West Africa Project

Memories of Africa

Here is a wonderful video of the Osprey Project’s trip to Africa in January 2016! This video was filmed and edited by John Wright, and highlights many of the wonderful things we did and saw on the trip. Enjoy!

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!

30 14 Jan 30 14 Jan zoomed

 

 

 

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…