Archives for July 2017

Summering again in Badenoch & Strathspey

Cromarty was first seen and photographed this summer on the 8th May at the Aviemore fish pond. He has subsequently been seen at various sites including intruding at the RSPB Loch Garten osprey nest on 19th and 20th May. Unfortunately the GSM transmitter, which he is still carrying, failed to operate past June 2016.

Translocation to Poole

After an incredibly busy four days collecting a total of 20 young ospreys for translocation to the Basque Country and Dorset, Emily Joáchim and I set-off from Roy’s house in Moray with eight of the birds shortly after 4pm on Monday. Each bird was placed in a large cardboard box lined with moss in the back of our hired van in order to keep them as quiet and as stress-free as possible during the long journey to Poole Harbour. Aitor Galarza, meanwhile, was already en route to Spain with the final 12 birds to be translocated to the Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve near Bilbao.

The birds were transported in large cardboard boxes lined with moss

Rather than drive the 630 miles to Poole Harbour in one go we decided that it was far better to split the journey into two. Our destination on the first evening therefore was Fradswell in Staffordshire where Barry Dore and Jakkie Tunnicliffe had kindly offered B&B for both us and the birds. Fortunately the roads were clear and we made good progress, arriving at 11:15pm. The overnight stop not only allowed us to check the birds were travelling well but also to feed them that evening and again at 6 am next morning.

The stop in Staffordshire enabled us to check and feed the birds.

Barry and Jakkie with the consignment of eight young ospreys.

After saying goodbye to Barry and Jakkie we were on the road again at 8:45am on Tuesday morning. I had already heard from Paul Morton that excitement was building in Poole and that was very much in evidence when we arrived at our pre-arranged meeting spot at 1:30pm that afternoon. Even heavy rain couldn’t dampened our spirits as we were greeted by Paul, Jason Fathers and others. We checked all was well with the birds and, after a quick photo, call headed straight to the release pens at a site on private land adjacent to the harbour. Having been travelling for almost 24 hours we were keen to get the birds settled as quickly as possible.

Once on site Paul, Jason and I were met by Brittany Maxted and a group of volunteers who will be feeding and caring for the birds over the coming weeks. Roy and I had already decided which birds would be placed in which pen, with siblings together and broods of a similar age. After a quick briefing with the assembled team, we put the birds into the relevant pens along with a good supply of local fish kindly sourced and prepped by local restaurant, Storm. We then retreated to Osprey HQ – Jason’s old caravan where live CCTV images from each pen enabled us to watch the birds settling into their new surrounds without disturbance. Within a few hours several birds had fed and all looked very settled.

The birds settled into their new surrounds very quickly.

Over the past two days Brittany and the team of volunteers have been monitoring the birds very carefully and providing fresh fish three times a day. All are feeding well and several of the more advanced birds are wing flapping and showing a great deal of interest in the view across the water. The birds are likely to remain in the pens for about three weeks before being released in early August.

Brittany and Jol monitoring the birds at Osprey HQ.

We’re pleased that this important project to restore breeding ospreys to the south coast estuaries is underway and delighted to be working with such a great team at Poole – Paul Morton of Birds of Poole Harbour, Jason Fathers of Wildlife Windows and the volunteers led by Brittany Maxted. An exciting five years lie ahead.

Osprey translocations – one completed, one new start

We’ve have had an incredibly busy few days here in the Scottish Highlands monitoring osprey nests, ringing the young and collecting ospreys for translocation projects.   In the last month we had some pretty awful weather including downpours in the first week in June; afterwards we found that two broods of young had died from exposure and lack of fish.  Careful monitoring in late June showed me that most pairs were active and had young.

Our team came together on Thursday with Tim and me on fieldwork, our ace tree climbers Ian and Fraser; Emily took on fish preparation and feeding duties, helped by my 8 year old daughter Phoebe, Aitor arrived from Bilbao and Moira held the fort and produced great meals and hospitality. Our first day was Thursday – 7 am to 9:30 pm, 340 miles round trip to Caithness and Sutherland meeting old and new friends,  collecting five young  ospreys,  identifying some old breeding adults from their colour rings and a lovely view of an adder.

Friday was the sort of day I dread – it rained overnight and we experienced on-and-off drizzle and Scotch mist throughout the day. Nevertheless we collected 6 young in east Moray and at two nests the male birds had been having trouble catching enough fish and one chick was well below weight.  So removing a sibling resulted in saving the other.  Once the chicks were in their compartments in my garage, with the other young, they were soon eating fresh trout, courtesy of Rothiemurchus fishery.  Next day we visited Badenoch & Strathspey and nests near my home and our total climbed to 15.

Checking chicks at a nest in Caithness

Sunday saw our last day of visits. One nest was an epic climb for Ian up a great Douglas fir and my tele-photos of the ospreys overhead showed the female was different to 2016. It was white ring PE – my old friend Morven which I caught and satellite tagged in 2008 – she winters on the Mauritania coast and her stop over is in an estuary in North Spain. Now one of her chicks will be released not far away near Bilbao. This is her third different nest – I guess she moved this spring because her old mate did not return until 2nd May and she got fed up waiting!  At our next nest we found that one of young was entangled in baler wrap collected from the field as nest material by the male.  I cut it off – if we had not visited the nest for a ringing it would’ve died.  Not the first time I’ve seen this.

Expert tree climber Ian reaches another nest.

Careful consideration is given before selecting chicks for translocation.

Morven (white/black PE) circling over her nest – one of her chicks will be translocated to the Basque Country.

That gave us twelve chicks for the Basque country project at Urdaibai estuary near Bilbao and as I write Aitor and the young ospreys are at Heathrow en route to Spain. This is the completion of the translocation part of our project; five years and 60 young. It was great to learn of the first pair established at a nest this summer, as well as 6 males in North Spain and another in France. In two hours time the other eight ospreys will be taken by Tim and Emily to Poole Harbour, where Paul and Jason have the new accommodation, hacking cages, all organised. A very exciting new project, with the team in Dorset, to restore breeding ospreys to the south coast estuaries; we can say then that the “mullet hawk” has truly returned.

A brood of three young ospreys. The bird on the right will be translocated to Poole.

It’s a real privilege to work on these projects and as I say, in present-day jargon, our principal stakeholder is the osprey itself – that’s why we take such care of them. And then there is the support and friendship with so many people to make these projects work including Jane, Robert, Duncan, Brian, Derry, Alan, Malcolm, Mike, Pete, Ben, Gabriella, Jason and Paul.

The osprey collection team 2017 (Aitor, Ian, Roy, Moira, Phoebe, Emily and Tim) (photo by Mike Crutch)