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Alison & Ray Hales ready for some chough watching

Chough watching trip to Jersey

We (Ali and myself, plus sister Elaine), were a bit late with our Jersey migration this year – but have just returned from a splendid few days catching up with the choughs, sheep, and release team on the island.

The six birds sent from Paradise Park had just completed their quarantine, and were eager to get out on the cliffs with the rest of the flock. They were released on Monday 3rd October – we got there on the evening of the 4th.

Alison & Ray Hales ready for some chough watching

Alison & Ray Hales ready for some chough watching (Elaine Hales)

We were very lucky with the weather, and although we stayed dry, the wind was showing signs of impending winter. We soon got to the cliffs and met up with Liz Corry and team – and, of course, the choughs. The birds are being closely monitored, and all the newly released ones have been fitted with radio transmitters. The aerials could be seen through binoculars and it was clear that all the birds were mixing together well.

Bea and Simon monitoring the choughs with radio tags

Bea and Simon from Durrell monitoring the choughs with radio transmitters (Ali Hales)

The chough is renowned for its incredible flying ability, and the Jersey flock is no exception. The older birds have truly mastered their environment, and the youngsters are picking up the same skills at a phenomenal rate – in fact the new and established birds could only be told apart by their transmitters (or lack of). The birds like nothing more than to dance on the updrafts, and ride the thermals. “Like black handkerchiefs blown by the wind” as Elaine said.

 

The flock of birds can relocate themselves remarkably quickly – one moment they are all feeding close to the aviary – and the next they are several hundred feet up in the air…

Ray & Ali trying to count choughs several hundred feet high

Ray & Ali trying to count choughs several hundred feet up (E Hales)

…and if you have a telephoto lens, they look like this.

A soaring flock of twenty-nine choughs (Ali Hales)

A soaring flock of twenty-nine choughs (Picture Ali Hales)

We didn’t actually get to see all thirty-five choughs at the same time, although we are sure we encountered them all during our stay. We found out that the “teenagers” (as Liz calls the year-old birds) have decided to go exploring – much the same as last year.

They have been seen several kilometres away on Jersey’s racecourse on the north-west tip of the island. They may be scouting for possible nest sites, or they may have found a new food supply. (There is a small herd of cows in a field in the centre of the course – ideal for trampled grass and cow-pats).

The Bracken Bashers

One of the aims of the Birds on the Edge project is to restore the coastal habitat around the island of Jersey, and as such they use a variety of methods. These include volunteer teams cutting gorse down, and bashing down encroaching bracken with tractors.

Using a tractor and "topper" to keep the bracken at bay ( R Hales)

Using a tractor and “topper” to keep the bracken at bay ( R Hales)

There is another dedicated team who are out in all weathers doing their bit for conservation. These are the Manx Loaghtan sheep (Manx Longhorns), and they are doing an impressive job. They have increased their flock even quicker than the choughs, there are now in the region of 200 sheep.

I was lucky enough to have a close encounter with one of the ladies on the cliffs while chough watching – it’s almost like she’s guarding them.

Keep up the good work Sharon – and everyone else!

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The usual thorough monthly report from the Birds on the Edge team for September is here.

Six choughs ready for their longest flight so far

Six More to Jersey

Six young choughs bred at Paradise Park this year have gone to Jersey to be released.

Lee Durrell and Colin Stevenson collected them by plane on August 31st, arriving at Perranporth airfield, near Truro, as they have done in previous years. Lee and Colin were accompanied by Durrell staff Bea Detnon and Jessica Maxwell.

Going by plane saves many hours travelling by ferry, and we are very grateful for Lee and Colin’s help with this. The flight takes just over an hour and means the young choughs will be in the release aviary by the afternoon, after veterinary checks.

Six choughs ready for their longest flight so far

Six choughs ready for their longest flight so far (Pic R Hales)

Chough Re-introduction Field Manager at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, Liz Corry, was waiting for the birds to arrive. She has planned for the arrival in advance.

The six choughs bred at Durrell Wildlife Park were released a few weeks ago. These birds are to be mentors for the new arrivals. They have been lured back into the release aviary and the Paradise Park birds will join them.

After a short period of quarantine, the whole group of twelve will be let out together to mix with the larger flock. The six local birds will share invaluable knowledge with the new birds, improving their chances of survival.

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It is incredibly gratifying to see at first hand the young birds we have raised heading off to be released. Just four months ago we were feeding and weighing these youngsters, and now they are off to Big School…

Chough chick being monitored and weighed. May 2016.

Chough chick being monitored and weighed. May 2016. (Pic A Hales)

Part of the flock of choughs now on the Jersey coast

Birds on the Edge Summer Update

It’s been a busy couple of months here at Paradise Park – however over on Jersey things have been even more hectic.

July Headlines

Fostered chough chicks being fed in release aviary

Fostered chough chicks being fed in release aviary

July saw four chicks being fostered by the “Italian” chough Gianna, before being moved to the release aviary for training and orientation. They were joined by two parent-reared chicks, giving a total of six young birds to join the wild flock.

The wild birds were also producing chicks. Three nests were successfully built, and four wild chicks fledged in all. Last years’ wild male chough Dusty showed signs of maturing early, and was seen making amorous advances.

A wild chough chick being fed by its parent

A wild chough chick being fed by its parent

Full Birds on the Edge July report can be seen here.

August Headlines

All the new arrivals were given time to acclimatise to their surroundings, and their new flock-mates.The youngsters were given some training to respond to the supplementary feeding signals. In August, they were good to go.

Young chough learning how to fend for itself

Young chough learning how to fend for itself

The new birds quickly adapted, and are now part of the flock. So far, all are doing well, and have been seen taking lots of prey items from larvae to butterflies.

Part of the flock of choughs now on the Jersey coast

Part of the flock of choughs now on the Jersey coast

There are now thirty choughs in the flock – quite a remarkable feat!

Full Birds on the Edge August release report can be seen here.

 

Chough chick aged 24 days being weighed.

Happy Birthday!

Today is Operation Chough’s Birthday!

Chough Flying into the Sunset. The Lizard 2002. Pic Ray Hales.

Chough flying at sunset. The Lizard 2002. Pic Ray Hales.

We have long admired the Red-billed Chough’s intelligence and beauty – how could we not be inspired to help this magnificent bird and see it flying again over coastlines where it had disappeared?

Mike Reynolds and Robin Hanbury Tenison August 4th 1987

Mike Reynolds and Robin Hanbury Tenison August 4th 1987

The official launch was back in 1987 – not a good time for chough-lovers as the species had died out in Cornwall. But things were about to change…

The natural recolonisation by three birds in 2001 gave us great opportunities to observe the behaviour of wild birds right on our doorstep.

A Breeding Pair of Wild Cornish Choughs, on the Cornish Coast 2016.

A breeding pair of wild Choughs on the Cornish coast 2016. Pic Ray Hales.

In the 1980s we had had some success in breeding choughs here at Paradise Park, but it was just one or two chicks a year, as we learned what they needed. Now we have become somewhat expert and our captive pairs produce around ten chicks each year.

Chough chick aged 24 days being weighed. Ray Hales 2014.

Chough chick aged 24 days being weighed. Ray Hales 2014.

This has enabled us to fulfil our objective on Jersey and with the help of our hard-working partners at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, thirty – yes THIRTY – choughs are now living free on the island after an absence of 100 years. The method used for the Jersey release is a template for further re-establishment to help join up the scattered populations and spread genetic diversity.

Choughs on Jersey going to Roost. Pic Liz Corry.

Choughs on Jersey going to Roost. Pic Liz Corry.

Long live the chough!

Chough update from Rare Bird Alert, 5th July 2016

A good year for Cornwall’s Choughs

In fact it’s been a very good year for Cornwall’s Choughs!

Chough update from Rare Bird Alert, 5th July 2016

Chough update from Rare Bird Alert, 5th July 2016

With 23 choughs chicks fledged, the 2016 breeding season has been really successful.

Of particular interest this year:

  • a pair bred in the Roseland area, probably for the first time since the 1820s
  • one-year-old birds successfully reared young
  • there are currently 54 choughs living around the coast of Cornwall

Read more on the Rare Bird Alert website here.

 

"White" - One of the choughs now breeding on Jersey

Birds on the Edge May Update

Exciting news from Jersey!

"White" - One of the choughs now breeding on Jersey

“White” – One of the choughs now breeding on Jersey

This is a very hasty post. No spoilers, but the news is very, very good!

Read the full post from Jersey on the Birds on the Edge blog here…

I am off on holiday to watch the start of Le Tour at Mont St Michel. The overnight ferry passes Jersey, so if I’m very lucky I might just see some black specks in the distance…

 

Feeding time for two hand-reared chough chicks

Chow Time

Here is a short clip of two hand-reared chough chicks being fed. The chicks continued to feed like this for almost two minutes, and will do so every two hours for the next four weeks, when they will fledge.

 

The two chicks were taken from nest 2, after it became apparent they were falling behind their older siblings. The smaller birds were simply being swamped by their older brothers or sisters, and were not putting on any weight.

If we had left these two, they would almost certainly have perished. It’s a small but tough world in a chough nest box.

We had a couple of worrying days, but then the chicks began to recover and put on weight. They have now grown from 22 and 15 grams, to 187 and 181 grams, and will soon be annoying us with incessant calls for food.

Video of chough nest at Paradise Park

Housework…

Here is a short video showing how Mrs Chough keeps the nest tidy.

It’s one of those questions people always like to ask, like “How do astronauts go to the toilet?” or “Why aren’t bird’s nests full of poo?”

In the case of a chough chick, it’s simply a matter of hanging your behind over the edge of the nest and letting go! Mum (or dad) then come along and take the poop away.

 

Quite often the adult female will stimulate the chick, by gently prodding the chicks rear end. The chick then produces a faecal sac, which the adult bird then disposes of away from the nest.

This serves two useful purposes – firstly it keeps the nest clean and free from a build-up of toxic waste, and secondly it keeps the location of the nest a secret. Some predators will home in on the build up of waste around a nest.

Four week-old chough chicks in the nest

Ten Chicks So Far…

Our breeding choughs have now produced ten tiny (and not-so-tiny) chicks, with possibly more to come!

Four week-old chough chicks in the nest

Four week-old chough chicks in the nest

All of the eggs in nests 1- 3 have now hatched (no eggs in nest 4). There were two infertile eggs in nest 1, which is unusual for this pair, as they have been very productive in the past.

Nests 2 and 3 have four chicks each. The chicks in nest 3 are now seven and eight days old. The nest 2 chicks are between two and four days.

Nest 5 still has five eggs, which are due to hatch this weekend.

The picture above is taken from the access door, which is used to monitor the young birds. At the top of the image is Alison Hales who goes in to the aviary to distract the adult birds, and to add to the large quantities of live food in the aviary.

The birds have learned that Ali brings lots of bugs (mini-mealworms, crickets and ant eggs), so it is a positive experience for them.

Using a smartphone when chough feeding

There’s an App for that!

How do you use a smartphone to help feed a chough chick?

Simple. We record the sound an adult bird makes when they call to the chicks. The chicks use this signal before their eyes are open. When the parent calls, the chicks beg for food – if hungry.

When we need to do any supplementary feeding (in this case, a smaller chick), we simply play back the call, and the chick begs for food.

 

We are giving the smaller two chicks in nest 3 some supplementary feeds for the next few days, just to help get their weights up to a similar level to the older chicks. As you can see, the older chicks are not particularly hungry.

The rattling and clanking, and whistles in the background come from Ali. She is in the front of the aviary keeping the adult birds distracted.