09 is catching up

As 5R(04) and 03(97) were arriving back in Rutland, 09 was still a long way behind. After his arduous flight over the sea and then stuttering progress on Saturday – both caused by strong north-easterly winds in the Sahara – he needed to get back on track. Well, we can safely say he has now done that because last night he roosted north of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Europe is in his sights!

After the rigours of the previous 48 hours, 09 evidently decided that he needed to head inland on Sunday morning. After leaving his overnight roosted shortly after 10am he flew 23 miles south-east. We have received several reports of strong winds and sandstorms in this part of the Sahara and perhaps this explains his initial heading that morning. Whatever the case, he managed to re-orientate himself at midday and over the course of the next six hours he covered another 87 miles almost due west.

We think that Ospreys use certain geographic features of the landscape to help them navigate and at 6pm 09 made a very definite turn north-east. He continued on this course for another three-and-a-half hours, following a spectacular ridge system that runs across the north-western edge of the Sahara. This is a ridge that we have seen various other satellite-tagged Ospreys following before and it seems that it probably helped 09 to get back on track on this occasion. The ridge is one of many spectacular land forms visible from the air over the Sahara. The photo below was taken by John Wright as we flew to West Africa last winter and shows the very ridge that 09 was following.

Ridge in Sahara photo by John Wright

Ridge in Sahara photo by John Wright

By the time 09 settled down for the night to roost – at around 9:30pm – he had covered a total of 163 miles during the course of the day. The map below shows his day’s flight and this demonstrates very clearly that he had made a concerted effort to head back inland, away from the coast. This also suggests that his initial flight up the coast from Senegal was made more out of necessity than anything else; strong north-easterly winds have obviously made his first few days of migrating very difficult.

09's roost and flight path 18 March

09's roost and flight path 18 March

09's flight 17-18 March

09's flight 17-18 March

Yesterday morning, 09 was already migrating by 8am, and still following the ridge north-east. He maintained a remarkably consistentent north-easterly heading for the rest of the day and by 6pm he was at the southern edge of the Atlas Mountains having already covered 221 miles at altitudes of between 1500 and 3000 feet. These vast mountains present an obvious barrier to migrating birds, but sensing that he needed to press on, 09 continued north-east regardless, passing between peaks that rise to more than 10,000 feet.

09 approaching the Atlas

09 approaching the Atlas Mountains

By 8pm he was clear of the mountains, but showing no signs of letting up. He continued flying for at least another three hours – and, therefore, in darkness – and non-GPS positions showed that he finally settled to roost just north of a large reservoir known as Barrage Al Massira, having covered 370 miles in fifteen hours of migrating. As you will see from the map below – or if you check out our Google Earth tracking pages -, 09 is now back on his autumn migration route – he passed over Barrage Al Massira at 10am on 11th September last year. Amazing stuff!

09's roost near Barrage Al Massira, 19 March

09's roost near Barrage Al Massira, 19 March

09's flight on 19 March with autumn route

09's flight on 19 March with his autumn route for comparison