My GPS told me that we were in exactly the right spot. As our wooden fishing boat slowly made its way through the calm waters of the Sine-Saloum delta an Osprey came into view. It was perched inconspicuously in the mangroves beside the channel that we had seen it fly up yesterday; it had to be the same bird. Knowing it to be very wary, we inched our way towards the Osprey. I had my telescope with me, but it would be impossible to read the blue ring on the bird’s right leg from the boat. Instead the only way we would be able to identify it would be if John Wright could get a photo of the ring. However, just as were getting within the range of John’s 400mm lens, the bird flew off. We expected it to head off into the mangroves, but by some twist of fate, it turned and circled in front of us. Through my binoculars the blue ring was clearly visible and knowing John’s skills with a camera I knew that he would get the photos we needed. As Kayleigh explained in her excellent blog a few days ago, he did just that and we were able to identify the bird as 32(11). Cue all round elation and, for a moment, a boat that almost capsized!
While John, Paul and Kayleigh continue to enjoy an Osprey frenzy at the Somone Lagoon in Senegal, myself and the ten volunteers who joined us for ten days in Gambia and Senegal, flew back to the UK yesterday evening. When I look back on the trip, identifying the highlight isn’t difficult. After five years of trying, finding a Rutland Osprey on its wintering grounds was a magical moment. Here was an Osprey that we had watched hatch in the Manton Bay nest in 2011, return to Rutland two years later and then breed for the first time last summer. Finding it on its wintering grounds in one of the most spectacular places in Senegal was the final piece in the jigsaw. The fact that the bird is the grandson of the famous Mr Rutland, the mate of our satellite-tagged bird, 30(05), and the father of the 100th Rutland Osprey chick, makes finding him even more special.
Having said our goodbyes to Kayleigh, John and Paul on Tuesday morning, myself, JJ and the volunteers made the long journey back to Tendaba in The Gambia in the capable hands of our excellent driver, Alagie. Tendaba is a wonderful place to enjoy Africa at its best, and shortly after crossing the River Gambia at Farefenni we were treated to stunning views of a pair of Bateleur Eagles perched together in a roadside tree. It certainly made the 10.5 hour journey a little more bearable!
With just two days left of our trip, we were keen to visit two of the schools involved in the Osprey Flyways Project. The first was Wurokang Lower Basic School, a tiny rural school situated just a few kilometres from Tendaba Camp. JJ visited the school for the first time a few weeks ago and so we dropped off some copies of Ozzie’s Migration for the students (and teachers) to read. They were particularly excited to meet the book’s author, Ken Davies. Then yesterday morning, on our way to the airport, we stopped off to see our friends at Tanji Lower Basic School. We were greeted by teachers and members of the Osprey club, and shown the new computer lab which was funded by a generous grant from Melton Mowbray Rotary Club. We learnt that the computers have a made a great deal of difference at the school; not only allowing students to participate in Skype calls as part of World Osprey Week, but also giving them basic IT skills that simply wouldn’t have been possible before. Before we left Jackie Murray presented the students with some copies of Be An Osprey Expert and also showed the teachers how to access the teaching resources that are available for all WOW schools to use for free.
A few hours later, as we flew home we were treated to a spectacular sunset over the Sahara. It made me think of the amazing journeys that the Ospreys make every year, but also about the friendships and links that have been forged between people thousands of miles apart as a result of those migrations. As he sat in the mangroves at the Sine-Saloum delta, 32(11) was just doing what comes naturally, but for those of us lucky enough to the boat to see him, it was a sight that summed up how special the project has become.