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West Africa Project
By Kayleigh Brookes on March 15, 2017
Here is a fantastic report from Field Officer John Wright, detailing his three-month-long trip to Senegal to study the osprey population! Complete with John’s excellent photographs and drawings.
Last winter, we reported that two Spanish Ornithologists, Rafa Benjumea and Blanca Perez, had found Rutland male 06(09) whilst carrying out bird surveys at Langue de Barbarie NP, Senegal for the NGO Tougoupeul. Rafa and Blanca, who I first met back in 2009 while helping to count migrating raptors at Tarifa, returned to the national park in late November 2016 to continue their bird surveys. The emphasis was on Ospreys, so I joined them to assist with their work.
Langue de Barbarie National Park, situated in north-west Senegal, consists of a narrow 16 km long peninsular of low sand dunes and small trees. The turbulent Atlantic Ocean pounds its beaches on the west side while the sheltered east, once the original entrance of the Senegal river, has now merely become a tidal inlet. A man-made 4 metre wide breach to the spit (see sketch) created in 2003 to help prevent flooding to the nearby city of Saint louis has now grown to be almost 4km wide. This breach may have been instrumental in causing the original opening to the Senegal river 20km to the south to close up in 2011. The former river mouth and Langue de Barbarie NP has now become a 16km long tidal inlet and it remains to be seen what becomes of it in the near future.
The sheltered tidal inlet provides valuable fishing for both Ospreys and local people. The Filao trees, a species adapted to sandy and salty soils, were originally planted on the sand spit to help prevent erosion but have also provided safe roosting sites and food perches for many Ospreys.
Accompanied by the park rangers, we counted, sexed and aged all the Ospreys seen along a 16 km stretch of the langue. Groups of between 20-40 Ospreys were regularly seen and an average morning count was about 150 individuals.
Rutland male 06(09) was present on his favourite stump on the east side of the peninsular but was extremely shy, taking flight long before the boat had reached him. His wintering site couldn’t have been more different from his English nesting site. The Red Kites had been replaced with Yellow-billed Kites, the Buzzards for African Fish Eagles, and the Brown Hares for thousands of Fiddler Crabs. The last time that I had seen him was in late August when he was sat in a dead Larch tree close to his farmland nest.
Local people fish and pick cockles almost continuously in the park and the sound of outboard motors and the rattle of cockle shells is rarely absent. Little is known about the fish populations within the inlet and what effect the changing landscape will have on them.
The Atlantic Ocean relentlessly pounds the west side of the peninsular but despite this many of the Ospreys remain on their chosen perches throughout the night.
One particular individual that we got to know really well was this extremely confiding adult female. She bore a Swedish metal ring on her right leg and was a bird that Rafa and Blanca had seen last year. Unlike Rutland male 06 this female would often not take flight until the boat passed 5m away and this allowed us to read five of the seven numbers on the metal ring.
Other raptors wintering alongside the Ospreys were Barbary Falcons from north-west Africa, Booted Eagles from Spain and Peregrine Falcons from Northern Europe.
Many people probably think that all Ospreys head south to spend their winter in exotic locations and, while many do, some, like the bird below, certainly don’t. This beach near Saint Louis is literally covered in discarded plastic, several kilometers of it in fact. Discarded fishing nets are probably one of the most dangerous hazards Ospreys face in West Africa. Many nets become snagged on reefs and are cut free by fisherman only to wash up later on the beach. Ospreys will often use them as perches on the shore and I saw several birds getting their feet stuck in them. People and stray dogs were also sometimes a minor inconvenience.
In total I saw 19 ringed Ospreys from Germany, France, England, Scotland, Sweden and Switzerland. The Swiss bird was a juvenile male from the translocation programme (click here for more info) and was still carrying its tail transmitter. I had a brief encounter with an adult male wearing a blue ring on its right leg, which should have been either a Welsh or English bird. However, its underwing pattern certainly ruled it out from being any of the breeding or non breeding Rutland birds, unfortunately. Male orange 11, a French Osprey, had a nice history attached to it. He was ringed at Chambord in July 2003 by our friend Rolf Wahl, and this was the first sighting of this bird since being ringed as a chick. Many colour ringed Lesser Black-backed Gulls from Western Europe also winter in West Africa.
The total number of Ospreys using the Langue de Barbarie NP could easily be in excess of 300, and the most we saw during a mornings boat count was about 180. Given that there are well over 100 Ospreys wintering with Rutland female 30(05) just a little further down the coast, this makes the coast of Senegal incredibly valuable for many of Western Europe’s Ospreys.
By Kayleigh Brookes on January 23, 2017
We had a wonderful time on our osprey project trip to West Africa, as usual! The wildlife was fantastic, the company was excellent and we stayed in some lovely places. As we all know, during our stay in the Gambia there was some potential for unrest due to the refusal of the current president to step down and make way for the new one, following the elections in early December. This situation worried some people, however, there really was no need for anyone to be worried about us, as the situation was not as the media made out. Everything went smoothly and completely as normal, we did not encounter any unusual activities or problems anywhere. The only thing that changed for us was that the time of our scheduled flight home on Thursday 19th was brought forward by 45 minutes. So the trip went completely to plan!
We would like to thank our excellent team of volunteers for making this trip such good fun! We had some great outings and saw some wonderful wildlife, as detailed in my earlier two blogs. Here are some photographs of the trip, taken by the team.
By Kayleigh Brookes on January 18, 2017
On Saturday we left the Sine Saloum, and indeed Senegal, behind us, and headed south. We crossed the border back into Gambia, then we crossed the river and made our way to the next stop – Tendaba Camp. We have visited Tendaba on every trip, and it provides a great taste of rural Africa. The camp is located right on the edge of the Gambia River, and we made the most of this by going on a boat trip across the river and into the mangroves and creeks on the other side. It was a wonderful, peaceful cruise through the overhanging branches, and we saw such a lot of wildlife on the banks of the narrow creeks and channels, and in the trees either side. There were kingfishers, herons, waders and birds of prey, pelicans, crabs and a crocodile!
We only had two nights in the Tendaba area, but we made the most of it and visited two different scrub and grassland sites for the purposes of birdwatching, one of which had a lovely shallow lake, and was an old airfield, apparently. We had some superb views of several excellent species, including indigo bird, dark-chanting goshawk, crested eagle and broad-bellied roller. We also visited a great spot for seeing standard-winged nightjars, and as the light faded we were treated to views of them flitting past the road. We also saw a Verreaux’s eagle owl which was a brilliant treat!
When Monday came round it was time to leave Tendaba and head to our next destination, Footsteps Eco-lodge, which is further west towards the coast. None of the team has ever been here before, but it is certainly worth it! The service and food are both excellent and the grounds lovely. On the first day at Footsteps we visited Tanji Marsh, in the hopes of seeing 5F(12) from Rutland Water. We were out of luck, as there were only two or three ospreys around the area. However, we will be popping back before we leave, so we could still be in with a chance of seeing her.
We had a great trip one morning to Kartong bird reserve, where the wetlands gave us great views of white-faced whistling ducks, painted snipe, black-winged stilts, spur-winged goose and ospreys!
Later, we went for lunch at a place called Stala, where we had a delicious buffet before going out on a boat trip on the Allahein river. We saw so many ospreys I lost count! Plus sacred ibis, blue breasted kingfisher, African fish eagle, Wahlberg’s eagle and many more.
By Kayleigh Brookes on January 13, 2017
It was a very long and exhausting day on Monday, but we made it to Senegal! The flight was on time and we collected our bags and made our way to the ferry crossing at the Gambia river. Our trusty bus driver, Alagie, had already crossed with the bus, and we were to make our way across as foot passengers. Unfortunately we just missed the ferry as we arrived and had to wait for an hour for the next one! Eventually we boarded the boat and settled in for a 40 minute trip. We were very excited to see dolphins on the way, which made our tiredness seem to disappear! We had some great views of the dolphins as the came closer and closer to the boat.
Exhausted, hungry and excited, we eventually made it to the Keur Saloum, a lovely hotel on the Sine Saloum delta with a pool and terrace. We spent the first five days of the trip there. Our first morning was taken up mostly with wandering the extensive, wooded grounds of the hotel, taking in the many birds, butterflies and monkeys that we saw.
On several occasions we went out on a little wooden boat looking for ospreys in the Sine Saloum delta, including potentially 32(11) who we found winters here. One day we spent all day in that little wooden boat. We went all the way to the Ile des Oiseaux, where we had a great view on approach of at least six ospreys all together on the shore, eating fish. We had a short walk along the shore to see the birds better, and then headed back to the boat and onto our next stop, which was lunch! We moored up on a lovely sandy beach and ate a picnic lunch on the shelter of a thatched canopy. We visited the island twice and sailed all the way around it, seeing dozens of ospreys sitting on perches, eating fish and flying in and out. We hoped that we would see male osprey 32(11) who we found in this area last year. He’s quite a nervous bird, which bodes well for his survival, but means he flies off as soon as boats draw near. However, we did manage to get a view of him and his blue ring one day!
Thanks to Chris Ditchburn we have these great maps showing where we travelled on our three different boat trips!
On another day we visited a woodland site, where we had a great walk up a sandy track looking out for all the birds in the trees and shrubs, of which there were many! Highlights include yellow weavers, a bearded barbet, Abyssinian roller, yellow-fronted tinkerbird and red-cheeked cordon bleu.
On two separate afternoons we headed out to a nearby lake, which was great for both birds and insects! There were several species of dragonfly, some butterflies, plus a giant kingfisher, pearl-spotted owlets, fire finches, dark-chanting goshawk and several ospreys fishing!
Another great sighting was when we were back at the hotel grounds and were treated to a superb view of a skink! It was sitting quite happily in the undergrowth, not worried at all about the cameras that were pointed at it!
We’ve had a great time in Senegal and tomorrow we are off to the Gambia again! Look out for the next update next week!
By Kayleigh Brookes on October 26, 2016
In January 2017, the Rutland Osprey Team are heading out to West Africa on an osprey-watching adventure! In anticipation of our trip, let’s have a brief look back at the last one…
In January 2016, the Osprey Project team visited The Gambia and Senegal as part of our Osprey Flyways Project. A group of ten fantastic volunteers were there with us for the first ten days, and together we explored bird-rich parts of the The Gambia and Senegal, and were treated to fabulous views of hundreds of exotic species.
After the group departed, Paul, John and I remained in Africa for a further two weeks, and visited other places, some further afield and less accessible. One of the purposes of our trip was to record and document as many colour-ringed ospreys as we could, in order to find out more about their wintering habits and migrations.
The whole trip was a huge success – we saw three Rutland ospreys, several other colour-ringed birds, a plethora of other species, and visited two schools involved in the Ospreys Flyways Project. Plus we had great fun!
One of the three Rutland ospreys we saw was our satellite-tagged female, 30(05), who was perched in her favourite spot on the Senegalese beach she calls her winter home. It was brilliant to see her there, her satellite-tracker aerial clearly visible. More details can be found by clicking here.
One of the other Rutland birds we were privileged to see was 5F(12) at Tanji marsh. We knew she wintered there as she had been spotted there in years before, but of course we weren’t guaranteed to see her. Luckily, as we scanned through the stumps on the marsh, there she was, showing off her bright blue leg ring! More details can be found by clicking here.
The most amazing discovery was that of 32(11), an osprey born in Manton Bay to 5R(04) and Maya, the grandson of 03(97), the mate of 30(05) and the father of the 100th Rutland osprey chick! What a wonderful coincidence that it was him we found! We didn’t expect it at all. As we sailed towards the Iles de Oiseaux, an osprey with a blue ring on its right leg was spotted in the mangroves. This meant the bird was from England or Wales, and so could be from Rutland! Unfortunately we couldn’t get close enough to read the ring. We returned the next day to the same spot, and this time we got it – it was 32(11)! It was a wonderful discovery, and everyone was very excited. More details can be found by clicking here.
We had such an amazing time in Africa, and were privileged to get some incredible close-up views of ospreys flying and fishing. One of the best places was the Somone Lagoon, where a boat trip through the mangroves proved to be the best way of seeing ospreys at close quarters.
We also had several trips to little islands, such as the Iles de Oiseaux and Bijoli island, where we had superb views of ospreys sitting eating fish on the sand, with turnstones trying to steal bits of fish as they were dropped!