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AW has Christmas in the Ivory Coast

I didn’t think I would be eagerly checking the satellite data on Christmas Day to find out where one of our birds has ended up, but that’s exactly what I’ve just done. Having spent the night of the 19th December in northern Liberia, AW has flown another 210 miles further east and is now in the central part of the Ivory Coast! For an adult Osprey to suddenly make this kind of move in the middle of winter is completey unprecedented, but it does suggest that the time he spent on the coast of Guinea was just an extended stop-over and that the Ivory Coast is his true wintering site.

So how did he get there? On the morning of 20th December AW began migrating again just before 10am. He continued flying for the rest of the day, maintaining a constant easterly heading at speeds of between 30 and 40kph at altitudes of between 500 and 1000 metres.  By 5pm he had covered 207km and was perched beside a river – probably eating a fish –  in the very western part of the Ivory Coast. He roosted in forest nearby. Next morning he was away again before 10am and again heading east-south-east. By 11am he had covered 36 kilometres and now changed to a more south-easterly course, heading towards the vast Lac de Buyo. By 1pm he was at the northern end of the lake and for the rest of the afternoon he zig-zagged the upper reaches of the lake, covering some 45 kilometres in the process. This was strange behaviour and suggests he may either have been interacting with other Ospreys, or simply unsure of where to go. He eventually settled to roost on the eatsern side of the lake, having covered 139km during the course of the day.

AW's movements around Lac de Buyo, 21st December


Next morning AW was back at the lake soon after first light, presumably fishing. He was at the lake for a couple of hours but by 10am he was migrating again, heading due east. An hour later he was perched beside the Lobo River river in a forested area some 20km to the east.  Interestingly, he then flew no further. Over the course of the next 48 hours AW made only local movements to various different points along the river. Sadly, the satellite imagery of this part of the Ivory Coast is poor, but AW’s behaviour suggests that there is plenty of food in the river. The fact he remained in the same area for two days suggests that this may well be his usual wintering site. If he hasn’t moved by the time the next batch of data comes in then we can probably assume that this is the case. He is now 975 kilometres from the spot on the Guinea coast where he spent over three months. This is a quite incredible movement and shows that just when you think you know everything there is to know about Ospreys on their wintering grounds, one does something competely new and unexpected.

AW's movements in central-east Ivory coast 22-24 December


AW's flight from Guinea to the Ivory Coast

AW flies to Liberia, and maybe beyond!

All of the adult Ospreys tracked from the UK during the past decade have returned to the same wintering site each year. Once back at their regular winter haunt they usually venture only short distances each day; fishing in the same spots and using regular perches. Until earlier this week AW had done exactly that. He has spent the past three-and-a-half months on the coast of Guinea, fishing in the sea and perching in the same area of mangroves just back from the shore. Then today, I downloaded the latest satellite data to find that suddenly he was 400 miles south-west in Liberia. I was absolutely amazed and even downloaded the data twice to make sure I hadn’t made a mistake!
AW's flight to Liberia, 17th-20th December

AW's flight to Liberia, 17th-20th December

So what is going on? Well, here is what we know from the current batch of data. At 10am on the morning of 17th December AW was perched on the beach in his usual area, probably eating a fish. An hour later he had moved eight kilometres inland. Bearing in mind how little he had moved around for the previous few months, this in itself was a notable change from the norm; but nothing compared to what happened next. At midday, he was 13 km to the east, heading south-east at 30kph. Perhaps he was seeing off another Osprey? That obviously wasn’t the case though because an hour later he was another 27km further on and still maintaining the same course. This was more like migration! And that’s what he continued to do for the rest of the afternoon. By 5pm he was close to Conakry, the capital of Guinea having flown another 160km at a remarkably consistent speed along the coast. At 6pm he was perched either on the ground or in mangroves beside what on Google Earth looks to be a complex river delta system just to the south of Conakry. He was probably eating a fish; and no doubt there were plenty of other Ospreys around. He then roosted in mangroves 4km further south.

AW at Conakry

AW at Conakry


By 7am next morning AW was another 22km south-east, again perched among mangroves beside a river. He was still there an hour later but he must have resumed his journey soon afterwards. Although we are missing a series of data points, by 6pm he had flown another 180km south-east, and was resting close to a river in central Sierra Leone! Sadly the satellite imagery for this part of Africa is poor, but he appeared to roost in an area of scattered vegetation a couple of kilometres to the south. What was interesting was that he was now over 100km inland. Since leaving his regular spot on the coast the previous morning, he had maintained an incredibly direct south-easterly heading. It appeared that he knew exactly where he was going.

Next morning AW left his roost just after 9am and flew purposefully south-east for the rest of the day at altitudes of between 500 and 1200 metres. He crossed into Liberia in mid-afternoon and by 6pm, when he finally settled down to roost for the night, he had covered 280km. During his last two hours of flight he had changed his course to a more easterly heading. Whether this was an intentional change of direction or influenced by the weather, we are not sure, but we do know that he roosted close to the town of Basanai in northern Liberia. Again the satellite coverage of this part of Africa is very poor, but it looks to be a fairly densely forested area at an altitude of around 350metres. It is certainly not the kind of place you would expect an experienced adult Osprey to hang around so the chances are that AW will have continued his journey the next morning. His radio is currently on a five day duty cycle meaning we probably won’t receive any more data until Christmas Day. It will be absolutely fascinating to see where he is by then. Aside from his slight change of direction during the afternoon of the 20th, he had maintained a consistent south-easterly course for three days, suggesting he is heading for the Sierra Leone coast.  Rest assured that we’ll update you as soon as the data comes in.

So what has prompted this sudden move? I rang Roy Dennis this afternoon and he was as stumped for an explanation as me. We have never recorded this kind of mid-winter movement by an adult Osprey before. It is possible, of course, that this is something that AW does every year. His southward migration was notable for a lack of stop-overs, but, in retrospect, perhaps that is all his time in Guinea was; an extended stop-over. Maybe his true wintering site lies elsewhere?

We haven’t yet updated Google Earth with this new data – but don’t worry, it will be done tomorrow morning.


Festive Work Parties, Sloe Gin and Scallops…

Since the beginning of November the Osprey Project staff and volunteers have been keeping busy by attending weekly winter work parties. These get-togethers have provided a great opportunity for us to get our hands dirty and carry out some important conservation work on the nature reserve at Lyndon. Over the last few weeks we have been coppicing, creating wonderful weaved willow fences and clearing vegetation in front of several hides. Yesterday we decided to have a go at managing part of the woodland on the way down to Waderscrape hide. A good woodland needs plenty of open space and shrubby areas along the edge, often known as scallops. This creates a mosaic of habitats for many plants, insects, mammals and birds.

We decided to create a new scallop next to the path between Tufted Duck hide and Waderscrape hide. We cleared the willow and used the logs to make a habitat pile and the rest of the willow was used to make a brash fence around the back of the scallop.

We then all retired to the Lyndon Visitor Centre for some of Tim’s venison stew and Paul’s Sloe Gin. A job well done.

Today another group of volunteers met and created another scallop close to the one we made yesterday, followed by more stew and even more Sloe Gin. Well done everyone!

Summer adventures…

This summer four two-year old Ospreys returned to Rutland Water for the very first time. In a previous post Tim explained how these young birds spend much of their first summer exploring. After their initial return we rarely saw them at Rutland Water until later in the season and we didn’t see 06(09) for nearly six weeks while he was enjoying some time away in Hampshire.

Edward Butler, a Hampshire resident, regularly spent time watching 06 at Fishlake Meadows and was able to record some fantastic footage of the juvenile. This gives us an idea of what he got up to during his time away from Rutland Water.

“Fishlake Meadows really is a wonderful site for ospreys, despite little management for the area as it is not even a nature reserve. Despite being little more than a 1-2 feet deep in most places there is a remarkable number of fish, presumably originating from the River Test. We have had Ospreys present this year during April, May, June, July, August and September, a full 6 months of the year.”

Thank you very much Edward for providing us with this video. Fishlake Meadows is closer to Rutland Water than 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. It will be interesting to see if Fishlake Meadows will be visited by 06 again next year.