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A mystery solved

A mystery solved

The recent advances in satellite tracking technology have provided us with an incredible insight into the lives of young Ospreys. For the first time this summer Roy Dennis was able to track the movements of a young two year-old Osprey, Rothiemurchus, when he returned to the UK for the first time. Rothiemurchus’s radio proved what we had always suspected at Rutland Water – that these young birds wander far and wide when they first return. Rothiemurchus visted his natal nest site in northern Scotland at least twice but he also spent time exploring the rest of Scotland and northern England. You can read more on Roy’s website.

This summer four two-year old Ospreys returned to Rutland Water for the first time. As we followed the movements of Rothiemurchus, we wondered how far a field our own young birds were ranging. A good example was 06(09).

You may remember that 06 first returned to Rutland Water on 10th June this year. You can read about it in the Manton Bay diary for 11th June.  This initial visit was a brief one and we did not see him for another six weeks. When he did return, on 26th July, we saw him far more regularly for the rest of the summer. So where did he go for those six weeks?

06 at Rutland Water on 10th June - photo by John Wright

Well, we now know that the answer is Hampshire. I recently received an email from Keith Betton, the Hampshire County bird recorder saying that a colour-ringed Osprey had been photographed at Fishlake Meadows just north of Southampton. It was 06. At least one Osprey had been present at Fishlake from 21st June until 24th July and when we checked the various photos that Keith sent through the underwing pattern and wing moult showed that it was 06 throughout. Timing-wise this fits in perfectly. He was first seen at Fishlake eleven days after first visiting Rutland Water and he then re-appeared in Rutland two days after he was last seen in Hampshire.

The sighting not only demonstates the value of colour ringing, but also shows how the Osprey population in Rutland has the potential to help the birds recolonise parts of southern Britain. Fishlake Meadows is closer to Rutland Water that Cors Dyfi where 03(08) bred for the first time this year. So if a Rutland bird can end up in Wales, then there is every chance that one may set up territory in Hampshire. Let’s hope it happens sooner rather than later. The map below shows the location of the three sites. Fishlake is 118 miles from Rutland Water whereas Cors Dyfi lies 135 miles to the west.

Rutland, Fishlake Meadows and Cors Dyfi

The migration routes of AW and 09

The migration facts

With 09 and AW both now settled on their wintering grounds, in Senegal and Guinea respectively, it has given us the opportunity to compare their flights to West Africa.

As you will know if you tracked their progress, the two birds followed a similar route as they flew south. Both birds crossed the English Channel at Dungeness and then flew south through central France, passing over Orleans and the Osprey nests situated close by.

As AW approached the Pyrenees he switched to a more south-westerly course to avoid the mountains, whereas 09 flew directly through the high peaks. Both birds then made good progress through Spain and, interestingly, we recorded the highest altitude for both birds on this section of their journey. 09 reached an altitude of 6112 feet as he migrated over Andalucia and AW flew south at an incredible 9055 feet just north of Madrid. Their flight paths then converged again in the south of Spain, with 09 crossing the Mediterranean at Tarifa and AW heading across the sea further east.

The migration routes of AW and 09

Once in Africa both birds skirted around the foreboding Atlas Mountains before following a remarkably similar route across the vast wilds of the Sahara. AW took just three days to cross the desert, with 09 taking a day longer. Each was clearly intent on crossing as quickly as possible; we recorded fastest speeds for both birds in Western Sahara – 29mph for AW and 50 mph for 09.

By the time he reached his wintering site on the Senegal coast 09 had covered 2972 miles from Rutland Water in 16 days – an average distance of 186 miles per day. AW flew further south to Guinea. He migrated 3277 miles in just 14 days – an average of 234 miles per days. Interestingly AW’s average speed was significantly slower than 09 – 15 mph compared to 29 mph – but by flying for longer each day, he completed his migration faster.   The table below summarises the key facts of the two flights.

  AW 09
Total distance flown 3277 miles 2972 miles
Duration 14 days 16 days
Average distance per day 234 miles 186 miles
Average speed 15 mph 27 mph
Fastest speed 29 mph 50 mph
Average altitude 2431 feet 1919 feet
Highest altitude 9055 feet 6112 feet

Finally, here is Osprey fact of the day. 09 is thirteen years old and now we know where he has spent each winter since his first migration from Rutland Water in 1998. This means that in his lifetime he has migrated a staggering  75,000 miles. In other words he has flown round the world three times!

Tim (left) and Will after finishing the marathon

26 miles for Gambia

As I lined up alongside more than 39,000 people at the start of the Berlin marathon, my over-riding feeling was one of trepidation. I was about to set off on my first marathon and the furtest I had run in training was a lap of Rutland Water – about 17 miles. Paul, a seasoned marathon runner, had told me that this wouldn’t be a problem. But I wasn’t so sure. I was there to raise money for our education work in Gambia and so needed to make sure I finished!

Before I knew it we were off and negotiating the streets of Berlin. The atmosphere was incredible. The marathon organisers estimated that one million people were cheering us on. Not only that, but there were musicians all along the course – everything from rock bands to steel bands, and from solo singers to full-blown choirs. It was fantastic. By halfway I was still feeling pretty good. The adrenlin was pumping and I was being carried along by a wave of euphoria!

Another six miles along the road and things began to get tougher. I was now in unchartered territory and my legs began to feel it. Forget about enjoying the experience, it was now just a question of ticking off the miles and getting to the finish!

I got a much needed boost when I passed our support team of Vikki and Kerry at 38km and knew that Will Kirstein was probably not far behind me. Will and I had set off together but had then been seperated after a few miles amongst the mass of runners.

I had expected Will to catch me up at any point, and just as we reached the 39km marker, he did just that. Will said later that I looked like I was suffering – he wasn’t wrong! I knew that we weren’t going to meet my ambitious target of 3hours 30 minutes, but I still wanted to finish in the fastest time possible. I drank my last energy gel and pressed on. With less than a kilometre to go we rounded a corner and there ahead of us lay the Brandenberg gates, and more importantly, the finish! It would be an exaggeration to say that the pain suddenly disappeared, but the sight of the finish line gave me a much needed boost. As we run under the Branderberg and gates and passed the grandstands full of cheering people it began to sink in that I had completed my first marathon. We crossed the line in a time of 3 hours and 44 minutes. Yes it had been painful, but what a fantastic experience!

Tim (left) and Will after finishing the marathon

One of the real motivating factors as I was running was the fact that so many people have sponsored me. Thanks to the generosity of almost 150 people I have now raised in excess of £3000 for the education project we are setting up in West Africa. This money will give children in Gambia an oportunity to learn about the Ospreys and other wildlife that live close to their communities. I am a firm believer that education is vital to conservation and if we can get children in Africa excited about wildlife and migration then that can only be a good thing. We intend to use the marathon money to buy a laptop and projector so that our friend and colleague Junkung Jadama can visit Gambian schools and talk to the pupils about Ospreys, migration and the other wildlife of West Africa. He will then take the kids out on field trips using optics purchased with our money. In addition we’ll produce other education resources, such as posters, that can be displayed and used in the schools.  

I’m visiting Gambia and Senegal with Osprey project staff and volunteers in January and so this will provide an opportunity to distribute all the equipment we have purchased.

So once again, a huge thank you to everyone who sponsored me – your support is greatly appreciated. If you would still like to donate money you can do so on my fundraising page. By the way I have now definitely got the marathon bug and I hope I can persuade some other people at Rutland Water to run the Amsterdam marathon with me in October next year. Watch this space!

09's movements during the past ten days

09 and AW settled in their winter routine

09 and AW may be wintering 600km apart – on the coastlines of northern Senegal and Guinea respectively – but their daily routines are very similar. The satellite data suggests that both birds are fishing in the sea twice a day; usually mid-morning and then again in the early evening. Of the two, AW generally heads further out to sea -sometimes more than three miles – whereas 09 hasn’t ventured more then a mile from the coast.  Having watched Ospreys fishing in West Africa last winter, I imagine that it takes the birds very little time to catch their meal; probably just a matter of minutes. The remainder of their day is spent on their favourite perches. In AW’s case this is in mangroves 500m from the sea whilst 09 is usually perched among scattered trees just a couple of hundred metres from the breaking waves. All in all, being an adult Osprey at your established wintering site is a very easy life!

09's movements during the past ten days


AW's movements over the last ten days

If our experiences in West Africa are anything to go by, then the only other time that the birds will leave their perches, is to chase off other Ospreys. They will probably be fairly tolerant of the neighbouring adults birds – who they will recognise from previous winters – but less welcoming to newly arrived juveniles. We watched adults chasing juveniles numerous times last winter and this is one of the reasons that young birds wander about so much during their first winter in Africa. Here’s a video diary that we recorded in Gambia last winter. I suspect that the habitat at the winter homes of our two birds is very similar to that of Gunjur.