09’s latest data has just come in and it shows that at 7am this morning he was in the northern part of Western Sahara, just 35 miles south of the Morocco border. That only tells half the story though. Over the past 24 hours he has made the most extraordinary flight across the Atlantic through the night.
The day started off normally enough. 09 left his overnight roost in the barren deserts of Western Sahara just before 8am and headed north-west towards the coast. By 11am he had reached the Atlantic and for the next five hours he made steady progress north, covering just under 90 miles and sticking closely to the coast. By 6pm he was five miles off the coast at an altitude of 4500 feet and, significantly still heading north – in other words, out into the Atlantic. He continued on this same course for the next three hours and by 9pm – the last data transmission of the day – he was half way to the Canary Islands! We know from various satellite tracking studies, that adult Ospreys often make long sea crossing at night, but 09’s flight across the Atlantic simply didn’t make sense; basically, he was heading the wrong way. By the time the next signal came in, seven hours later he was still over the sea, but now 80 miles due west and just ten miles from the coast. Thankfully, an hour later, he made land having covered 320 miles in 22 hours of non-stop flying.
The transmission cycle of 09’s radio means that we will never know at what point he changed direction, but it is interesting that the data at 5am shows that he was just two metres above the sea. Ospreys usually fly at a very low level when flying into a strong headwind and so I can only assume that it was strong easterly winds that pushed him out to sea in the first place. It is probably only the fact that he is a master migrator – this is his thirteenth spring migration and in his liftetime we know he has flown the equivalent of three times round the earth – that saved him. A more inexperienced bird may not have corrected his flight path and dropped, exhausted, into the sea. It really does show that there is no guarantee that our regular breeding Ospreys will return each spring. Migration is certainly a very demanding time for the birds, irrespective of how many times they have made the journey between Africa and Rutland.
It will be very interesting to see how far 09 flies today. Will he need time to recover from his long flight over the sea, or will he coninue north? We’ll update you tomorrow evening when we have the next batch of data. Be sure not to miss it!