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By Marie Dipple on March 21, 2019
A hot north east wind blasted off the African desert interior towards the Gambian coast, carrying fine dust and fragments of vegetation out towards the Atlantic. This is the “harmattan”, and occurs towards the end of the dry season in Gambia and Senegal, when the breeding ospreys begin their migration north from West Africa to the British Isles. Luckily the high winds marked the end of our visit to The Gambia, and where we totted up around 200 bird species in just 10 days.
This was my first visit to The Gambia, although many of the “Rutland Osprey Team” have been to this area in January or February spanning a period of 9 years.
First light is at around 7am with a dawn chorus of a call to prayer, braying donkeys, and numerous cockerels .Soon the overnight temperatures in the 20’s rapidly rise to over 35oC by the middle of the day so the best bird watching tends to be early in the morning and later in the afternoon, making the most of the cooler parts of the day and the periods when the birds are most active.
We stayed at Farakunku Lodge, a small shady “oasis” off the highway south from Tanji. This was an excellent base for daily excursions out into a variety of woodland, field, coastal and wetland habitats.
Tanji is the main fishing port on the Southern Gambian coast. Here the large wooden fishing boats are beached on the sandy beach between forays into the coastal waters, (Figure 1) where the huge shoals of butter fish and lady fish are found. Along the coast the shallow bays and inlets as well as the river margins are the winter residence of the breeding ospreys, and the place where juveniles will spend three or four years before their first migrations north into Europe.
Figure 1: Beautiful fishing boats around Tanji
The ospreys have an excellent food supply and overwinter perched on their favourite trees, (Figure 2) with an occasional flight around their “patch” or short fishing excursion before returning to their roosting place. Lazy days.
Figure 2: An unringed Osprey perched in a tree
A day down to the wetlands on the margin of the Allahein River and a boat trip down to the ocean proved to be a real osprey fest. We had seen numerous ospreys in flight during the week, and occasionally perched in the trees along the river or coastal sites we visited.
Beyond Kartong we left the main road and headed off into the tidal margins of the river.
This is an excellent site for waders, and a low tide meant there was plenty of activity from familiar species as well as my first sight of some of the African wetland birds.
In one bay we saw eight roosting ospreys, and a couple more flying overhead. Of course we were looking for the blue ringed Rutland birds, but only one black ringed osprey (German) was the best we could do.
In the late afternoon we boarded a small boat with an outboard motor and set off towards the coast down Allahein River which marks the southern border of Gambia with Senegal.
Caspian, Sandwich and more common Royal terns roosted on the mud banks facing into the strong breeze, (Figure 3) with occasional groups of Pelicans. Figure 3: Royal Terns in a roost down on the mud bank
At the estuary the sea was quite rough and we turned around past more sandbanks go past our starting point, travel through a corridor of fishing boats at anchor, and enter a much more sheltered convoluted area of bays fringed with mangroves. Some large motionless crocodiles basked on a mud bank, and above us a African Fish Eagle, (Figure 3) perched in a large leafless tree, watched us go by.
We counted fifty one ospreys on our boat journey, but only one of them was ringed, black BOH2 , a German bird.
Our day ended and it was time to return for our final night at the Farakunku Lodge. All too soon it was time to go to the airport for our 6 hour return flight to the UK. The migrating ospreys were going to find it difficult this year flying north into the face of the hot dusty harmattan with the challenge of a four or five day crossing of the waterless desert terrain below (figure 4).
Figure 4: Dust from the Harmattan and a grey Kestrel in the midst!
However it would only be a matter of days after our return before the first migrating ospreys were seen back in the UK.
By Marie Dipple on March 20, 2019
It’s a wonderfully sunny wednesday up at Osprey HQ and the stage is perfectly set for the long awaited return of 33 to his marital nest and his frustrated other half… Maya has been feeding very well in the reservoir and at the nearby trout farm, catching some real whoppers, roach and trout helping her gather her energy for the coming breeding season. Watching her on the nest yesterday was fascinating, as she was exhibiting a behaviour common to many birds, known as scraping. Commonly, ground nesting birds or, like the Ospreys, birds which have a large nest cup composed of moss and small twigs, the bird will lean over onto its keel (breastbone), balancing on its front, and use its large talons as a rake to kick out excess nesting material. In essence, the Osprey is making a shallow depression within her nest cup which she can lay her eggs in, and nestle on top of to incubate them over the spring. Maya is an excellent architect and has had a huge success rate in raising 8 chicks with her current man 33 since 2015. She is a very protective mother and takes her nesting duties very seriously.
Whilst waiting for the return of 33 she has been keeping the place clean and tidy and looking after herself… enjoying the last bit of me time before he comes back. There will be some ruffled feathers when he decides to turn up! He’s probably found an Osprey stag-do to drop in on his way home… boys will be boys… In the meantime another female, S6 was spotted over at the Hornmill Trout farm today: she is a breeding female that attempted to breed last year but failed, let’s hope she’ll have more success this year!
And obviously, our website is back to normal.. we shall be keeping one eye on it, and another glued to the skies for the silhouettes of our returning Ospreys yet to come home! As for our lovely lady Maya nesting in Manton, you can still catch her on the webcams, she’s so brave and independent, oh how I adMaya her fortitude! (Pun of the week will be available to tut at in Lyndon centre too!)
Posted in Rutland Osprey Blog
By Marie Dipple on March 15, 2019
It’s all stations go up at Osprey HQ (my corner of the office is looking slightly less organised than before, it has since become a postit palace and half finished tea shelf!) with statistical calculations and mystic meg predictions for the return of the other Ospreys, which will hopefully be following suit after Maya’s early return to Manton Bay yesterday. So far we can hope 33 will be not far behind Maya, a male which has been her mate at Manton Bay and helped her raise 8 chicks since 2015.
You can now see the migrations yourself of our three satellite tagged birds: 30, S1 and 4K, who are of varying inclinations to travel back to the UK! 30 is our most likely to return over the next couple of weeks but she is still a long way off. We will be trying to update the tracking page with live data wherever possible so you can follow our birds Olympic odyssey back home.
For the non-tracked Ospreys which return to Rutland water, we are relying on all the beady eyes in our arsenal, both staff, volunteers and members of the public, to send in any alerts of Osprey activity in the area, and give us an idea of our possible productivity and any new matchmaking which may be going on with our younger Ospreys! In particular, we’re hoping S1 will be able to attract a female this year, as he has successfully held territory before. We’ll equip him with some smooth chat up lines.. how could a female resist a fresh fish dinner in a beautiful canopy retreat?
Keep an eye on the epic journey of number 30, and keep your eyes peeled for the teenagers 4K and S1 to get busy making their way back home! Over and out from Osprey HQ!
By Katy Smart on March 14, 2019
Great news! Maya arrived back on the nest at 10.39 this morning (14th March). She battled wind speeds of up to 50mph to reach Manton Bay, and was only on the nest for a few minutes before disappearing again, presumably to find herself a meal.
Seconds before she arrived, a pair of Egyptian Geese were cosily resting on the nest – not for long though! Maya is experienced in seeing off geese and today was no exception.
When Maya turned her head, we got to see the cross on the back of her head, which is her most distinguishing feature, since she is an unringed bird.
Maya arrived back on March 12th last year, and we were expecting her to be delayed this year due to the weather. She has surprised us all by turning up this early with storm Gareth raging over the reservoir. Maya’s mate 33 arrived back on this day last year, so we are now keeping our fingers crossed for his safe return too! Keep your eyes on the webcam as he could get back any time now.
By Marie Dipple on March 12, 2019
The seasons may not feel like they’re changing just yet, what with threats of Storm Gareth (doesn’t sound too intimidating) due to hit this week and the sprinkles of snow we had at the weekend… but one part of our reserve was feeling positively toasty from the warm-up Osprey Ambassador meeting ahead of Wild Osprey (WOW) Week! Hearing from our Education Officer team Jackie Murray, Pete Murray and Ken Davies:
“On Sunday thirty young Osprey Ambassadors from fourteen local schools had their first meeting of 2019 at the Volunteer Training Centre. This is the fifth year of Osprey Ambassadors, and these young people have the important role of being the link between the Rutland Osprey project and their school. Ken Davies welcomed returning Ambassadors, and many new ones and thanked the twenty or so parents and family members for bringing them to this event.
Their first challenge was to work out the route the ospreys take when they return from West Africa to Rutland on their 3000 mile migration later this month.
A brief presentation showed our young Ambassadors how the ospreys over winter in Africa and how we recognise and track the Rutland ospreys on this challenging journey.
We celebrate when the birds return in schools during World Osprey Week (or WOW! for short).This year it takes place from 18th -22 March. Ambassadors were given a memory stick and script with a WOW presentation to give to their class or whole school. This contained the latest news, how to follow the osprey journey using the tracking page on the website, and the osprey activities they can do in school.
The next activity was Jackie Murray’s “Feather challenge”. Four teams of Ambassadors were given six feathers and had to work out which bird the feather had come from!
Liz Elsden then produced a magnificent “osprey themed” spread of cakes and drinks for the Ambassadors .…. and only the crumbs remained.
Ken did an informal bird watching session for all from the upstairs room overlooking Lagoon 4 to finish the day. A lovely if windswept landscape today, but with beautiful light and plenty of bird activity both on the water and along the shore line.
We look forward to seeing the Osprey Ambassadors at our monthly meetings at the Lyndon Nature Reserve from April to September. We will of course meet many when we visit their schools for assemblies or educational workshops in the coming weeks, or later in the season when they have a class visit to see the Rutland ospreys at the reserve.
We really appreciate the interest and enthusiasm of our Ambassadors and the support of their parents in helping them to be a part of this exciting project. 2019 will be the year of the 150th osprey chick to be raised at Rutland Water so watch this space….”