Osprey Project12/07/2017

Osprey Translocation Project – Schools IN for Summer

Fourteen Osprey chicks have arrived in Poole Harbour from Scotland as part of a five-year translocation project, which seeks to restore a south coast breeding population of this incredible bird of prey.

Ospreys, also known as Mullet Hawks because of their exclusive fish-eating habits once bred all across Western Europe, including southern Britain but were sadly persecuted to extinction, with the last known historic breeding attempt occurring on the Somerset Levels in 1847.

Project Background

Osprey are one of the UK’s largest birds of prey and specialise their diet entirely on fish. Seeing one catch a large fish from the surface of the water is a truly impressive spectacle. They were once widespread across Western Europe, but due to persecution and habitat destruction were almost wiped out from everywhere but they managed to re-establish a tiny population in Scotland in 1954. In the late 1990’s a pioneering project led by the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation re-established a breeding population of osprey at Rutland Water in the Midlands; a big coup for osprey conservation.

Local charity Birds of Poole Harbour are now working with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and local tech company Wildlife Windows to use the same methodology, translocation, to re-establish breeding osprey to the south coast of the UK, which will provide an important link up to birds breeding on the continent, central and northern England and Scotland.

What is Translocation?

Translocation is a commonly used method in wildlife conservation, involving moving individuals from a healthy, sustainable population to another suitable location with the goal to create another healthy population. For this project, chicks are collected under licence from Scottish breeding pairs and brought down to Poole. The chicks which remain completely wild and have no human interaction are acclimatised to the area in pens for 2-3 weeks before being released into the harbour, where they spend a further couple of weeks imprinting on the area (memorising it as ‘home’) before they migrate off to West Africa for two years prior to returning to breed for the first time.

The Story So Far

The project began in the summer of 2017 when eight Osprey were raised and released into Poole Harbour by the team. Incredibly, they received news this winter that two of them had been spotted in Western Senegal and one in the Gambia, Africa. In slightly less excellent news, it seems that one hade maybe been predated by a crocodile! Mortality is usually high in young osprey as their first migrations are full of danger, so losses are to be expected and is the reason why a total of 60 chicks will be released over the five-year project.

Each spring and autumn Poole Harbour sees good numbers of migrant Osprey passing through the area as they make their way back and forth between their breeding ground. Excitingly, it seems that the presence of the Osprey chicks in the harbour has encouraged osprey from other populations to stick around and check out the area as well. Last year, a two-year old female from Rutland, CJ7, fed and roosted with the Poole chicks at their release site for a week. This year on her spring migration up from Africa, she came straight back to the harbour where she was seen investigating several of the nesting platforms put up around the harbour in a previous effort to encourage osprey to breed. It’s hoped that next spring, she may arrive back at the same time as the Poole birds and begin thinking about setting up a territory around the harbour somewhere.

This Season

While the team wait with bated breath to see if any of the 2017 chicks return in the spring of 2019, the team are gearing up for a bumper release this year due to the arrival of the fourteen new chicks with the release scheduled for August. Each of the fourteen newly arrived birds has a unique numbered leg ring, which for this year will be 001 – 014. Whilst in the pens the birds will be fed by a small team of dedicated volunteers three times a day on freshly cut fish which for a second year in a row has been kindly donated to the project by Poole based fresh fish supplier Seafresh.

Paul Morton, co-founder of the Birds of Poole Harbour charity stated: I can’t believe we’re in the second year of the project already, it only feels like yesterday we were putting the application together. We’ve already successfully raised and released eight chicks last year and to have another fourteen this summer is really exciting. The project has had so much nationwide support and we can’t thank everyone enough for their kind words.

There is currently a life-size osprey nest, built by Jason Fathers of Wildlife Windows, on display in the Birds of Poole Harbour HQ on Poole Quay for visitors to see, and this nest will go out into the harbour to be used by the birds later this season. Due to popular demand, the team have also put on a number of Osprey cruises this August so that they can speak to the public about the project whilst cruising around the pristine setting of Poole Harbour and perhaps seeing an Osprey or two.

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