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Where do you go to my lovely…

…in the winter when you’re not in England? Well, we are beginning to have more of a definitive idea!

Thanks to satellite-tracking studies and sightings of ringed birds, we have learned that most UK Ospreys winter in West Africa, usually in The Gambia and Senegal. We are lucky enough to be aware of the wintering locations of some Rutland birds. Due to her satellite transmitter, we know that 30(05) winters in Senegal, and 5F(12) has been seen on her wintering grounds in The Gambia several times. Now, thanks to a trip to West Africa in January 2016 and a bit (or a lot) of luck, we also know where another of our birds, 32(11), winters. Since we returned from our trip this year, we have had more reports of sightings of Rutland Ospreys, thanks to the birds’ colour rings. As a result, we now know where another two of our birds spend the winter months!

Firstly, we send our thanks to Rafa Benjumea, who spotted a Rutland male, 06(09), in Senegal this year! 06(09) fledged from an off-site nest in 2009. He bred in 2014 and 2015, raising one and then two chicks respectively. Rafa and colleague Blanca Pérez are ornithologists working in Senegal for the project Tougoupeul – (click here for more information). They spotted 06(09) in November 2015 when they were counting birds at the Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie in Senegal – not all that far from where John, Paul and I were watching 30(05) just a few weeks ago!

Map for 06

Rafa and Blanca saw 06 on three separate occasions, 11th, 14th and 15th November 2015. This shows that this particular location is 06’s wintering site, and he has likely been wintering there since he was a juvenile in the winter of 2009. Here are some photographs, taken by Rafa Benjumea, of 06(09).

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The Osprey team visited this site in 2011, so 06(09) must have been there somewhere! It looks like a beautiful place – here are a few of John’s photos from the team’s visit in January 2011.

Langue de Barbarie (JW)

Langue de Barbarie (JW)

Adult male Osprey, Langue de Barberie, 2011 (JW)

Adult male Osprey, Langue de Barberie, 2011 (JW)

Adult female Osprey, Langue de Barbarie, 2011 (JW)

Adult female Osprey, Langue de Barbarie, 2011 (JW)

 

To see Rafa’s website and for information about his birding tours in Andalucia, click here.

As I mentioned above, we know that most UK Ospreys winter in West Africa – not all of them do. There have been reports of Ospreys from the UK spending the winter in southern Europe, such as 06(01), a female translocated to Rutland in 2001 who wintered in Portugal, and AA1 or “Caledonia”, a 2012 female chick from Loch Garten who wintered in Spain. We now know of another bird who winters in Spain! 1J(13) is a male Osprey who fledged from the Manton Bay nest in 2013. He first came back to Rutland in June 2015, and was subsequently seen at Fishlake Meadows in Hampshire a few months later.

We send our thanks to Rafa Garcia, who sent us his report of 1J, seen on 24th January 2016 at San José del Palmar Saltpan, Puerto Real, Cádiz, Spain!

Map for 1J

Tim and Paul were at this site in 2008, and say it is a great spot for Ospreys. Here are Rafa Garcia’s photographs of 1J.

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These reports of Ospreys from other countries emphasises the importance of colour ringing, and also shows that the awareness of Ospreys outside of the UK is increasing. It is wonderful to know more about where our birds go when they leave us each autumn, and these reports prove that they are finding suitable wintering locations and are safely returning there each year. We thank Rafa Benjumea and Rafa Garcia once again for their reports and photographs of their sightings.

 

Forests in the sand

We are almost at the end of our extended Osprey trip to West Africa! We have had such a wonderful time. Our final few days have been spent at Tanji in the Gambia. We arrived on Thursday 21st January, after driving from Tendaba. The first thing we did upon arrival was visit Tanji Marsh, a great place for Ospreys, and also a place where we knew there was a Rutland bird wintering, who we hoped we would see. We were not disappointed! As we scanned through the numerous Ospreys sitting on stumps in the marsh, we came across a dark-breasted female, with a blue ring on her right leg… sure enough, it was 5F! 5F fledged from a nest at Rutland Water in 2012, and 30(05) is her mum!

5F

5F

 

We saw around 20 birds in total, 10 all at once sitting near each other on the stumps! What an amazing place!

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We visited the marsh several times over the three and a half days we were in the area. One of the birds we saw this year was 8XU, a German male. The Osprey team first saw this bird here as a juvenile in January 2014. He was sitting in a distant tree, watching an unringed adult female who was feeding from a needle-fish. The bird will be three years old this year, and should have returned to his natal grounds for the first time in 2015. How brilliant to see him here again, and know that he has successfully migrated here, home, and back again!

8XU

8XU

 

On Friday morning, we went on a boat trip out to Bijoli Island. The island is a mere spit of sand, but it was a gold-mine for Ospreys! We saw about ten in total, some fishing, some eating fish on the sand, some perched. There were also several other bird species around, Caspian Terns, a plethora of Gulls, Sanderlings, Turnstones, Ringed Plovers, and a Pomarine Skua flew past! Several Turnstones were cheekily trying to steal fish from the Ospreys as they ate, and one Gull managed to take off with the tail of a fish – straight out of the Osprey’s mouth!

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The eco-camp we stayed at was very close to a beach, and we had a lovely walk down it to a lagoon, where we saw several Ospreys!

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We also visited another lovely beach, where we stood beneath the shade of a pine tree to watch a great number of Ospreys come to fish just off the shore. One Osprey fished incredibly close to us in the shallow waves as we wandered steadily down the beach – it caught an enormous fish, and was so close binoculars were not necessary!

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For those of you who are wondering, the title of this blog is courtesy of Paul Stammers, and pertains to the beautiful tree-like patterns the receding tide carves into the sand. See the photos below by Kayleigh.

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We would like to say a huge thank you to the group of volunteers who were with us for ten days at the beginning of this trip. It seems like such a long time ago that you left us! We thoroughly enjoyed spending time in your company, it was great fun and you are all fantastic. We would also like to thank JJ, our brilliant guide, for his help and guidance throughout our trip.

We hope you have all enjoyed reading all about our African adventures, and seeing John’s superb photographs!

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Satellite call

We had planned to go to Lompoul to the Camp du Desert on Saturday morning (16th). However, there was a slight hiccup in the plans, related to a vehicle issue, that meant we did not leave until Sunday evening! Thus, we had to stay an extra night at Les Manguiers de Guereo, and spend a bit more time at the river mouth watching Ospreys (not a bad thing)! We eventually arrived at the Camp du Desert in the dark at about 9pm, where we had dinner and settled into our respective tents. It’s a super place to experience the wilder, rural side of Africa. There is no electricity in the camp, and the toilets and showers are all outdoors!

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Tent in the Camp du Desert

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Outdoor bathroom!

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Paul returns from the mess tent

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On Monday morning we rose early and headed off to find 30(05)! As we drove steadily up the beach towards 30’s wintering area, we suddenly spotted an Osprey on the sand to our left. John exclaimed, “There she is, that’s her!” and immediately raised his camera. I excitedly lifted my binoculars to my eyes and looked at 30 in close-up, I could see the satellite-transmitter’s aerial on her back! It was a great moment.

30(05)

First view of 30(05)!

 

We parked the car and got out, heading up towards the trees to get a good look at 30, who had returned to her perch and sat there quite happily. We stood there for quite a while, watching 30 and hoping she might go fishing.

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30 on one of her perches

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30 with an adult male chasing a juvenile behind

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We didn’t see her fish, but later we saw her flying around carrying of a needle-fish!

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30 carrying needle-fish

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30 eating needle-fish

30 eating needle-fish

 

We stood in the shade of the trees and looked around at the area. It’s a perfect area for Ospreys to winter, a lovely long beach (if you ignore all the litter), the sea in close proximity for fishing purposes, and acres of woodland behind. It’s no wonder this coastline is packed with Ospreys!

After spending some time with 30, we headed north up the beach to look for more colour-ringed birds, of which we found many! As the birds are less likely to spook and fly off at a vehicle than at people on foot, we drove along the shore with John and his camera hanging out of the window! We saw around 100 Ospreys, some of which were ringed. Most of the ringed Ospreys were from Germany, and some from Scotland. It isn’t easy to capture the ring numbers, especially from a moving vehicle, but John is a whiz with the camera! It was a great day – to see so many Ospreys all in one place, some catching fish, some perched, some flying.

Adult chasing a juvenile

Adult chasing a juvenile

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Being able to see colour rings and find out where some of the Ospreys are from, was brilliant, not to mention seeing 30(05), an Osprey whom I have seen in England at Rutland Water! It was also interesting to see some of the locals using the beach!

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We did have a few car issues during the day – despite letting some air out of the tyres it kept stuck in the deep sand! The tide did not help much, as it was so high it forced us to drive further inland in the softer sand.

Digging out the vehicle!

Digging out the vehicle!

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As we arrived at the desert camp a day late, we stayed an extra day and night, and spent Tuesday there too. Tuesday morning was much the same as Monday, with some of the same birds, some different ones. We avoided high tide on Tuesday though, and headed back to the camp for a walk through the desert in the afternoon. It was brilliant walking through the desert! It was so vast and unspoilt, apart from a few footprints!

The desert!

The desert!

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We were surprised, as we stood on the highest sand dune, to hear an Osprey calling. John picked it out in the trees behind us, perching, and then he spotted another one sitting on the sand eating! We couldn’t believe it – that woodland must have been at least 5km from the sea, which means there must be a lot of Ospreys in the area.

On Wednesday we had to leave the desert camp to head back down to Gambia, a journey which took us 9.5 hours! We stayed one night in Tendaba camp, then moved onto Tanji on Thursday. News from Tanji will follow at the weekend!

All of the above photographs were taken by Field Officer John Wright. 

An Osprey here, four Ospreys there…

I will never ever tire of watching Ospreys fish – it is an incredible experience. Here in Africa, the views we are getting of Ospreys catching fish are second to none.

Yesterday we went to the river mouth again, and had several Ospreys flying over us and fishing. One bird caught a fish very close to where we were standing, and the bird’s execution of the act was pure poetry. Gracefully she sailed down towards the water, legs outstretched, and, almost in slow motion, she extended her talons and delicately plucked a huge fish from near the surface of the water, with one foot! Then she proceeded to fly away with it. Easy.

Here is a sequence of photos showing the bird fishing, taken by John Wright.

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Later in the day, we walked down towards the mangroves to attempt to get close to the Ospreys we had seen from the boat, that were sitting on sand/mud banks. We waded out through the shallow waters of the receding tide, found a quiet corner in which to stand, and waited.

Wading through the water. Photo by Paul Stammers.

Wading through the water. Photo by Paul Stammers.

Watching an Osprey fishing. Photo by Paul Stammers.

Watching an Osprey fishing. Photo by Paul Stammers.

 

We were not disappointed. An Osprey would soar into view, plunge towards the water and catch a fish, then fly away to perch in a tree and eat it. Then another Osprey would come along. At one point there were four Ospreys in the air in front of us, all attempting to fish. Some were more successful than others in their attempts. It was fantastic to watch their aerial acrobatics as they tumbled and swooped, diving fast and pulling out, diving again and plunging in with a splash, to emerge triumphant, clutching a fish. One Osprey grabbed a rather large fish and held on to it with just one talon! The fish was squirming and wriggling, and the Osprey struggled to hold on, trying to grab the fish’s head with her other foot. Eventually, the Osprey lost her grip and dropped it. Here is another great sequence from John!

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Whilst we were there, a group of five Black Crowned Cranes flew in, and landed on a little island nearby! We stood as still as we could, blending into the trees so as not to startle the birds, and as such had some lovely views of the group feeding. The group consisted of four adults and a juvenile.

Osprey above the cranes, photo by John Wright

Osprey above the cranes, photo by John Wright

Black Crowed Cranes, photo by John Wright

Black Crowed Cranes, photos by John Wright

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On the way back, we saw an Osprey perched on top of a sign to a fish restaurant!

Osprey on sign, photo by John Wright

Osprey on sign, photo by John Wright

 

Today we went on another boat trip with Babucarr, and had some more excellent Osprey sightings! Several birds caught fish very close to us. One particular highlight was a German Osprey, with leg ring AL33, who perched for a long time on a little bit of tree root, and allowed the boat to inch ever nearer to him, gifting us some superb views.

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AL33, photos by John Wright

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John carried out a bit of extreme digiscoping in order to photograph AL33 on his perch – leaning over the side of the boat with the tripod in the water!

Extreme digiscoping. Photo by Kayleigh Brookes.

Extreme digiscoping. Photo by Kayleigh Brookes.

 

We’ve had such an amazing time at the Somone Lagoon, staying at the lovely Les Manguiers de Guereo. The view from the pool area, looking down towards the lagoon, is superb!

The pool and view, photo by Kayleigh Brookes

The pool and view, photo by Kayleigh Brookes

Sunrise over the Somone Lagoon. Photo by Kayleigh Brookes.

Sunrise over the Somone Lagoon. Photo by Kayleigh Brookes.

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Pink-backed Pelicans, photo by John Wright

Pink-backed Pelicans

Senegalese women crossing the lagoon

Senegalese women crossing the lagoon, photo by John Wright

 

Tomorrow we are heading north towards Lompoul to find our satellite-tagged female, 30(05)! The data we are receiving from her satellite-transmitter lets us know her position. Here are some maps showing her location over the past few months. As you can see from the cluster of red dots, she doesn’t move much from her favourite spot on the beach! Paul and John have been to see her before, of course, so they know exactly where to expect her to be! We will bring you news of the next step of our adventure when we return from the desert next week!

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A trip to remember

My GPS told me that we were in exactly the right spot. As our wooden fishing boat slowly made its way through the calm waters of the Sine-Saloum delta an Osprey came into view. It was perched inconspicuously in the mangroves beside the channel that we had seen it fly up yesterday; it had to be the same bird. Knowing it to be very wary, we inched our way towards the Osprey. I had my telescope with me, but it would be impossible to read the blue ring on the bird’s right leg from the boat. Instead the only way we would be able to identify it would be if John Wright could get a photo of the ring. However, just as were getting within the range of John’s 400mm lens, the bird flew off. We expected it to head off into the mangroves, but by some twist of fate, it turned and circled in front of us. Through my binoculars the blue ring was clearly visible and knowing John’s skills with a camera I knew that he would get the photos we needed. As Kayleigh explained in her excellent blog a few days ago, he did just that and we were able to identify the bird as 32(11). Cue all round elation and, for a moment, a boat that almost capsized!

32 in the Mangroves. Photo by John Wright.

32 in the Mangroves. Photo by John Wright.

The search for 32

The search for 32

32(11). Photo by John Wright.

32(11). Photo by John Wright.

We found him!

We found him!

While John, Paul and Kayleigh continue to enjoy an Osprey frenzy at the Somone Lagoon in Senegal, myself and the ten volunteers who joined us for ten days in Gambia and Senegal, flew back to the UK yesterday evening. When I look back on the trip, identifying the highlight isn’t difficult. After five years of trying, finding a Rutland Osprey on its wintering grounds was a magical moment. Here was an Osprey that we had watched hatch in the Manton Bay nest in 2011, return to Rutland two years later and then breed for the first time last summer. Finding it on its wintering grounds in one of the most spectacular places in Senegal was the final piece in the jigsaw. The fact that the bird is the grandson of the famous Mr Rutland, the mate of our satellite-tagged bird, 30(05), and the father of the 100th Rutland Osprey chick, makes finding him even more special.

Having said our goodbyes to Kayleigh, John and Paul on Tuesday morning, myself, JJ and the volunteers made the long journey back to Tendaba in The Gambia in the capable hands of our excellent driver, Alagie. Tendaba is a wonderful place to enjoy Africa at its best, and shortly after crossing the River Gambia at Farefenni we were treated to stunning views of a pair of Bateleur Eagles perched together in a roadside tree. It certainly made the 10.5 hour journey a little more bearable!

With just two days left of our trip, we were keen to visit two of the schools involved in the Osprey Flyways Project. The first was Wurokang Lower Basic School, a tiny rural school situated just a few kilometres from Tendaba Camp. JJ visited the school for the first time a few weeks ago and so we dropped off some copies of Ozzie’s Migration for the students (and teachers) to read. They were particularly excited to meet the book’s author, Ken Davies. Then yesterday morning, on our way to the airport, we stopped off to see our friends at Tanji Lower Basic School. We were greeted by teachers and members of the Osprey club, and shown the new computer lab which was funded by a generous grant from Melton Mowbray Rotary Club. We learnt that the computers have a made a great deal of difference at the school; not only allowing students to participate in Skype calls as part of World Osprey Week, but also giving them basic IT skills that simply wouldn’t have been possible before. Before we left Jackie Murray presented the students with some copies of Be An Osprey Expert and also showed the teachers how to access the teaching resources that are available for all WOW schools to use for free.

Junkung Jadama showing the headteacher of Wurokang Lower Basic School a copy of Ozzie's Migration

Junkung Jadama showing the headteacher of Wurokang Lower Basic School a copy of Ozzie’s Migration

Ken Davies and Junkung Jadama (left) with teachers at Wurokang Lower Basic School

Ken Davies and Junkung Jadama (left) with teachers at Wurokang Lower Basic School

Jackie Murray explaining how to use the teaching resources on the WOW website

Jackie Murray explaining how to use the teaching resources on the WOW website

With the Osprey club and teachers at Tanji Lower Basic School

With the Osprey club and teachers at Tanji Lower Basic School

A few hours later, as we flew home we were treated to a spectacular sunset over the Sahara. It made me think of the amazing journeys that the Ospreys make every year, but also about the friendships and links that have been forged between people thousands of miles apart as a result of those migrations. As he sat in the mangroves at the Sine-Saloum delta, 32(11) was just doing what comes naturally, but for those of us lucky enough to the boat to see him, it was a sight that summed up how special the project has become.

A spectacular sunset over the Sahara to end the trip

A spectacular sunset over the Sahara to end the trip