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FU8 in the mangroves

Osprey City

Here at the Somone Lagoon, the Osprey watching is proving to be absolutely incredible! We arrived here on Saturday 9th January, after travelling for most of the day from Sine Saloum delta. On Sunday we spent most of the day down at the river mouth to watch the influx of Ospreys that usually appear at around the low tide mark. What better way to watch Ospreys than with your feet in the sea!

Osprey watching on the beach

Osprey watching on the beach. Photo by Kayleigh Brookes.

 

We had some fantastic views of Ospreys fishing and flying by us with fish. One of them had caught a flying fish – something the team had not witnessed before! You can see the “wing” of the fish hanging down beneath the Osprey in John’s photo below.

Osprey with a flying fish, photo by John Wright

Osprey with a flying fish, photo by John Wright

 

Although it was still very good, the team commented that not as many Ospreys were coming over the beach as in years before. Perhaps the birds prefer the shallower water in the tidal area of the mangroves, as it would be easier to catch there than in the choppy sea. On Monday morning we decided to take a boat trip out into said mangroves, to see what we could see. Well what we saw was a lot of Ospreys! We were treated with fantastic views of Ospreys fishing and flying by very close to the little boat we hired from local guide, Babucarr. Babucarr was fantastic and did his best to get us optimum views of the Ospreys.

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Tim and the rest of the team left on Tuesday morning to make their way back to Tendaba in The Gambia, where they will be spending two nights, before their flight home on Thursday 14th. It was sad to see them go, as we had had such a brilliant time all together as a group, and would miss them!

Yesterday (Wednesday 13th), Paul, John and I engaged Babucarr’s services again, and chugged off into the Mangroves on a smaller boat.  The morning sun shone brightly down on us, reflecting in the gentle swell of water as it lapped against the boat’s hull. The peace was soon interrupted, though, by so many Ospreys we began to lose count! To say it was amazing is an understatement! John thinks we may have seen 40 birds in total. I didn’t know where to look! Some were fishing, some flying past with fish, others perched in trees and yet more sitting on islands and sand-banks. Here is a wonderful sequence of an Osprey diving and catching a fish, taken by John Wright.

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We know that one of the Ospreys we saw yesterday was a Scottish bird, as it had a blue ring inscribed with digits FU8 on its left leg.

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FU8, photo by John Wright

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We were treated to an excellent aerial display when FU8 was chased by Yellow-billed Black Kites who were after the fish! Here are some of John Wright’s photos of the chase.

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We had some incredibly close encounters, it was the best three hours of the trip yet. Babucarr was once again fantastic, manoeuvring the boat around to give us the best perspective of the Ospreys, and helping us get close to the sand-banks where they were sitting. Towards the end of the trip, we all thought we were heading back to the shore. However, Babucarr had other ideas, and steered the vessel through a tiny channel in the mangroves that we would not have noticed was there! When we emerged from the tight gap, in front of us lay a large sand-bank that had an amazing number of Ospreys on it! At first we counted nine, then there were 14, and round the corner there were even more, making the total around 20 Ospreys! They were all quite happily perched on the floor, resting having eaten. It was a magical sight!

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The mouth of the river used to be dubbed “Osprey City”, as there were so many Ospreys that frequented the area on a daily basis. Now, we need to apply that title to the mangroves instead!

FU8 in the mangroves

FU8 in the mangroves

 

All the above photographs were taken by John Wright, unless otherwise stated. Here are some more of John’s excellent shots taken around the Somone Lagoon.

Yellow-billed Black Kite

Yellow-billed Black Kite

Sahel Paradise Whydah

Sahel Paradise Whydah

FIsherman

Fisherman

Lesser Black-backed Gulls

Lesser Black-backed Gulls

A new species of mammal...

A new species of mammal…

 

32 in the Mangroves. Photo by John Wright.

Who’s that in the Mangroves…?

So far, this trip to Africa has been absolutely excellent! The bird-life, hospitality and company have all been exemplary, and it’s safe to say all 14 of us are having a fantastic time. Friday was our last day at the Keur Saloum hotel, with its lovely little swimming pool, a terrace with a superb view down the river, and fruit bats in the ceiling!

Sunset over the Sine Saloum

Sunset over the Sine Saloum. Photo by John Wright.

 

On Friday morning we went out for a walk through some acacia scrub, searching for other avian gems, of which we found plenty!

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In the afternoon, we went on a very special boat trip, one that none of us is going to forget in a hurry. But first let me backtrack to Thursday. In my previous update, I mentioned that on Thursday morning we took a boat trip to the Iles de Oiseaux, and on the way we saw several Ospreys sitting in the Mangroves. Well, John photographed them all, and noticed that one bird, an adult male, sported a blue leg ring… on his right leg! This indicates that the bird is from England or Wales (in Scotland the colour-rings are on the left leg), and so could potentially be a Rutland bird! On the way back from the island we saw the same bird again, but he was very nervous and flighty, and we could not get near enough to him to get a clear shot of his leg.

We were all a little disappointed that the bird could not be confidently identified, and decided to return to the area the next day. So on Friday afternoon we boarded the same little wooden boat, and sailed out again to look for the Osprey in the Mangroves.

Looking for the Osprey in the Mangroves

Looking for the Osprey in the Mangroves

 

As we expected, the bird was in the same area he had been in the day before, as this must be his wintering territory. Also as expected, he took off and flew away from us as soon as we drew near. At first we thought this was it, and we were out of luck. But then, miraculously, he turned and flew back towards us and right over the boat, giving a brilliant view of his underwings, and also his ring.

We were all so excited at the potential to discover the identity of this bird, so much so that Tim almost capsized the boat! As it turns out, we were very happy that we decided to take an extra trip out to find the Osprey, because he is a Rutland bird!

After years of trying to find a Rutland Osprey in Africa (aside from our satellite-tagged one), the Osprey team finally did it! The euphoria was palpable, and the night was spent in happy celebration.

Who was it then, I hear you ask. The Osprey in the Mangroves was 32(11). 32 is a male Osprey who was born in Manton Bay, to Maya and 5R(04), in 2011. This means that not only is his father the well-loved 5R, his grandfather is the legendary 03(97)! It is also very coincidental that 32 should be the Osprey we find in Africa, as he is the mate of our satellite-tagged female, 30(05), whom John, Paul and I will be visiting next week. Her wintering grounds are only 200km away from that of her partner. 2015 was the first year 30 and 32 bred together, after 30 had failed to find a partner for the previous two years. This also means, of course, that 32 is the father of the 100th Rutland Osprey chick! What an individual to have discovered on his wintering grounds in Senegal!

32 in the Mangroves. Photo by John Wright.

32(11) in the Mangroves. Photo by John Wright.

32(11). Photo by John Wright.

32(11) in Senegal. Photo by John Wright.

32(11). Photo by John Wright.

32(11). Photo by John Wright.

 

Here are some more of John Wright’s fantastic photographs from the trip so far!

Male Osprey near Missirah.

Male Osprey, Missirah.

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Osprey and Sacred Ibis, Sine Saloum.

Osprey and Sacred Ibis, Sine Saloum.

Sacred Ibis, Sine Saloum.

Sacred Ibis, Sine Saloum.

Goliath Heron, Sine Saloum.

Goliath Heron, Sine Saloum.

Osprey fishing, Missirah.

Osprey fishing, Missirah.

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Juvenile female

Juvenile female, Iles de Oiseaux

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Ospreys, Iles de Oiseaux

Ospreys, Iles de Oiseaux

African Fish Eagle

African Fish Eagle

 

West Africa Jan 2016 Part One!

West Africa Jan 2016 Part One!

For almost a year the Osprey Team have been looking forward with eager anticipation to our next trip to West Africa, taking place in January 2016. I was particularly excited, because I had never visited West Africa before, and had only seen photos from previous years to whet my appetite.

Now we are here, and I still almost can’t believe I am actually in Africa! It is all I expected and more. I was gazing out of the aeroplane window in excitement as we descended towards Banjul airport on Monday 4th January. The heat that hit us as we walked off the plane was a far cry from the weather we had left behind in London early that morning! After our a three hour bumpy bus ride, we arrived at our first destination – Tendaba Camp. Tendaba is a lovely, rustic place on the south bank of the River Gambia.

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Tuesday 5th

We awoke on Tuesday morning refreshed, after all having an early night! Our first adventure was a boat trip on the River Gambia, through the mangroves along small winding tributary channels.

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We saw such a plethora of species, I could hardly keep up. The trees and banks were teeming with bird life, most of which I have never heard of before, never mind seen! Highlights included Hamerkop, Pink-backed Pelican, Abyssinian Roller (a beautiful shade of blue!), Squacco Heron, Blue-Breasted Kingfisher, several Bee-Eater species, and much more. We also saw some crocodiles!

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Hamerkop on its nest

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Cormorants on nests

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Cormorant drying wings

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Great White Egret

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Crocodile

 

When we returned, there was time before lunch to take a walk round the camp and surrounding area, looking out for more birds. It was very hot, but we were rewarded for our efforts with superb views of several species, including a wonderful bright red Bearded Barbet, several eagles, kites and much more!

The team

Some of the team

Bearded Barbet

Bearded Barbet

 

We also had a spectacular view of  group of White Pelicans flying in a traditional V-formation, done purposefully to make the optimum use of aerodynamics and wind resistance.

Pink-backed Pelicans flying in a V

White Pelicans flying in a V

 

After lunch, we had a break and sat on the jetty looking over the river. It was very peaceful sitting there watching the river flow by and enjoying the cool breeze. While we were there, we had superb views of Pied Kingfishers, and our first view of an Osprey which glided past us up the river!

Pied Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher

 

Later in the afternoon we had another walk to an old airfield, where we were treated to more amazing views of several species, some we had already seen, and some that we had not, such as a splendid Grasshopper Buzzard, Crested Eagle and Black-winged Stilt.

The pool where the Black-winged Stilt was wading

The pool where the Black-winged Stilt was wading

 

Wednesday 6th

Wednesday was the day we moved on from Tendaba Camp and went north into Senegal, so most of the day was taken up with travelling. We had to cross the River Gambia, and then cross the Gambia-Senegal border, both of which went fairly smoothly. One of the highlights of the day was stopping for lunch under a lovely large tree which provided plenty of shade for us to relax under. Whilst there, we saw Melodious Warbler, Beautiful Sunbird and the very large Ground Hornbill.

Waiting for the ferry

Waiting for the ferry

Ferry coming in

Ferry coming in

 

We arrived at our next destination, the Keur Saloum Hotel on the Sine Saloum Delta, at around 4:30pm. It’s a lovely place, brightly decorated with colourful flowers, with a fabulous sun terrace overlooking the river.

View from the terrace at Keur Saloum

View from the terrace at Keur Saloum

 

Thursday 7th

We had to get up early on Thursday to go on an excursion by boat to the Island of Birds, or Iles des Oiseaux – a great place to see wintering Ospreys! On the way to the island, we saw several Ospreys sitting in the trees, and the island itself was a little bit of paradise. There were sandy beaches, gentle waves and Ospreys everywhere! Some birds were sitting alone, but others sat in groups. Some were adults, some juveniles, and several had fish. It was incredible to see so many Ospreys all at once, and on a beach surrounded by Caspian Terns and Sacred Ibis!

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We have a lot more exciting activities coming up, so keep an eye out for news. We will also have some photos from John Wright to share with you!