Ospreys in Senegal

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.

0001 - Langue de Barbarie

Langue de Barbarie

 

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.

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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.

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Part of a group of 40 Ospreys

Part of a group of 40 Ospreys

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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.

Male 06

Male 06

Rutland male 06

Rutland male 06

Rutland male 06

Rutland male 06

0015a-Fiddler Crags

Fiddler Crabs

0015 0016 - Rutland male 06 0017 - Rutland male 06

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.

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Lost fish, Langue-de-Barbarie, 9-12-16

Lost fish, Langue-de-Barbarie, 9-12-16

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Two adult male Ospreys

Two adult male Ospreys

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Osprey among newly planted Mangrove

Osprey among newly planted Mangrove

 

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.

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Adult female

Adult female

0034 0036- Adult female 0037 0038 0039

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.

Adult female with Swedish metal ring

Adult female with Swedish metal ring

0041- Swedish female Osprey 0042- 0043

Adult female and Common Sandpiper

Adult female and Common Sandpiper

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Other raptors wintering alongside the Ospreys were Barbary Falcons from north-west Africa, Booted Eagles from Spain and Peregrine Falcons from Northern Europe.

Barbary Falcon chasing male Osprey

Barbary Falcon chasing male Osprey

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Barbary Falcon

Barbary Falcon

0053 Barbary Falcon

Barbary Falcon annoying adult male Osprey

Barbary Falcon annoying adult male Osprey

0055 - Barbary Falcon 0056

Booted Eagle

Booted Eagle

0058---Booted-Eagle

Immature female Peregrine

Immature female Peregrine

Adult male Peregrine

Adult male Peregrine

 

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.

Peregrine with Ospreys

Peregrine with Ospreys

Osprey among rubbish on a beach

Osprey among rubbish on a beach

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Tideline rubbish

Tideline rubbish

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Adult female getting her talons stuck in a discarded fishing net

Adult female getting her talons stuck in a discarded fishing net

Adult Osprey trailing fishing net

Adult Osprey trailing fishing net

Adult female and fishing nets

Adult female and fishing nets

Osprey and local people

Osprey and local people

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German Osprey and feral dog

German Osprey and feral dog

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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.

Juvenile male with tail transmitter from the Swiss translocation

Juvenile male with tail transmitter from the Swiss translocation

French adult male 11

French adult male 11

Blue ringed male

Blue ringed male

Blue ringed male Osprey

Blue ringed male Osprey

German adult male

German adult male

German adult male

German adult male

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Danish LBBG

Danish LBBG

Dutch LBBG

Dutch LBBG

Dutch LBBG

Dutch LBBG

 

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.

Adult female

Adult female

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Adult male with fish landing to pick up another fish

Adult male with fish landing to pick up another fish

After landing on the sand with his fish he then picked up another that was laying on the sand.

After landing on the sand with his fish he then picked up another that was laying on the sand.

Caspian Tern chasing adult male Osprey

Caspian Tern chasing adult male Osprey

German Juvenile male Osprey with a Flying Fish

German Juvenile male Osprey with a Flying Fish

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Adult male with fish

Adult male with fish

Pink-backed Pelican and Osprey

Pink-backed Pelican and Osprey

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Osprey with fish

Osprey with fish

Adult female

Adult female

Adult female

Adult female

Adult male

Adult male

Adult male

Adult male

Adult male Osprey

Adult male Osprey

Adult male Osprey

Adult male Osprey

Osprey with fish

Osprey with fish

 

 

 

15 responses to “Ospreys in Senegal”

  1. Sue James

    Fantastic account John !

  2. Lynda Berry

    Fascinating report and as ever, brilliant photos and illustrations. Thank you.

  3. Janet Ann Wilkes

    Fascinating insight into the lives of these beautiful birds. It was interesting to see how many birds from all over the world congregate there. Beautiful pics and sketches, many thanks for sharing

  4. Sharon

    Wonderful write up, the field notes/drawings are brilliant. Shocking amount of plastic debris on the beaches though.

  5. Jan

    If you get a sight of the underwing of the welsh birds this season with luck it might match up – or was it a youngster?

  6. Nan

    Fascinating account, great photos and drawings. Amazed to hear so many were gathered in that area.

  7. Sarah Box

    Thanks John! I really enjoyed reading this and the pics and drawings are fantastic. Litter problem not going away it….I wonder what can be done?

  8. Valerie

    Such an amazing account with sketches and photos John . Great to see the 2 Scottish birds . Shame about the rubbish , not something we saw much of when we were in the Gambia . Thank you John so much it really is appreciated .

  9. Margaret Morgan

    Thank you for the interesting report, wonderful photos and drawings. It’s great to be so far from these superb birds yet to learn so much about them.

  10. John williams

    Great work, its a shame we couldnt get a closer look at the welsh/english males darvic ring.
    I would love it to be a bird i know ?.

  11. C Irvin

    Thank you for sharing. Lovely sketches and photographs and interesting write up.

  12. Jenny Cartwright

    Absolutely Out-of-this-World photographs from John Wright of our ospreys in Senegal, pity about the fishing net dangers, but those people have to live too.
    Thanks John for the sketches, even more fantastic than the photos, you have given us such a comprehensive record of osprey lives in Senegal.

  13. Roger

    How wonderful to be able to spend 3 months over there.
    Really enjoyed reading your report, seeing the photos and drawings. Such detail.
    What a way for the Flying Fish to leave this world!
    Thanks John

  14. Jenny Still

    Wonderful photos and artwork and lots of information – thank you so much. Fingers crossed for the safe return of Rutland’s ospreys.
    Keep it all coming please!
    Many thanks.
    Jenny

  15. Chocoholix

    Wow, amazing photography and artwork, and wonderful accounts – thank you so much John, and to you too Kayleigh too, that must have taken some time to load as a blog ?