Poole Harbour Osprey Translocation 2019

Really great news that 11 young Scottish ospreys, the class of 2019, are now flying free at Poole Harbour, in this the third year of the translocation project we are running in partnership with Birds of Poole Harbour and local Poole-based business, Wildlife Windows. It was a difficult year in Scotland to collect young because the weather was very changeable; we also found that there was tremendous variation in the ages of the chicks. For example, one nest contained three big young of over five weeks old while at the nearest nest, there was a single chick that was less than two weeks of age. This was of course due to the difficult weather on migration in April for the birds coming back through southern Europe from West Africa, reflected by many summer migrants ,including the house martins that nest on my neighbour’s house.

My monitoring in the first days of July showed which pairs had young suitable for us to collect under licence from Scottish Natural Heritage. We also made a decision to delay it for a couple of days so that we knew the young would be larger. Tim Mackrill came up to help me finish off the holding pens where the young live on nice soft beds of moss and hay, just like nests. It’s where we keep the birds for the few days between collection and translocation to Poole. Each day, new chicks are placed together in ‘sibling’ units of three, which very quickly learn to eat the cut-up trout. During this time they cannot see people.

The chicks are translocated to Poole at approximately 6 weeks of age

Ian Perks climbing to one of the Osprey nests

The tree climbing team was again our friends, Ian Perks and Fraser Cormack, who are not only brilliant climbers but are also very careful and competent with the young. During our three days of osprey ringing, we collected nine young ospreys and on the last day Tim had a long drive north to Caithness and back, to collect two young male ospreys from a nest on farm, where a week earlier with our farmer friend we had ringed three excellent osprey chicks, one female and two males.  That night Tim and Ian drove south and the next day the eleven young were safely in the hacking cages at Poole.

In the spring, I had visited the new location for the osprey release, which had been set up on private land by Paul Morton of Birds of Poole Harbour and Jason Fathers of Wildlife Windows. I regarded it as an excellent release site with much better places for the ospreys to perch once released, and with greater security. On 30th July, Tim and I revisited and met up with the full team including Paul, Brittany and Jason, and the two new assistants Lucy and Olivia. I was immediately struck, when viewing with the CCTV in each cage, that the young ospreys were all in excellent condition, with all of them feeding well on trout and looking very ready to be released. During the morning all of them were caught so that we could re-measure and weigh them, and, importantly, to carefully attach a tiny 2 gm transmitter to a central tail feather for monitoring purposes during the first few weeks.  I was immediately impressed that all were in perfect condition. Like many migratory birds they lay down fat on the sides of their breasts as a store of energy for the long flight south. That evening I departed for Scotland very satisfied that the third year of the project was looking great.

Roy with one of the young Ospreys after fitting it with a tail-mounted radio transmitter. This helps the team to monitor the young birds after release.

Four days later, just after dawn, Tim joined Paul and the team at Poole and started to remotely release birds in sequence from the hacking pens. The ospreys quickly found safe perching places in large trees near the hacking site and within a day, the first of them were coming back to the cages or the special feeding platform nests for trout. It was fascinating that within a day of being released the two ‘resident’ ospreys now living in Poole Harbour found the new arrivals.

Adult female, CJ7, on one of the feeding nests with a translocated juvenile

Paul and Brittany had told us about the return in Spring of the Rutland Water female CJ7, which has decided that she wants to breed in Poole Harbour. She regularly visited nests that had been built by us around the harbour and, finally in late June, she was joined by the two-year-old male LS7, which was translocated to Poole Harbour in 2017 and was seen in Senegal that winter. Once they found each other they were regularly at nests, carrying sticks and the male taking fish back to the nest for the female. Of course it was too late this year for them to breed, but we hope that both survive the next migrations and their winters in Africa and that they meet again next spring at Poole. That would be magnificent: the first ’mullet hawks’ to reclaim the ancestral breeding grounds.  And of course others might return and join them, while migrants, especially females, passing over the harbour might decide to stay for it is absolutely top-class osprey habitat, with plentiful supplies of grey mullet.

The Foundation has made a series of podcasts about our projects; the first about the collection of young ospreys for Poole is now out. Click the link below to listen.