Here is part two of Ken Davies’ fictional winter diary of Ozzie the osprey!
Ozzie’s winter routine down in Gambia has not changed much since we last heard a few weeks ago. He spends a lot of time on favourite sand banks and tree perches, watching the comings and goings of other Ospreys, until he feels it’s time to go and catch a fish in the calm sea waters or the nearby mangrove creeks and lagoons. His life here is easy-paced, relaxed and calm. Most local people in the bustling village of Tanji are too busy to spend time looking at Ozzie, but the children from the local school, led by their teacher Isatou and their friendly bird-man JJ, often come down to the beach to see him. They like all the birds, and have learnt to recognise most of them now, thanks to JJ. They see all the other Ospreys, and call out ‘kulanjang’ whenever they see one – the word meaning ‘fish eagle’ in their own Mandinka dialect. It’s always a special moment when someone spots Ozzie, with his blue leg-ring and transmitter antenna showing well. Everyone wants to be the first to see him and shout ‘Ozzie, it’s Ozzie’ so that all the children can turn their eyes towards him.
The girl called Kaddy tries especially hard – she was the person who spotted Ozzie’s arrival at Tanji last winter, when Ken and his friends were here.
But today Ozzie is not here on the beach at Tanji. The small group search for a while, checking each Osprey as it flies in from the sea, or over their heads from further inland. He will not be far away, JJ tells them. Before they go, they spend some time collecting up some old fishing nets and other discarded equipment which has been left on the beach. All this is dangerous to the birds, because the tide will take it out into the sea, where it will float just below the surface and trap any bird, including an Osprey, which might dive into the water. Ozzie had a narrow escape himself last year, when he almost got tangled in a net during his migration. JJ collects all the old pieces of net and rope and the children take them away in a wheelbarrow. At least there will be no accidents on this beach now.
The next time JJ brings a group to the beach Ozzie is still missing. The children are beginning to get worried. ‘Where has he gone?’ they ask JJ. ‘It is nowhere near time for him to go back to Rutland Water yet, so where can he be?’
‘Don’t worry,’ JJ replies, ‘Ozzie has done this before. I am sure he has decided to take a little trip to see a bit more of Gambia. He will be back soon.’
JJ was absolutely right. Ozzie had indeed gone on a little adventure. Early one morning just a couple of days ago, he left his favourite bare tree near Tanji beach and flew out to sea. He caught a silvery fish, but instead of taking it back to the shore, as he usually did, he landed on a tiny island – no more than a scrap of sand, shingle and a few stunted bushes – and ate his fish there. The island is called Bijoli, a favourite haunt of Ospreys, terns of many species, and wading birds spending the winter months thousands of miles away from their Arctic breeding grounds. The sea is slowly eroding Bijoli away – soon there will be nothing left.
After a good long rest, Ozzie again takes to the air. The breeze is light, the sun hot on his back. It is perfect for soaring, circling, higher and higher, until Bijoli is just a speck in the Atlantic Ocean a mile below him. He lets the wind carry him, until he is at the wide mouth of the great Gambia River, where it flows relentlessly into the sea. He sees the busy ferry boats crossing from one side of the river mouth to the other, laden with people packed closely together, and cars and trucks.
Ozzie knows exactly where he is, and where he is going. He has made this little trip in previous years, and the familiar landmarks, perches and fishing places are imprinted on his memory just like those back at Tanji and at Rutland Water. His first stop is a vast wetland area called Bulok on the south bank of the river, with trees, lagoons, ditches and muddy flat areas – a perfect habitat for the thousands of birds which live there. Many Ospreys from Europe make this their winter home. They see Ozzie approaching, and two of them go up to meet him.
There is some initial suspicion when a strange Osprey appears in their winter territory, but they soon learn he is not a threat and they return to their perches. Ozzie is watched by other birds as he continues up river – a Dark Chanting Goshawk turns its head upwards, but it does not leave its perch on a telegraph pole. African Jacanas – the famous ‘lily trotters’ – pause momentarily, one enormous spindly foot raised over a spreading lily leaf, before carrying on with their search for food. A Violet Turaco, a blaze of colour, sees him too, and so does a Black-headed Heron, standing like a statue in the shallows.
As evening approaches, Ozzie circles over a pool surrounded by mangroves. Fishermen are casting their nets, and large shoals of glistening silvery fish are jumping out of the water in a frenzy. Ozzie moves a little further away before diving into the water and catching a fish at his first attempt. He lands in a mangrove tree to eat and rest. It is too late to go back to Tanji now. He will stay here for the night.
The next afternoon, on wooden seats at the end of a creaking jetty, with narrow fishing boats tied alongside, three friends from England are enjoying a cold Gambian beer on the edge of the Gambia River, at Tendaba Camp. In the mid-distance, playfully rolling and arcing in the wide river’s central flow, two or three dolphins ripple the water, while an Osprey beats slowly up and down, head downward, seeking a fish disturbed by the dolphins. The three friends study the Osprey. At times there is a definite impression of a small antenna protruding from its back feathers, but sadly it does not come any closer, and they cannot draw any conclusions before it turns and heads purposefully back down river towards the sea, and out of sight. ‘I wonder who’s tracking that one,’ says one of the three. He walks back along the jetty to the bar, and orders three more beers……………
It has been a few days since JJ took the children from Tanji School down to the beach, but one day he calls at the school to collect them and give them another chance to see if Ozzie has returned. Binta, Kaddy and Penda, Sarjo and Amadou – JJ knows all their names, and is so pleased by their enthusiasm. They arrive at the beach and take it in turn to scan the beach and the sand banks with the binoculars.
There are one or two false starts. ‘That’s him!’ ‘No, it’s not.’ ‘Let me try.’ ‘My turn with the telescope!’
It all goes quiet for a while. Are they going to be disappointed again?
Just when it’s almost time to go home, JJ turns and looks at Ozzie’s tree behind them, just in time to see an Osprey lift off from the top branch and fly towards them. JJ says nothing until the bird is almost over the heads of the group on the beach, and then he calls ‘Look, everyone, who is this?’
Immediately everyone is looking up through their binoculars. Kaddy is the first to speak.
‘Ozzie, it’s Ozzie,’ she shouts. She’s right. Ozzie is back at Tanji, after his little adventure, just like JJ said he would be. There are smiles, whoops and shouts. Ozzie is back, and all is well.
By Ken Davies