Category Archives: Jersey

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!

"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…

 

Frosty morning for the released birds.

Birds on the Edge January Update

The new year brings stormy weather and winter frosts, making life tougher for the Jersey choughs.

Frosty morning for the released birds.

Frosty morning for the released birds. (Picture Liz Corry).

The choughs are now foraging in different locations, possibly due to less insects being available in their regular haunts.

The report features some more video footage showing the birds feeding in the release aviary. There is also footage of the birds enjoying a clear winter sky, with males showing a keen interest in the females in the group.

Blue and her partner in the release aviary. (Picture Liz Corry).

Blue and her partner in the release aviary. (Picture Liz Corry).

So far all the released choughs have done well over the winter months, and survival rates have exceeded expectations. However, the report does end with the news that Blue has gone missing. Blue is one of the first wild choughs to breed on Jersey – raising her son Dusty last summer.

The full Birds on the Edge post can be found here…

The Jersey choughs admiring their Christmas tree.

Birds on the Edge December Update

Seasonal news from the Birds on the Edge team.

The Jersey choughs admiring their Christmas tree.

The Jersey choughs admiring their Christmas tree.

The choughs decide to make life more interesting and visit a local shooting range!

There is also some wonderful video footage of the birds riding early morning thermal air currents, and a video of some bill trimming (don’t worry, it doesn’t hurt)

A Christmas wreath. The white decoration is not frost or snow.

A Christmas wreath. The white decoration is not frost or snow.

The full Birds on the Edge post can be found here…

Chough making the most of a large beetle (Liz Corry)

Birds on the Edge November Update

November’s update from Jersey.

Chough making the most of a large beetle (Liz Corry)

Chough making the most of a large beetle (Liz Corry)

The winter weather is now setting in, causing more difficulties for the monitoring team than for the choughs themselves.

There are some great videos, showing how the birds cope with the changing weather conditions – some even decide to find shelter “indoors”.

The full Birds on the Edge post can be found here…

Choughs flying by moonlight (Liz Corry)

Birds on the Edge October Update

Here is the latest news from Jersey posted by Liz Corry on the Birds on the Edge blog.

Choughs flying by moonlight (Liz Corry)

Choughs flying by moonlight (Liz Corry)

All twenty two choughs are still doing well, and coping with the shortening days, and autumnal weather.

The update has some beautiful large resolution images, and video clips, and shows interesting behaviour as the choughs adapt to the changing conditions.

We’re not going to spill all the beans, so check out the full report on the Birds on the Edge blog here…

Choughs feeding in fields near release site

Jersey Visit

In September, we set off once again to see how the released birds from Paradise Park were doing on their new island home. The weather was set fair for our three day visit, and we spent most of the time around the coast at Sorel Point.

Choughs feeding in fields near release site

Choughs feeding in fields near the release site, with Sark in the distance. (A Hales)

The birds themselves were behaving just like any other choughs we have seen in the wild, spending most of the time heads-down foraging. Each bird has a combination of coloured leg rings, making it possible to identify individuals. The newly-released birds can also be picked out as they have a small tracker aerial attached to their tails.

2015 Female "Noir" with blue and white rings following a 2013 male "White" ring number 2A10

Bred at Paradise Park in 2015: The blue and while leg rings show this is ‘Noir’. (A Hales)

It was quite an emotional experience, seeing the birds again. Back in May and June these were the birds we were supplementary feeding in their nests at Paradise Park. Some of these youngsters weighed less than twenty grams when we were rearing them, and now here they were learning about life in the wild.

Friends and Enemies

Their flying skills were truly remarkable –  one moment the birds would be on the ground feeding, the next they would be hundreds of feet up in the air. They had become experts at riding thermals, and could move great distances with very little effort. They were also becoming well acquainted with their neighbours – namely Peregrine Falcons and Ravens…

A Peregrine Falcon on patrol - a major hazard to the inexperienced.

A Peregrine Falcon on patrol – a possible hazard to inexperienced birds. (A Hales)

The choughs also have one or two friends – actually more like one or two hundred. The flock of Manx loaghtan sheep has now grown to about two hundred, and they spend most of the time browsing the vegetation and trampling down the ever-growing bracken. They have even provided some of the lining material for the breeding birds’ nests. In some of the hotter days in the summer the choughs have also taken advantage of their water bowser to quench their thirst.

Me and my sheep - a chough following one of the Manx loaghtan flock. (A Hales)

Me and my sheep – a chough following one of the Manx loaghtan flock. (A Hales)

We were so impressed with the dedication of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust staff and volunteers working with the choughs. The time we spent on the cliffs was truly splendid, the last few days of an Indian summer surrounded by some incredible wildlife – I even got a glimpse of a Dartford Warbler – a bird I have been wanting to see for forty years! (Well worth the wait).

 

Ray Hales