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Episode 13: The new season starts: rebuilding an osprey nest

8th April 1960 was the day when Roy Dennis saw his first ever osprey, while working at the famous Loch Garten site in the Highlands of Scotland. Sixty years on, he’s still working with the birds, and this podcast was recorded in early March as (with colleagues Fraser Cormack and Ian Perks) he sets out to rebuild a local osprey nest which is in danger of collapse.

This podcast was recorded before the introduction of restrictions on movement due to coronavirus.

Episode 12: The white-tailed ‘eagle effect’ on the Isle of Wight

This podcast hears from the Isle of Wight, ten weeks after the release of six white-tailed eagles in the last place they bred in England, 240 years ago.   Two of the project’s  volunteer team – biologist Tracy Dove and ornithologist Jim Baldwin – and Forestry England’s White-tailed Eagle Project Officer, Steve Egerton-Read, talk about whether there has been an ‘eagle effect’ on the island since their release.  Has widespread interest in the birds spread out to a broader interest in nature and the environment?   Of course, with a project like this, aiming to introduce 60 young eagles to the island over five years, ups and downs are to be expected, and the three discuss how they have reacted to the highs – the presence of eagles once again on the island and the fact that most are thriving and learning to survive independently – as well as to the lows, including the death of one of the birds.

Episode 11: White-tailed eagles: their reintroduction to Scotland

The white-tailed eagle had been absent from Scotland for forty years when the very first attempt at reintroduction took place in 1958. A later project, led in 1968 by Roy Dennis and George Waterston on Fair Isle, between Orkney and Shetland, was groundbreaking but also unsuccessful, due largely to the very small number of birds involved. This podcast, though, hears from John Love, in conversation with Roy, as he talks about his ten years on the Hebridean island of Rum, site of the first successful reintroduction of sea eagles to Scotland, led by John in partnership with Roy and others. Eleven consecutive years and a total of 83 eagles brought in from Norway (with invaluable support from the RAF) led to success for this precursor to similar reintroduction projects, such as the current one on the Isle of Wight.

Episode 10: White-tailed eagles: side by side with other species

In this episode we talk to Dr Allan Mee about the experience of the Irish White-tailed Eagle project, which released 100 chicks over 5 years from 2007, and saw the first successful breeding in 2012. We also hear how, despite their size, the birds are not easy to track down, even if satellite-tagged. One of the Isle of Wight birds has recently wandered to Oxfordshire, but sightings have been few and far between. Even if we humans struggle to see it, the local birdlife is always well aware of its presence, and the podcast explores the relationship between other carrion eaters – such as red kites, jackdaws and magpies – and this mighty newcomer to their patch.

Episode 9: The adaptability of ospreys

As the satellite-tagged osprey Deshar continues to seek a permanent spot in West Africa in which to settle, this podcast looks at how ospreys on their first migration have to compete for space with older birds unwilling to give up prime locations. Roy Dennis explains how ospreys learn to adapt to fishing in foreign waters, facing new hazards such as crocodiles, and hears from The Gambia on how juveniles cope with the hostility of more experienced birds. Because each bird is an individual, with its own particular skills, we also hear how some are simply better than others at finding enough to eat.

From Morocco, too, we hear news of what killed Carr, the brother of Deshar, whose remains were found on the edge of a reservoir in Morocco. At first thought to have fallen prey to a fox or a dog, the bird was not, in fact, killed by a mammal at all, and Roy explains how a glance at the feathers and bones was enough to explain its death.

Episode 8: The hazards of osprey migration

With the migrations of young ospreys Carr and Deshar being followed step-by-step online, with detailed data fed back via their satellite tags, this podcast hears what has happened to them, and looks at the dangers faced by all young birds as they fly south to Africa. Starting with the example of one young osprey, translocated from Scotland to Poole Harbour by Roy Dennis and his team, along with ten other chicks, the podcast looks at the slim chances of a safe arrival at their wintering grounds for juvenile birds, and hears stories of amazing birds which survived, against all the odds, to return to breed in Scotland. With our increasing ability to engage with the journeys of individual birds, via satellite technology, are we able to remain objective when one fails to complete its migration?

Episode 7: The migration of young ospreys Carr and Deshar

Two juvenile ospreys – Carr and Deshar, satellite-tagged by Roy Dennis in the summer – are on their way from the north of Scotland to their wintering grounds in Africa. Migrating for the first time, and entirely on instinct, the birds, both from the same nest, are flying independently and taking very different routes. Crossing sea, desert and mountain ranges, the birds are being followed online by the children of two local primary schools, closely associated with the nests and the local estate. This podcast outlines the hazards the birds are facing, but also the huge value of engaging children in the importance of protecting wildlife. Education is also key in The Gambia, and the podcast hears from both ends of the ospreys’ flypath about the benefits they bring, as well as the dangers they face.

Episode 6: White-tailed eagles part 3: Culver’s flight to London and beyond

Of the six white-tailed eagles released on the Isle of Wight in August by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, in partnership with Forestry England, five have been content to remain largely on the island. The sixth, named Culver after Culver Cliff, the last place in which sea eagles bred on the Isle of Wight more than 200 years ago, set off for a mammoth journey to London and beyond, returning after eight days to where he began.

This podcast talks to people who saw him pass overhead – and surprising few did, considering that he’s a bird with an eight-foot wingspan – and explores what those sightings meant to them.

Episode 5: Ospreys part 3: the young birds are released

Continuing the story of the translocation of eleven osprey chicks from Scotland to Poole Harbour on the south coast of England. The birds are released but stay close by, until the urge to migrate sends them on a hazardous journey to Africa.

Episode 4: White-tailed eagles part 2: the birds’ release on the Isle of Wight

Continuing the story of six white-tailed eagle chicks, translocated by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation, working in partnership with Forestry England, from nests in Scotland to the Isle of Wight, off England’s south coast. This project aims to re-establish the birds in the place where they last bred in England, 240 years ago.

The podcast records the work that went into preparing the birds for their release, and hears how emotional it can be to see these majestic and long-absent birds return to the skies over England.

Episode 3: White-tailed eagles part 1: the journey from Scotland to the Isle of Wight

The release of six white-tailed eagle chicks on the Isle of Wight has made national headlines, as it’s a reintroduction of Britain’s largest bird of prey after an absence of 240 years. The white-tailed eagle was killed out by man, rather than by poor habitat or inadequate food, and it’s hoped that the 60 birds which are due to be released in the five years of this project, a partnership with Forestry England, will go on to establish a population, building on the success of similar reintroductions in Scotland.

In this episode listen as Roy and the team collect and care for the six young eagles in Scotland before their journey to the Isle of Wight.

Episode 2: Ospreys part 2: the chicks leave Scotland

Continuing the story of a batch of osprey chicks being translocated from the Highlands of Scotland to Poole Harbour on the south coast of England, this podcast explains what young birds require if they are to thrive, and hears how Roy Dennis learned the skills he has needed to run successful translocation projects over many years.

This episode – recorded in the field in Scotland and at the birds’ new home in Poole – explains why translocations can benefit not only populations as a whole, but individual birds, too. In years when many young chicks die due to a lack of food, or because of bad weather, a young bird’s chances of survival can be improved if it is moved elsewhere.  And being moved to an area where there is less competition for nest sites mean that the birds can potentially begin to breed much earlier, once they are old enough, than they might have done in a part of the country where there is fierce competition with others.

Roy and his colleague Tim Mackrill explain the apparently simple process by which chicks are nurtured, placed in temporary ‘nests’ and taken 600 miles south by road to their new home.  In Dorset, the Birds of Poole Harbour team, which will be responsible for caring for the young birds for the next few weeks, settle them in to their hacking cages, start to make careful observations of their behaviour and look forward to the day when they can be released back into the wild, ready to migrate for the first time to Africa.  Should they survive that dangerous first migration, the birds, especially the males, should return to Poole, from where they left, and – it’s hoped – go on to establish a new population on the south coast.

Music credit: Realness by Kai Engel, form the Free Music Archive

Episode 1: Ospreys part 1: collecting chicks

It is year three of a five-year project, that sees us working in collaboration with the conservation charity Birds of Poole Harbour, aiming to send a total of 60 young ospreys from the Highlands of Scotland to the south coast of England.  It’s not that Scotland has ‘enough’ ospreys and can afford to pass some on: it’s more that a population at saturation point, as it is in Roy’s study area, means that birds have less chance of breeding.  If some young are moved, the idea is that they will return from migration, if they survive, to find a mate in their adopted area, and have the space to breed there without undue competition from other ospreys.

In recordings made largely as they carry out their fieldwork, Roy and his team (Tim Mackrill and tree climbers Fraser Cormack and Ian Perks) describe the privilege of working with these special creatures, and of being allowed an insight into the lives of a species which, only recently, was on the brink of extinction in the UK.

Music credit:  Realness by Kai Engel, from the Free Music Archive