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When will the journey home begin?

How time flies! It is amazing to think that it is now less than a month before the first Ospreys will be back in Rutland. This year, for the first time, we’ll be able to follow our satellite-tagged birds as they head for home.

The latest satellite data shows that they are both still at their wintering sites; 09 on the coast of Senegal and AW in central Ivory Coast. In recent days AW has been spending an increasing amount of time on the shores of the vast Lac de Buyo, some 20 miles north-west of his usual haunts. Perhaps the fishing there has become easier, or maybe some of the other wintering Ospreys have already begun to move north, allowing AW to ‘move in’ on their patch?

AW's latest locations in the Ivory Coast

AW's latest locations in the Ivory Coast

09's latest positions in Senegal

09's latest positions in Senegal

09 meanwhile is still settled on the coast of Senegal, usually fishing less than a mile out to sea and then perching either on the beach or his favourite spots just inland.

So the question is, when will they start the journey north? Last year both birds returned to Rutland during the last week in March. Given that the flight north is likely to take them at least two-and-a-half to three weeks, we might expect them to begin their migration in early March. It will be especially interesting to see which way AW heads home. Will he fly north-west to his stop-over site in Guinea, or fly due north from the Ivory Coast through central Guinea and then into Mali? It goes without saying that we’ll be updating the website on a daily basis as soon as they start moving. So watch this space!

Osprey Education in The Gambia

Osprey Education in The Gambia

Our recent trip to West Africa gave us the opportunity to get our West Africa education project underway. We visited three schools – Tanji, Kartong and Tendaba – where we spoke to the pupils about migration and the importance of conservation. We also gave the children at Tanji letters and football shirts from pupils at Whissendine and St Nicholas primary schools in Rutland. Check out the video to find out more about this exciting work.

Now we are now back in the UK, Junkung Jadama will be running the project in Gambia. JJ will be taking children from the three schools out on fieldtrips in search of Ospreys and other wildlife. These trips will be funded using the money we raised last year and will give the children the opportunity to use the binoculars and telescopes that we recently purchased for the project.

Tim Mackrill and Junkung Jadama with children from Tanji Lower Basic School

Children at Tanji Lower Basic School wearing football shirts donated by children from Whissendine and St Nicholas Primary Schools in Rutland

Farewell Gambia – a final morning at Tanji

As I look out of the office window at snowy Rutland I can’t belive it is only a week since we were watching Ospreys catching fish off Tanji Beach. In today’s video diary Paul Stammers describes a fantastic last morning and recounts his highlights from the trip.


Friday 3rd February

Our last morning in The Gambia and what a fantastic morning it turned out to be. As we arrived at Tanji beach, conditions were perfect for fishing Ospreys: virtually no wind, a little cloud and a falling tide. Over the course of the next two hours we saw at least four birds catch fish in front of us, just a few metres from the shore. One of them 3GM, was a bird we have now seen on numerous occasions over the past few weeks, but another adult German Osprey, 9JY, was a new one for the trip. She caught a fish and then perched in the same spot, just over the main road, that we had seen her on last year’s trip – proof, again, that the birds return to the same place every winter. After a brilliant couple of hours we had a walk around Tanji Bird Reserve where we added White-fronted Plover, Curlew and Dunlin to the trip list. Those three species meant that over the course of the 25 days we have spent in Gambia and Senegal we have seen 272 species. In addition we have identified fourteen colour-ringed Ospreys, including seven from Germany, five from Scotland and Rolf’s bird from France. Half of the colour-ringed birds were new ones that we hadn’t seen last year, not bad considering we returned to many of the places we visited last year.

Looking for Rothiemurchus

Sadly our itinerary during our West Africa trip meant it wasn’t possible to make a detour to see either of our two satellite-tagged birds. However one of Roy Dennis’s tagged birds, Rothiemurchus, was within striking distance. Here’s what happened when we went to look for him.


Monday 30th January

It is great to know where satellite-tagged Ospreys are spending the winter, but even better to actually have the chance of seeing them on their wintering grounds. And that’s exactly what we did today. In 2009 Roy Dennis fitted a satellite transmitter to a young male Osprey at a nest on the Rothiemurchus Estate in northern Scotland. Little did he know at the time that the bird – which he called Rothiemurchus – would provide us with such a wealth of information about young Ospreys. After wandering around West Africa – and visiting Djoudj National Park among other places – Rothiemurchus finally settled on a tributary of the River Gambia, just over the border in rural Senegal. He remained there until last May, when he flew north to the UK for the first time. During the course of the summer he wandered over a huge part of northern Britain, visiting his natal nest only briefly and exploring from as far afield as Cumbria and Sutherland. It provided us with a great deal of new information on the movements of young Ospreys when they first return to the UK.

In September, Rothiemurchus headed south again and a few weeks later was back at his regular wintering site. Like all adult Ospreys he has remained in a relatively small area since then, and so, seeing as we would be passing very close by on our way from Tendaba to the Sine-Saloum Delta, we thought we’d have a look for him.

Turning off the main North Bank road shortly after Kerewan, we followed dirt tracks north for seven or eight kilometres, the rutted road taking us through several villages where we received one or two quizzical looks from the locals. Using Google Earth on my laptop as a guide we stopped as close as possible to the area Rothiemurchus has been favouring and walked across extremely arid ground to the edge of what on Google Earth looks like a nice open channel. The reality is something a little different; the channel is covered by dense, impenetrable mangroves. Although we could see some dead trees, if Rothiemurchus was perching on a low stump or on the ground next to the river, we stood no chance of seeing him.

Unperturbed, we waited. Eventually an Osprey appeared. This had to be him. We all looked the tell-tale transmitter on the bird’s back. But there wasn’t one;  despite waiting more than two hours in exactly the right spot, the Osprey that appeared wasn’t the one we wanted!

Eventually we decided to call it a day and we all trudged rather forlornly back to the bus. I say forlornly, but we had actually had an excellent couple of hours. In one scan of the mangroves John had counted 14 Montague’s Harriers and there were also Collared Praticoles hawking insects overhead.

As we drove away Alagie, our brilliant driver, who had surpassed even his own high standards on these very difficult roads, suggested we try one more spot by the river. It was a very good job we did. We walked down to the water’s edge and virtually as we did, an Osprey appeared from out of the mangroves. As it came closer we could see the transmitter. At last, it was Rothiemurchus! He circled overhead and then began fishing in the river in front of us. That was a mistake though, because no sooner had he started fishing, than a second Osprey appeared  and chased him off! Interestingly, the two birds were right on the edge of Rothiemurchus’s usual range; and the behaviour of this second bird helped explain why he usually doesn’t venture much further downriver. Having been chased away, Rothiemurchus disappeared back down into the mangroves, presumably to his favourite perch. We got back on the bus and I rang Roy to give him the good news. At last our patience had been rewarded.

 

Otters and Dolphins at Tendaba

It wasn’t just Ospreys that we saw while we were in West Africa. One of the highlights for many of the second group was an evening boat trip at Tendaba. Here’s why…

 

Sunday 29th January

 

In the afternoon we headed back across the River Gambia for another boat trip. It was now high tide and that would ensure there was no repeat of yesterday’s fun and games. Bird-wise, things were fairly quiet, but despite this the trip turned out to be one of the highlights of our time in West Africa. At high tide many of the crocodiles which inhabit the mangroves lie beside the creek, and like our trip with the first group, we enjoyed some really good viewsof several before they slipped off into the water. One individual, in particular, was very confiding and allowed us to get almost a little too close for comfort! If that was good, then what came next was almost unbelievable. As we rounded a corner, John shouted Otter. Initially I couldn’t see anything and I thought I had missed it – they are normally such elusive creatures. I needn’t have worried though. It appeared again a few seconds later from between some mangrove roots and JJ started squeaking, like you would to try and temp a Stoat or Weasel out in to the open. The Otter was clearly very interested in what it was hearing and came out into full view on the bank. Clawless Otters are much bigger and heavier than their European counterparts and the sheer bulk of this animal, particularly its very broad tail, was apparent as soon as it was out of the water. Amazingly, for the next ten minutes, with JJ continuing to squeak, the Otter followed the boat, running along the bank beside us, and even rearing up on to its hind legs to try and work out what was making the noise. It was truly incredible.