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By Tim on January 22, 2014
After a fantastic two weeks in The Gambia, myself and a team of volunteers from the project arrived at a rather damp Birmingham airport yesterday evening. It is fair to say that as we trudged into the arrivals lounge it was a far cry from what we had experienced over the previous fortnight. Over the next few days we’ll be publishing a series blogs from the trip. Here’s my first, describing a superb first week.
Week one 7-14 January, 2014
When you travel inland in The Gambia you feel like you are in the real Africa. After arriving on Tuesday morning we travelled almost 300km inland to Janjanbureh, stopping at Tendaba for the night en route.
Travelling east through mile upon mile of savannah woodland there are two things you notice. First is the fact that it gets hotter, and second are the birds of prey. On Wednesday – our first full day of travelling – we saw 20 species of raptors as we drove from Tendaba to Janjanbureh. Grasshopper Buzzards, Dark-chanting Goshawks and White-backed Vultures all became more frequent the further east we travelled. By mid-afternoon, with the mercury topping 30 degrees, the skies were full of eagles and vultures. Bee-eaters were conspicuous too, with the brilliantly-coloured Red-throated undoubtedly the most striking. Huge Marabou Storks soared effortlessly over the savannah too.
Ironically the one raptor noticeable for its absence as we travelled inland, was the Osprey. Although very common on the coast, they become far more scare further inland. On a five-hour boat trip on the River Gambia from Janjanbureh on Thursday we saw 15 different African Fish Eagles, but not a single Osprey. In fact the only Osprey we saw on our first three days was an adult female that was perched beside a tranquil freshwater pool a few kilometres east of Tendaba. Despite the fact that the river is over half a kilometre wide just to the west of Janjanbureh, fishing in the murky water is probably difficult for Ospreys – meaning those that spend their winter this far inland often prefer the freshwater lakes that are dotted through the Savannah.
It may not be favoured by many wintering Ospreys, but the River Gambia supports a diverse array of other birdlife. As we meandered along the calm waters on an open-topped boat it really did feel like we were in the real Africa. Blue-breasted Kingfishers zipped back and forth, a majestic Tawny Eagle starred down at us from a riverside tree and an elusive Finfoot appeared briefly at the foot of the mangroves. There were plenty of reminders that this part of Africa is vitally important for many European migrant birds too. Large flocks of Ruff and Spotted Redshanks were taking advantage of the rich foraging in riverside rice fields and the high-pitched calls of Wood Sandpipers filled the air as Collared Pratincoles hawked insects overhead. It is remarkable to think that many of these waders will be breeding close to the Arctic Circle in a few months’ time. Raptors were again apparent with a majestic immature Martial Eagle the highlight as we headed back to Janjanbureh.
For birders visiting the Gambia a must-see bird is the Egyptian Plover. This strikingly beautiful wader becomes more difficult to track-down at this time of year, but with a bit of perseverance we were eventually treated to superb views of one near Panchang on Friday morning. A few hours earlier we had seen our second Osprey of the trip – a colour-ringed juvenile female from Germany that was fishing a lily-covered lake. Meanwhile, the sight of a Common Sandpiper alighting on the lily flowers was another reminder of home.
Later in the day we had a welcome opportunity to admire more Red-throated Bee-eaters when we visited a nesting colony. By mid-afternoon over 100 birds were chattering overhead or perched on trees surrounding the quarry where they breed and roost. Several Exclamatory Paradise Whydas – with their ludicrously long tails – provided an excellent supporting cast, and two stunning Carmine Bee-eaters made a brief visit too. More worrying was a group of local children who seemed to have visited the Bee-eater colony for altogether different reasons to us. These sort of incidents serve as an important reminder as to just how important education can be. We hope that the work we are doing with local schools as part of the Osprey Flyways Project will make local young people value their local wildlife more. At present there are very few resources to help young people to see the value of protecting wildlife, but we are working to change that (we’ll have more on that later in the week).
After three days at Janjanbureh we headed back to Tendaba. We arrived at low tide and enjoyed a couple of hours sitting beside the river which at this point is over 2km wide. At least three Ospreys caught fish, although each was too distant to see if it was ringed. Next morning we headed into the mangroves and were rewarded with close but frustratingly brief views of a Smooth-clawed Otter and three different species of kingfisher.
On Monday afternoon, after a week inland, we headed back to the coast and straight to Tanji Marsh where we hoped that 2012 Rutland female Osprey 5F was still present. Even with a cooling sea breeze the temperature had reached the mid-30s; but when you’ve got a Rutland Osprey to try and find even the searing early afternoon sun wasn’t going to stop us. As we walked down to the water’s edge at the site we first visited in January 2011 an unringed adult female flew over our heads, no doubt heading out to sea to fish. We crept through the mangroves to find six Ospreys resting either on the ground or on low perches. We checked each for a blue ring. But nothing; as it turned out the only colour-ringed bird that was present was white/black UR, a Scottish bird that we had first seen in 2011. Sadly for the four members of the group who were heading home next day, this was their one and only chance to see 5F. She hadn’t obliged, but those of us staying on for a second week would be back later in the week to try again.
Posted in Osprey Team Latest
By Tim on January 6, 2014
Tomorrow morning myself and a group of Osprey Project staff and volunteers will be boarding our flight to The Gambia. We’re travelling inland where internet access is difficult, but will report on our progress as soon as we can. Next week, we’ll be joined by a second group that includes volunteer and diarist, Ken Davies. And, as his first diary entry of 2014 shows, Ken’s getting excited about the trip…
2014 Diary : Entry No. 1
Wednesday January 1st 2014 :
I carried out one of my annual rituals this morning. I ceremoniously put my 2013 diary up on the shelf with all the others, and opened the first page of my new 2014 one. As always I took the chance to flick through one or two of the earlier volumes, and one of them fell open on my Manton Bay entry for Sunday September 4th, 2011. It is so fitting for the way I feel this morning that I’m quoting it again on the first page of my new diary :
‘…………you are call’d by an irresistible call to depart………’
‘Walt Whitman’s line seems so right for today, for all the birds appear to have received the call – clouds of House Martins and Swallows skittering around, Common Terns calling, circling high in the air, nervous flocks of waders turning, twisting, glinting in the light, primrose Yellow Wagtails dancing in the air, floppy Lapwings being buffeted by the breeze. All of them are tense, uneasy, wary, on edge. The three Ospreys still in the Bay stand like statues : 5R on his post, the female on the perch above the nest, the one remaining juvenile hunched on the rim. They’ve heard the call too, but they remain impassive, napping, preparing mentally and physically…….
There is an evocative single German word which perfectly defines Whitman’s ‘irresistible call to depart.’ It is Zugunruhe, literally ‘journey unrest’, but better described by David Gessner in Soaring with Fidel as ‘ the restlessness birds feel before they migrate……the general unease, the bristling, of a creature about to embark on a journey.’ Wildebeest in the Serengeti, Caribou in Northern Canada, even the great whales in the oceans and clouds of Monarch butterflies in the United States…..Zugunruhe touches them all. We humans feel it too. Today it is almost palpable : every migratory creature in the Bay before us is sensing the approaching great journey ahead……’
‘We humans feel it too….’ I wrote that two and a half years ago, but have to admit that I had never experienced it personally…..until now! You see, I am about to embark on a journey too, a very special journey to see Ospreys in Africa, in their winter homes, in their Gambian retreats. My own Zugunruhe can be traced right back to the late summer, when I watched Ospreys leaving from Site B and from Manton Bay. The usual sadness that comes with these last observations was this time accompanied by another emotion – strange, unfathomable at first, but now clearer in my mind. It was the feeling of anticipation, the early excitement, the confirmation that I was going too, that I will see them again soon, that I won’t be far behind.
My restlessness has regularly ratcheted up ever since. As I waited in the doctor’s surgery for my injections against goodness knows how many unspeakable diseases, as I arranged insurance, airport hotels, lifts and hundreds of other details, my Zugunruhe has increased. Above all, when I was at the meeting last month to meet fellow travellers, when Tim went through our itinerary and John showed some of his photographs from previous trips, it seemed to me that I was entering another level of high emotional involvement. It was really happening. I was going. And very soon.
The news that 5F(12) is at a place where we might be able to see her is a wonderful bonus. Her mother 30(05) is further north in Senegal and she too might be observed by some members of the team later. 30(05) is a Site B bird that I have seen many times, and her daughter 5F is of course grand-daughter to 03(97). It would indeed be special to see her. And yet another piece of good news – Roy Dennis, who was on ‘Countryfile’ two days ago talking about the re-introduction of lynx, is coming with us! Roy has been involved with Ospreys since the pioneering days with George Waterston at Loch Garten, and we are so fortunate to have him in our party.
And now I am ready. My transformation is complete. Zugunruhe has taken over. I need to go now before I drive everyone at home mad with my constant African psychobabble. My plumage is in first class order, I am well fed and fit thanks to good Christmas food and drink, and I have worked hard on my ‘Birds of Senegal and the Gambia’ book. Soon I’ll start on the anti-malaria pills……
I’ll be in touch….from Kartong, Tanji, Marakissa, Bijoli…….even writing the names is thrilling! Happy New Year to all Osprey friends!
By Tim on January 6, 2014
We might be heading off to The Gambia tomorrow morning, but we’re already looking ahead to the new Osprey season. We are currently advertising two seasonal posts for the forthcoming year. If you are interested in applying for either of these exciting roles, please contact Julia Fisher Robins by clicking here.
To provide face-to-face information and interpretation to visitors at Rutland Water Nature Reserve, including ‘meeting and greeting’ and leading public events. Also to assist with the day to day running of the Osprey project, including supporting the Osprey project volunteers, updating the project website and publicity material, and supervising at visitor centres.
Full-time: 3rd March 2014 to 7th September 2014
Salary: £16,048 per annum pro rata
To lead the project’s education programme with local schools and to promote the project away from Rutland Water Nature Reserve at local events and in other key visitor areas at Rutland Water. Also to assist with the day to day running of the Osprey project, including supporting the Osprey project volunteers, updating the project website and publicity material, and supervising at visitor centres.
Part-time, four days-per-week: 3rd March 2014 to 7th September 2014
Salary: £16,048 per annum pro rata
Posted in Osprey Team Latest