Poole Harbour Osprey Translocation Project

The Poole Harbour Osprey Translocation Project started in 2017, initially as a 5 year project, but has since been extended. Birds of Poole Harbour is partnered with the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation and Wildlife Windows to restore a breeding population of Ospreys to the South Coast, through translocating up to 60 Osprey chicks from Scotland and releasing them in the Poole Harbour area.

Permission for the project to go ahead was granted by Natural England after substantial evidence that Poole Harbour would be a suitable habitat for Ospreys to breed, as well as being an ideal location for a reintroduction project because of the high numbers of Ospreys passing through the harbour on migration. Prior to the project, attempts were made to encourage Ospreys to stay in the area over 8 years. This included the installation of several nesting platforms around the harbour, as well as the use of “decoy” Ospreys, intended to give the impression of Poole Harbour a breeding site to migrating Ospreys. Despite interest in the area and an increasing population passing through, there had still been no known nesting attempts on the South Coast, and so in 2017 the reintroduction project was given the go ahead.

Following similar procedures to the Rutland reintroduction project, each year up to 14 Osprey chicks of around 7 weeks of age are removed from nests in Scotland by experts from the Roy Dennis Wildlife Foundation. They are extensively checked to ensure they are in good health and ringed with a blue Darvic ring, along with the remaining chicks in the nests. There is always at least one chick left in an Osprey nest; on rare occasions two will be taken, and only from a nest of three or more. The larger chicks in the nest are collected, which gives smaller chicks greater survival prospects due to lowered competition for food. The chicks are then bought down to Dorset in July and spend the next few weeks in specially designed hacking pens.

These pens each have space for up to 3 chicks, reflecting a similar environment to a natural Osprey nest. The area is large enough for the birds to make developmental short flights and display “helicoptering” behaviour, demonstrating when they are strong enough to be fly and be released. Fish is prepared and supplied to the chicks three times daily, fed through a small hatch at the back of the pens to minimise human contact. They are monitored throughout the day by a dedicated team of staff and volunteers using a high-quality camera for each pen. When all the birds have displayed important development behaviours, the Ospreys are ready to be released, and so they are fitted with a radio tag so that they can be tracked.

Following their release, the birds are still supplied with fish, but instead on feeding nests outside of the pens, which replicate the appearance of a natural nest. The progress of the juveniles is monitored through feeding cameras and regular scans using a yagi – specialist equipment used to locate the birds from their radio tags. The Ospreys stay close to the release site and within the Poole Harbour area for at least a month, strengthening their flight and increasing their body mass for their eventual migration. The juveniles will usually leave the Harbour between the end of August and the end of September, travelling to their wintering grounds which are typically in West Africa. The released Ospreys will then spend the next few years at this destination, maturing until they are ready to breed themselves. During the month spent exploring the area before they migrate, they imprint on the surrounding, and so when the birds are ready to return, they will recognise Dorset as home. This is highly important as male Ospreys set up territory and therefore look for nesting opportunities close to where they fledged, and so the success of the project relies upon them forming this connection with the local area.

To read about years 1-4 of the project, have a look at our blog pages.

Osprey Project Developments

2019 marked an exciting development in the project: one of the translocated Ospreys, LS7, returned for the first time! LS7 is a male Osprey from the 2017 cohort who had been spotted in Senegal in January 2018. He was seen back on the 12th of June 2019 and quickly met a female, CJ7, who has been summering in the area since 2017. CJ7 is offspring from a 2015 nest in Rutland and has spent 3 summers in Poole Harbour, seemingly attracted by the juveniles released through the project. Seeing juveniles in the area is an indicator of nesting suitability, and so she has stayed and waited for a male, very fortunately for LS7. The pair bonded throughout the summer of 2019, spending time nest building on different platforms around the harbour and they even attempted to mate. In preparation for this development, we fundraised over the winter of 2019/2020 for a live-stream camera to be mounted on the pair’s favoured nest.

We are pleased to say that the camera was installed in March 2020, in time for the return of potential nesting Ospreys. The camera enabled us to see the season unfold from our homes, offering a connection to wildlife for many people. CJ7 returned once again, and we witnessed her behaviour in setting up her territory, as well as laying unfertilised eggs, demonstrating her readiness to breed and her bond with the nesting site. Unfortunately, LS7 did not return in 2020, most likely due to poor weather systems during the migration period. Not only affecting young individuals like LS7, these conditions most likely affect many experienced Ospreys across the UK, making their migration unsuccessful or delaying their arrival. This led to a poor breeding season in Scotland, with several monitored nests no longer having pairs. This, coupled with the added difficulties of being unable to monitor nests during the UK lockdown, ultimately led to the 2020 translocation being unable to go ahead, resulting in the extension of the project.

There was more positive news in 2020, however, when another translocated Osprey from the project, this time a female ringed 014 from 2018, returned to the UK. 014 didn’t return to Poole Harbour, instead being first discovered on the Dyfi Osprey nest camera. She spent the remainder of the summer exploring different locations in Wales, frequently with a male Osprey in tow, and even ventured to Devon. Hopefully, we may see her back in Poole Harbour again at some point, but we’re please to see she made it back to the UK and looked well.

Poole Harbour Osprey Project Overview 2020

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