Jules makes it home

Great news – our satellite tagged osprey, Jules, made it back to Starthspey yesterday afternoon after a 20 day migration from the Casamance region of Senegal. At 15:30 yesterday afternoon he was at Rothiemurchus Fishery – the location where we tagged him last September.

In our previous updated we reported that Jules was flying west over Stoke-on-Trent on Wednesday morning. We now know that he paused briefly to the south of Leek before continuing north at around 11:00 BST. He passed to the east of Manchester two hours later at an altitude of 475 metres. He continued north through the Pennines, averaging around 30 kph and reached Northumberland at 18:30. He continued flying until 21:00 when he finally settled to roost for the night in a forested area immediately south of the Scottish border after a day’s flight of 326 km.

Jules flew directly over Stoke-on-Trent at an altitude of just over 300 metres on Wednesday morning

Yeserday morning Jules cleared sensed that he was close to home because he continued north at first light and reached the Firth of Forth to the east of Edinburgh at North Bewick at 08:40. He crossed the Firth at an altitude of approximately 150 metres before continuing on through Fife, over Dundee and then into Angus. By 12:32 he was in southern Moray and at this point he turned due west to fly direct to Aviemore. By the time he reached Rothiemurchus he had flown 244 km since leaving his roost site in the Borders.

Jules does not have an established nest, and so it will be very interesting to follow his movements this summer. We’ll be sure to keep you updated over the coming months, but won’t be publishing any further movements on our interactive map because Jules is likely to visit established osprey nest sites in the course of his wanderings, many of which are kept confidential in order to protect the birds. You can however check out his complete 20 day migration on the map here.

Jules flew 570 km over two days before arriving in Aviemore yesterday afternoon

Back in the UK

After spending the weekend at the Gulf of Morbihan in Brittany, Jules arrived back in the UK yesterday, flying an impressive 580 km in just 11 hours before roosting 8 km south-west of Stafford.

Jules set-off from his stop-over site at around 10 am BST yesterday morning and headed purposefully north. Aided by a strong tailwind he reached the north coast of France three hours later and then set-off across the English Channel, passing over Guernsey at around 14:30 BST before reaching the English coast at Portland Bill at approximately 16:20 BST, at relatively low altitude.

Jules flew over Portland Bill as he reached the English coast

With the wind in his favour, Jules continued to power north. Flying at speeds of over 60 kph at altitudes of up to 928 metres he passed to the east of Bristol at 18:00 and to the west of Birmngham two hours later. He eventually settled to roost at dusk on the edge of a wood near the villages of Church Eaton and Apeton in Staffordshire.

Jules flew 580 km from Brittany to Staffordshire in 11 hours yesterday

This morning Jules resumed his journey at first light and at 09:16 he was over Stoke-on-Trent. Without an established nest to return to, it will be fascinating to follow his progress as he continues north to Starthspey. Will he head straight there on explore elsewhere? Watch this space!

You can check out Jules’ migration on our interactive map. 

 

A French stop-over

Ospreys often return to favoured stop-over locations during migration. These are often sites where they lingered during their first migration as a juvenile and they become important ‘goal areas’ during subsequent journeys. Last autumn Jules stopped-over at the Gulf of Morbihan in Brittany from 17 September to 2 October, and the latest satellite data shows that he has spent the last two days there as he migrates back to Scotland this spring.

In our previous update we reported that Jules had roosted to the east of Seville on the night of 22nd April. Next morning he resumed his migration at around 08:00 local time, and flew 138 km north to southern Extremadura before roosting close to Embalse de Navalespino.

Jules likely caught a fish next morning because he didn’t begin migrating again until around 10:00 local time. He made relatively good progress once he did resume his journey through eastern Extremadura; flying 239 km before stopping for the night at the north-east end of another reservoir, Embalse de Santa Teresa in Castile and León.

Jules made an even later start to his journey on 25th April, heading almost due east from his roost site at around midday. He turned to the north-east an hour later and then flew 160 km before roosting near a series of small lakes close to the village of Lastras de Cuéllar.

After three relatively easy days of migration, Jules set off on the morning of 26th April with much more purpose. He flew 252 km during the course of the day and reached the north coast of Spain just to the west of Bilbao around half an hour before sunset at 20:30. Usually this would be his cue to find somewhere to roost for the night, but on this occasion Jules showed no sign of letting up. As the sun set he was already 15 km out to sea, and during the course of the night he crossed the Bay of Biscay, flying 426 km at altitudes as low as 48 metres before making landfall to the south-west of Nantes just before sunrise next morning. He finally stopped to rest at around 09:30 local time just south of the Loire Estuary having flown 693 km from northern Spain in just over 24 hours.

Jules flew 693 km from Spain to Brittany in just over 24 hours

After resting for much of the day Jules flew 31 km north during late afternoon before roosting at the southern end of a lake in a forested area in southern Brittany.

On Saturday morning rather than continuing north Jules made a distinct turn to the west and flew 56 km to the Gulf of Morbihan, where he has remained since; returning to some of his favoured haunts from last autumn. It will be fascinating to see how long he remains there for.   Don’t forget that you can check out Jules’ flight so far on our interactive map.

Jules’ movements since arriving at Gulf of Morbihan (pink) in relation to his positions last autumn (green)

Into Spain

Jules continues to make excellent progress on his return migration to Scotland. Yesterday evening he roosted 60 km east of Seville in central Andalucia.

We know that on Thursday night last week Jules roosted in southern Morocco. Next morning he set-off early, shortly after 06:00 GMT. He reached the southern side of the vast Atlas Mountains three hours later, and over the course of the next 90 minutes he crossed the maintains, passing peaks of over 4000 metres.

Jules flew directly through the Atlas Mountains, passing peaks of over 4000 metres

Once through the mountains he powered on north, passing to the east of Marrakesh and onwards towards Rabat at speeds of over 50 kph. He eventually settled to roost for the night on a hillside with scattered trees, between Casablanca and Rabat, having flown 409 km during the course of the day.

On Saturday morning Jules resumed his migration at around 08:00 GMT and passed to the east of Rabat an hour-and-a-half later. He made slower progress than previous days and at 17:15 was perched beside Barrage El Wahda, a large reservoir in northern Morocco. This would have provided Jules’ with a much needed opportunity to feed after his flight across the Sahara and Atlas Mountains. He eventually settled to roost on a forest hillside 10 km north of the reservoir after a day’s flight of 217 km.

Jules roosted north of Barrage El Wahda before returning there early next morning to feed

Next morning Jules returned to the reservoir at around 08:30 and almost certainly caught a fish because he was perched on the shoreline for the next hour-and-a-half, presumably eating his catch. He resumed his journey at approximately 10:30 GMT. Two hours later he reached the north coast of Morocco and then crossed the Strait of Gibraltar before passing over Algeciras in southern Spain. He continued to make good progress during the afternoon before settling to roost in an olive grove in central Andalucia at around 18:15 GMT (20:15 local time) after a day’s flight of 308 km.

Jules’ flight across the Strait of Gibraltar on Sunday afternoon

Jules has flown 934 km over the past three days

You can check out Jules’ flight so far on our interactive map.

Crossing the Sahara

Over the past few weeks we’ve been wondering when our satellite-tagged osprey, Jules, would set-off from his wintering site in the Casamance region of southern Senegal. Ospreys with established nests usually leave in mid-March, but younger birds often depart later. Jules was unringed when we tagged him at Rothiemurchus Fishery last September, and he then set-off on migration the very next morning; meaning we do not know how old he is, or if he has an established nest site. It also made predicting his spring departure more tricky.

Jules finally left his wintering site on Saturday 14th April; a relatively late departure that indicates he is probably a young bird without a nest to reclaim. Nevertheless he has made excellent progress and last night he roosted just south of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco having flown 2336 km during his first six days of migration, and successfully crossed the Sahara. Here’s a day-by-day summary of his journey so far.

Saturday 14 April 

Jules set-off from his wintering site in the Casamance region of southern Senegal at approximately 11:00 GMT. He flew 191 km ENE at a maximum altitude of 1316 m before stopping to roost a few kilometres south of the River Gambia.

Sunday 15th April 

Jules left his overnight roost at around 09:30 and headed across the River Gambia soon afterwards. By 12:47 he had flown 81 km due north, and at this point he changed his heading to north-east. He maintained the same bearing for the rest of the afternoon before settling to roost close to the border of Senegal and Mauritania after a day’s flight of 340 km.

Monday 16th April 

After a couple of short local movements Jules resumed his migration at 09:30 and crossed into Mauritania soon afterwards, with the vast and desolate Sahara ahead. The wind must have been in his favour because he maintained a perfect north-easterly heading during the course of the day, flying a total of 349 km across the desert at a maximum altitude of 1464 m.

Jules’ first three days of spring migration

Tuesday 17th April 

Having roosted on the desert floor, Jules began migrating again at approximately 09:00 GMT. Unlike the previous day he set-off on a northerly heading, and then maintained it for the rest of the day, crossing the Akchâr Desert region of central Mauritania. He made particularly fast progress during the middle part of the day when thermals would have been strongest, covering 208 km in four hours after midday. When he finally settled to roost at around 19:15 he had flown an impressive 503 km during the day and was now close to the border with Western Sahara.

Wednesday 18th April 

Jules left his roost site just before 09:00 GMT and headed north. By 14:00 he had flown 237 km and at this point he turned more to the north-east, appearing to follow ridges in the desert below. He maintained this heading for the rest of the afternoon, flying at altitudes of up to 2000 m. He eventually settled to roost in northern Western Sahara shortly after 19:00 after a day’s flight of 437 km.

Jules appeared to be following ridges than run north-east across the northern part of the Sahara during the afternoon of the 18th April

Thursday 19th April 

Jules was now nearing the end of his crossing of the Sahara and he left his roost site in the desert at 09:15. As the previous afternoon he maintained an almost perfect north-easterly bearing as he crossed the northern reaches of the Sahara into southern Morocco, flying at a maximum altitude of 2500 m. He passed well to the east of Tiznit and continued across the Anti-Atlas Mountains until after dark. When he finally settled to roost at 20:30 he had flown 516 km during the course of the day and was approximately 100 km east of Agadir.

Jules has made fast progress across the Sahara over the past four days

All being well Jules will have crossed the Atlas Mountains today, and will reach Spain over the weekend. We’ll have another update on his progress early next week. In the meantime you can check out Jules’ flight so far on our interactive map.

Sad news about LS6

In January we were delighted to learn that two of the eight juvenile ospreys that we translocated to Poole Harbour last summer had been seen at the Sine-Saloum Delta. This vast area of mangrove swamps and shallow tidal water is a perfect place for wintering ospreys, and so it was extremely encouraging that the two birds were seen there.

We have now received news of a third Poole translocated bird in West Africa, but sadly this one – LS6 – was found dead near Kartong in The Gambia. The bird’s body was initially found by local people and the corpse was then relocated by Dembo Jatta, who took the photos below. There were no obvious signs of death, and so we can only assume that it died of natural causes, which is common among young ospreys. The demands of the first migration, coupled with difficulties associated with finding a wintering site, mean that mortality among juvenile ospreys is very high, with only around 20-30 % of birds returning to the UK as adults. Juvenile ospreys are often chased away from the best areas by aggressive adult birds, and can end up in marginal habitat where food is harder to come by, and chances of mortality much greater. All manner of dangers lie in wait for inexperienced young ospreys, particularly those already in poor condition.

The body of LS6 was found by local people near Kartong in the south of The Gambia

 

The area where LS6 was found, just north of the River Allahein – which forms the southern border of The Gambia and Senegal – is an excellent place for wintering ospreys, but of course what we don’t know is how long he had been there before he died. Most juvenile ospreys do not settle down at a particular site until the summer of their second year, and so LS6 would still have been in the exploration phase and may have only just arrived in this part of The Gambia when he died. Sadly the bird’s body provided no conclusive evidence as to what had happened. Very many thanks to Dembo Jatta, as well as Olly Fox and Colin Cross of Kartong Bird Observatory for the information and photos.

LS6 was found just to the north of the River Allahein in the south of The Gambia

LS6’s body was found 65 km south of the location of the January sightings of LS3 and LS7

Although it is very sad that LS6 has been found dead, the fact that we now know that at least three of the eight birds we released completed migrations to West Africa indicates that they left Dorset in excellent condition; and this is testament to the superb work of the team at Poole. It is also likely that the proximity of Poole Harbour to the English Channel gives the translocated birds an advantage. The crossing from Poole to the Cherbourg peninsular in France is just 60 miles and once there the juveniles can follow the Atlantic coast of France as they migrate south, rather than attempting a dangerous crossing of the Bay of Biscay. So despite the bad news about LS6, there is plenty of reason to remain hopeful about the other birds.

POSTSCRIPT

After publishing this blog we were sent a photo of LS6 taken by Paul Hill near Kartong Bird Observatory (just 2.5 km from where the bird was subsequently found dead) on 16th January. This was just under two months before the bird’s body was found. The photo shows that a big chunk of the tail is missing – suggesting that LS6 may have been attacked by a dog, or perhaps even a crocodile. Ospreys spend a great deal of time perched on the ground, which greatly increases the chances of naive, inexperienced juveniles being predated. Although it seems LS6 had a close escape initially, it is possible that the loss of so many tail feathers impaired its ability to fish successfully. It’s a mystery that will remain unsolved, but this seems the most plausible explanation at present.

LS6 had much of his tail missing when he was photographed by Paul Hill on 16th January.

Elswehere we were delighted to learn last week that the mother of one of the Poole Harbour birds is on her way back to Scotland. 15 year-old Morven raised three chicks last year, one of which was translocated to Poole (LS7 – who was seen in Senegal in January), and another to the Basque Country. On Wednesday last week she was photographed at her regular spring stop-over site at Ría de Villaviciosa in Asturias. Morven was originally ringed as a chick on Forestry Commission land in Moray in 2003 and was then satellite tagged by Roy five years later. This showed that she migrated to the coast of Mauritania and stopped off at the Villaviciosa estuary each spring. Her transmitter was eventually removed but she continues to breed in Moray.

Very many thanks to Miguel Puente for the photo and sending details of his sighting.We have uploaded details of the sighting of Morven as well as several other new birds onto our interactive migration map.

Morven was photographed at the Villaviciosa estuary by Miguel Puente on 21st March.

No new data

During the winter we have received almost daily transmissions from Jules’ satellite transmitter, but no recent data from Blue DF. Analysis of the engineering and diagnostic data from the transmitter indicates that this is due to battery failure. This is extremely frustrating but we are almost certain that the bird is still alive and well in the Casamance region. Chris Wood, Joanna Dailey, Junkung Jadama and Fansu Bojang went to look for him in December. They didn’t see him because access to his favoured daytime area was impossible due to high water levels but they did send these photos. They also saw a flock of close to 100 Black-crowned Cranes. Thanks very much to them all for trying. Like Jules we hope to see Blue DF back in Strathspey this spring. In the meantime we will update you should the transmitter begin sending data again.

Life’s a beach

In our last update on the latest movements of our satellite tagged osprey, Jules – who is wintering in the Casamance region of southern Senegal – we reported that he was dividing his time between favoured daytime perching and fishing spots on the coast and a regular roost site in mangroves 16 km inland. This is quite unusual given that most adult ospreys usually occupy a very small winter territory.

Jules has continued to favour the same stretch of coastline since the turn of the year, but over the past month he has also started roosting on the coast; usually among scattered trees about 800 metres from his favoured stretch of sand. Over the past month he has roosted on the coast more often than inland. Quite what has promoted this change of behaviour is unclear, but by doing so he is avoiding the necessity of a 32 km return flight each night.

Jules has been favouring a 1 km stretch of beach during the past two months.

Other than this change in roosting location, Jules’ behaviour has been much the same as the rest of the winter. He has favoured the same 1 km stretch of beach and continued to fish just offshore once or twice each day. Most of his fishing is done within 200 m of the shore, but on at least two occasions since 1st January he has flown further out to sea (1.5 km or more). When he roosts on the coast he is favouring an area of just over 1 km which is much more typical of the usual winter range of an adult osprey.

Jules’ latest movements – including a flight to the east on 16th February

Interestingly Jules roosted inland on the nights of 15th and 16th February and during the afternoon of 16th February flew 25 km to the east – perhaps flying around with other ospreys – and spent a few hours perched in creeks near Tionck Essil. Next day however he was back at his favoured spots on the coast and he roosted there that night.

Jules is likely to remain in Senegal until mid-late March before beginning his migration back to Strathspey.   You can check out all of his latest movements on our interactive map. Our other satellite tagged osprey, Blue DF is wintering 30 km ENE near the village of Baila, but unfortunately we have stopped receiving data from his transmitter due to a technical fault. There is more information here.

LS3 seen at the Sine-Saloum Delta

Last month we were thrilled that LS7, one of the eight juvenile ospreys that we translocated to Poole Harbour last summer, had been seen at Ile des Oiseaux in the Sine-Saloum Delta in Senegal. You can read more about the sighting here. The survival rate of juvenile ospreys in their first year is generally very low (only around 30% make it back to the UK as a two year-old) and so it was encouraging that LS7 had been seen at such a superb place for wintering ospreys.

Amazingly we now know that LS7 wasn’t the only Poole juvenile to be seen at the Sine-Saloum Delta in January. We have now been contacted by Jean-Louis Carlo to say that he photographed LS3 on New Year’s Day at Nema Bâ in the south of the delta. LS3 set-off from Poole Harbour two weeks after LS7, on 9th September but amazingly Jean-Louis’ sighting was just 21 km from the spot where LS7 was seen three weeks later! This really is fantastic news and proves that the two juveniles must have set-off from Poole in excellent condition; undoubtedly aided by the daily supply of fresh fish provided by the team at Poole before the juveniles departed. This is an essential requirement if a young osprey is to survive the perilous first migration to West Africa and then find somewhere safe to winter.  As we explained in the recent blog about LS7, LS3 may not have lingered at the Sine-Salum Delta, but Jean-Louis’ sighting is an extremely encouraging sign. This incredible place will now be on the young osprey’s radar, and may well become his future wintering site.

LS3 at the Sine-Salum Delta on 1st January 2018 – photo by Jean-Louis Carlo

LS3’s ring is clearly visible in the photo

Both LS3 and LS7 are likely to remain in West Africa for the whole of 2018, but the fact that they have both been seen alive means that there is every chance that we may see them back in Dorset in spring 2019. Here’s hoping!

Very many thanks to Jean-Louis for this fantastic news.

You can check out the location of the sightings of LS3, LS7 and other colour-ringed ospreys from the UK on our interactive map.

LS3 and LS7 were seen just 21 km apart in the space of three weeks

Rothiemurchus – relocated!

One of the most interesting ospreys that we have satellite tagged in recent years is Rothiemurchus. After being tagged as a chick in a nest on the Rothiemurchus Estate near Aviemore in 2009 the young male headed south in early September and made a long overnight crossing of the Bay of Biscay. He drifted west in strong easterly winds and missed the north coast of Spain, before finally making landfall in Portugal after a flight of 1302 km in 33 hours. He then remained in Portugal for more than a month before continuing south and migrating to Djoudj National Park in northern Senegal. In January 2010 he made several exploratory flights into Guinea Bissau before settling in the backwaters of the River Gambia in Senegal. He obviously found excellent fishing on these marshes and spent the whole year there, with a little exploration into The Gambia. He remained in the same location until May 9th 2011, when he set off on his first migration back to Scotland. We followed this and seven subsequent migrations between Scotland and his wintering site in Senegal. During these journeys it was clear that he had learnt from his first arduous crossing of the Bay of Biscay and, in order to return to favoured stop-over locations in Galicia in northern Spain that he had used on his first northward migration, he made the most amazing dog-leg migration across the north coast of Spain, as shown in the animation below. It was also fascinating to see how widely he ranged in Scotland when he first returned in 2011 and then in subsequent summers.

We tracked Rothiemurchus for five years between 2009 and 2014. Orange lines = autumn migrations, white = spring.

Once back at his wintering site each year, Rothiemurchus settled into a very predictable pattern of behaviour, living in a very small area of less than 1 km². This enabled myself and colleagues from the Rutland Osprey Project to see him in January 2012 (watch video below) and Chris Wood to do the same in February 2013.

In November 2014 Rothiemurchus was back in Senegal but no signals were received from his transmitter after the night of 7/8 November. Having inspected the data closely, Roy felt sure that the transmitter had either failed or fallen off, but without seeing the bird could not be sure. The problem was that although Rothiemurchus was now five years old and had settled in Perthshire, he had yet to establish a nest site of his own; and so there was no specific place to look in spring 2015 when he should have returned to Scotland. A further two summers have since passed without a confirmed sighting, but on Wednesday this week Chris Wood and Joanna Dailey, along with Junkung Jadama and Fansu Bojang, decided to visit Rothiemurchus’s regular wintering site on the off chance that he might still be alive.

And guess what? They saw him! Here are two photos taken by Chris and Joanna in which you can just make out the transmitter on the bird’s back.

Rothiemurchus was perched on a dead tree in exactly the spot where he spent previous winters (photo by Chris Wood)

The transmitter is just visible in this photo – with a snapped aerial (photo by Joanna Dailey)

We are thrilled to know that Rothiemurchus is still alive, and that Chris and team have been able to prove that the lack of data was due to transmitter failure as Roy always suspected was the case. Sincere thanks to Chris, Joanna, Junkung and Fansu for making the effort to go and look – a superb piece of fieldwork. Here is an extract from an email from Joanna this evening:

“It was a real thrill to see what we hoped would be Rothiemurchus, and then to see the transmitter on my not very good photos. They will be special now.

He left his perch to escort an unringed Osprey away, although it wasn’t the determined removal you see in breeding Ospreys. He went high with the other one and they drifted away. We were still in the area for over 30 mins, but we didn’t see him return.

A villager was harvesting oysters fairly nearby, Rothiemurchus would have been aware of him. You can see the oyster shell piles on the Google Earth images I made, so villagers must be around the area quite a bit, in addition to fishermen in pirogues.”

As Joanna’s photo shows, the reason for the lack of data is now clear – the aerial on the transmitter has snapped off. Now we know this we will make a concerted effort to find Rothiemurchus once he has returned to Scotland in the spring, not only to discover where he is breeding (which he almost certainly will be by now) but also to attempt to re-catch him and remove the defunct transmitter. For now though it is just great to know that this osprey, whose migrations we have followed with such interest, is still alive.

The location of yesterday’s sighting was in exactly the same place as data from 2014.