Chough report: July 2018

A two-month old chough chick exploring Grosnez headland. Photo by Mick Dryden.

By Liz Corry

Jersey now has 46 choughs flying free thanks to a brilliant breeding season and release efforts by Jersey Zoo staff. Details of how that came to be this month are explained below.

Who’s the daddy?

Determined to crack the mystery over the wild chick lineage, we began catching birds to fit leg rings. It took a couple of weeks and help from Ian Buxton and Cristina Sellarés  (licensed bird ringers). By the end of July we had nine chicks fitted with leg rings and no birds left unringed. A total of nine birds.

Tarsus length being measured on a wild-hatched chick. This can be an indicator for sex. Photo by Elin Cunningham.

Plastic leg rings on a wild-hatched chough to identify individual (pink) and year of hatch (green). Photo by Elin Cunningham.

What we are not clear on, and may never know, is whether we had ten or eleven chicks at one stage. On 4th July Q and Flieur were seen feeding two unringed chicks. When we checked their nest on 16th June it was empty. Judging by the age of the chicks at the aviary they could not have fledged before the 16th. Did Q and Flieur nest elsewhere? Are they responsible for the mystery nest we found in the quarry?

Trevor and Noir were also seen feeding one or two unringed chicks at the start of July. Are they responsible for the mystery nest? Are these chicks in addition to Q and Flieur’s?

Noirmont feeding an unringed chick with partner Trevor looking on. Photo by Liz Corry.

We knew for certain Lee and Caûvette had two chicks and were happily taking them to Grosnez each day. Kevin and Bean had fledged three chicks. Yet, by the start of July, they were clearly only feeding two unringed chicks. Had one of the other pairs adopted the third chick over the course of the feeding frenzies at the aviary?

Lee feeding one of his two chicks at Grosnez. Photo by Mick Dryden.

By the time we had fitted all the leg rings, Trevor and Noir had stopped feeding a chick(s). Was this because they had died or because they never had them in the first place? The blood samples we send off only inform us about gender. There is a lot more involved to test for lineage.

For now, all that matters is that we have nine chicks being fed and nurtured out at Sorel. The wild chicks are named according to their leg rings until we can think of better names.

Dusty & Chickay Red White Blue
Kevin & Bean Green Orange
Lee & Caûvette Yellow Black
Q & Flieur Mauve Pink

You can already see a difference in the chicks as they get older. Bill colour is changing. More importantly they are picking up crucial skills from the adults, whether parents or not. We have seen them drinking from the water tray and lifting the broken slate enrichment area in the aviary looking for insects.

A recently fledged chick chilling with the flock at Sorel back in June. Photo by Liz Corry.

Chough chicks can be very forceful with their begging. Photo by Liz Corry.

Mega-beast: Dusty feeding one of his chicks. Photo by Liz Corry.

Dusty regretting parenthood? Photo by Liz Corry.

An unringed chick begging at Yarila (non-breeding bird) eventually pushing her off the stand. Photo by Liz Corry.

Dusty feeding one of his chicks whilst Chickay (mum) goes about her business. Photo by Liz Corry.

Chickay pretending not to see or hear her chick. Photo by Liz Corry.

Star wars saga

The three males – Han Solo, Skywalker, and Chewy – held in the aviary for a month have been officially released.

Release day saw 45 choughs turn up to wish the newbies well or steal their food. 50:50 really. Photo by Liz Corry.

Skywalker’s brief adventure outside in June meant it came as no surprise to see him leave first. Albeit to the roof of the aviary where he sat preening Zennor.

Skywalker’s (on the left) first hour of freedom spent with his new love of his life, Zennor. Photo by Liz Corry.

Han Solo and Chewy were not as quick to venture outside; once they did they appeared at ease, making friends with the free-living group. Although less at ease with the wild chicks who had decided to test the newbies’ untapped parenting skills by begging in their faces.

An unringed chick following Skywalker around in the misguided hope of free food. Photo by Liz Corry.

After a few days Han stopped showing up at the feeds. Since group attendance rate was around 80-90% it was hard to know if he was in trouble or not. He made a reappearance four days later and looked to be fine, feeding happily with the group.

The next disappearing act was after 5th July. This time he failed to reappear. There was a sighting on the 28th at the aviary. Although chances are the leg rings were misread for Caûvette’s (his year-colour is black, hers is dark blue).

As he was showing no obvious signs of ill health, a possible theory behind his disappearance is lack of food. If he struggled to find food in the wild (whether due to lack of foraging skills or the foreboding heat) and wasn’t making it to the supplemental feed, he could have easily starved. If he was made weaker by the lack of food, he would become increasingly susceptible to peregrine attacks.

In fact, on one of the post-release roost checks, only one chough could be seen at Sorel as the sun set. The presence of a peregrine perched on the adjacent cliff face may account for the absence of the other choughs.

Peregrine perched below an unused chough nest box on the cliffs at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Theories aside, we have had to conclude that Han Solo is  presumed missing at this stage. Gone to a galaxy far, far away.

Heatwave

Jersey’s north coast is being hit hard by the summer heatwave. The coastal grassland has lost its lush green colour and the sheep have temporarily vacated; there just isn’t enough vegetation for them. The choughs have been fairing ok; the supplemental food compensates for the rock-hard ground.

The release site back in May before the heatwave. Photo by Liz Corry.

The release site in July feeling the effect of the heatwave. Photo by Liz Corry.

The biggest concern for them (and us) is water. The stream in Mourier Valley is currently hidden by bracken and fresh water sources in the quarry depleted. With an absolute drought declared on the Island we were concerned the choughs would turn to hazardous water troughs. Horse troughs in particular tend to be designed with smooth steep sides. A bird or small mammal can’t climb out if they fall in whilst drinking.

The stream in Mourier Valley runs almost parallel to the footpath – not that you can see it for the bracken. Photo by Liz Corry.

We always provide drinking water for the choughs in the aviary. However, the water butt dried up in back in June. Cleaning duties have been reduced to a minimum and fresh water is carried up each day for the choughs. In mid-July we had help from a few Durrell staff to get extra containers up to Sorel. Two days later it rained!

The rain didn’t last long though. We are back to rationing water until the heatwave breaks.

Insect shortages

In addition to water shortages, we have been struggling with commercial insect supplies. The company who supply the Zoo with livefood ran out of mealworms – a natural glitch in the breeding process.

When they have managed to supply mealworms, the hot weather has led to the insects over-heating in the packaging they are sent in. Trust me the smell of dead and/or dying mealworms is not a pleasant one.

Rather than a photo of dead mealworms, here is a sheep instead! Photo by Liz Corry.

The alternative of dried mealworms has not worked in the past for birds in the Zoo. They refuse point blank, some writing an angry worded tweet to the CEO. Out of desperation, we gave them a try at Sorel along with suet pellet (made with insect protein). The pressures of begging chicks and lack of wild food meant the adults had no reservations over taking the dry food.

We are still struggling with insect supplies although the order of Remiline pellet finally arrived at the end of July. Swings and roundabouts.

ReWild the People

ReWild the People circular walk from Devil’s Hole held on the 15th July. Photo by Dave Evans.

As part of Jess Pinel’s fundraising challenge of 31 activities in 31 days we hosted a circular walk from Devil’s Hole to Sorel. This was a free event open to all. Whilst taking in the sea air we discussed the Birds On The Edge project and the benefits to the public.

Aaron le Couteur, shepherd, explaining how sheep help to restore Jersey’s coastal habitats. Photo by Dave Evans.

Aaron le Couteur, the shepherd, gave a very informative talk and the choughs showed up for a bonus feed. The event was enjoyed by all and hopefully gained a few new fans to spread the word across the Island. More information about the other activities undertaken can be found here.

Choughs getting a bonus feed for the Rewild the People walk. Photo by Dave Evans.

Lights, camera, action

The choughs took part in two media projects this month. They are clearly getting used to the cameras as they were not phased by the go-pros at the feed. We hope to share some of the footage soon.

Filming the choughs at Sorel. Photo by Liz Corry.

Both filming projects will be detailed further very soon so watch this space!

Chough report: May 2018

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By Liz Corry

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

Spreading their wings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chough exchange

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

None of the choughs hold a valid license.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

solo

 Let the judging commence

Capture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronez quarry viewpoint image

Ronez Quarry

Wild nest updates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: Manx loaghtan roaming free at Sorel once again

by Liz Corry

imagesThe grazing flock of Manx loaghtan sheep at Sorel have been confined to National Trust fields for the past few months.

The shepherds have been busy preparing for the lambing season, moving rams and ewes around Jersey.

Lambing season is now upon us.

P1640687As of last week, a large number have been allowed back out to roam freely between Sorel Point and Devil’s Hole. A reminder to our Jersey readers and anyone visiting, please remember to close gates behind you whilst on site. As you will see from the video below, sheep will be sheep. We don’t want them following you back to the car park.

Sheep flock to see staff from Birds On The Edge on Vimeo.

Please also remember that all dogs must be kept under control by law. Last year saw a record year for dog-related injuries and fatalities. No doubt the owners had no intentions of harming the conservation flock; however, a playful dog can be just as detrimental to a sheep as an aggressive one if it is running off the lead.

And one last plea – do go and visit them at Sorel. Not only are they endearing, you get to see conservation in action too. Plus the science boffins have proof: Sorel sheep are good for the soul! Trust me, read these:

How does nature impact our wellbeing?

Finding Nature blog

Happiness comes naturally: Engagement with nature as a route to positive subjective wellbeing

 

Chough report: January 2018

Flieur (grey over blue leg rings) a four year old female chough. Photo by Elin Cunningham

by Liz Corry

It was a wet and windy start to 2018 with storms Eleanor, Fionn, David, and Georgina all battering Jersey within a span of 24 days. Not surprisingly then, there is little to report in terms of chough antics. Even less in the way of photos since cameras were kept locked away in the dry.

Storm damage

Wind speeds, rarely falling below F8 throughout January, took their toll on the aviary. The poly-tunnel netting suffered the most. Constant rubbing along the metal poles wore down the threads and cable ties snapped. In some areas joins in the netting opened up or came away from the wooden frame and overnight a large split in the middle of the poly-tunnel appeared. Obviously reducing the effectiveness of trapping birds in the aviary if we had a need to do so. An ostrich could escape from that, never mind a chough!

Netting ripped open and posts broken as storm after storm pounded the aviary. Photo by Liz Corry.

Easily rectified by sewing and patching with extra netting, the tricky part was finding a day when weather conditions permitted use of a ladder for the harder to reach areas. Other damage has or will take longer to repair. Again this is because we are reliant on weather conditions favouring truck access to the site to take new timber and scaffolding.

As exemplified by this little incident on the one day it didn’t rain…

Toby from Ronez Quarry answered the chough SOS after the student’s 4WD failed miserably. Photo by Elin Cunningham.

Yes we did have 4WD on. No it obviously wasn’t working and we are eternally grateful to staff at Ronez Quarry.

My aviary and other animals

The aviary still functions as a supplemental feed station and roost site. As mentioned in past monthlies it is favoured by other wildlife. We probably have the complete compliment of Jersey’s small mammals visiting the aviary. This has pros and cons depending on your viewpoint. The owls and kestrels are very much in the ‘pro’ camp.

One afternoon our volunteer was shocked to find an owl flying around inside the aviary. As were the choughs! Normally we just find pellets. Earlier this month we thought we had stumbled upon a lost Damien Hirst masterpiece. Turns out it was just the neatly displayed insides of a rat.

We have also managed to film the culprit responsible for the defecation and destruction found in the keeper porch. Measures are underway to deter this behaviour.

We are experiencing problems using camera traps. A lot of the time they failed to even record chough activity. Fingers crossed we get more footage of the owl(s) if it or they return.

Camera trap photo taken at dawn of the choughs who chose to roost at the aviary.

Sign of the times

Despite the wind and rain the chough pairings are still clear to see. We are not far away from the time of year that the pairs start nesting. We are keeping a close eye on the existing pairs as well as the blossoming ones. Our two trios from last year will or have changed.

The death of Egg has forced Dusty to consider whether he becomes closer with Chickay or ditches her and starts afresh. Our young trio of Pyrrho and two wild siblings remains a close friendship. Pyrrho wants more. Will the young male feel the same this year now he is a year older with his hormones beginning to kick in?

Pyrrho (right) with her young male. Photo by Elin Cunningham

Who ewe looking at?

Apologies, but how else to entitle this section? The sheep are still confined to the field adjacent to the aviary. They started to take a keen interest in the grass surrounding the aviary but weren’t invited in! They have now been partitioned off to the next field. The choughs, however, make the most of the sheep’s field and the soil, dung, and hay there teeming with invertebrates.

The grass IS greener. Photo by Liz Corry.

The field gates are currently padlocked if you are to go and visit. Please be respectful of the sheep whilst they are up there: they are very friendly, but spook easily which tends to result in Usain Bolt sprints in all directions.

Advances in aviary design

Finally this month we have to thank John Corder, a follower of the monthly report, who answered a plea in December’s report. I had asked if anyone had suggestions for a more efficient way of building and operating release hatches. John linked us to a presentation made at the Association of Zoos and Aquariums 2016 conference describing the use of remote bird traps. These homemade traps incorporate remote central-locking systems used in cars and run off a 12v battery. A quick visit to eBay and a local hardware store soon had me set up to finally put my A-level in Technology to good use. The kit cost around £30. All that is needed now is to find a way of making it weather-proof and workable at Sorel. We hope to test this out in our zoo aviary first. Many thanks to John once again.

Efficient release hatches? We think not! Photo by Elin Cunningham