Farid’s trek into the Sahara

Last week when I put out an appeal on the website and e-mailed some contacts in Morocco, it was more in hope than expectation that someone in Morocco may be able to go and find out what had happened to 09(98) on the edge of the Sahara. We were receiving transmissions from a remote ridge of the northern edge of the desert, well away from main roads and in some of the most inhospitable terrain Africa – or perhaps, more accurately, the world has to offer. Surely, 09’s fate would remain a mystery?

Well, not when you have Farid Lacroix to help you. Farid is an ex search and rescue helicopter pilot, originally from France but now living in Agadir, in the south of Morocco.  Farid’s career has taken him all over the world, and most significantly of all from our point of view, into the desert. When he saw our appeal for help on moroccanbirds.blogspot.com (kindly posted there by Mohamed Amezian of the University of Abdelmalek Essaadi) he immediately got in touch and offered to drive the 250km from Agadir to the spot where we had been receiving transmissions from 09’s satellite tag since 3pm on September 11th. The Sahara is not the sort of place you can take lightly – conditions can suddenly deteriorate in a matter of minutes – but Farid’s experience meant he was well-qualified to deal with the worst the desert could throw at him.

So, on Thursday morning last week, he left Agadir and drove south. Leaving the main roads behind he headed onto dirt tracks and into the desert. Using his Garmin GPS as a guide he eventually reached the foot of the mountain where the satellite data showed 09’s tag was lying.

Farid drove through the desert to reach the foot of the mountain in his Toyota 4×4

The view as Farid set out on foot to find the transmitter

In Farid’s own words, ‘climbing this mountain was very hard and maybe dangerous’. That was an understatement, but unperturbed he set off up the mountain with a 15kg rucksack containing 3 litres of water, some food, a survival blanket, a satellite phone in case of an emergency and his camera equipment. The photo below shows his route up the mountain, which involved more than 1000 feet of climbing on loose shale. This would be difficult enough on its own, but the searing desert temperatures made the climb even more demanding.

Farid’s routes up (red) and back down (green) the mountain

The accuracy of 09’s GPS transmitter and the fact all the fixes were from exactly the same position, meant that once Farid had scaled the steep scree slope, it did not take him long to find the transmitter. We had been hoping that the transmitter had fallen off and that 09 had continued his journey towards Senegal, but sadly Farid immediately found evidence that proved otherwise – a pile of feathers and bones and 09’s two leg rings, along with the transmitter.

All of 09’s GPS fixes had come from the same location since 3pm on 11th September

The view from the location where Farid found the transmitter and 09’s remains

After a search, Farid found 09’s remains and the transmitter

The transmitter, bones and feathers

09’s foot and ring

So, sadly we now knew 09’s fate, but what was it that killed him? A look at data from his transmitter’s activity meter suggests he was alive until the early hours of 12th September and, therefore, it seems likely the he was predated by either an Eagle Owl or a mammal,perhaps a Jackal, during the night or very early next morning. This theory is given more credence by the fact that Farid found 09’s remains a few feet from the branch where he would have been roosting; tell tale white excrement suggesting he had been perched there for some time. Perhaps conditions in the desert were poor for migrating on the afternoon of 11th September, forcing 09 to cut-short his day’s flight? Sadly it seems that it was this decision to roost on the ridge that resulted in his demise; an owl or mammal pouncing on him in the night and then eating him where Farid found the remains. It certainly seems very unlikely that he died of natural causes. Having flown more than 250 miles on each day of his seven-day flight to southern Morocco, he was clearly in good condition.

Of course we will never know exactly what happened, but whatever the case, it goes to show that even for an experienced Osprey, like 09, migration is a very hazardous time. The desert terrain means that migrating Ospreys have to roost on or very close to the ground, making predation a very real threat.

09’s roosting branch, with excrement below – suggesting he had been perched there for several hours

09’s remains, a few feet away from his roosting branch

We are incredibly grateful to Farid for going to such amazing lengths to find out what had happened. It is remarkable that someone we have never met offered to drive 500km and scale a 1000 foot mountain in the Sahara to help us solve the mystery. As I said in the previous post, migrating birds have a unique ability to link people and communities across the world, and this is a perfect example of this. We are currently setting-up a project that will link schools along the Osprey migration flyway and I hope that this will encourage young people in Europe, Africa and perhaps further a field to follow Farid’s example and to take an interest in the conservation of migratory birds. As 09’s sad demise shows, Ospreys and other migratory species face many natural hazards on their 3000 mile journey to Africa, and I feel it is vital that we do all we can to encourage international collaboration and partnerships to ensure that those threats do not include human ones.

If you are interested in becoming involved in our schools project, then please email me timmackrill@rutlandwater.org.uk for more informaton. Or, if you would like to support our work, you can donate here.

Thank you again, Farid.

Farid on the mountain

22 responses to “Farid’s trek into the Sahara”

  1. Sherran

    As live near Rutland we have made many trips there this summer to take photos and watch the progress of 09 ‘s family. I was devastated to hear that he had died. Without the wonderfull kindness of Farid, we would never have know what happened to him.My thanks go out to him.

  2. Karen

    This is such a sad end for a beautiful bird.

  3. Karen McCullough

    Tragic news about 09. But how amazing that someone would go to those lengths to help out that way. Kind of restores my faith in human nature. It’s also incredible that us lay people can follow the movements of our wildlife even when they leave our shores. If I ever win the lottery the British Osprey projects will be on top of the list of my spending spree 🙂

  4. Christine Coates

    Please pass on our grateful thanks to Farid for the effort he made to resolve the mystery. What a sad sight to see )9’s ring on his remains.


  5. Wendy Cox

    What an amazing outcome – Farid’s journey and climb is beyond words and thanks. The pictures are excellent in telling the story. Our heartfelt thanks to Farid for his most generous gesture and effort and it is good to be able to understand what the sorry end was for 09.

  6. Linda Jones

    An amazing story showing both the risks of migration and the selflessness and commitment of the birding community. Thanks to Farid. What a star and a silver lining to our sad loss of 09.

  7. Valerie Webber

    What can I say but Farid is AWESOME for sure and I thank him , it is so sad but it is at least some comfort to all of you to have found him , love to you all x

  8. Kit Sidlow

    I am 14 and have done a one year Falconry Apprenticeship in my spare time and then worked at weekends for Yarak Birds of Prey in Devon. I have now moved to Ibiza but I am very interested in all the work you are doing and have been following it. I was very pleased that 09s transmitter was found and I thought Farid was brilliant to locate and recover it but I was also very sad that 09 didn’t make it.
    Keep posting news.
    Thank you

  9. Alison Rogers

    Sorry to hear about this Tim, but all credit to Farid and others like him for the amazing information.

  10. Karen

    So, so sad. We need to set up little stations for migrating birds to safely roost in on their way across the desert. Huge thanks and respect to Farid.

  11. Jillian

    Crying all over my computer-how sad after all the migrations he has done and now probably stopped because of the weather and nowhere to fish only to become food himself. Thank you so much for all this hard work to finally have closure for the Rutland team and all its supporters. I wish you well with hopefully tracking another osprey from Rutland next Autumn. Fingers crossed for all the other British ones we are following and hopefully someone can check Spain to see if they can find out about Lucky 13 from the lake district.

  12. Cath

    What a lovely man Farid is, to go to such lengths to confirm what happened to 09. A thank you doesn’t seem enough to show how grateful we all are for his help, yet I suspect he would say he just wanted to help. A very big thank you Farid.

  13. Ruth Mitchell

    Thank you for this wonderful report, showing life – and death – exactly as it is. The photos, although possibly distressing to some of your readers, make the probable course of events so real. A truly honest exposition of the dangers migrating Ospreys face.
    Congratulations to Farid for his wonderful help!

  14. Ann Feldman

    Farid, when you get to heaven you will not have a wait to get in! What an amazing journey, albeit a sad ending for 09. At least it was another animal, not some jerk with a shotgun. Bless you.

  15. Shirley A. Davies

    A massive thank you to Farid and his team for their exceptional journey and trek to locate 09. So, so sad that his end came in this way. He was a truly incredible bird who finally got to rear a family this season. I was absolutely riveted on his journey back this year and followed every wing-beat on the edge of my seat. His genes will live on through his offspring!

  16. Celia Wilkinson

    What a wonderful man Farid is, to make such a journey and trek to find out about 09’s demise. The trouble with satellite tracking is that it gives bad and sad news as well as good. Sadly the former is the case this time. Migration is tough and it always seems miraculous every year that birds arrive at their destination at all with the distances they travel and the hazards they face.

  17. Farid Lacroix

    I’m happy for sure to read waht every body wrote about me. Many thanks, however I done exactly what I hope people will do for me in a similar situation.
    Long life to Rutland Ospreys Project.


  18. LM

    I just want to add my thanks to Farid and his team, an amazing thing to do, and we are so grateful. So sad about the outcome though, this will take some getting over!

  19. Janice Dickinson

    I would like to say Thank you to Farid for what he did. It is the ‘not knowing’ which leaves you wondering….. 09’s legacy will live on through his offspring. Also a Thank you to Tim and the team for keeping us up to date with events. It was a pleasure to meet you at the Lake District Osprey Project back in June. The moment belongs to Farid for his brave and wonderful act. Very Best Wishes, Janice

  20. Anni Feeney

    I am so sorry for this loss… a major thank you to Farid and his team. The outcome, so so sad… sleep in the stars 09. Thank you Tim, Michelle, Ken and everyone for your continuing work.

    Blessed be

  21. June Atkinson

    On behalf of Friends of Red Kites here in the north east of England, many thanks to Farid for his brave and unselfish act in retrieving the remains of 09.

  22. Clare Carter

    I’m so sorry about the loss of this magnificent bird. I just wanted to say that I think you all do a wonderful job at Rutland Water, and Farid – what a fantastic example you set to the rest of us. Thank you.