Chough report: November 2020

The Jersey chough is still doing well in France. Photo by Yann Mouchel.

Vive la France!

Happy to report that the chough who found her way to France is still there. We will call her Cappy from now on as she appears to be enjoying life at the Cap Carteret. Yann is trying to get a photo of the metal ring in case we can read the number to confirm her identity. She has definitely not been at the November supplemental feeds back here in Jersey.

The other choughs were still travelling around the Island to places such as Noirmont, Corbière, and Les Landes. No reports from Trinity or St Martin’s parish. 

Student observations

As November drew to a close, we were seeing more choughs at the supplemental feed. It made the observations fairly challenging for our student, David, with thirty plus birds to ID in the howling winds.

Whilst we still believe the total population size is in the forties there are concerns for a couple of individuals we haven’t clocked in a while. In particular the female from the Corbière pair.

Honeydew has not been seen at the supplemental feeds, yet her partner Minty has. When David has visited Corbière in the mornings he has been seeing two choughs. One is definitely Minty. Eventually he discovered that the second chough was not Honeydew but another female Yarila.

It seems history has repeated itself and whilst the individuals are different the scenario is the same. A pair spend their summer in the southwest then, as autumn turns to winter, the female is lost and the male spends more time at Sorel. This time round, however, the male is still visiting and possibly even roosting in the south along with a new female.

Honeydew (foreground) disappeared this month and Yarila (behind) has snatched up her man. Photo by Liz Corry.

David has seen two pairs fly west over Devil’s Hole at roost time. One is likely to be the Plémont pair. He thinks the Crabbé site has been abandoned so the other pair could be the Corbière birds.

Connecting islands 10,000km apart.

More damage to report at the Sorel aviary. Rodents again but also tears in the netting higher up likely to be weather related. The Zoo’s Site Services team came up to help with repairs. Frustratingly a day later the rodents had chewed back through.

I have been in contact with the team behind the RSPB Gough Island Restoration work. Their aviaries have to be resistant to killer mice! They shared photos and drawings of their rail aviaries with suggestions of what we could do in Jersey.

Rodent-proof aviary on Gough island. Photo by Richard Switzer.

Fun fact: they based their design on the chough release aviary! Richard Switzer, RSPB aviculturalist, used to teach at the Durrell Academy. Richard also worked for San Diego Zoo’s Conservation team with birds such as the Hawaiian crow, another species linked to the chough project. He has followed the chough reintroduction from the start and visited Sorel which is where he got the idea for the rail aviary.

From discussing ideas, it looks like we need to strip our aviary of the ineffective upturned guttering and replace it with aluminium flashing. If they can get it delivered to an island in the middle of the Atlantic and fit it themselves, it must be super easy to do here in Jersey. Right?!

To find out more about the Gough Island restoration work click here. I must warn you there is graphic content of predation on their website from the get go.

Gorilla on the loose in Jersey!

One unusual visitor to the supplemental feed site this month was a Jersey Gorilla. Don’t worry not a zoo escapee, rather Will Highfield the fundraising legend that is ‘Jersey Gorilla‘. Will has been setting himself crazy challenges since 2019 initially raising funds for the new Jersey Zoo Gorilla enclosure.  He surpassed everyone’s expectations, even his own, and smashed his target. With the onset of the pandemic, Will continued his gallant/insane  efforts (you decide) and started raising funds to support all the work the Zoo do including the chough project.

On 28th November Will set himself a challenge worthy of being committed  – run 100 miles in under 24 hours! On a 9 x 5 mile island! Starting at 4am in St Aubin’s, he ran anticlockwise around the Island’s roads, trails and cliff paths almost two and a half times. And he wasn’t alone, more lunatics, sorry runners, joined him along the way for support.

Speaking of support, when Will reached Sorel he was joined by Fiona Robertson of Performance Physiotherapy Jersey for what has to be the most picturesque clinic setting.

Physio on the go for the Jersey Gorilla. Photo by Fiona Robertson.

Will finally finished the challenge at 9am the next morning after 29 hours and 53 seconds of running. This is a phenomenal achievement. It might not have been within 24 hours, but considering all the miles he has run for charity over the past year and the subsequent injuries that plagued him along the way, 29 hours is equally bonkers.

A huge thank you to Will for his support. Now please go and put your feet up!

Follow Will’s journey via Facebook and Instagram and learn how to support the cause https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/will-highfield5

 

Chough report: November 2018

Chough monitoring can be really easy some days. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

November was a quiet month for the choughs. Correction, November was a quiet month for staff at Sorel. For all we know the choughs have been having wild parties, hanging out in camper vans down at St Ouen, and wading in on the Brexit debate.

This is the time of year the birds allow me have a break, so I took the opportunity to use up holiday allowance. Staff still visited Sorel to provide the supplemental food in the afternoons. Other than that monitoring and management was kept to a minimum.

Thanks to global warming, Jersey has had a relatively warm autumn. Entering the latter half of November, ‘normal’ service resumed with frosty nights and gale force winds. Roosting time crept forward with the sun setting before 4.30pm.

Flying to roost. Photo for Liz Corry

These combined conditions meant that we were seeing more choughs at the supplemental feed in need of those extra calories: 44 out of 46 choughs on one day. Then again, we would still have days when just 2 or 8 showed up.

The only noteworthy news has been confirmation from Simon Sand & Gravel Ltd that Mary and Bo have started roosting onsite again. They have been joined by two others: we don’t know their identity, but suspect it is the other pair seen foraging around Corbière. Mary and Bo are still visiting Sorel for the feed as they did at the start of the breeding season. Making a round trip of 14km for supper suggests that they are not finding enough food down in the south of the Island.

And that’s it. Nothing else to report.

Unless you want me to write about the Rewilding conference I attended whilst on holiday? Leave a comment if you do; see if we bow to public pressure.

Chough report: October 2017

A few of the Jersey choughs signalling dinner time. Photo by Liz Corry.

By Liz Corry

As October drew to a close it was achingly apparent that the chough flock was down from 38 to 36 individuals. The two wild-hatched females who went missing in September had still not made an appearance, forcing us to reluctantly record them as missing presumed dead.

This is the first time we have lost wild-hatched birds post-fledging period. One can’t help feel a sense of responsibility. These individuals were known to have a nematode infection, but attempts to medicate them had failed before they went missing. All we can do now is monitor the remaining choughs to ensure the same fate doesn’t befall them.

So we did, and guess what…two of the adults started sneezing. Egg and Helier began with the ‘I’m not sneezing, just clearing my nostrils’ subtle sneeze. After a few days Egg stopped whereas Helier continued and progressively worsened.

After a few failed catch ups due to jammed hatches, intelligent corvids, and of all things Portuguese forest fires (see ‘Sepia skies’ below) Helier was finally locked in the aviary allowing her to be treated by the vet team. She was released back into the wild straight after her worming injection and appears to be much improved.

Nematodes are part of the natural ecosystem. Choughs feeding in the wild will be exposed to them and have to tolerate or succumb. This year is turning out to be the worst since the project began in terms of number of infected birds and fatalities warranting further investigation.

Sepia skies

Having worked at Sorel for several years now you would have thought that everything that could go wrong in a catch up had done or at least been theorised and accounted for. Hinges sticking on trap doors, birds not showing up or not hungry enough to want to go inside, mountain bikers zooming past scaring the flock into the air, etcetera. Not once had we thought to account for Caribbean hurricanes and Portuguese forest fires!

On the morning of the first planned attempt to catch up Helier the skies in Jersey, and parts of the UK, were looking very ominous. Walking around Sorel it felt like someone had put a sepia filter on the world. Frustratingly my camera phone kept adding its own filter so the photos below don’t fully set the scene.

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On 16th October 2017 the skies above Jersey turned a sepia colour. Photo by Liz Corry.

Low cloud filled the skies throughout the morning. Around lunchtime the sun made an appearance, but looked more like Mars than our beloved sun. There were no horsemen on the horizon so instead of embracing impending doom I turned to the Gods of Google.

A red sun breaking out from the cloud of dust and ash in the atmosphere. Photo by Liz Corry.

An explanation for the near apocalyptic conditions was provided by the BBC. Remnants of Hurricane Ophelia passing over the south of England and Channel Islands were dragging dust from the Sahara and smoke from the devastating forest fires in Portugal and Spain across our skies.

I tried explaining this to a very confused flock of choughs who were clearly conflicted about what time they should go to roost. One might think this would be advantageous to someone trying to lock birds in an aviary. Nope. Instead it meant they just sat and stared at me in their perplexed state. A twenty-minute stand-off resulted in a dejected keeper walking away left to come up with a Plan B.

Roost check

Plan B failed. In fact it wasn’t until Plan E was executed that we were able to lock the sick chough in the aviary. The new plan arose from the need to know who was roosting in the aviary in case we had to lock in the sick bird for longer than a day. There was a small chance she roosted in the aviary already rather than the quarry. If so, all we had to do was wait until the birds had gone to roost and quietly shut the external hatches.

Cut to the scene of a person in dark clothes vaulting a field gate at night only lit by the stars and the dim headlights from a teenager’s car (one assumes from the discarded firework packaging and soda cans found the next morning) idling at Sorel Point.

The operation provided extra information other than Helier’s roosting site. A total of twelve choughs were roosting inside the aviary including Dusty the very first wild-hatched chough and the two females who follow him.

Kevin and Bean were hanging around outside the aviary. They could have used one of the external roost spaces at the aviary or simply flown over from the quarry at first light to forage nearby. The other interesting find was the kestrel who shot out of the external roost box when I arrived in the morning to check on the choughs.

There are no photos from Operation If this doesn’t work we’re screwed. So instead here are a couple taken at Les Landes when checking for signs of choughs at sunset.

A view of the Pinacle at sunset. Photo by Liz Corry

Sunset at Les Landes. Photo by Liz Corry.

The Women’s Institute expedition to the north coast

Earlier in the year the ladies of La Moye WI had invited me to give a talk about the choughs. Several of their members were already aware of the project, but had not realised that the historic breeding sites for Jersey choughs were in fact along the coastline at La Moye.

Enthusiasm for the project continued to grow as the evening went on, fuelled by the obligatory tea and cake, and by the end of the night a trip to Sorel was penned in the diary.

After a few clashes in the calendar a small group from La Moye finally made it up to the north coast this month. Glyn walked them around the conservation fields and release site. Not all of the choughs were present, but certainly enough to make an impact and demonstrate their amazing flying skills. I sadly missed out as I was in England, but from the looks on their faces I think they enjoyed it.

La moye WI (1)