Caûvette feed chicks out at Sorel and can only assume the brood failed. This is unusual for the pair. The post mortem on the recovered body was inconclusive. 

Lee and Caûvette’s chicks perished; at least they have each other. Photo by Liz Corry.

Bo and Flieur were caring for two chicks at the supplemental feeds. This is Bo’s first-time parenting. He seems up for the challenge. I wonder if he realises he is set for at least a month of earache post-nest? 

One of Chickay’s four chicks demanding to be fed. Photo by Liz Corry.

Other first timers are Percy and Icho. Last year their first clutch failed. This year they have three youngsters. Two arrived at the aviary with them on the 23rd then a third was noticed on the 26th. 

Our regular breeding pairs had varying success. I’ve already mentioned Dusty. His father, Green, and partner Pyrrho tended to a nest, yet nothing made it across to Sorel. 

Red, one of the original release birds, and Dingle raised two chicks that we know of. Ronez staff reported hearing chick noises coming from the nest box. Then on the 25th they had to intervene when one chick, having left the box, found himself with his first life choicea) face imminent death from construction vehicles b) face imminent death from tons of molten ash pouring on him or c) let the kind hi-viz human pick him up and move him to a safer area. He (we) went for Option C.  

Kevin and Wally fledged two chicks. Straight forward. No drama there. Trevor and Noirmont also fledged two chicks. I saw them bouldering around their nest site mid-June. What happened next is a bit of a mystery. Throughout June, no one observed Trevor or Noirmont feeding chicks at the aviary. They failed then right? Wrong! Although I can’t tell you until July’s report. The power of hindsight. Insert dramatic pause here. 

A chick arriving at the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.

Awkward: the aviary takes a bit of getting used to for new arrivals. Photo by Liz Corry

Embarrassing but we got there. Photo by Liz Corry.

New pairings 

June revealed two new pairings. That of Bee and Mac and Honeydew and Minty. All relatively young (≤3 years old) and no known nestsHowever, back in March Minty was seen carrying nesting material. At the time we reported him having a ‘blossoming’ relationship with a different female. Does this mean he was building a nest with her and it failed? He switched females and started building a nest with Honeydew way back in March? Either way we have no current evidence of Honeydew and Minty caring for a nest at Sorel. 

Plémont 

Without wanting to sound like a broken record, the Plémont update is much the same. No confirmed sign of XaviourBeanie Baby and Beaker are roosting at Plémont. No sign of chicks although monitoring of this site has been minimal. I think I have discovered their nest. It is too late in the year for them to be using it for definitive proof and I can only reach it at low tide. For monitoring purposes, due to Jersey’s amazing tidal range, it needs to be a low, low tide if that makes sense. 

High tide mark black) on the cliffs give you an idea where choughs can and cannot nest. Photo by Liz Corry.

Corbière choughs 

The Corbière mystery has been solved. Early June I managed to get a partial ID on one of the pair. Annoyingly this was on a day I had not planned to go looking and had no scope or long lens camera in the car. I did manage to clock a green ring on the left leg. This narrowed it down to one of six options.  

La Rosiere, Corbière, provides foraging and potential nesting habitat for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry

I returned on the 23rd in unforgiving heat this time armed with equipment. Turns out I didn’t need it as they were right there in front of me. The heat must have made them complacent splitting their time between foraging on open ground for a spell and sheltering in the old quarry ruins

Honeydew and Minty sheltering in the ruins from the intense heat. Photo by Liz Corry.

Quarry ruins used by the choughs as shelter. Photo by Liz Corry.

With an air of smug triumph, I said hello to Minty and Honeydewcracked a culturally inappropriate joke about them being at the Jehovah Witness hall, then decided I had been in the sun for too long.  

The Corbière pair arriving at the Kingdom Hall foraging site. Photo by Liz Corry.

Actually, what I did next was run around Gorselands and la Moye as I thought I heard a second pair calling not far away. When I returned to Minty and Honeydew one of them called out…and it echoed! I had just spent half an hour chasing an echo. I packed up and went off for an ice cream. 

The desalination plant next to the Kingdom Hall may explain the echoing bird calls. Photo by Liz Corry.

From my collective observations and the few public records, it does look like this pair could be roosting in the south west corner of Jersey. They like to use the abandoned Highlands Hotel during the day. It acts as a safe rest stop overlooking the land. They head to the roof then disappear out of sight for several minutes before heading off again to forage. The structure looks to have potential for a roost. The building has apparently been empty for 12-18 months. I would like to get in contact with the owner to see if we can investigate the possibility of roost or nest. If any readers can help with this please do get in contact elizabeth.corry@durrell.org or 860 059. 

Highlands Hotel is a prominent feature of the cliff tops in Jersey’s southwest. Photo by Liz Corry.

Icho

After the feed one Sunday, Icho was sat in the dead hawthorn tree by the aviary looking out of sorts. Percy was off somewhere else. She was very quiet and her feathers were out of place. There looked to be bald patches under her eyes and top of head. It was very easy for me to shut her in the aviary (another cause for concern).

Icho shut in the aviary to be caught up for a health check. Photo by Liz Corry.

Thankfully it was just a case of damp feathers mixing with rock dust. She must have bathed before arriving at the aviary. The right ratio of dust to water acting like ‘hair gel’ on the feathers.

Her subdued nature? Probably the same any mother has who had spent the past seven weeks feeding three hungry mouths?

Zoo chicks

A short yet sweet update. Penny continued to look after her three surviving chicks in the Zoo. We didn’t have to intervene just make sure she continued to get a regular supply of food. We ringed the chicks on the 16th and took DNA samples to send off for sexing. All looked fit and well.

Three very healthy chicks visible on the Zoo nest-cam. Photo by Liz Corry.

 The Malagasy A-Team 

I have been making the most of June’s daylight hours to keep on top of maintenance jobsWell trying to at least. There is the ever-growing grass and surrounding bracken to keep on top off. The rats are still making a meal of the netting in quite an extraordinary way. substantial sized rectangle had been gnawed out of one piece. I’m not sure which I was more alarmed at – the size or the shape.

For one memorable day in June, I had help from a very special volunteer groupFive staff members from Durrell’s Madagascar team have been over here in Jersey since February. They were attending the three-month DESMAN course at our Academy and became ‘stranded on the rock’ thanks to the pandemic.  

Mamy and Henri cut the grass and created enrichment areas inside the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

Students from the other countries had managed to make it homeGetting back to Madagascar was a little trickier. To alleviate lockdown boredom, they offered their assistance around the Zoo where feasible and out at Sorel. They powered through the jobs which helped me immensely.  

Mirana meeting the Manx loaghtans. Photo by Liz Corry.

One task included re-vamping the signage at the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

They managed to get flights home a few days later. They were ecstatic. I wasn’t. I had just lost my best team! I jest. We love our colleagues and lament over not spending more time face to face…unless it is in times of a pandemic. 

Mamy showed off his carpentry skills. Photo by Liz Corry.

From left to right: Mirana, Lova, Helen hiding) and Ny set to work removing the bracken before fixing holes in the netting. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sorel surprise 

As well as an unexpected volunteer team, I was in for another treat at Sorel this month. One evening, as I drove away from the aviary, I noticed a bird of prey sat on the field gate. Not unusual. Kestrel, buzzard, harrier, barn owl all hangout up there. This beauty caught my eye. It looked falcon-esque. Yet as I drove closer, eventually stopping mere metres away, managing to get my camera out of the boot, AND take a photo, I knew this wasn’t your average falcon. Of course the jesses were an early give away. 

Cyrus taking in the scenery on an excursion from St Johns Manor Falconry. Photo by Liz Corry.

With no falconer in sight, I fired off a few social media messages to see who was missing their bird. Within minutes St John’s Manor contacted me to say it was probably their beloved Cyrus. Turns out she had been missing for a day and her GPS tag had failed. I know what it feels like when our choughs go missing so I stayed nearby to keep an eye on her until they arrived. I’d love to tell you there was a happy ending. I don’t know if there was. As soon as the falconer arrived, she flew offNot far and it was approaching roost time so I would like to think she opted for rabbit in the falconer’s hand rather than the ones running around Sorel. 

Chough report: April 2020

Bye-bye Black(bird)

There appears to be a sneaky reshuffle within the pairings. Black, a female released in 2013, has not been seen since 25th March. We were hoping it simply meant she was incubating eggs. However, her partner Green started showing up with another female Pyrrho along with her partner at the time, Betty. As the month drew to an end the bond between Green and Pyrrho had strengthened, Betty was making moves on another female and Black still had not been seen.

Black has an interesting past. She was one of the first seven choughs to be released into Jersey. Males were few and far between in the early years. Her chance for a breeding partner came in 2016 after Dusty’s mother disappeared conveniently freeing up Green. Black took over both territory and nest site and laid a clutch each year without fail.

She hasn’t had much luck though. The 2018 clutch failed to produce anything and both 2019 chicks died shortly after fledging. Back in 2017, we named her only surviving chick Lil’Wheezy because both parent and chick showed signs of a syngamus infection. Lil’Wheezy disappeared before the year was out.

You start to wonder if Black’s health was compromised over the years making her more susceptible to predation. If she still hasn’t been seen by the end of May we will assume she has perished.

Team shuffles

Choughs ignore social distancing rules. Photo by Liz Corry.

Throughout April the Sorel supplemental feeds were covered by Glyn, his daughter Mairi, volunteer Sarah, Zoo student Beth and myself. All student placements at Durrell were given the option of returning home before lockdown. Beth very kindly decided to stay in Jersey and became an integral part of the Bird team.

Monitoring nest sites, foraging sites further afield, and potential new nest sites was limited to what I could achieve in my free time. Thankfully, Sue Mueller wished to volunteer with the monitoring as her permitted outdoor activity. Already a keen wildlife photographer and chough lover she was happy to spend her time sat at Sorel Point or walking sections of coastal path.   

A pair of choughs looking for food in the quarry. Photo by Sue Mueller.

April’s nesting progress

COVID restrictions limited the amount of nest observations in the quarry this season. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sue’s observations helped us to confirm eight active nest sites this month. Most were last year’s sites. Of note, we think Bo and Flieur might be nesting in the same area Flieur used with her previous partner. Sue couldn’t get a clear ID on the rings. The pair’s behaviour suggests Flieur is incubating, as are several other females.

It is doubtful that we will be able to determine hatching dates which in turn will restrict ringing at nest sites. We will be reliant on fledglings following their parents to the supplemental feed site in order to trap and ring them.

Aviary observations

Betty and Zennor both lost rings this month. At the feed on 12th April it was clear Zennor had lost her striped plastic ring. Betty had lost his black ID ring. When possible, we will try to catch up these birds and replace rings. For now, we can still distinguish them from others in the flock.

Wally flew in to feed on the same day with her hind digit of the left foot stuck in her ring. Pretty sure she did this last year during the breeding season. She will need to be caught up to free the digit and assess the condition of the rings.

Waiting for choughs to enter the aviary in order to catch and replace leg rings. Photo by Liz Corry.

Away from Sorel

No definitive news on the Plémont territory other than they are still in the area. My guess is that Xaviour has gone leaving Beaker and Beanie Baby holding territory. Gone where or how we don’t know. I suspect Beanie Baby has chosen her own place to nest; the exact location will be kept confidential.

Reports continue to come in of choughs around Les Platons. I haven’t managed to see them there yet. Not that the dogs are complaining about their new evening routine.

Going on a chough ‘hunt’ at Les Platons. Photo by Liz Corry.

East of les Platons, has patches of suitable chough habitat tucked in between woodland and bracken. Photo by Liz Corry.

I did have plenty of sightings of a choughs at the Zoo. Often just a single bird, a few times it has been a pair flying over. The single bird (assuming it is the same individual) likes to hang out on the Manor House roof, particularly Lee Durrell’s chimney.

Several times whilst servicing Kirindy or the flamingos I have heard a call, looked up, and seen a chough fly overhead. The Durrell staff having to self-isolate at the campsite have also been kept entertained by the visitors – incidentally the only visitors allowed to the Zoo in April due to lockdown restrictions!

Further south, we have had regular reports of choughs visiting the sand dunes, Gorselands, and Corbière.

A chough spotted on the roof of the abandoned Highlands Hotel, Corbière. Photo by Mick Dryden.

More often than not it has been a pair spotted, sometimes more. I think a pair have established a territory again in the south west. Hopefully they will have more success than the last pair who kept relying on the Sorel feed for sustenance.

Habitat around Corbière’s WW2 Naval tower provides food for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

One of their problems, I suspect, was the amount of disturbance they received when trying to find food in areas with heavy footfall. And paw-fall. And car-fall! Dog walkers, tourists, tourist coaches, cars, vans, children tobogganing down the dunes (a designated SSI site) all mean that birds are frequently disturbed. Maybe lockdown will have its merits. Fingers/feathers crossed!

The track to Corbière lighthouse attracts visitors for the views, WW2 bunkers, and the obligatory ice cream van. Photo by Liz Corry.

Zoo moves

On 5th April, we managed to catch the remaining juvenile in SORG and move her to the off show aviary to join her sibling. This meant Tristan and Penny could begin nesting. Lots of activity carrying twigs, wool, and moss into the nest box. Penny began egg laying as April came to a close.

Graham Law

We are sad to report the death of one of our keenest academic supporters. Dr Graham Law of the University of Glasgow passed away on 9th April. Graham made several visits to Jersey in the early 1980s but on a return visit to the Island in 2016, he took a great interest in the chough reintroduction project and helped establish links with the chough team at the University.

Graham worked as a zoo keeper for 23 years before moving to academia but never lost his enthusiasm for bettering the lives of animals in his care. He taught on the Glasgow Universities Masters course on Animal Welfare Science, Ethics and Law and was involved in many environmental enrichment projects including a remarkable one for killer whales. All of us who knew Graham and were so influenced by him in our life and careers will miss him deeply. Our thoughts are with Rosie and his children.

Chough report: March 2020

Welcome to Trinity Parish

Trinity residents, be on the lookout for unidentified flying black objects with red bills!

Honeydew, a 2-year old wild Jersey chough, popped by the Zoo on 23rd March. Perched on top of the chough enclosure, she peered down on the residents inside, had a quick preen, a good natter, then left.

Piecing together reports from Zoo staff, she was first spotted shortly before 8 am. Apparently perched outside a student’s bedroom window along Rue des Bouillons near the Zoo.

Note for future applicants – we have not trained the choughs to be your morning wake-up call.

Honeydew then paid a visit to our Finance Team (claiming expenses?). Their office is directly next to the chough aviary in the Zoo, prompting immediate panic that one of the birds had escaped.

Do not adjust yours sets – a wild chough visited the Zoo aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

This was to be the first of many visits to the Zoo throughout March. It wasn’t possible to identify the individual chough on each visit. Honeydew was identified once. Bee, another 2-year old wild female, was seen twice. One report cited nesting material being carried by a chough flying around the La Fosse end of the site. Could they be nest building in the parish? 

Bracken still dominates the north east coast although there are foraging opportunities for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

Speculation intensified with confirmed sightings of a pair around Les Platons and Egypte. Having walked the dogs there on many occasions, I know that this section of coastline has great potential to support a breeding chough pair. Just imagine how many choughs Trinity could support with effective bracken management!

Google Earth image of coastline from Bouley Bay (top left) to Bonne Nuit Bay.

Latest edition to the chough team

Last summer, Diva Opera raised funds for Durrell yet again through their annual opera festival at Domaine-des-Vaux, Jersey. We were very grateful to hear that the money raised in 2019 was to be split between the chough project, to purchase a vehicle, and the Durrell Academy scholarship programme.

With funding secured, I approached several dealers on the Island to ask the impossible…can you supply a high clearance, 4WD, electric or hybrid vehicle with plenty of boot space for a third of the price you would expect to pay?

Unsurprisingly the answer was no.

Not to be defeated, Falles Motors and their Bagot Road dealership came up with the next best thing! Please welcome Diva the Dacia Duster. Rather aptly, she makes a lot of different noises thanks to her intelligent features.

New project vehicle donated by Diva Opera in association with Bagot Road Garage. Photo by Liz Corry.

She isn’t electric or hybrid, but we did select the most eco-friendly option from the range. Plus I can now leave my car at home and cycle to the office since it won’t be required.

Steve Rolland and Phil Valois at Bagot Road provided great service and support throughout. Even to the point of giving us a heads-up that the dealership may go into lockdown so collect the vehicle NOW!  Diva was put to immediate use and has already made several trips to the aviary to top-up the water tanks.

Having our own project vehicle will hopefully solve our lack of student placement uptake. Many students wishing to apply don’t own a vehicle. If they do, the costs incurred in bringing one over are often too great. Bicycles are all well and good until you need to take 20litres of water to Sorel.

Out with the old, in with the new

We replaced the free-standing roost box in the aviary with a brand spanking new one. For the few birds still sleeping at the aviary they need a sturdy, sheltered space to nap in. After seven years, the box we had was in a sorry state.

Mike from the Zoo’s Site Services team cut the wood, numbered all the parts, built it, then immediately dismantled it. Yes, he found this strange too! I had asked him to build it flat-pack to transport along the footpath (no Diva at that point).

I was joined at Sorel by two very good friends (and project partner) who helped me reassemble and hoist it into place. At this point in the pandemic, we were maintaining a social distance of 2 metres. We went into complete lockdown not long afterwards.

The Environment team’s young apprentice scheme set to work at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Fifty shades of grey

I received an emergency call from Ronez Quarry on 25th March. Staff had spotted a chough on the ground, wet and covered in rock dust. The mix of water and ‘dust’ created a consistency almost like wet cement clogging all the flight feathers. Staff scooped her up so I could take her to the Durrell vet on duty. From the leg rings I knew it was Pyrrho a female nesting in the quarry.

Pyrrho got into a spot of bother in the quarry. Photo by Liz Corry

Although lockdown had not kicked-in at this stage, Jersey Zoo had taken precautionary measures against COVID-19. The Vet Department was off-limits to keeping staff. Equipped with mask and gloves, I had to put Pyrrho down on the ground (in a box), step back, and let Andrew pick her up and disappear inside.

Several hours later he emerged. A broken man. A broken, yet victorious man. Andrew had a lot of cleaning to do of both bird and, in the aftermath, building.

Pleased to say, Pyrrho had no injuries other than a loss of dignity. I was able to release her back at Sorel once she had dried-out and had a chance to eat. She flew straight back towards the quarry. Hopefully she can avoid getting in that state again.

Pyrrho post-spa date with the vet. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sign of the times – nesting season

Lee collected wool from Sorel to finish building his nest. Photo by Liz Corry.

Several birds have been busy collecting wool to line nests. Notably Kevin, Lee, and Minty in the second week of March. Lots of ‘peacocking’ by the males and a couple of copulation events witnessed.

We finally had our first evidence of Jersey choughs using horse hair as lining material. Mainland choughs are known to use this and we provide it to the captive pairs. We have just never seen our choughs use it before despite the abundance of stables in the northern parishes.

Horse hair used by choughs to line their nests. Photo by Liz Corry.

Of the twelve males in the Jersey population, ten are paired up and show signs of wanting to nest this year. The other two, Minty and Mac, are only 10 months old and yet to be in a confirmed pair. So where was Minty  taking the wool?!

Love Island

Relationships blossoming this month are that of Vicq and Minty and Honeydew and Baie. The latter are both female. Don’t expect any chicks from that pairing. Nevertheless, their friendship means they can look out for each other if they run into the neighbourhood ruffians. They can also get those hard to reach spots when allo-preening.

There’s always that one hard to reach spot. Photo by Liz Corry.

Vicq and Minty on the other hand are the pair to vote for. Vicq was a newbie to nest-building last year. Osbourne, her partner at the time, is now missing presumed dead. Step forward Minty one of the two males from the 2019 wild-hatched cohort. With an older female to show him the way we could be hearing the pitter patter of tiny chough feet this summer.

We will do our best to follow all their progress over the coming months. Covid restrictions are likely to reduce our chances of that.

Anybody need any wool? Photo by Liz Corry.

Plémont

Plémont is home to our first successful chough family to breed away from the release site. Their ‘celebrity status’ hasn’t lasted long. Neither father nor fledgling have been seen for several months. Presumably dispersing to that great habitat in the sky. Or emigrating to Sark!? (We still haven’t confirmed the report from last Autumn).

Beaker and Beanie baby, who had been scouting out the area, moved in with Xaviour. Very modern. As the breeding season kicked in the trio stopped visiting Sorel for supplemental food. Beaker and one other chough were spotted feeding at Plémont on 7th March. A roost check confirmed choughs were still using the site.

The only sighting of them at Sorel for the month of March was on the 23rd. Slightly more concerned over Xaviour’s absence if she is playing third wheel to the couple. Hopefully just tied up nest-building and egg-laying. It is a very important job after all. 

Riding the (air) waves. Photo by Liz Corry.

Zoo news

With the various upheavals in the Bird Department brought on by COVID provision we left it a bit late in setting up the breeding pair in the Zoo. Tristan and Penny were still housed with their two girls now 10 months old. At the end of March keepers managed to catch up one of the youngsters and move her to an off-show aviary. The second juvenile cooperated a few days later. By then it was April so you will have to read the next report to find out what happened next.

Chough report: June 2019

Plémont bay – a new territory for the choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

A lot of ups and downs this month for the Channel Island choughs; literally in some cases! The nests have fledged with some surprising outcomes. Whilst the chicks were escaping their nests, I escaped the Island to Slovenia to talk all about choughs to Germans. 

Rewilding Plémont

In a first, on record, a wild-hatched chough has fledged at Plémont! The pair responsible were on their second season of trying and are the first to successfully breed away from Sorel.

The success is largely due to the pair’s ability to find food in the wild. They have not been seen at the supplemental feeds for a long time implying they don’t need it. Instead they forage around Plémont, Grosnez, and Les Landes. 

Research by BirdWatch Ireland showed choughs in Donegal have a preference of wind-swept, maritime grassland within a 1 km range from the nest. Petit Plémont headland matches this description perfectly. In addition, the wonderful restoration work of the derelict Pontins site by the National Trust for Jersey a few years ago has really paid off.

The Plémont chick is a fast learner. It even picked up some cave art skills! Photo by Liz Corry.

It has been quite challenging to keep up with the youngster. When first bouldering outside of the nest it would hide behind rocks when mum and dad were off finding food. We didn’t manage to get any clear photos of it at this age. 

Born into the wind, the chick was quick to develop its flying skills. None of this hanging around the quarry clinging to the safety of girders and stairways.

There have been a few sightings of the family at Plémont. We probably won’t be able to give the chick an identity (leg rings, DNA sexing) until they start returning to the Sorel feeds. If they return!

The ones that got away

We returned to the quarry on 4th June to ring chicks too young to ring when we visited last month. The first nest belonged to Red and Dingle using a box in the asphalt plant. You may remember they had two young chicks. Now there were three!

Licensed ringer Dave Buxton discovered three chicks in the nest- box. Photo by Liz Corry.

The newcomer was 23 grams lighter than it’s siblings. Having hatched last, it had time to catch up. On 25th June the quarry reported all three chicks had fledged with parents attentive as ever.

Staff soon began to realise one of the chicks was in trouble. Whilst two had positioned themselves on the purlins of the building, the third was out and exposed to the risk of mechanical harm. Staff left doors to the building open hoping the parents would encourage the chick back to safety. Apparently the parents were shouting at it quite a lot; one assumes that is what they were trying to do!

Onsite CCTV allowed staff to keep watch on the chick; it appeared to be doing ok. After two days it wasn’t moving – at all. Sadly it had died. A post-mortem revealed a healed fracture in one wing. An underlying reason for its restricted movements around the asphalt plant? The interesting find was that this wasn’t the ‘runt’, but one of the older, larger chicks.

Choughs are full of surprises. When we went to ring Kevin and Wally’s brood on the 4th we found they had lost a chick pre-fledge. Disheartening as it was they had made up for it in size. They were huge! We remembered tiny, half-naked things. These were fully-feathered beasts. I’m pretty sure there is no literature on choughs feeding protein shakes to their chicks. We certainly didn’t find a nutribullet secreted in the building framework. Whatever they’ve been fed, the chicks survived and by the end of the month they were frequenting the Sorel aviary.

One of Kevin and Wally’s chicks having leg rings fitted. Photo by Liz Corry.

Other fledging news

We are pretty certain that all the chicks have now fledged. Unless any undetected nests along the north coast wish to make a claim – please do so now.

Proud to say we have new choughs flying around Jersey’s north coast from six different families. Somewhat disheartening to know there were broods or individuals that didn’t make it. From what we have seen it is simply a result of life in the wild.

One reason for loss is inter-specific competition within the quarry. I had a joyous moment mid-June watching Green and Black’s recently fledged trio being fed on the east side – where we used to supplemental feed released choughs.

Imagine my surprise as watching through the scope I saw a herring gull appear from nowhere and pin down a chick by the throat. Lots of shouting and wing slapping ensued.

Surprise attack by gulls on the recently fledged chough family. Photo by Liz Corry.

A pair of herring gulls pin down one of the chough chicks by the throat. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

A second gull joined in as did all the choughs in the quarry at the time. The chick managed to escape although I imagine it sustained injuries. Since that day we have only seen the parents with one chick.

The gull’s actions were not fully unjustified. They had a chick about two metres away from where the chough family had been hanging out. They were just doing their job of being good parents. With more choughs and increasing numbers of gull nests we are likely to see more of this behaviour.

Taken several days after the attack, this cute ball of fluff explains what the fight was about. Photo by Liz Corry.

An interesting anecdote from this event was how the other choughs reacted. They didn’t physically attack the gulls (a couple tried) it was more of an audible attack. Once the fighting stopped and one gull returned to their nest, the choughs stayed with the chough family almost like a standoff.

When it looked like matters had calmed down the choughs began breaking away going about their business. One pair returned to their nest in the lower quarry. Choughs truly are a social species.

Zoo chicks

Thankfully choughs raised in the zoo do not need concern themselves with gulls, peregrines, or dangerous rock-crushing machinery. Just their dad!

Tristan remained separated from Penny and the two chicks throughout June. The chicks look really well and have now fledged. We will look at moving Tristan back soon along with Gianna for the summer. 

Dobrodošli v Sloveniji ⁄ Welcome to Slovenia

I was invited to talk at Monticola’s annual meeting held, this year, in the Julian Alps, Slovenia from 11th to 16th June. Monticola is an association of amateur and professional ornithologists specialising in alpine species.

The Julian Alps in Slovenia were once home to red-billed choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

This year’s focus was to discuss the feasibility of reintroducing red-billed choughs to Slovenia. Red-billed choughs disappeared mid-twentieth century from Slovenia (yellow-billed choughs are still numerous). Hunting is attributed to much of the loss. Change in land use and effects of pesticides and/or cattle worming are likely to be the other major players. A large proportion of alpine pastures in the Julian Alps have been lost to the encroaching commercial forest.

Caûvette the chough surveying the habitat. Photo by Liz Corry.

Various day time excursions were planned along with evening talks. Members of BirdLife Slovenia (DOPPS) talked about their work and joined me for a scary panel discussion on reintroducing the chough. I say scary, not because of the stature or responsibility being on this panel. Rather because it was in German…and Slovenian!

Tomaz Mihelic, BirdLife Slovenia, gave talks about monitoring and conservation of various Slovenian species. Photo by Liz Corry.

 

BirdLife Slovenia don’t just work with birds. Photo by Liz Corry.

Monticola members are mainly German or Swiss-German. To add to the fun, the German for red-billed chough is Alpenkräuhe which is not the same as the Alpine chough known in English as yellow-billed choughs.

Promo material handed out to Monticola members. Photo by Liz Corry.

Thankfully I had the lovely Johannes and Arnette Denkinger who took me under their wing. Johannes had invited me to speak after reading about Birds On The Edge. It has been his passion for many years to see the return of the red-billed choughs to the eastern Alps.

Birdlife Slovenia did not appear to be against the idea, but raised the realistic challenge of limited resources and existing government priorities. Using evidence from Jersey, and Durrell’s ethos, we all agreed there was scope to create a similar project to Birds On The Edge in Slovenia whereby the focus is restoring alpine pastures. Support is already there within the German zoo community where a captive-breeding programme has been initiated. Tiergarten Nuernburg are leading the work and have invested in habitat feasibility studies.

At the end of the day this needs the people of Slovenia to be behind it. A challenge Johannes is prepared to take on!

Caûvette the chough taking a break at Lake Bohinji. Photo by Liz Corry.

Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards 2019

Congratulations to Birds On The Edge partner the National Trust for Jersey who were awarded runner’s up prize for their conservation meadow at The Elms. The winners were SCOOP The Sustainable Cooperative for their soon to launch ‘Re-Wild my Plate’ initiative.

Glyn Young presenting Kaspar Wimberley of SCOOP with first prize at this years Insurance Corporation Conservation Awards.

Glyn Young was one of the judges and presented the awards at a ceremony held at the Pomme D’or Hotel. I gave a short presentation explaining how we spent last year’s award money supporting the chough project. We must state for the record there was no vote rigging!