West Africa Project

Who’s that in the Mangroves…?

So far, this trip to Africa has been absolutely excellent! The bird-life, hospitality and company have all been exemplary, and it’s safe to say all 14 of us are having a fantastic time. Friday was our last day at the Keur Saloum hotel, with its lovely little swimming pool, a terrace with a superb view down the river, and fruit bats in the ceiling!

Sunset over the Sine Saloum

Sunset over the Sine Saloum. Photo by John Wright.

 

On Friday morning we went out for a walk through some acacia scrub, searching for other avian gems, of which we found plenty!

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In the afternoon, we went on a very special boat trip, one that none of us is going to forget in a hurry. But first let me backtrack to Thursday. In my previous update, I mentioned that on Thursday morning we took a boat trip to the Iles de Oiseaux, and on the way we saw several Ospreys sitting in the Mangroves. Well, John photographed them all, and noticed that one bird, an adult male, sported a blue leg ring… on his right leg! This indicates that the bird is from England or Wales (in Scotland the colour-rings are on the left leg), and so could potentially be a Rutland bird! On the way back from the island we saw the same bird again, but he was very nervous and flighty, and we could not get near enough to him to get a clear shot of his leg.

We were all a little disappointed that the bird could not be confidently identified, and decided to return to the area the next day. So on Friday afternoon we boarded the same little wooden boat, and sailed out again to look for the Osprey in the Mangroves.

Looking for the Osprey in the Mangroves

Looking for the Osprey in the Mangroves

 

As we expected, the bird was in the same area he had been in the day before, as this must be his wintering territory. Also as expected, he took off and flew away from us as soon as we drew near. At first we thought this was it, and we were out of luck. But then, miraculously, he turned and flew back towards us and right over the boat, giving a brilliant view of his underwings, and also his ring.

We were all so excited at the potential to discover the identity of this bird, so much so that Tim almost capsized the boat! As it turns out, we were very happy that we decided to take an extra trip out to find the Osprey, because he is a Rutland bird!

After years of trying to find a Rutland Osprey in Africa (aside from our satellite-tagged one), the Osprey team finally did it! The euphoria was palpable, and the night was spent in happy celebration.

Who was it then, I hear you ask. The Osprey in the Mangroves was 32(11). 32 is a male Osprey who was born in Manton Bay, to Maya and 5R(04), in 2011. This means that not only is his father the well-loved 5R, his grandfather is the legendary 03(97)! It is also very coincidental that 32 should be the Osprey we find in Africa, as he is the mate of our satellite-tagged female, 30(05), whom John, Paul and I will be visiting next week. Her wintering grounds are only 200km away from that of her partner. 2015 was the first year 30 and 32 bred together, after 30 had failed to find a partner for the previous two years. This also means, of course, that 32 is the father of the 100th Rutland Osprey chick! What an individual to have discovered on his wintering grounds in Senegal!

32 in the Mangroves. Photo by John Wright.

32(11) in the Mangroves. Photo by John Wright.

32(11). Photo by John Wright.

32(11) in Senegal. Photo by John Wright.

32(11). Photo by John Wright.

32(11). Photo by John Wright.

 

Here are some more of John Wright’s fantastic photographs from the trip so far!

Male Osprey near Missirah.

Male Osprey, Missirah.

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Osprey and Sacred Ibis, Sine Saloum.

Osprey and Sacred Ibis, Sine Saloum.

Sacred Ibis, Sine Saloum.

Sacred Ibis, Sine Saloum.

Goliath Heron, Sine Saloum.

Goliath Heron, Sine Saloum.

Osprey fishing, Missirah.

Osprey fishing, Missirah.

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Juvenile female

Juvenile female, Iles de Oiseaux

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Ospreys, Iles de Oiseaux

Ospreys, Iles de Oiseaux

African Fish Eagle

African Fish Eagle

 

West Africa Jan 2016 Part One!

For almost a year the Osprey Team have been looking forward with eager anticipation to our next trip to West Africa, taking place in January 2016. I was particularly excited, because I had never visited West Africa before, and had only seen photos from previous years to whet my appetite.

Now we are here, and I still almost can’t believe I am actually in Africa! It is all I expected and more. I was gazing out of the aeroplane window in excitement as we descended towards Banjul airport on Monday 4th January. The heat that hit us as we walked off the plane was a far cry from the weather we had left behind in London early that morning! After our a three hour bumpy bus ride, we arrived at our first destination – Tendaba Camp. Tendaba is a lovely, rustic place on the south bank of the River Gambia.

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Tuesday 5th

We awoke on Tuesday morning refreshed, after all having an early night! Our first adventure was a boat trip on the River Gambia, through the mangroves along small winding tributary channels.

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We saw such a plethora of species, I could hardly keep up. The trees and banks were teeming with bird life, most of which I have never heard of before, never mind seen! Highlights included Hamerkop, Pink-backed Pelican, Abyssinian Roller (a beautiful shade of blue!), Squacco Heron, Blue-Breasted Kingfisher, several Bee-Eater species, and much more. We also saw some crocodiles!

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Hamerkop on its nest

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Cormorants on nests

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Cormorant drying wings

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Great White Egret

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Crocodile

 

When we returned, there was time before lunch to take a walk round the camp and surrounding area, looking out for more birds. It was very hot, but we were rewarded for our efforts with superb views of several species, including a wonderful bright red Bearded Barbet, several eagles, kites and much more!

The team

Some of the team

Bearded Barbet

Bearded Barbet

 

We also had a spectacular view of  group of White Pelicans flying in a traditional V-formation, done purposefully to make the optimum use of aerodynamics and wind resistance.

Pink-backed Pelicans flying in a V

White Pelicans flying in a V

 

After lunch, we had a break and sat on the jetty looking over the river. It was very peaceful sitting there watching the river flow by and enjoying the cool breeze. While we were there, we had superb views of Pied Kingfishers, and our first view of an Osprey which glided past us up the river!

Pied Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher

 

Later in the afternoon we had another walk to an old airfield, where we were treated to more amazing views of several species, some we had already seen, and some that we had not, such as a splendid Grasshopper Buzzard, Crested Eagle and Black-winged Stilt.

The pool where the Black-winged Stilt was wading

The pool where the Black-winged Stilt was wading

 

Wednesday 6th

Wednesday was the day we moved on from Tendaba Camp and went north into Senegal, so most of the day was taken up with travelling. We had to cross the River Gambia, and then cross the Gambia-Senegal border, both of which went fairly smoothly. One of the highlights of the day was stopping for lunch under a lovely large tree which provided plenty of shade for us to relax under. Whilst there, we saw Melodious Warbler, Beautiful Sunbird and the very large Ground Hornbill.

Waiting for the ferry

Waiting for the ferry

Ferry coming in

Ferry coming in

 

We arrived at our next destination, the Keur Saloum Hotel on the Sine Saloum Delta, at around 4:30pm. It’s a lovely place, brightly decorated with colourful flowers, with a fabulous sun terrace overlooking the river.

View from the terrace at Keur Saloum

View from the terrace at Keur Saloum

 

Thursday 7th

We had to get up early on Thursday to go on an excursion by boat to the Island of Birds, or Iles des Oiseaux – a great place to see wintering Ospreys! On the way to the island, we saw several Ospreys sitting in the trees, and the island itself was a little bit of paradise. There were sandy beaches, gentle waves and Ospreys everywhere! Some birds were sitting alone, but others sat in groups. Some were adults, some juveniles, and several had fish. It was incredible to see so many Ospreys all at once, and on a beach surrounded by Caspian Terns and Sacred Ibis!

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We have a lot more exciting activities coming up, so keep an eye out for news. We will also have some photos from John Wright to share with you!

 

Ospreys and education in Africa

We had our first frost in Rutland today. Its a far cry from the beach in Senegal where our satellite-tagged Osprey, 30(05) is wintering. Her latest batch of GPS data shows that she remains very settled on the coast, frequenting the same perches each day and making short flights out to sea to catch fish. In fact her longest flight over the past ten days, was just one mile.

30's latest data shows she remains very settled on the coast of Senegal

30’s latest data shows she remains very settled on the coast of Senegal

As the migration of 30 demonstrates, it is important that conservation of migratory species is not only focused on the breeding grounds. And it’s for that reason that we set-up the Osprey Flyways Project in 2011. One of the key aims of this exciting project is to provide wildlife education for schools in key-over wintering areas. For the past two years we have been running a pilot education project in five Gambian schools which, we hope, will provide a sustainable model that will enable us to replicate the work in other parts of Africa in the future. None of this would be possible without your support: to date the project has been funded entirely by sponsored activities – from marathons to cycle rides – and a book sale at the Lyndon Visitor Centre and so we are extremely grateful to everyone who has either sponsored us or bought books. The money means that in the past month alone, more than 100 students have been on field trips in The Gambia. This can only be good for conservation; who knows it may just be inspiring the next generation of African conservationists. Here’s a new video explaining what it’s all about.

Rutland to Dover by pedal power

If you’ve been following the website recently you’ll know that at the end of last week a team of six of us – myself, Tim Mackrill, Michelle Househam, Lizzie Lemon, Lloyd Park and Chris Ditchburn – replicated the first leg of the Ospreys’ amazing migration by cycling from Rutland to Dover, to raise money for the Osprey Flyways Project. It wasn’t easy, but at lunchtime on Saturday we peddled into Dover. Here’s the full story of how we got there.

We began our challenge at the Lyndon Visitor Centre on the south shore of the reservoir and, as we arrived just after 8 ‘o’ clock on Thursday morning, the nerves and excitement were obvious all round. We organised our gear and prepared our bikes before Tim took us through the all-important warm up routine and I explained the intricacies of the route to our support driver for the day, Lloyd’s brother Philip.

After a few laps of the car park to loosen up, we set off up the hill to Manton Rd. Having never ridden together as a team, we took it easy and tried to find a suitable pace and learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I found that I lacked the confidence of the others on the downhill slopes and as I hung on for dear life, Lloyd would fly past with his tongue out and tail wagging while ex-RAF man Chris would zoom by in an attempt to create a sonic boom. Other peoples’ weaknesses resulted in frequent toilet stops.

With fresh legs and a trial ride under our belts, we had been looking forward to day one as the easiest day. Unfortunately, the usual prevailing winds from the west were replaced with a fairly strong southerly wind which, as the day progressed, brought with it light showers and then heavy rain. This made for fairly miserable cycling and by the time we reached the busy roads of Huntingdon we were soaked through and hunched over our bikes grimly counting down the miles until it was over.

Our waterproofs were tested to the limit on the first day!

Our waterproofs were tested to the limit on the first day!

Our scheduled lunch stop in St Ives was short-lived as we didn’t want to get cold and we quickly set off on the 12 mile guided bus way to Cambridge, which on training rides I found to be uphill in both directions. The weather didn’t improve as we negotiated the shopping streets of Cambridge, passed Addenbrookes hospital and made our final climb of the day close to the Wandlebury ring. Finally we rolled into the Abington service area and, with much relief, completed the first day’s ride. We were stopped from diving into the showers by the return of Corporal Mackrill and his warm down drill. Then it was time to get clean, change our clothes and head for a nice cuppa at the apparently world famous Comfort Café. The strict cycling diet was momentarily ditched as we devoured cheese and ham toasties. Well, we’d had a rough day!

We said farewell and thank you to Phil who was quickly replaced by our evening escort, In Focus’ Mike Willis, who earlier that day had ordered a pub chef in Sawston to cook us Lasagne. I hope Mike wasn’t looking for a lively night out as the day’s weather had taken its toll and we were back at the hotel by nine, most of us snoozing soon after.

Day two arrived with unknown territory for most of the team, consecutive days of long distance cycling – with wet shoes! Liam Tate was the driver of the day and Mike was back to wave us off. We were pleased with the weather forecast, cloudy and warm with no rain, and after a few miles to stretch the aches out of our legs there was a silent confidence in the team. We knew we had to get on with it with 75 miles to cover and that’s exactly what we did. South Cambridgeshire soon turned into Essex and we progressed steadily together in a single line, wheel to wheel through Chelmsford, Billericay and into Tilbury. After we had stocked up on provisions, Liam headed towards the Dartford crossing and we boarded the ferry for a well-earned but disappointingly short ferry ride across the Thames and into Kent.
On the other side of the river we hit a problem. Our route to this point had been checked for suitability prior to setting off, but not from here on to Dover. And so, inevitably, tarmac turned to gravel and we were forced to retrace our steps a quarter of a mile and take to the A2. The SatNav desperately wanted us to continue on the gravel and took our rejection badly, refusing to provide us with a new route quickly enough. The final few miles through Rochester, Chatham and onto our destination were difficult and punctuated with frequent stops to study the map.

We eventually rolled into Medway services after 8 hours and six minutes of almost continuous cycling and the re-routing had added an unwanted 5 miles to the day’s total of 80, an amazing effort from the whole team. Liam had been there for some time and had been joined by Tim’s girlfriend, Louise, our day three support driver. We were now very tired and some of us were nursing muscle pains and other injuries. Chris, however, was miraculously healed by the sight of a Costa Coffee and ran off muttering that this round was on him.
Our trustworthy receptionist recommended a small, quiet pub nearby for our evening meal. We arrived at the large, noisy and bustling Bell Pub and fought our way to the bar. There was some confusion as to the whereabouts of the table we had booked but we were soon shuffled into a dimly lit section of the pub where our presence amused the locals. By the time our food arrived later that evening we were about to start gnawing at the table but it was worth the wait. Only Michelle stuck to the pasta diet while the rest of us tucked into pies, curries and chilli, something we were to regret the next day.

Lloyd being put through his stretching paces by Tim's girlfriend Louise - who is a Pilates teacher!

Lloyd being put through his stretching paces by Tim’s girlfriend Louise – who is a Pilates teacher!

As we set off on our final day we had only 45 miles to go but the hilly countryside and the previous day’s exertions combined to make it a really tough slog. We had to stop briefly for our only maintenance issue of the trip when one of my brake levers became loose (a result of too tight a grip on the slopes?) but we were soon on our way again. A little while later Lizzie was stranded by a level crossing. In Faversham we found the townspeople to be extremely protective of their pedestrian area and we were forced to proceed on foot for a short while.

After Canterbury there was little flat road to be had and we made slow progress but an hour or two later we realised that Dover was in sight and the pace picked up for the final two miles. We peddled into the town and onto the seafront where we were met by Louise, who had gone ahead, and Chris’ wife Leah. The sun was shining as we made our way on to the beach and dipped our wheels into the sea. We had completed our challenge and ridden a total of 192.6 miles.

The team on Dover beach having completed the ride. Left-right: Gavin Young, MIchelle Househam, Tim Mackrill, Lloyd Park, Lizzie Lemon, Chris Ditchburn

The team on Dover beach having completed the ride. Left-right: Gavin Young, MIchelle Househam, Tim Mackrill, Lloyd Park, Lizzie Lemon, Chris Ditchburn

A huge thank you to all our sponsors who made our journey worth it by raising just under £2500 (including Gift Aid) for the Osprey Flyways Project. This money will help us to provide wildlife education in West Africa and to link schools and communities along the migration flyway. Here is a video showing the latest Osprey Flyways Project field trip run by Junkung Jadama in The Gambia. Thanks to your kind donations, we’ll be able to continue this vitally important work and help more young people in West Africa to learn about the importance of protecting Ospreys and other wildlife.

Now for quite a long list of thank yous to people without whom the challenge would not have happened. A massive thank you to Kerry Rough and Graham Adkins of Rutland Cycling who generously provided four of the bikes (and excellent bikes they were too), spare parts and some of the clothing for our challenge. Our support drivers Philip, Liam and Louise were instrumental in providing refreshment and encouragement throughout our journey and for transporting all our gear for us. A huge thank you to them and also Leah who helped ferry us all home again. We are also indebted to Mike Willis for organising our first day’s evening meal after a particularly trying first day. Thanks too to Rob Persani at Rutland Radio for giving us some airtime each day to report on the ride.

Personally, I would like to thank the team and all our support for a truly memorable and enjoyable three days. I am extremely proud of the way that our team of novice cyclists dug deep and pulled together all the way to the end.

And now, for those of you who during Birdfair or at the Lyndon Visitor Centre entered our competition to guess how long the challenge would take, the moment has come. We are extremely proud and a little surprised with our overall time of 19 hours and 1 minute which includes the ferry journey, food breaks (these were never more than a few minutes) and messing about with the route. Incidentally, our overall pedalling time was a mere 16 hours and fifty minutes giving us an average speed of 11.5 mph.

Well done to Dennis Trevor whose guess was one minute over our time and who will receive two Osprey cruise tickets and a signed copy of the Rutland Osprey Project’s book.

A Musical Migration

Twice a year, Ospreys from Rutland Water and elsewhere in Europe, undertake an epic 3000 mile migration. Satellite tracking and ringing studies have shown that Ospreys from northern Europe winter on the west coast of Africa, from Mauritania south to the Ivory Coast and Ghana. In 2011 the Rutland Osprey Project fitted two Ospreys with GPS transmitters enabling the team and thousands of people around the world to follow their migration in detail for the first time.

At 7:30pm on Saturday 23rd March, the Queen Elizabeth Theatre at Oakham school will play host to a special celebration of Osprey migration. Sponsored by Swarovski Optik, A Musical Migration follows a Rutland Osprey as it migrates north from its West African winter home, battling strong winds and sandstorms in the Sahara, crossing the vast Atlas Mountains and then crossing the Strait of Gibraltar into Europe. From there the bird’s journey takes it through the heart of Spain, north along the Atlantic coast of France and then across the English Channel towards home. A Musical Migration describes the bird’s epic flight in words, photographs and videos, accompanied by Global Harmony who will sing traditional songs from the various different countries the Osprey passes through.

Tickets for the concert cost £15 which includes a free glass of wine on arrival and are available from Music & More in Oakham or from the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre, Egleton. Alternatively you can purchase tickets by phoning the Birdwatching Centre on 01572 770651 and asking for a member of the Osprey team but please note this will include a £1.50 handling fee. All proceeds from the concert will go to the Osprey Migration Foundation. The foundation was set up by the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust in 2011 to link schools along the Osprey migration flyway and to provide wildlife education for schools in West Africa. This foundation demonstrates the unique ability of migratory birds to link people from different countries and cultures and the need to conserve birds across their migratory range.