Osprey reintroduction update

After a very busy field season with ospreys I’ve found time to write an update on the reintroductions. On Tuesday night, I got back from Geneva after a very exciting trip to Switzerland with six young Scottish ospreys to help Nos Oiseaux, the Swiss ornithological NGO, get started with their project to restore the osprey as a breeding bird in their country after an absence of 100 years. Scottish Natural Heritage issued a special licence for me to collect six young from nests in Scotland for their inaugural year, always making certain one healthy young is left in each nest. The young were flown by BA from Aberdeen airport, fed on fresh fish by Tim Mackrill and I at the Heathrow Animal Reception Centre that evening, and were in the hacking cages near Lake Neuchatel on Tuesday. The hacking cages were excellent and it was wonderful to see the young ospreys start feeding themselves on pieces of fresh lake fish soon after reaching their new home. The weather was brilliant – bright blue skies and 37C – instead of the cold and rain of northern Scotland. Next morning, I checked their progress with the Swiss team, led by Dr Wendy Strahm, and all looked good for their new project, so time for me to return home.

hacking cages Swiiss

Hacking cages for young Ospreys in Switzerland

Michel Baud

Michel Baud, Chair of Nos Oiseaux Osprey Project, ready to put osprey in hacking cage

Dr Wendy Stahm and Denis Landenberque (project organisers) watching CCTV of chicks

Dr Wendy Strahm and Denis Landenberque (project organisers) watching CCTV of chicks

Earlier in July, we completed the year-three collection of young ospreys for the Basque country reintroduction. It has not been such a good year for breeding ospreys as the excellent 2014 season. We found that chicks were about 10% or so lower in weight and put this down to the very cold winds making the chicks use energy keeping warm in their eyries instead of putting on weight. At a few nests the removal of one young for translocation would have made it easier for the remaining chick to thrive. On 8th July 13 young ospreys were flown out from Aberdeen to the Basque Country of Spain via Heathrow, in the care of Dr Aitor Galarza of the Urdaibai osprey project. Once again we are very grateful to private landowners and the Forestry Commission Scotland for access to nests, SNH, Cites and Animal Health officers for permissions and permits, our vet Jane Harley, and to our excellent tree climbers, Ian and Fraser, and many other friends and colleagues who helped with this great project. It’s always a big team effort. This spring saw the return of the first translocated chicks, of the 2013 cohort, from Africa to north Spain. P2 returned to the exact area of the Urdaibai nest where he was released and is frequently using one of the man-made nests in the marsh. P1 was observed further west in  a coastal estuary in late April and it might have been this bird or a third yellow-ringed bird which was seen briefly at Urdaibai in July.

Osprey P2 in Urdaibai Estuary - photo Aitor Galarza

Osprey P2 in Urdaibai Estuary – photo Aitor Galarza


Osprey P1 on northcoast of Spain 27th April. Photo by FAPAS

Osprey P1 on northcoast of Spain 27th April. Photo by FAPAS


2015 chicks feeding inside Urdaibai hacking cages

2015 chicks feeding inside Urdaibai hacking cages

I also received recent news from Andalucia that Blue 18, from Scotland, was successful with her two year old mate and they have one young. Her nest is on top of a kestrel nest box – where the kestrels reared three young!  She is now 6 years old and I wonder where she was in her 3rd, 4th and 5th years – hopefully she was at an unknown nest successfully breeding.

blue 18  17715

Blue 18 with single chick at Odiel, Spain  16th July 2015  Photo Jose Sayago

Finally, Luis Palma of the Portuguese osprey reintroduction project sent me this photo of the pair of ospreys feeding two young on a sea stack, a very dramatic nest site he showed me many years ago on the Alentjo coast, when he first started discussions on restoring ospreys to Portugal. Luis and his team have released translocated young ospreys from Sweden or Finland in recent years at an inland lake. This new pair are unringed and their origin is unknown, but it would not surprise me that the presence of young ospreys in Portugal and breeding ospreys on the Odiel coast may have encouraged this pair to reclaim the ancient nest. Another encouraging sign of the recovery of breeding ospreys in southern Europe.

Breeding ospreys with two young coast of Portugal  Photo Luis Palma

Breeding ospreys with two young coast of Portugal Photo Luis Palma