The Pen Llŷn & Iveragh Chough Count

By Fiach Byrne

Jersey Island’s striking landscape shares many similarities with the Llŷn Peninsula in northwest Wales and the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland. Each of these regions are popular tourist destinations that are heavily influenced by agriculture and their connection to the sea. Their coastal landscapes are also extremely important to many forms of wildlife, not least our favourite corvid, the red-billed chough. The choughs’ iconic call, coupled with their bright red beaks and legs are a staple of the Llŷn and Iveragh Peninsulas. And these birds are clearly held in high regard on Jersey since their reintroduction in 2013.

On the Llŷn and Iveragh Peninsulas, choughs nest within mines, quarries, farm buildings and along cliff faces. A short distance from these nest sites, choughs have access to a mix of foraging habitats such as beach, sand dune, earth banks, coastal and agricultural grasslands, coastal heath and some well-grazed upland sites. Here, choughs can find their favourite food items such as beetles, ants and spiders, as well as the larvae of beetles, butterflies and moths. The importance of Llŷn and Iveragh for choughs is one of the primary reasons why ‘Special Protection Areas’ (SPAs) have been designated on both peninsulas.

The most recent national chough censuses indicated that chough populations across the UK and Ireland are relatively stable, although there were some concerning declines in certain regions. These national surveys are usually conducted every ten years in the UK. However, there was nearly two decades of a gap between Ireland’s 2002/03 national chough census and the most recent census carried out in 2021. Although these censuses provide invaluable insights into the health of national and regional chough populations, more frequent updates would help us determine how our choughs are faring in the years between censuses.With this in mind, the University College Cork-led LIVE Project, in collaboration with the National Trust in Wales and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) organised a cross-border ‘Chough Count’ on the Iveragh Peninsula in southwest Ireland and the Llŷn Peninsula in northwest Wales on 12th March 2022. This initiative typifies one of LIVE’s main objectives – the sharing of knowledge and best practice between our two peninsulas.

The Llŷn Peninsula’s second ‘Chough Count’ saw 51 volunteers record 254 choughs as the sun shone in north Wales. Iveragh’s inaugural count saw twenty-six volunteers record 64 choughs in quite challenging weather conditions. By conducting annual counts of Llŷn & Iveragh’s choughs, we can detect trends in these populations in the years between censuses and we can identify important habitats for this protected species. The 2022 chough count also gave our surveyors the opportunity to record some of our other native birds such as skylarks, fulmars, white-tailed sea eagles and a hen harrier in Iveragh, as well as red kites, peregrine falcons and a green woodpecker on Pen Llŷn.

Distribution of records during Pen Llŷn’s second ‘Chough Count’ held on 12th March 2022.

The LIVE Project (ecomuseumlive.eu) has received funding from the European Regional Development Fund through its Ireland Wales cooperation programme. Led by the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences in University College Cork, LIVE works to enable the coastal communities of Llŷn and Iveragh to promote their natural and cultural assets, with the aim of encouraging more sustainable tourism opportunities in these rural regions of Ireland and Wales.

Chough report: May 2022

By Charlotte Dean

Bon voyage to Liz

The sun has set on the Red-billed Chough Project officer’s time here in Jersey with Birds On The Edge and with Durrell. Her absence from Jersey Zoo Bird Department and at the Sorel aviary is undeniable. We can only strive to be as dedicated to the Jersey free-flying choughs as she once was. But despite this saddening farewell; the chough show must go on! Updates on the choughs will continue; and what an exciting month it has been!

Native reptile sightings

While the Island’s starting to heat up with all this fantastic summery weather; there have been many green lizard sightings. Jersey is the only place in the British Isles where green lizards occur naturally and are one of the three species of lizards which are protected under the Conservation Wildlife (Jersey) Law 2021. Green lizards can be seen between spring and summer. Green lizards are sexually dimorphic; meaning, they encompass differences in appearance, shape and/or size between the sexes, they are easily distinguishable: the male green lizard (as seen in the image) is bright green with a bright blue throat but is also larger than the female. In contrast, the female lizard is smaller, less vibrant and has creamy and/or brown lines running down the body. So, now that we’re in May, it is the perfect time to keep your eyes peeled when walking in and around any of the Island’s coastal paths. If you happen to spot a green lizard or the other lizards native to Jersey; Jersey Amphibian and Reptile Group (JARG) and Jersey Biodiversity Centre (JBC) would love to know, so make sure you send your sighting details to them as it will help with the protection and monitoring of the reptile species on the Island.

Butterfly season

If reptiles aren’t your ‘cup of tea’ then not to worry, the summer also brings out our beautiful butterflies. Between the months of April and September you’ll find butterflies are very abundant across the whole of the countryside. We’ve already come across some dedicated volunteers conducting butterfly surveys for Jersey Butterfly Monitoring Scheme (JBMS) along the coastal path from Sorel Point carpark. Butterflies are used as great environmental indicators; this is because they live in specific habitats and can indicate the general health of the land by their presence or absence. As Butterflies are generally a widely abundant terrestrial insect that are often admired for their large size and distinct appearances; they are the ideal insect for surveying. In and around Sorel we’ve seen butterflies such as: speckled wood, small heath and small copper. All three of these butterflies’ ideal habitat is semi-natural heaths and agricultural environments; indicating that the area around the Sorel aviary is relatively adequate land for foraging habitat for our red-billed choughs.

Moulting time for non-breeders

But, enough about the Island’s non-chough native wildlife, what about the birds themselves?! It’s that time of year again when the non-breeding choughs start to moult – this is becoming readily apparent by all the feathers we can now collect from the Sorel aviary and by the less than perfect looking feathering on some of the non-breeding choughs. Choughs generally start their moult between May and/or early June. They start moulting their central tail feathers first working outwards. They then start moulting and growing their wing feathers, the primaries, around the same time as their tail; but complete their tail moult first. The moulting process for an adult chough can take up to 152 days.Monday, 9th May

On 9th May, Jersey celebrates Liberation Day and Jersey puts on quite a show with flags at many houses and businesses as well a spectacular parade. But Jersey Zoo had another cause of celebration, the bird flu restrictions were finally dropped by the Government. Therefore, Jersey Zoo was given the green light to move any of birds temporarily sheltered back out into their original enclosures; enabling the public to enjoy some missing birds from the collection. It was good to see all the Chilean flamingos and red-breasted geese back in their valley. But this brought the chough project good news too; as it meant the arranged Ronez Quarry visit could go forward and this year’s hatched chicks could potentially be ringed!

Ronez Quarry visit

Jerseys free-flying choughs have had another productive nesting season. There are eleven breeding pairs in the group this year and with help from Ronez Quarry we discovered twelve nests in the quarry buildings. Unfortunately, from the twelve nests there were only hungry chick vocalizations from seven out of the twelve nests. But worry not! Some of the other breeding pairs have settled in other locations around Jersey. These seven nests are owned by the known breeding pairs that have been presumed incubating (absentees at supplementary feeds can be a give-away). Choughs are well-known for being faithful when it comes to their nest sites; but it’s always worth a check of the new nests. None of the new nests found by quarry personnel this year were being used by our breeding pairs. This could indicate that some of the younger choughs are practicing for when they start nesting in the near future! Once the incubation period is over, the female will still spend the majority of her time on the nest but as the chicks get older and/or gain vital feathering she spends less time sat on the nest; allowing us to see both the female and male take alternate feeding trips to the aviary. A good indication that the chough chicks will be of good size is the appearance of the female within the breeding pair also leaving the nest to forage, or in our case, visit the aviary for the supplementary feed. As we’ve been seeing both sexes of each breeding pair of late and have estimated all the breeding pairs’ end of incubation dates, we knew that most would have chicks old enough to ring around the end of May.

With help of loaned equipment provided by 4Hire, Ronez’s Assistant Operations Manager, Toby and Durrell Chough Intern, Charlotte were able to reach great heights and see into five of the seven nests in the quarry. Two of these nests were inaccessible due to high winds and/or the position of nests in buildings. But worry not, when visiting the quarry, we could clearly hear hungry chicks from all seven active nests!

The first nest we checked was Lee & Caûvette’s. They had three chicks, no older than nine days old! This meant they were not old enough to be ringed, but at least we knew that this breeding pair has been successful in hatching three chicks this year. The second nest we visited was Trevor & Noirmont’s which only had one chick inside, but it was old enough to be removed from the nest to be health-checked and become the first chick to be given temporary rings this year. This chick was ringed with this year’s ringing colour; dark green and will be identified as ‘white over dark green’ and/or Manitou (named after the cherry-picker which gave us access to the nest).

Our third nest site to visit was going to be Percy & Icho’s nest; however, high winds picked up and both the quarry staff and Durrell staff knew it was going to be too dangerous for us and the chicks to attempt to visit their nest box. It was clear though that the breeding pair were visiting this nest and there were definite sounds of hungry chicks coming from inside; the big question will be how many will we greet around their fledging date! The fourth nest we looked at was Kevin & Wally’s. We had previously been sent a photo of this nest from Toby – in this picture, we thought there were only two chicks but while at the quarry we got a lovely surprise from the video we took of inside the nest. There were definitely three of the oldest chicks we’d seen in a nest around the quarry so far! Due to the nest being out of sight; we did not attempt to ring these chicks for their own safety – but we hope to see them all at the start of June at Sorel aviary!

The fifth nest visited, that of Green & Pyrrho, was accessed with the stair lift; they had three chicks which were also old enough to ring. However, again, due to the positioning of the nest and the supporting beams of the building, we could not get up high enough to reach into their nest box – and again, the chicks were left alone. The sixth nest visited was Bo & Flieur’s, in a very noisy and dusty building; surprising how the adults and/or chicks survive inside it! There was no way of accessing this nest but we could hear some very noisy chicks indicating their reproductive success. We may not know how many chicks are in this nest; but we know to expect some to arrive in the coming month. The seventh and final nest we visited was Dusty & Chickay’s. They have four hungry chicks in their nest but because of their placement in the building, this nest was inaccessible to cherry-pickers and stair lift equipment. It’s almost as if the choughs build their nests so that no one can access them!As much as our visit didn’t go completely to plan, thanks to mother nature and the breeding pairs’ chicks’ ability to latch onto their nests making us unable to remove them to ring them before they fledge’ it’s clear that this year our choughs have been very productive; most if not all have had three or more chicks. We currently know of 14 chicks in the quarry; but let’s not forget that we still have an unknown number of chicks from two other breeding pairs! Going from our breeding population’s clutch sizes in the past (our choughs usually lay up to four eggs), there could be at least three or four chicks in each of the other two nests that were inaccessible. Which could bring this year’s hatched chick count to 22!! This may be wishful thinking, but it’s always good to expect the unexpected!

Nest

Nest location

Pair

Chicks

1

Ronez Quarry

Lee & Cauvette

Three chicks

2

Ronez Quarry

Trevor & Noirmont

One chick

3

Ronez Quarry

Percy & Icho

Noisy chicks but no visual

4

Ronez Quarry

Kevin & Wally

Three chicks

5

Ronez Quarry

Green & Pyrrho

Three chicks

6

Ronez Quarry

Bo & Flieur

Noisy chicks but no visuals

7

Ronez Quarry

Dusty & Chickay

Four chicks

8

Ronez Quarry

Red & Dingle

No sign of nesting this year

9

Ronez Quarry

Nest built but unused

None

10

Ronez Quarry

Nest built but unused

None

11

Ronez Quarry

Nest half built and unused

None

12

Ronez Quarry

Unused nesting site this year

None

13

Plémont

Minty & Rey

Three chicks

14

Trinity

Vicq & Pinel

None

15

Corbière

Danny & Jaune

Unknown

Chough report: April 2022

By Liz Corry

Success at Plémont!

For a second year in a row the chough pair at Plémont have successfully hatched three chicks. We discovered the happy news at the end of the month. Using a very, very, very, long lens we were able to get photos of the chicks’ heads whilst begging for food.

It is hard to give a precise age without seeing the rest of their body, but best guess is a week-old give or take a day. This would also match up with nest observations we made over April; our estimated hatch date was the 22nd.  Returning the following week further confirmed our age estimate as their little heads were still relatively bald.

Both Plémont parents are now out and about in search of food for their young. Concerns were raised when we started seeing both parents at the Sorel supplemental feed desperate for food. Choughs nesting at Plémont do not normally return to Sorel until their chicks fledge or the nest fails. This was the first time in five years. Chough chicks devour a lot of insects whilst in the nest, so chough parents tend to forage close-by to conserve their energy.

Petit Plémont and grassland above the cliff path are used by choughs searching for food. Photo by Liz Corry.

There has been a big increase in footfall at Plémont this month which could deter the choughs from foraging close-by. It has also been relatively dry so the soils around Plémont are not as favourable to soil-dwelling invertebrates. There are many other reasons why the parents might be visiting Sorel, the good news is that the chicks are still alive and begging well.

All being well the chicks should fledge at the end of May, start of June. We will be monitoring more closely this year around the fledging period. Last year we knew that two of the three chicks fledged, but don’t know what happened to the third. Then one disappeared within the first week of being out. If that happens again this year, it would be good to try and understand why.

Potential success at Ronez once again

We believe at least five of the eight nests in the quarry have chicks. This is based on behaviour of the pairs at the feeds and in the quarry. The females had been suspiciously absent. Then when they did turn up, they were very noisy. Pyrrho and Icho in particular would fly in vocalising, then follow their partner like a noisy shadow demanding food and being fed instantly. It’s quite an interesting sound they make trying to beg and swallow the food at the same time!

Ronez Quarry continues to be a successful breeding site for choughs in Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.

At the end of the month, we were then seeing the male and female in a pair making repeat trips between aviary and nest site. This tends to be when they are feeding chicks although we have no definitive proof yet. We are trying to arrange a quarry visit for May.

Zoo chicks

Our Jersey Zoo pair also had success this month with their first chick hatching on the 28th followed by number two the next day and number three shortly after.

Nest cam footage showed the moment the first chick hatched whilst mum looked on. Photo credit Durrell.

There was a fourth egg…spoiler alert…it failed to hatch. The nest camera shows the parents still holding out hope until May 2nd. Mum took the executive decision to remove the egg from the nest around lunchtime. You can see this in the video below around 40 seconds in.

We may send the chicks over to the UK shortly after they fledge so they can become part of the release project in Kent. This is very much dependent on the Jersey and UK Government’s rulings over exports and imports of birds from a bird flu protection zone. Restrictions for indoor housing of poultry will be lifted in Jersey on May 9th.

No success in the new territories

The Trinity pair appear to have abandoned their nest and are spending more time at Sorel. They still visit the stables but the nest is now being used by doves. We had hoped that the choughs had found a more favourable site in the Parish yet their casual behaviour at the aviary suggests they’ve given up.

An article will be published in the summer edition of the Trinity Tattler magazine asking residents to report any sightings. This might shed some retrospective light on the situation. I’m not holding out hope that there will be a surprise nest discovered.

In similar circumstances, we are now seeing the ‘Corbière pair’ back at Sorel. Their suspected nest was last seen being used by pigeons. We are used to seeing choughs fail at establishing territories in the south west. Food supply, or lack thereof, may play a role in this. The cliff tops are choked with invasive sour fig (or Hottentot fig) (Carpobrotus edulis) and the exposed ground isn’t very accommodating to soil invertebrates.

Cliffs around Corbière could offer potential nest sites for choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

Sour fig (Hottentot fig) might look pretty when flowering, but its choking Jersey’s cliff tops in the south west. Photo by Liz Corry.

Return visit to Guernsey

We have seen another report of chough posted on the Guernsey Birdwatching Facebook group. Dated 16th April, it is clear that the bird is one of ours from the red and white striped ring, but that is all we know unfortunately. They were foraging at Pleinmont again. Clearly a popular site.

A chough was spotted at Pleinmont, Guernsey this month. Photo by Chris Wilkinson/Facebook

It just so happens that Portelet and Archirondel were missing from the Sorel feed that day. Coincidence? This is very exciting news if they have made a second round trip between islands to forage.

Sark and Guernsey can be seen on the horizon from Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Aviary maintenance

Boring but necessary aviary stuff. April has brought sea fog, hail, downpours of rain, but mainly sunny days perfect for grass growing which means we do lots of grass mowing; weekly almost daily depending on how much time we have spare and how long the strimmer battery lasts.

Keeping the grass short inside the aviary has multiple benefits. Photo by Liz Corry.

The holes in the netting we had repaired earlier in the year have reopened with extra wear and tear. Nothing to do with rodents just weathering and strain on the netting. We need to get the henchman ladder back up to Sorel to carry out the repairs.

We have replaced a couple of rotting hatches, rusted door bolts, replaced food stands and repaired benches for accessing hatches.

Holes have reappeared in the netting along the central pole. Photo by Liz Corry.

Random fact

Park House Thai restaurant in St. Helier, Jersey, appear to feature red-billed choughs in their interior décor…

Unexpected restaurant décor in Jersey. Photo by Liz Corry.

And finally

This will be my last chough report for Birds On The Edge and Durrell.  I’ve been with Durrell for eighteen years and worked with the choughs since they arrived in the Zoo in 2010. It was a hard decision to make as I’m leaving both my job and the island I’ve called home for the last sixteen years.

I’m not quite leaving the choughs though as I will be taking up a new role as chough release supervisor in Kent for The Wildwood Trust. No doubt I will keep popping up from time to time on Birds On The Edge or at the Inter-Island Environment meetings. Like Where’s Wally minus the red and white striped top.

I’m extremely proud of what the team has achieved over the years, and I often forget letting the day to day stresses of running the project take over. Plémont is the perfect place to remind me. When I first visited the bay in 2006, I didn’t know the Channel Islands were once home to choughs. Eight years later I remember visiting Plémont café with friends and musing over the idea of one day seeing the then recently released choughs utilise the cliff tops and caves. And now, well why don’t you find out for yourself. Head to the café (I recommend the waffles), sit outside, soak up the rays, and listen… 

 

Chough report: March 2022

By Liz Corry

Archirondel went on a ‘girls’ trip’ to Guernsey at the end of March. Photo by Chris Wilkinson/Facebook.

Channel Island Choughs 

The dream finally became a reality this month when two Jersey choughs were photographed in Guernsey. We first discovered the birds had left the island through a post on social media. A post on Guernsey Birdwatching’s Facebook page showed a selection of images and video from a very excited birdwatcher. The images clearly showed the leg rings enabling us to identify Archirondel and Portelet as the two tourists. These are two young, non-breeding females and as such have the freedom to explore.

The last time we recorded  Archie and Portelet at the supplemental feed was on 22nd March. After some frantic armchair detective work we discovered that they visited Sark too on 23rd March and were then next seen on the 25th in Guernsey. 

The report from Sark is a wonderful description of what it’s like when you spot a chough in flight for the first time:

“I went out to do the mowing at 3.30 pm and thought I heard a jackdaw which we do not usually see in Sark. I looked up and saw a black bird disappearing over towards Derrible Bay (fingers on wings were visible) but it was only a fleeting sighting. A bit later at 4.45 pm when I had finished the mowing I heard the call again and two choughs flew right above me and I realised that it wasn’t a jackdaw but a chough’s call. The red bill of one could be clearly seen but because of the shaded light I could not see whether rings were present on the legs. An altogether more slender bird than the crow and smaller. They turned right and flew down the meadow as if heading off east towards the harbour in a tumbling flight and then veered abruptly and flew off towards the north but heading back towards the east coast.” 

A Jersey chough flying high in Guernsey. Photo by Dan Scott/Facebook.

The pair stayed in Guernsey over the weekend foraging around Pleinmont near Portelet Bay! Portelet, the chough, returned to Jersey along with Archirondel on Monday the 28th. Quite literally a girls weekend away in the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

Image from Google Earth.

We envisaged this could happen when we first planned the reintroduction. It’s not unheard of for UK choughs to spend time foraging on both mainland and a nearby offshore island. This trip might have been a one off, equally it could be the start of a new foraging pattern for Jersey’s choughs. 

There is certainly suitable foraging habitat on offer in Guernsey. Pleinmont looks very similar to Les Landes and Grosnez in many respects, but it is too soon to talk breeding opportunities. We need more males for that to happen. No pressure on the breeding pairs then!

Pleinmont in Guernsey appears to provide suitable foraging habitat for choughs. Image from Google Earth.

The 2022 breeding season is underway

March madness came into full force when the breeding choughs began nest building, or nest refreshing for the experienced pairs. Ex-volunteer, Neil Singleton and his wife Ali were treated to an impressive display of ‘flying wool’ when they visited Sorel towards the end of the month. Timed well with the return of the sheep.

Choughs collecting wool for their nests at Sorel. Photo by Neil Singleton

I suspect these birds were heading to the quarry although the Plémont pair could have been involved too. They tend to stay local and collect horse hair or wool for Grosnez to Grève de Lecq. It might look like easy cargo, but I have seen a fair few accidentally drop their wool between Sorel and the quarry. Usually when they get distracted by a peregrine or gull or keeper walking below carrying insects!

Blurry but the intentions are clear. Photo by Neil Singleton.

Plémont sea crows return

Minty and Rey have returned to Plémont to refresh last year’s nest before Rey begins egg laying. The sea crows (to use an old Greek nickname) can often be heard foraging around Plémont headland and seen flying to and fro in search of food. During the nesting season, French choughs are known to spend most of their time within 300 metres of the nest site. If the habitat is suitable, i.e. lots of soil and/or dung invertebrates, the chough pair will be successful.

Minty can afford to spend some time chilling out right now. Once Rey starts incubating, he has the responsibility of finding food for the both of them. Maybe that is why he was happy to do a bit of sunbathing down at Plémont.

Minty taking time out from nest building to sunbathe. Photo by Charlotte Dean.

The Troublesome Trinity Two

Pinel has returned to Trinity taking his new female, Vicq, with him. They have been visiting the same places as last year such as Peacock Farm and East Ridings Stables. They appear to have chosen to nest in the same building he used the year before with his previous partner. Maybe he sees the potential in the property to become a family home?

Last year the pair abandoned early and weeks later the female disappeared. Hopefully he will have more success this time with Vicq who hatched three chicks in 2021. Sadly, the chicks died before fledging but it shows she can do it.

We are working with the property owner to monitor the situation and see if we need to assist in any way. The owner is very wildlife-friendly which is a big bonus and we have set up a camera-trap in the building, swapping out memory cards on a weekly basis. 

Playing in the sand pits

Another chough pair we are keeping an eye on are Danny and Jaune. We had reports of choughs in Simon Sand and Gravel Ltd. down on the west coast. Choughs have also been seen around Corbière this month so the assumption is that they are looking for a suitable nest site but since they are still sub-adults it is doubtful that they will breed this year.

 

Chough report: August 2021

Just in case their calls were not loud enough. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

Breeding season roundup

Don’t let the sound of a begging youngster fool you. The 2021 chicks are now fully independent. They just like to try their hand (or wing) once in a while with their parents.

Four youngsters have survived. This is a disappointing number although four is better than none. Thankfully, each from a different family which helps a little to spread the genetics around. Speaking of which, their DNA sexing results came in at the start of August. We have one male and three females. They all have names now too:

Rocky, breaking gender conformity with his bright pink leg ring, is the offspring of Dusty and Chickay.

Rémi, as reported last month, is wild-hatched Minty and Rey‘s first chick. She might be a St Ouen parishioner, but certainly isn’t seen as an outsider by the St John residents. 

Wally Jnr. shares a lot of characteristics with her mother Wally when she was a fledgling at the aviary. There may have been a Kevin Jnr. but we never managed to sample the second chick before it perished.

Monvie is Bo and Flieur‘s girl who sports a mauve over yellow ring. Her name is taken from the Jèrriais greeting Man vyi meaning my old mate/friend (if addressing a woman it is Ma vielle). Its pronounced a little like you are saying ‘mauvey’ which helps to remember her leg ring colour. Learn more about the language at L’Office du Jèrriais.

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the body of the missing fifth chick was found by Ronez Quarry staff on the 16th. We ringed it on 30th June so we knew it was Dusty’s and now know it was male. Judging from the state of the body he had died when we first reported it absent from the feed.

Two breeding pairs at Sorel resting in the rocky shade. Photo by Liz Corry.

Not all of the breeding pairs survived the season. We lost a male resulting in a ‘divorce’ of another pair and the re-joining of old flames. It also looks like we have lost the female who roosted and tried building a nest in Trinity. She has not been seen anywhere since early summer. 

All being well, we will have two new pairings attempt to nest in 2022 bringing it to eleven pairs. The same as in 2021 despite our losses.

West is best

View of Grosnez with the other Channel Islands on the horizon. Photo by Liz Corry.

The choughs still preferred to hang out on the north west coast in August. Who could blame them with the views.

Cliffs from Grosnez to Plémont are frequently visited by choughs. Photo by Liz Corry.

Not to mention the ‘playground’ that is Les Landes with the racecourse, stables, paddocks, rooftops, and scattered WW2 German-made structures.

As long as they keep out of the way of the occasional model aircraft and, more permanent, resident peregrines!

This peregrine at Grosnez might be more familiar with choughs than I would like. Photo by Liz Corry.

Food for thought

From March to July this year we had a student placement working on the project. Riccardo rose to the challenge of re-establishing our breeding colony of mealworms for the supplemental feed.

We have never really had enough continuity and/or success to fully rely on in-house production. We buy in 1.5kg-2kg of mealworms per week from the UK to supplement the choughs’ diet. We get a discount since it comes with the bulk order for Jersey Zoo’s residents. Yet this still equates to hundreds of pounds a year.

Thanks to Riccardo’s efforts we might be making a breakthrough. After a month of breeding we have produced about 500g of mealworms. Not enough to cancel the UK order, but it should keep our costs down.

There is potential to expand the operation…providing a certain DIY store continues to stock our ‘high-tech’ housing facility aka drawers.

Mealworm breeding setup for the supplemental feed. Photo by Liz Corry.

It’s a delicate balance of temperature, humidity, and the right amount of nutrients appropriate for each of the four life stages. Fingers crossed; we can continue Riccardo’s good work now he has returned home to Italy.

Next time you see an advert for ITV’s I’m a Celebrity….just think about the effort and expense that goes into raising mealworms. And then the waste!

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.

 

Celebrating a record-breaking year for Cornish choughs

From Cornwall Birdwatching and Preservation Society (CBWPS) with particular thanks to Hilary Mitchell. Photos are by Lynn Colliver and CBWPS

Celebrations this summer as the population of chough in Kernow (Cornwall) is finally bouncing back after over two decades of conservation efforts. Every year their numbers have grown, but this year has been exceptional. They are now well on their way to becoming a healthy and resilient population.  

In 2021, 23 pairs of Cornish chough bred successfully, raising a record breaking 66 young. A huge achievement for a bird once extinct in Kernow, but even greater against a backdrop of decreasing chough populations elsewhere in the UK. Not all the young will survive to adulthood and raise families themselves, but the higher the number of fledglings that survive each year the more robust the birds become against extinction in the future. 

Recolonisation has expanded in 2021 with several more pairs between Godrevy and Newquay. The furthest north remains Padstow with no choughs beyond the Camel Estuary. As far as we know…. This year also saw some co-parenting with two males (brothers) paired with the same female, the trio going on to fledge three chicks. The county’s oldest males (aged 15 and 16) also bred successfully again, raising four chicks each. Two 12-year old females also reared young (one with the 15-year old male). 

It has taken decades of close partnership work to get Kernow’s choughs back to this positive result. From the conservation expertise of the RSPB; to the passion of Kernow’s nature-friendly farmers and land managers who have brought back grazing to the cliffs; the vital funding for this land management from Natural England; the collaboration of conservation organisations like The National Trust; and the dedication of volunteers who monitor the birds to make this a conservation success story.   

The National Trust manage key areas of Cornwall’s coastline, which the chough call home and now manage a team of volunteers that monitor the chough on their land. Kate Evans, National Trust Senior Visitor Experience Officer, said: “We are thrilled to see numbers of Cornish chough increase year on year. It’s with thanks to the passionate volunteers who give their time and who are dedicated to monitoring choughs, that we are able to build a picture of this growing chough population”. 

The return of the chough to Kernow has been no small feat. It has only been achievable through close partnership work and the support of an amazing team of volunteers. The growing success of the Cornish chough is also testament to the hard work of nature-friendly farmers and landowners who provide the right homes for Kernow’s choughs to survive and thrive.  

Jenny Parker, RSPB Cornwall Reserves Warden, said: “We want to thank everyone involved in surveying and providing the conditions for chough to flourish.  Our volunteers play a pivotal role locating and verifying chough nest sites every spring and all around the Cornish coast, this information is then relayed to landowners, who with our help and guidance can help chough thrive.”  

Nicola Shanks, RSPB volunteer, added: “It has taken a while, but finally the tide has turned for chough in Kernow. With continued good land management and the protection of safe nest and roost spots, it will ensure their future here and their spread up the coast into Devon and beyond”. 

However, the next chapter of the Cornish chough’s story is in all of our hands – if you see chough in Cornwall please email your sightings to our newest partner the Cornwall Birdwatching and Preservation Society (CBWPS) at: choughs@cbwps.org.uk.  

Hilary Mitchell, CBWPS volunteer, said: “We couldn’t do it without all the people that report their sightings to us, thanks to each and every one of them”.  

CBWPS will continue to play a key role collating chough records and informing all partners of their whereabouts as we move into a new chapter of the Cornish Choughs remarkable recovery.  

Restoring the chough to Kent

From Kent Wildlife Trust and Wildwood Trust

Choughs were once an iconic species on the White Cliffs of Dover. Kent Wildlife Trust along with partners, the Wildwood Trust, English Heritage and Paradise Park, are bringing an aviary of choughs to Dover Castle for the public to experience a forgotten history.

Learn all about the choughs’ rich, but perhaps forgotten, Kentish heritage embedded in legends such as the murder of Thomas Becket, and immortalised at Shakespeare Cliff in King Lear.

These iconic birds, which are part of the crow family, fell victim to intensive farming practices and historical persecution, leading to widespread extinction with only small populations surviving in Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the Isle of Man (and Jersey).

Can you imagine seeing a chough flying over the White Cliffs of Dover for the first time in over 200 years?

The Dover Castle aviary is the first step in the vision to reintroduce choughs to Kent. Dover’s chalk grasslands and white cliffs provide nest sites and rich diversity of insects on which choughs feed.  We want to create a Wilder Kent by restoring this charismatic but threatened bird, with its glossy black plumage, red legs and bright red beak.

Thomas Becket, King Henry, Canterbury and the chough 

Many will know the story of the murder of Thomas Becket, last year marked 850 years since his dramatic murder, but you may be less familiar with a mythical connection to the chough.

It is rumoured that as Thomas lay dying, a crow flew down and by paddling in his blood it acquired a startling red beak and feet, transforming into a chough.

There was a huge public reaction to Thomas’s death. Pilgrims began to arrive at Canterbury Cathedral from across Europe and King Henry II received many high-status visitors. 

Henry invested in Dover Castle, creating the great tower keep as a fitting venue, suitable for important travellers on their way to Canterbury, and making it truly ‘fit for a king’. 

Sometime after his death, Thomas was attributed a coat of arms featuring three choughs, which first appears about 100 years later in Canterbury Cathedral, and, in the 14th century, the City of Canterbury adopted a coat of arms with three choughs and a royal lion. But no one really knows why the chough became associated with Thomas, other than the legend of the blooded crow. Whatever its origin, the chough has a long history in heraldry in glass, sculpture, coats of arms, flags, and even pub signs!

Dover Castle

Kent Wildlife Trust, Wildwood Trust and English Heritage will unveil a brand new chough aviary at Dover Castle this month. Visitors will now be able to get up close to four young red-billed choughs, who will be living at the aviary, and learn more about their cultural and ecological significance in Kent.

The choughs living in the aviary hatched earlier this year at Wildwood Trust, as part of a breeding programme to help reverse falling numbers of the chough population across the UK. A dedicated team of keepers from Wildwood have spent the past three months rearing and training the choughs in preparation for their move to the castle.