Sadly our itinerary during our West Africa trip meant it wasn’t possible to make a detour to see either of our two satellite-tagged birds. However one of Roy Dennis’s tagged birds, Rothiemurchus, was within striking distance. Here’s what happened when we went to look for him.
Monday 30th January
It is great to know where satellite-tagged Ospreys are spending the winter, but even better to actually have the chance of seeing them on their wintering grounds. And that’s exactly what we did today. In 2009 Roy Dennis fitted a satellite transmitter to a young male Osprey at a nest on the Rothiemurchus Estate in northern Scotland. Little did he know at the time that the bird – which he called Rothiemurchus – would provide us with such a wealth of information about young Ospreys. After wandering around West Africa – and visiting Djoudj National Park among other places – Rothiemurchus finally settled on a tributary of the River Gambia, just over the border in rural Senegal. He remained there until last May, when he flew north to the UK for the first time. During the course of the summer he wandered over a huge part of northern Britain, visiting his natal nest only briefly and exploring from as far afield as Cumbria and Sutherland. It provided us with a great deal of new information on the movements of young Ospreys when they first return to the UK.
In September, Rothiemurchus headed south again and a few weeks later was back at his regular wintering site. Like all adult Ospreys he has remained in a relatively small area since then, and so, seeing as we would be passing very close by on our way from Tendaba to the Sine-Saloum Delta, we thought we’d have a look for him.
Turning off the main North Bank road shortly after Kerewan, we followed dirt tracks north for seven or eight kilometres, the rutted road taking us through several villages where we received one or two quizzical looks from the locals. Using Google Earth on my laptop as a guide we stopped as close as possible to the area Rothiemurchus has been favouring and walked across extremely arid ground to the edge of what on Google Earth looks like a nice open channel. The reality is something a little different; the channel is covered by dense, impenetrable mangroves. Although we could see some dead trees, if Rothiemurchus was perching on a low stump or on the ground next to the river, we stood no chance of seeing him.
Unperturbed, we waited. Eventually an Osprey appeared. This had to be him. We all looked the tell-tale transmitter on the bird’s back. But there wasn’t one; despite waiting more than two hours in exactly the right spot, the Osprey that appeared wasn’t the one we wanted!
Eventually we decided to call it a day and we all trudged rather forlornly back to the bus. I say forlornly, but we had actually had an excellent couple of hours. In one scan of the mangroves John had counted 14 Montague’s Harriers and there were also Collared Praticoles hawking insects overhead.
As we drove away Alagie, our brilliant driver, who had surpassed even his own high standards on these very difficult roads, suggested we try one more spot by the river. It was a very good job we did. We walked down to the water’s edge and virtually as we did, an Osprey appeared from out of the mangroves. As it came closer we could see the transmitter. At last, it was Rothiemurchus! He circled overhead and then began fishing in the river in front of us. That was a mistake though, because no sooner had he started fishing, than a second Osprey appeared and chased him off! Interestingly, the two birds were right on the edge of Rothiemurchus’s usual range; and the behaviour of this second bird helped explain why he usually doesn’t venture much further downriver. Having been chased away, Rothiemurchus disappeared back down into the mangroves, presumably to his favourite perch. We got back on the bus and I rang Roy to give him the good news. At last our patience had been rewarded.