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We’ll be posting regular updates about satellite tracking projects here on the website. You can also track former projects using Google Earth. Check out our step-by-step instructions to find out how. Alternatively, click here to view the Osprey migration route with Google Maps. Google Maps also shows overhead high resolution satellite images, which is handy for finding places along the route.
By Tim on September 7, 2013
For any Osprey migrating from the UK to West Africa, the Sahara is undoubtedly the most demanding phase of the journey. For three to four days the birds must battle across one of the most barren, inhospitable places on planet earth without any food. The rewards once they get to West Africa are great, but actually getting there is not easy. As we expected 30 is now in the midst of her crossing of the vast desert. The latest data shows that last night she roosted in the northern part of Mauritania, having flown almost 900 kilometres in two days. The desert is so huge that this means she still has at least one more day’s flying before she reaches water again.
Having roosted just north of the Morocco-Western Sahara border on Wednesday night, 30 resumed her migration again shortly after 8am on Thursday. By 9am she had already covered 30km and was maintaining a South-westerly course at an altitude of 380 metres. She continued on almost exactly the same course for the next four hours, perhaps aided by some of the spectacular land forms she was passing over. By 2pm she had flown 270 kilometres from her roost site at an altitude of between 600 and 800 metres.
Over the course of the next hour she gained over 500 metres in altitude; by 3pm she was flying South-West at an altitude of 1220 metres. She maintained this altitude for the next two hours, but by 6pm she was much lower. She was clearly looking for somewhere to roost for the night because at 7pm she was perched on the desert floor after a day’s flight of 470 kilometres. She spent the night resting on the spectacular sands of Western Sahara.
Next morning 30 had a slow start to her migration. She moved 9km South-west from her roost site between 7am and 8am, and then rested for more than an hour, before finally setting off at about 9:30am. She covered 125 kilometres South-west over the next three-and-a-half hours at altitudes of between 300 and 600 metres. At 1pm she turned further South-west and maintained that heading for four hours, covering 185 kilometres in the process. An hour later, at 6pm, she was at her highest altitude of her desert crossing – 1920 metres – and still showing no signs of letting up. She finally settled to roost at around 7:15pm having flown a total of 410 kilometres since leaving her roost site.
30 is now 470 kilometres from Senegal, meaning that when we receive the next batch of data she should have completed her crossing of the Sahara. Let’s hope so. To see her latest position on our interactive Google Map page, click here.
By Tim on September 5, 2013
In the last update on 30′s migration, I suggested that when we received the next batch of data she’d be setting out across the Sahara. Sure enough, the latest GPS positions show that last night she roosted just north of the disputed Morocco-Western Sahara border, with the vast expanses of desert lying ahead.
We knew that at midday on 3rd September, 30 was passing to the north of Marrakesh. The imposing Atlas Mountains would have been appearing on the horizon, and this clearly prompted a shift in 30′s course. At 1pm, with the mountains looming large in the distance, she made a distinct turn to the South-west; thereby avoiding flying directly through the mountains. She maintained this heading for the next four hours at altitudes of more than 2000 metres. By 5pm she was past the highest of the peaks and she turned almost due south, a course she maintained for two more hours of flying. Finally, at 7pm she settled to roost in an agricultural area to the south of the mountains after a day’s flight of 293km. Here’s a Google Earth video of her day’s flight which demonstrates just why she changed direction as she did. If you like the song in the video, you can find out more about it here.
Next morning, 30 made a slow start. At 7am she had moved 5km south of her roost site and at 9am she was perched again, another 6km to the south. There are no obvious signs of water on Google Earth and it’s more likely that these small movements were as a result of people beginning their day’s work on the agricultural land. By 10am, though, she was migrating again, heading South at an altitude of 370 metres. She made steady progress for the rest of the day, maintaining a South-westerly heading at altitudes of 750-1000 metres. By 5pm she had covered 252km and at that point made another distinct turn in response to a geographical landmark. As our previous satellite-tracking studies have shown, many migrating Ospreys follow the vast ridge which runs South-west along the northern edge of the Sahara; and at 5pm that’s exactly what 30 did. She followed the ridge for two hours, before settling to roost on the desert floor at 7pm after a day’s flight of 324km.
30′s isn’t the only Rutland Osprey to have followed the ridge. Both 09 and AW followed the same ridge on their migrations in 2011. Its also very close to the place where 09 sadly died on his autumn migration last year. at 5pm 30 was just 41km from the spot where Farid Lacroix found 09′s remains last September. Let’s hope 30 has better luck as she crosses the Sahara.
Like all Ospreys that are migrating across the desert, 30 had to roost on the desert floor. Google Earth helps gives us an insight into the kind of landscapes that she is experiencing.
With the majority of the Sahara ahead of her, 30 will have to go at least three more days without fish. For an experienced adult Osprey this is something she is well-used to, but it will be a difficult few days of migration nonetheless.
By Tim on September 3, 2013
Yesterday we were wondering whether 30 would linger in the south of Spain, or continue south to Africa. That question has now been answered because at midday today we know she was flying past Marrakesh!
After arriving in Cadiz on Sunday afternoon, 30 remained there for the rest of the evening. Having flown well over 1500km in just three-and-a-half days since leaving Rutland Water she was certainly due a rest. Cadiz harbour offers rich pickings for migrating Ospreys and, having caught a meal 30 settled down for the evening near El Marquesado.
At 7am next morning she was perched 11km further south, perhaps eating breakfast. An hour later though, she was off. Whilst most birds of prey actively avoid long sea-crossings during migration, Ospreys are much more powerful. It was no surprise, therefore, that rather than heading South-east to make the short crossing to Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar, 30 flew due south from Cadiz, direct across the Atlantic. At 8am she was 6.5km off the Spanish coast flying just 10m above the waves and an hour later she was 40km further south, with the Moroccan coast firmly in her sights. She made landfall just after 10am after a flight across the sea of approximately 110km. This is much further than the 14km crossing at Gibraltar, but using the more direct route across the open sea not only saved 30 time, but also kilometres. If she had stuck to the land-based route as species such as Honey Buzzards and Short-toed Eagles would have done, she would have had to have flown 80 kilometres further.
Having made landfall, 30 continued South-west, using the coastline as her guide. She passed Rabat at 2pm, flying powerfully South-west at 49km/h at an altitude of 490 metres and then continued to make steady progress South-west for the rest of the afternoon. By 6pm she had covered another 150km and was still showing no signs of letting up, despite the fact that her day’s flight already totalled 420km.
We don’t know exactly where 30 roosted but at 10am this morning she was 65km south of her position yesterday evening, migrating SSW at an altitude of 1000 metres. Two hours later she had made a distinct turn to the South-west and was passing to the north of Marrakesh. This change in direction was almost certainly due to the fact that the Atlas Mountains would now be appearing on the horizon. This vast mountain chain, which rises to more than 4000 metres in places, presents an obvious barrier to migrating birds. Our other satellite tagged Ospreys have actively avoided flying through the highest peaks and it looks as though 30 is going to do the same.
Once the Atlas Mountains are behind her, 30 will face the most arduous part of her journey. The vast and unforgiving Sahara. When the next batch of data comes in – either later tomorrow or on Friday – she will probably be crossing the desert. We wish her well.
By Tim on September 2, 2013
One of the key things we have learnt from our satellite tracking studies in recent years is that adult Ospreys are able to refine their migration route over successive journeys. By using prominent geographical features such as mountains, rivers and coastlines, they make the most direct flight possible without taking unnecessary risks. They are superb navigators and there is no clearer example of this than 30(05)’s first four days of migration this year.
When 30 wasn’t at her nest site on Thursday evening, we thought she had departed on migration, but it wasn’t until this morning – when we were able to download the latest full batch of satellite data – that we could confirm just that. And what a start she has made – non-GPS signals showed that by yesterday evening she had reached Cadiz in the south of Spain.
30 first bred at a nest close to Rutland Water in 2009 and has continued to do so each year since. Sadly this year her mate, 08(01), failed to return and she has spent much of the summer alone. Having failed to rear a family for the first time in five summers, we wondered how long 30 would linger at her nest site this autumn. She clearly felt the time was right to depart on Thursday morning because by midday she was flying south over Wellingborough, some 36km south of Rutland Water at an altitude of 600m. Over the course of the next four hours she made steady progress south at an average altitude of 750m, passing over Milton Keynes and then to the west of London.
By 4:30pm she had the south coast in her sights, and with conditions good for migration, she continued onwards, passing over Worthing and then out to sea. Her 168mk crossing of the English Channel took almost exactly 3 hours, and she made landfall just to the South-west of the busy shipping port of Le Havre, at 8pm. An hour later as darkness fell she was perched another 48km to the South-west, close to a farm in a typically rural part of Normandy. Under normal circumstances 30 would have roosted there for the night, but evidently still feeling strong, she continued south. We do not know exactly how long she was flying for during the night, but by 2:30am GMT she had covered another 119km and by 6am was another 41km further on, perched in an arable field 16km North of the Loire river. She may well have caught a breakfast fish because two hours later, at 8am, she was perched beside a small farm lake. She certainly deserved a meal because she had covered more than 540km since leaving Rutland Water. An incredible first day of migration.
If 30 did have some breakfast she didn’t eat for long because by 9am she had crossed the Loire and was flying powerfully south. Over the course of the next four hours she flew 145 kilometres and by midday was at an altitude of 1500m just to the east of La Rochelle. The French coast would now have been clearly in her sights and for the rest of the day she followed it south, passing to the west of Bordeaux and then onwards towards the Spanish border at an average altitude of around 500m. This is 30′s eight autumn migration and she will have learnt over the course of her seven previous journeys that following the coastline aids her navigation. And she’s not the only one, when John Wright and I spent time on the French coast in September 2009 and 2010 we saw numerous Ospreys heading south.
Having followed the coast south, 30 eventually arrived in Spanish airspace just before 7pm. She passed over Donosita San-Sebastian and then continued flying for another hour before settling in a wooded valley in the Basque Country. In 12 hours of flying she had covered a remarkable 547km.
30′s Basque Country roost site was just 50km from the Urdaibai Estuary where we have two schools who are participating in our Osprey Flyways Project. With the help of their music teacher they have composed and recorded a great song about Osprey migration. It describes an Ospreys journey from the UK to Africa, via the Basque Country so it seems fitting to include it here.
Next morning 30 set off at first light. At 6am she was flying South-west at 54km/h at an altitude of 450km and she maintained this heading for the rest of the morning and into the early afternoon. By 2pm she was approaching Madrid at an altitude of 2620m – by far the highest altitude of her migration thus far. Interestingly, this corresponds with the journeys of our other GPS satellite-tagged birds – 09(98) and AW(06) – both of whom migrated at similar altitudes over central Spain. After passing Madrid she continued South-west and settled for the night close to the village of Santa Eufemia in the very northern part of Andalucia after day’s flight of 546km.
In her first three days of migration 30 had covered 540km, 547km and 546km respectively. Such consistent flying demonstrates what an incredible navigator she has become.
At 6am next morning (Sunday) 30 had flown another 14km further south and was close to the shores of Embalse de la Colado, a large reservoir, typical of Andalucia. There is every chance that she visited the reservoir to go fishing, but by 9am she was on the wing again, heading South-west at an altitude of 790 metres. She clearly knew exactly where she was going because, whilst we are yet to receive any further GPS positions for yesterday, accurate non-GPS locations showed that she had reached Cadiz by 4:20pm; a flight of some 240km. The fact that this is less than half the distance of her previous three days’ flying suggests that she will either stop-over at Cadiz for a few days, or perhaps even spend the winter there. Numerous Ospreys spend the winter fishing in Cadiz harbour and when I visited with Lloyd Park and Paul Stammers from Rutland Water in 2008 we saw at least five different Ospreys simultaneously. Who knows, maybe one of them was 30?
It will be very interesting to see where 30 is when the next batch of GPS data comes in. Will she still be at Cadiz, or will she be in Morocco? We’ll update you as soon as we know.
By Tim on October 9, 2012
As you may remember if you have been following the story, wildlife film-maker Lahoucine Faouzi offered to travel to the south of Morocco to film the area on the edge of the Sahara where 09(98) died during his autumn migration. Thanks to the efforts of Farid Lacroix, we already know that 09 was almost certainly predated by an Eagle Owl as he prepared to cross the Sahara, but Lahoucine’s footage sheds further light on what a remote, inhospitable place 09 had reached. If conditions were poor when he arrived in the area on 11th September, he would have known not to fly any further. Ironically though, it was probably this decision that led to his demise – we think he was predated by an Eagle Owl as he roosted on a high ridge that night.
We are very grateful to Lahoucine for travelling to the area and sending us the film. It’s amazing to think that the vast majority of the Ospreys from the UK will have flown over terrain like this over the past few weeks. The high ridge that is visible in the distance after 2 mins 15 secs is one of the geographical features that our satellite tracking studies have shown Ospreys follow as they fly south across the Sahara. It’s really great to have some footage of this. Very many thanks to Lahoucine and his colleagues for their help.
By Tim on September 23, 2012
Last week when I put out an appeal on the website and e-mailed some contacts in Morocco, it was more in hope than expectation that someone in Morocco may be able to go and find out what had happened to 09(98) on the edge of the Sahara. We were receiving transmissions from a remote ridge of the northern edge of the desert, well away from main roads and in some of the most inhospitable terrain Africa – or perhaps, more accurately, the world has to offer. Surely, 09′s fate would remain a mystery?
Well, not when you have Farid Lacroix to help you. Farid is an ex search and rescue helicopter pilot, originally from France but now living in Agadir, in the south of Morocco. Farid’s career has taken him all over the world, and most significantly of all from our point of view, into the desert. When he saw our appeal for help on moroccanbirds.blogspot.com (kindly posted there by Mohamed Amezian of the University of Abdelmalek Essaadi) he immediately got in touch and offered to drive the 250km from Agadir to the spot where we had been receiving transmissions from 09′s satellite tag since 3pm on September 11th. The Sahara is not the sort of place you can take lightly – conditions can suddenly deteriorate in a matter of minutes – but Farid’s experience meant he was well-qualified to deal with the worst the desert could throw at him.
So, on Thursday morning last week, he left Agadir and drove south. Leaving the main roads behind he headed onto dirt tracks and into the desert. Using his Garmin GPS as a guide he eventually reached the foot of the mountain where the satellite data showed 09′s tag was lying.
In Farid’s own words, ‘climbing this mountain was very hard and maybe dangerous’. That was an understatement, but unperturbed he set off up the mountain with a 15kg rucksack containing 3 litres of water, some food, a survival blanket, a satellite phone in case of an emergency and his camera equipment. The photo below shows his route up the mountain, which involved more than 1000 feet of climbing on loose shale. This would be difficult enough on its own, but the searing desert temperatures made the climb even more demanding.
The accuracy of 09′s GPS transmitter and the fact all the fixes were from exactly the same position, meant that once Farid had scaled the steep scree slope, it did not take him long to find the transmitter. We had been hoping that the transmitter had fallen off and that 09 had continued his journey towards Senegal, but sadly Farid immediately found evidence that proved otherwise – a pile of feathers and bones and 09′s two leg rings, along with the transmitter.
So, sadly we now knew 09′s fate, but what was it that killed him? A look at data from his transmitter’s activity meter suggests he was alive until the early hours of 12th September and, therefore, it seems likely the he was predated by either an Eagle Owl or a mammal,perhaps a Jackal, during the night or very early next morning. This theory is given more credence by the fact that Farid found 09′s remains a few feet from the branch where he would have been roosting; tell tale white excrement suggesting he had been perched there for some time. Perhaps conditions in the desert were poor for migrating on the afternoon of 11th September, forcing 09 to cut-short his day’s flight? Sadly it seems that it was this decision to roost on the ridge that resulted in his demise; an owl or mammal pouncing on him in the night and then eating him where Farid found the remains. It certainly seems very unlikely that he died of natural causes. Having flown more than 250 miles on each day of his seven-day flight to southern Morocco, he was clearly in good condition.
Of course we will never know exactly what happened, but whatever the case, it goes to show that even for an experienced Osprey, like 09, migration is a very hazardous time. The desert terrain means that migrating Ospreys have to roost on or very close to the ground, making predation a very real threat.
We are incredibly grateful to Farid for going to such amazing lengths to find out what had happened. It is remarkable that someone we have never met offered to drive 500km and scale a 1000 foot mountain in the Sahara to help us solve the mystery. As I said in the previous post, migrating birds have a unique ability to link people and communities across the world, and this is a perfect example of this. We are currently setting-up a project that will link schools along the Osprey migration flyway and I hope that this will encourage young people in Europe, Africa and perhaps further a field to follow Farid’s example and to take an interest in the conservation of migratory birds. As 09′s sad demise shows, Ospreys and other migratory species face many natural hazards on their 3000 mile journey to Africa, and I feel it is vital that we do all we can to encourage international collaboration and partnerships to ensure that those threats do not include human ones.
If you are interested in becoming involved in our schools project, then please email me email@example.com for more informaton. Or, if you would like to support our work, you can donate here.
Thank you again, Farid.
By Tim on September 21, 2012
I was hoping I would have good news to report today, but sadly not. Late last night I received a text message from Farid Lacroix saying that he had found found 09′s body on the ridge in southern Morocco and retrieved the satellite transmitter. Mobile signal in the area is very limited and so we will have to wait until Farid returns to Agadir later today for the full story (including the cause of death).
This is really sad news, but it confirms what we had expected. It also demonstrates that even an experienced Osprey like 09 – who has migrated the equivalent of three times round the world in his lifetime – is not immune to the dangers of the 3000 mile flight to West Africa. Migration is an incredibly demanding time for the birds, whether juveniles or adults, and our satellite-tracking studies are proving that.
The project is very grateful to Farid for his efforts in getting to what is clearly a very remote, inhospitable place. In his text message Farid said, ‘it was very hard to climb this mountain’ and you only have to look at the aerial photo below, to appreciate that. It will be very interesting to see his photos once he is back in Agadir. As I said in the last update, the response we have had to our appeal for help has been remarkable – a second search team, led by wildlife film-maker Faouzi Lahoucine was due to set out today. Having prepared for the trip, they are still going to go in order to film the area for us. There are few things that have the potential to link communities across the world, like bird migration; and the efforts of people we have never met before, demonstrate that.
The recent advances in satellite-tracking have made it possible to follow the migrations of Ospreys and other migratory birds in unprecedented detail and in the past year thousands of people, from all over the world, have followed 09 on his remarkable journeys between Rutland and Senegal. Over the years he has become a real favourite at Rutland Water. Having been translocated to the reservoir in 1998, he returned two years later and then spent the next twelve summers attempting to attract a mate. So when he finally reared two chicks for the first time this summer, it was cause for real celebration. Let’s just hope that at least one of those chicks survives the rigours of migration and and makes it back to Rutland in a couple of years’ time.
Farid will be sending more detailed news and some photos once he is back in Agadir and so we’ll be sure to post them on the site as soon as we receive them - hopefully over the weekend.
By Tim on September 19, 2012
As expected we are still receving transmissions from 09′s radio in exactly the same location in the south of Morocco. This confirms that he has either died, or the transmitter has fallen off.
We have received an incredible response to our appeal for help. As luck would have it Frederic Lacroix, who lives in Agadir, was planning to travel to the south of Morocco tomorrow on a photographic trip and he has offered to go and look for 09. If he fails, then another team, led by wildlife film-maker Lahoucine Faouzi, have kindly agreed to travel to the area on Friday and look for 09 on Saturday. So either way, we should know what has happened by the end of the weekend. This really is a fantastic outcome and we are very grateful to Frederic and Lahoucine and his team for their help.
As we wait for news, myself and the team at Rutland have been discussing what may have happened. The most likely scenario, we think, is that poor weather – or perhaps sandstorms – forced 09 to land on the ridge on 11th September. As an experienced migrator, he would have known not to set out across the Sahara if conditions were poor for flying. Sadly, once there, he may have been predated by an Eagle Owl or even a Bonelli’s Eagle. Both species are capable of taking a bird as large as an Osprey and both occur in this southern part of Morocco. The alternative, of course, is that the transmitter fell off while 09 was perched there. Hopefully either Frederic or Lahoucine will be able to provide an answer. And let’s hope it is the latter.
Amazingly, whilst looking at the various land forms on Google Earth, we realised that we flew over the exact spot that we are receiving transmissions from, in January 2011 en route to West Arica. The photo below was taken by John Wright from the plane that day and I have marked on 09′s position. This shows what a remote, inhospitable place it is, so good luck to Frederic and Lahoucine in their search for 09. We’ll report any news as soon as we have it.
By Tim on September 16, 2012
Having reached the northern edge of the Sahara on Tuesday, we expected 09 to be well into his crossing of the desert by now. Instead, we have some bitterly disappointing news to report.
All of the GPS fixes we have received from 09′s satellite transmitter in the latest batch of data (from 12-15 Sept) are from exactly the same place. Furthermore, the activity meter on the transmitter is showing that it isn’t moving either. In other words, 09 – or his transmitter – hasn’t moved since 3pm on 11th September.
So what has happened? Well, there are two options. The first, which obviously we hope isn’t the case, is that 09 has died. Although the transmitters are designed to fall off once the cotton holding the teflon harness in place has rotted, we wouldn’t expect that to have happened within two years – especially as Roy Dennis has tracked some birds for five years or more. Clearly, if the transmitter is still in place, then 09 must have died. But if that is the case, then the cause of death is a real mystery. As you’ll know if you have been following his migration, 09 has been making excellent progress south. It took him just seven days to reach southern Morocco – an average of over 250 miles per day. This suggests that he was in good condition and it seems unlikely that he would suddenly have died of natural causes. Likewise, the remote nature of the site, makes human intervention improbable too. When AW died in the Ivory Coast last winter, it was clear from the satellite data that humans were almost certainly to blame. However, 09′s position is two-and-a-half miles from the nearest habitation – a small village called Taskala – and on the top of a steep ridge some 1000 feet above the village.
So if 09 hasn’t come to grief, then what has happened? The only other explanation is that the transmitter has fallen off. When 06(01) returned to breed at Rutland Water in 2003, she had lost the satellite transmitter that had been fitted to her as a juvenile just two years previously. So, although the transmitters are designed to stay on for around five years, there is a prescedent for them falling off sooner than this. We certainly hope that this is the case with 09.
Of course, the only way we will be able to solve the mystery in the short-term is to try and get someone to go and look for the transmitter. The fact that it is still providing good-quality data means that if someone can get to the area, then retrieving it is a possibility. The problem we are faced with is that this is a very remote area – and close to the disputed border with Western Sahara. However, I will be emailing some contacts in Morocco this afternoon to try and get the ball rolling.
Whatever the case, this is all desperately disappointing, especially as 09 was in the middle of such a superb migration. All we can hope is that the transmitter has dropped off and that we will be able to retrieve it. So, if you know anyone who may be able to help, please get in touch with me by email – firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll post more news as soon as we have any.
By Tim on September 14, 2012
We should receive the next batch of data from 09′s transmitter over the weekend, so keep an eye on the website for the next update – most probably on Sunday. It will be really interesting to see how far he has flown. If he has maintained the pace he set during the first week of his migration, then he should be well into his crossing of the Sahara. Watch this space!
In the meantime, a special mention to Liz McCarthy. Liz is running the Great North Run on Sunday in order to raise money for our satellite-tracking work. As 09′s data demonstrates, the GPS satellite transmitters give a truly unique insight into the birds’ epic journeys to West Africa as well us providing us with a wealth of valuable information on their movements in and around Rutland. Each transmitter costs £2500 with an additional fee of £600 per year for the on-going data collection costs. So if you have enjoyed following 09′s journey so far and would like to support our work, then please consider sponsoring Liz for the Great North Run. You can do so via her online fund-raising page. Thanks in advance and GOOD LUCK to Liz for Sunday.