Richard Page, an ocean campaigner for Greenpeace International contacted me a few weeks ago. He had a couple of months off planned and was thinking of going over to west Africa for a spot of birding. Not only that, he was wondering if he could be of any use in trying to find any of the 2011 Dyfi tracked ospreys!
I explained to Richard the situation regarding Einion and passed to him his last coordinates, including the general area he had been in since mid February. Einion's last GPS location point was sent back to us on July 22nd at 14:00. He had been at this same general location on a beach 13 miles south of St Louis for just over five months.
The map below shows all of Einion's GPS positions from mid February right up to July 22nd. The tall columns of points that you can see represent favourite perches that Einion had; these would be used for eating, roosting and just general perching.
Click to enlarge
Richard didn't find Einion, but his written account of his search makes for fascinating reading nonetheless. The following are extracts from Richard's diary of his west African trip which pertain to his search for Einion…
"Small encounters of this kind are the unexpected delights of travelling in Africa, but before setting out to Senegal we had set ourselves a clear wildlife related mission to look for Einion one of three young Welsh ospreys that had been fitted with satellite tracking devices in 2011 by the Dyfi Osprey Project in collaboration with BBC’s Autumnwatch. Stas and I had visited with friends the public observation centre overlooking the Dyfi nest just prior to the hatching of the three eggs that year. We had been most impressed at the work the Dyfi Osprey Project had put into enticing the ospreys to breed on an artificial nest, made all the more real by streaking with white paint, and the way the team of staff and volunteers had set up the public information centre and hide. More than twenty years earlier I was working for the RSPB’s Welsh office and every so often ospreys would be reported passing through the area. The hope was always that after centuries of persecution this magnificent bird would once again breed in Wales. Hence the news when I heard it that ospreys were once again breeding in Wales had brought me particular pleasure.
Eionion’s story is wonderfully told on the Dyfi Osprey Project’s website and his travels have been recorded right up until the 22nd of July this year. At that point in time, his location was just south of St Louis in northern Senegal on the coastal lagoon that separates the mainland from La Longue de Barbarie, 2,000 hectares of sandy spit that runs across the mouth of the Senegal River. After July 22nd the voltage on his tracking device was seen to drop and the device stopped sending GPS data. This, suggested to the project’s Emyr Evans, that the little solar panel which charges the device might have become obscured by feathers as a result of moulting and hence it was no longer working. When I spoke to the friendly Welshman shortly before departing to Senegal, Emyr was optimistic that we might find Einion and very pleased that we might go and search for him. Although I am no expert birder, ospreys are easily identified and armed with a pair of binoculars it might be possible to make out the tracking device’s aerial or maybe, if we struck really lucky, the blue band on his leg where he’d been ringed. So armed with Einion’s GPS coordinates and links to the google maps data charting his movements to date and the details of a French born birdwatcher, Frederic, based near St Louis, who had previously helped find the Welsh birds, ‘Operation Einion’ didn’t seem such a hare-brained scheme to try and find the missing osprey……
A couple of hours later back at the hotel, contemplating the grey, green waters of the Senegal River lapping in the welcome breeze my expectations for a successful Operation Einion were even higher. Sipping a bottle of Flag beer and enjoying the some blues playing on the hotel stereo I looked out over the river. The river was not so different to how I imagine the broad Mississippi must appear in some places and so the music seemed entirely fitting, and, as we all now acknowledge, the blues has its origins here in West Africa.
Operation Einion proves to a rather leisurely expedition with us hooking up with our trusty guide and driver at the rather civilised time of nine in the morning after breakfast. Driving along the coastal route out of St Louis, we stop to pick up a water melon from a roadside vendor and scan the rapidly drying out lagoons on either side for ospreys and other birds. Cormorants sit on the gunnels of moored pirogues and on one sandbank we see three grey pelicans, the other species found in this region. Around the edge of many of these lagoons are multiple conical heaps of salt covered in bits of sacking and other debris. The women collect the salt which is used domestically for cooking and preserving fish. I have seen similar piles along India’s east coast.
18 kilometres south of St Louis and we are deposited in the fishing village of Mouit. Under a large tree (a bantaba – meeting place) a group of women dressed in brightly coloured clothes have set out items for sale and are chatting cheerfully. It is the same scene that can be seen in countless villages across Africa and one that never ceases to make me smile.
We walk through the village stopping to enjoy the sight of a hornbill. Often spotted in flight from a bus or taxi window, hornbills for me always bring to mind the balsa wood aeroplanes of my childhood, with the metal weight that you had to clip to the nose in the right place to get the balance exactly right.
Five minutes later and we are on the banks of the lagoon looking at the palm fringed bank opposite. Two small boys are taking turns with a small blunt sickle at cutting handfuls of grass, which they stuff into a sack. The grass is to be fed to the sheep or mouton that will be killed and eaten at the forthcoming Tabaski festival. A pirogue is pulled up on the mud and talks to the son of the pirogue owner who is currently back home from Dakar where he is studying at University. The pirogue owner appears and goes off again and a few minutes later comes back, shouldering a heavy outboard.
Chugging out into the lagoon it is only a matter of minutes before I spy a raptor on a dead beach on the mainland bank. ‘Balbuzzard pecheur,’ says Yakyha. I am not so sure but once I have him in view through the binoculars it is clear that we have already seen our first osprey. Although silhouetted against the morning sun, there’s no mistaking the bird is indeed an osprey with the scruff of feathers that constitute the nuchal crest. This is confirmed when he takes wing.
Is this a good omen I wonder or perhaps this is the only osprey we will spot all day? The sun is blazing down on us and small fish are jumping, skimming across our bows. I admire a little tern as it dives for fish and figure it’s going to be one of those days when the living is easy.
As it happens we have a much better view of our second osprey of the day. Perched on a sign on an island in the middle of the lagoon which in season provides a haven for a thriving colony of gulls, we can admire the bird and its distinctive markings including the dark eye stripe. This is a fantastic view and if this individual had been fitted with a satellite tracking device I am sure I would have been able to make out the aerial.
We travel further south, scanning the trees for more ospreys, trying not to get distracted by the other birds, a pair of spindly purple herons, a pied kingfisher skimming low across the water and a curlew which begins its mournful call which is vaguely disturbing as it is a sound that evokes chilly, rainy days, tramping across moors and mudflats wrapped in my tattered Barbour, not bright sunshine.
Another island with some tall trees proves to be osprey central, I spot one osprey and Yakhya points there is another two trees to the right. It transpires that in fact there either four or five individuals are perched in close vicinity to each other. As we get closer one takes wing and we watch it circle around us. Our view is good enough for me to note that it is a juvenile with a distinctive buff colour edging the dark feathers of its upper parts.
And so it goes as we continue to slow pass along the bank of the tongue of sand. La Langue de la Barbarie is a national park and completely protected and so is a safe environment for the many birds that make it their home for some or all of the year.
We see three more ospreys as we slowly peruse the vegetation. One is so close I can clearly see its legs and would have spotted a band had it been ringed. I am fully taking it in, when the pirogue owner’s mobile rings and the osprey takes umbrage and flies off with shallow but powerful wing beats at one moment it’s talons just clipping the water.
Eventually after several hours or maybe no time at all, it is suggested we land on la Longue de Barbarie itself and have a picnic lunch. We are taken to a customary spot and make our way ashore paddling through the warm shallows. An orchestra of small fiddler crabs, ‘crabes violinistes’ in French, pop back into their burrows as we pass and grasshopper after grasshopper springs up in front of us as we make our way to some shade under the trees. Across the way we can hear the pounding of the breakers on the seaward shore. Stas and I are invited to explore the beach while a modest fire is built. The white sand beach stretches for miles and is marred only by the mass of plastic debris, millions of bits of indistinguishable rubbish, cracked buckets and tangles of lost fishing net and odd sandals. Plastic rubbish is a huge problem in Senegal and Yakhya notes that even the students who come to the island occasionally to picnic don’t take their rubbish back with them. It is one of the many issues which needs greater ‘sensibilisation’ – a word much used by my Greenpeace colleagues and others – before an effective action plan can be developed to tackle the issue.
After a fine lunch of roast fish with delicious onion and lemon sauce followed by a pot of a tourist-lite ataaya tea, I have time to reflect on an extraordinary morning.
We didn’t find Einion, but I can’t categorically say we didn’t see him either. Our search was not systematic and it would have been good to explore the entire stretch of the lagoon to the south and north over a number of days. What I do know is that the peaceful lagoon on the sheltered side of La Longue de Barbarie is a great place to while away the time and that for an adolescent osprey it is a good place to hang with plenty of fish to build up sufficient energy for when the time comes to make the long journey back to the equally special but palm-less estuarine habitat of Mid-Wales."
Einion - click to enlarge
So there we are, the mystery continues.
Let me put on record once again my thoughts regarding Einion - one thing is absolutely clear. For that last week of proper GPS transmissions we received back from his transmitter, the voltage was dropping like a stone. By the time we got to July 22nd it was below 3.7V, too low to send back accurate GPS location points. After that, we received some non-GPS data up to August 4th, and then nothing.
Here are those last few bits of data - note the last column on the right, those are the tracker voltages.
Clearly, by August 4th, the tracker's voltage was so low it just gave up. For whatever reason, the solar panel in the tracker was not providing enough solar energy to charge the unit. Throughout this time the activity readings were normal, indicating that Einion was moving around. In fact, I can't see anything in the data that suggests Einion was in any kind of trouble. Everything is normal apart from the voltage readings.
Here is a graph showing the voltage drop starting July 15th
I would sincerely like to thank Richard Page for all his time and efforts in trying to find Einion for us, and also for writing up a diary of his 'Operation Einion' as he called it. As I write, our good friend Frederic has returned to Senegal after a stint in Sri Lanka. He's not too far from Einion's last known range, so let's hope Frederic can continue Richard's good work and track him down.
Is Einion still alive? I'm pretty certain he was up to August 4th when the tracker packed up. After this it looks like a transmitter malfunction due to insufficient power charging. Perhaps now is as good a time as any to let you into a bit of a secret..
Some of you may remember the mad rush to try and acquire three trackers for the Dyfi ospreys last June. Einion, Dulas and Leri were already three weeks old when we collaborated with the BBC and decided to go ahead with the tracker project. We only had around two weeks to get hold of three trackers and arrange for Roy to come down and fit them. The trackers are manufactured in Maryland, USA, and have a four to five month lead time, so ordering new ones was out of the question. Well, there were two brand new units already in the country that were not being used in 2011, so we got those. The only other tracker available was a reconditioned unit that had already been used on another osprey in 2010.
The Lake District Osprey Project had used this tracker on their 2010 chick 'Number 11'. Sadly this bird had died in January of the following year and his remains, including his tracker, retrieved from the Sahara desert. The unit was sent back to Maryland for reconditioning and it is this tracker that Einion had. You can read about Number 11 here.
Whether this tracker, which technically was second-hand, was more prone to malfunctioning or whether it is pure coincidence that Einion had it, we just don't know. I know one thing for sure though - there will be an awful lot of stiff neck complaints at the local surgery in Machynlleth next April and May. Now what a story that would be.
Einion in Senegal - January 2012 © Arnault Vatinal
Just a quick update on Einion. We're a little bit worried about some of the latest data coming through for him. The transmissions have been getting weaker since July 16th and no GPS points (the points you see on Google Earth) have been sent since July 22nd.
An in depth look at his electronic data shows that from around July 15th onwards, his battery voltage has decreased sharply. It should be around 3.9 to 4.0 Volts. Below around 3.7V and the signals get weaker and sometimes impossible to interpret.
Lack of solar energy would explain a drop in voltage but looking at the weather over in Senegal where he is, it's been partially sunny most days. Maybe feathers moulting through have obscured the little solar panel?
On the positive side, up to the last GPS point sent July 22nd his movements look normal so it seems that the voltage drain is happening whilst Einion is behaving and moving normally. His next data download is due this Tuesday, July 31st. Fingers crossed.
UPDATE July 31st. 20:00. We've just received the latest batch of data from Einion and it's pretty much more of the same. The battery voltage has been as low as 3.3 but is now fluctuating between 3.5 and 3.6. The problem is, at these low voltage levels the transmitter doesn't send any GPS points.
The activity readings are changing however indicating that the transmitter is moving but to be honest, at these low battery levels it's hard to know which bits of the data are authentic and which are not. The solar panel on the tracker is receiving sunlight, there's no doubt of that, but not enough to transmit robust signals. We need a battery voltage of around 3.7 and over.
This is just my personal take on it.. I'm keeping positive. Einion's mantle (back) feathers will be moulting at around this time and he'll grow new adult feathers. If one or a few of these feathers are blocking the solar panel then the behaviour of the data is consistent with this. And remember, the tracker started to lose voltage from July 15th onwards and Einion's data is completely normal for a week after this, meaning, Einion was seemingly fine whilst the tracker started to lose power. The next data download is due August 4th. Thinking positive.
UPDATE August 13th. We have not received any data from Einion's tracker at all since August 4th. We should have received downloads on August 8th and 12th.
It looks like his tracker is not receiving enough sunlight to power up properly and transmit signals back. We have seen this happen in other ospreys (and other species) only for the tracker to burst back into like once it is exposed to sunlight again. We obviously hope this is the case for Einion. We continue to remain positive. Remember, Einion was moving and behaving normally for the first week that the tracker started to lose electrical power, suggesting it is a power problem and not something more serious. Chin up.
UPDATE - August 24th. Still nothing from Einion's tracker but our friend Martyn who lives around 150 miles away from where Einion has been for the last few months, has been to look for him.
Nothing decisive, the ospreys there are in a sparsely populated area and take off readily as you approach them. Martyn did see "at least four ospreys, probably more". This is good news on two counts. Clearly, the area Einion is in is a good spot for ospreys but also, one of these birds may actually have been Einion. Remember that the vast majority of ospreys that wintered in this area will now be in Europe, so there are only one year old ospreys left. Statistically then, this results in a higher probability that one of the four birds Martyn saw was Einion as opposed to, say, in another month's time when the place will be awash with ospreys again.
Many thanks Martyn for taking the time to go looking for Einion on your week off and reporting your sightings back.
June 5th, 2011 was a very special day for a lot of people at the Dyfi Osprey Project. It was also a special day for osprey recovery in Wales. For the fist time in over 400 years in the Dyfi valley, mid Wales, this happened:
Einion's first struggle in life was to crawl out of his egg shell - June 5th, 2011
By the morning of June 5th last year we had begun to wonder whether any of Nora and Monty's three eggs were going to hatch, they were so late. With a much more basic camera system than we have this year, we had been zooming in and out for days looking for the first signs of life coming from the three eggs. When it happened though, there was no mistaking what was going on. The visitor centre was full all day - it was a Sunday. News spread quickly and by 3.35pm grown men (and women) were seen crying, watching the two live screens. The tiny visitor centre was physically shaking and people that had never met before were embracing. Einion had hatched.
Wildlife watching moments like this are very rare and special, and will be indelibly imprinted on the minds of many of us that were there that day. I suppose the only emotional comparison would be to realise, with your family all around you, that your six numbers have come up and you have just won the lottery - only better.
From very early on it was obvious that this little bird was a bit different. He was very independent with an "I can look after myself" attitude. By six weeks old he weighed a healthy 1470g and had a wing span of 338mm when on July 19th our friend Roy Dennis came down from Scotland to ring and tag him.
Roy places a blue 'Darvic' ring on Einion's right leg
Roy and Tony Cross (Welsh Kite Trust) also checked Einion for general signs of health - he was in fantastic condition with none of the tell-tale signs of stunted growth or any other weakness. He had been fed and looked after well by two parents that had never raised young before.
Healthy tail feather growth showing no signs of 'fault-lines'
Aged seven weeks and three days, Einion fledged the nest and a young osprey flew over the Dyfi River for the first time in centuries. It was a Wright brothers moment - the short flight duration was far outweighed by the significance of it.
On the morning of August 31st at 09:05, Einion flew off his Dyfi nest for the last time and he was gone. My colleague Alwyn and I had been watching him eat a good sized mullet shortly after 07:00 that day and we kind of knew that Einion was preparing himself for the greatest journey of his short life to date. By the time we closed the visitor centre that day, Einion was in north Devon and by night fall he was roosting for the night just to the west of Plymouth!
The first satellite tagged Welsh osprey had started his southerly migration. The following day he was in France and by day three he was on the north Spanish border - rather than hug the coast of France he had flown 350 miles straight over the Bay of Biscay, which took him 13 hours to complete. A week after leaving his Dyfi nest Einion was in Africa where he stopped off for a few weeks near Casablanca, Morocco.
Exactly four weeks after leaving Wales, Einion had made it safely to Senegal, and he's still there. He initially settled in Somone Lagoon Reserve just to the south of Dakar, where incredibly, Roy and the BBC Autumnwatch team caught up with him in early November.
By mid February he was moving again and flew north to a coastal area just south of St Louis where he remains to this day. During his first year of life, Einion has already taught us much about osprey behaviour and migration. Will he stay where he is? Time will tell, but he's been there almost four months now having certainly secured good fishing spots and feeding and roosting perches.
A year in the life of a young Welsh osprey
As Einion's parents are protecting and nurturing his new brothers/sisters 3,000 miles away in cool and rainy Wales, you can somehow imagine Einion sat on a favourite perch somewhere with a red mullet in his talons, peering over a holiday-brochure blue sea. Just as we have seen many two year old blue ringed ospreys pass over the Dyfi nest during the last few weeks, we all hope that as he approaches his second birthday, Einion will be yet another of those birds in 2013. To many of us though, Einion is not 'just another bird'.
Happy Birthday - Penblwydd Hapus Einion
Andy Rouse's stunning image of Einion just before he started his epic journey to Africa in August 2011.
With all the excitement of new cameras and pulling long cables of late, we shouldn't forget how our boys are doing in Africa of course.
On February 17th Einion departed the Somone Lagoon Reserve which had been his home since early October. Why would he leave?
Having moved slowly up the Senegalese Atlantic coast, Einion has been settled for the last week or so at an another National Park. He must like them! This time he's in Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie. This is what Wikitravel say:
The Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie is an ecosystem rich and varied. It is a unique combination of environments (mangroves, sand dunes, the Senegal River, the Langue de Barbarie, tidal wetlands, the beach, and the ocean). Here many different species thrive, crabs, lizards, and over 160 species birds can be found throughout the park.
Lo and behold, this is very close to where our friend Frederic lives! He's just sent us this photo he took recently from the Park, almost exactly where Einion is now.
Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie © John Wright
And just on the spot where Einion was positioned last night, our friends from Rutland Water were osprey spotting last year!
Tim, John and Paul from Rutland Water (where Einion's Mum is from) at the Parc National de la Langue de Barbarie in 2011 © Frédéric Bacuez
Will Einion stay here? He's nine months old and right now he'll be seeing other ospreys disappear quicker than he can say Slippery Sardine.
Einion has survived his 3,500 mile migration from Wales, intense competition from established, adult ospreys and the onset of a particularly harsh dry season this year. In another month, all ospreys that were born before last year will have left Africa for Europe and the dry season should not affect him on the coast. Is he over the worst? Fingers crossed.
Merci pour les photos Frédéric
Today Einion is eight months old exactly. He was the first osprey chick to scramble out of an osprey egg in 400 years on the Dyfi, mid-Wales. His short life so far has been quite eventful - after hatching on June 5th he was ringed and satellite tagged 44 days later on July 19th. At 52 days old he flew for the first time and five weeks exactly after fledging his nest, he set off on migration at the age of 87 days.
Einion just moments before he flew for the first time - July 27th, 2011
On the morning of August 31st, Einion set off from mid Wales and by tea time he had reached Plymouth. The following day he was in Brittany and the next, northern Spain. After a week he had made it to sunny Gibraltar and two days later he was in Morocco where he stayed for over two weeks, mid way between Casablanca and Marrakech. Four weeks after setting off from Wales he had reached Senegal - September 29th, and he's still there.
Six weeks after Einion had started his migration he stumbled upon the Somone Lagoon Reserve on October 5th - a restored wetland which is maintained by the local community, he is still there now. This is where Roy Dennis caught up with him last November with the BBC's Autumnwatch team. Roy didn't manage to get close up views but a local photographer did - just three weeks ago (see 'You Won't Believe This' blog). Below is another shot from the series of images that Arnault Vatinel photographed that day..
Einion in Somone, Senegal. January 15th, 2012. © Arnault Vatinal
What can we tell from this image? Einion looks in good condition, he seems to be fishing well, his leg ring (Blue DH) is still in place and his feathers look tatty. This is quite normal for first winter ospreys - his feathers have gone through a full growing cycle, (all at once of course - the only time this will happen), a 3,500 mile migration in searing heat, and have taken all the punishment that an un-experienced osprey will throw at them. Older, experienced ospreys will successfully catch a fish every three or four diving attempts. For young birds this success ratio is more like one in 10. Einion has probably dived into water is search of prey over 1,000 times in the five months of his life since Monty gave him his last free lunch at the Dyfi - that's a lot of wear and tear on his feathers.
The good news is that he won't need to make another long migration for another year, in which time every single feather on his body will have been replaced by new ones. In fact, there is evidence that this moult is already starting to happen - have a look at P3, that's Primary feather number three (or counting eight feathers inwards from the outermost 'finger' feather at the tip of the wing, there are 10 primary feathers on each wing). Both left and right P3 feathers seem to be replacements and this is a text-book osprey moulting pattern - the next to moult will be P4 then P5 and so on until all the primaries are replaced.
Einion will see a big change soon. The vast majority of his species will suddenly disappear in the next few days and weeks as they depart Africa to travel back to Europe to breed. This will mean less competition for fish and perching places for him - one more reason hopefully to be a little bit more optimistic for our boy in Senegal. If your new to the website and would like to see a video of Einion hatching on that memorable day last June - you can find it in this 'The Magic Day' blog.
Martyn Fielder, a keen birder and avid follower of the Dyfi ospreys, lives in Dakar, Senegal. He's just around 25 miles north of where Einion has been calling home for the last few months - the Somone Lagoon Reserve. This is where Roy Dennis finally managed to track Einion down on Autumnwatch recently. Martyn too has been a few times to try and catch a glimpse of Einion and on his second attempt managed to see him. He sent us this report a couple of weeks ago:
"Following Einion’s brief excursion to Sine Saloum I can confirm that on Saturday morning at about 11am he was sitting on a mangrove root on the north side of his favourite mangrove patch, eating a fish of some sort. My guide assumed it was a mullet. I’d hired a boat and had already seen many ospreys by the time we came across Einion, including one that dived successfully for a fish – I’d never seen that before.
I don’t know how many I’d seen, but 10 would be a conservative estimate of the number in Somone. I was actually changing the battery in my camera when I spotted a bird on a root just a few inches above the water, and whenever he bent down to eat, the radio antenna was clearly visible above his back. It has acquired a slight kink. He had a blue ring on his right leg but I was unable to read it – I only have 8x25 binoculars. We watched for a few minutes while I frantically tried to get one of my batteries to work, but to no avail. We then went on an unsuccessful search for someone with a camera and by the time we got back Einion had gone. However I was very happy to have finally tracked him down."
How frustrating that the battery gave up just when he needed it most! Here's a photo that Martyn sent, not of Einion, but another osprey just before the battery died.
Male, adult osprey in the Somone Lagoon Reserve © Martyn Fielder
Since Martyn's trip, Einion has been on a trip of his own, and not just on a day-return this time. Early on December 3rd he flew north, pass Dakar and followed the beach up towards St. Louis near Leri's last transmission. After roosting there for the night he then decided to head directly south and by the evening of the 4th he had flown over the Sine Saloum Delta where he had visited briefly a few weeks earlier. By the next day he had flown yet further south and over the mouth of the great Gambia River and was at the popular Tanji Beach at 4pm. Our colleagues at Rutland Water visited here on one of their African osprey trips - see here.
Tanji beach wasn't for Einion though and he soon headed back north to the Sine Saloum delta to roost on the evening of the 5th before finally deciding to return to Somone Lagoon early the following day. He took four days in all to cover around 350 miles. With his journey transposed onto a map of the UK with Birmingham being the Somone Lagoon, he flew north to around the Manchester area before flying to the south coast of England before returning to Birmingham on day four.
We are learning so much about the ecology and behaviour of juvenile ospreys with this tracker project. Both Dulas and Einion seem to have set up a 'home range' at a favourite location, but are starting to take regular and longer trips spanning a few hundred miles, only to return a few days later. Maybe we should think of these home ranges as 'bankers' - an area where the ospreys are comfortable with and are guaranteed a good stock of fish without too much competition. The exploratory trips to other areas may prove useful in future, leaner times, if conditions deteriorate due to a long dry season for example.
A big thanks to Martyn for his regular Einion reports - take a spare battery next time mate!
Having spent the last six weeks at the Somone Lagoon reserve Einion was in need of a little excursion. On the morning of November 8th he set out on a south-easterly direction heading for the Sine-Saloum Delta, Senegal. This is an area that we had hoped he would eventually find and stay in. By 3pm Einion was on the northern edge of this delta habitat but he only stayed a short time before heading north again. He roosted for the night half way between the delta and Somone before heading back the following morning to the Somone Lagoon reserve, he was back by 10am.
Here's an aerial vista of the Sine-Saloum Delta - this marshy habitat constitutes around 12% of the land area of Senegal.
Our good friend Tim Mackrill at Rutland Water called this area "One of the best places for ospreys in west Africa, if not the world". Here's a short video of Tim at the delta during one of his recent trips:
There are literally hundreds of ospreys at the Sine-Saloum delta so why didn't Einion stay? During his short stay was he set upon by older, established ospreys who will have set up loose territories here? Despite this area being so favourable for ospreys Einion only stayed a short amount of time, literally a few minutes. At least now Einion has been to this area and seen it for himself, hopefully storing it in the memory banks and having it as a contingency, if for some reason his current 'home', the Somone Lagoon reserve, becomes out of favour.
Just as the annual flock of Greenland White-fronted Geese arrive back on the Dyfi for the winter from their Arctic breeding grounds, Einion is settling in for his third week at the Somone Lagoon Reserve in Senegal. He won't find many Greenland White-fronted Geese where he is however - flocks of Flamingos, Darters, Frigate birds and Great White Pelicans are more the average large bird species found there.
Great White pelicans at the Somone Lagoon Reserve
Einion seems to have found the ideal place to spend the winter. All being well, he won't come back to the UK until 2013 so it's important he finds a suitable habitat with plenty of fish and not too much competition from other ospreys. Time will tell whether he stays here all winter and into next summer, one thing is for sure though, being a mangrove swamp habitat with halophytic (sea water tolerant) trees, the area isn't going to dry out in the dry season (our winter months). Einion is on the Atlantic coast of Senegal around 140 miles west of his brother Dulas who's on the Gambia River, and around 125 miles south of his sister Leri who's on the Senegal/Mauritania border.
If you fancy seeing the rare Greenland White-fronted Geese, you can from the RSPB Ynys Hir reserve right next to Cors Dyfi and the Dyfi Osprey Project. Top birds - pop along if you can.
After his little off shore adventure, Einion thankfully settled back on dry land. He spent a couple of days NE of Dakar along the coast, probably fishing at sea. He stayed very close to the 'Pink Lake' but would not have been fishing there as it has no fish. This beautiful lake gets it's remarkable pink colour from some unique bacteria and high salt content. After a couple of days Einion decided to travel south and on the 5th of October he headed 20 miles down the coast towards his next destination and he couldn't have picked a better one. He has spent the last three days at the Somone Lagoon Reserve. This 7000 hectare estuary, mangrove mudflat is a haven for a very diverse range of wildlife and is home to more than 150 species of bird including Herons, Egrets, Flamingoes and Pelicans, so the fishing must be good!.
The Somone sanctuary is restored wetland and is maintained by the local community and is highly protected. Let's hope there is room for a little Welsh lad in this African paradise.
Just when we thought it was time to worry just a little bit less, Einion has better ideas. Not to be outdone by his brother and sister, both of which have made hockey-stick shaped westerly changes in direction over the last few days, Einion decides he would join in too. Problem is, he was already on the coast so the next land he would see would be the Cape Verde Islands 440 miles to the west; and if he missed those, Barbados - nearly 3,000 miles away.
On Saturday morning (October 1st), he set off west from Dakar, Senegal at 10am - straight out to sea. By midday he was going like the clappers - 47mph at an altitude of 700m heading directly for the Cape Verde Islands. He then turned south-west and by 8pm his altitude had dropped to 200m and his speed was just 11mph. We was flying really slowly, in pitch black, in the wrong direction and with the whole of the night ahead of him.
Miraculously, at 9pm he finally switched direction and flew east, back towards Africa. He flew 130 miles overnight at an average speed of just 12mph. Then at 8am on Sunday, October 2nd, he changed direction again and headed north-east. Shortly after 2pm on the Sunday afternoon he finally made landfall again.
Einion flew non-stop for 29 hours, covered 555 miles - all of it over sea, much of it in the dark, only to end up exactly where he had set off the day before, Dakar. Just when you though it was safe to go back in the water..
After three weeks in central Morocco Einion finally re-started his southerly migration. He probably found some good fishing on the irrigation canal south of Casablanca, meaning he was in good condition for the second half of his journey.
He set off on the morning of September 25th and by evening had made it to southern Morocco flying around 220 miles. The following day he travelled 240 miles south, roosting on the north Mauritania border - probably on the desert floor. On the 27th and 28th he travelled 800 miles combined, all over inhospitable desert at above average speeds, clocking up 53mph at one stage - it looks like his three week vacation on that Moroccan canal was a good decision. After this marathon Einion ended up on the Mauritania coast, just a few miles away from Senegal. It is likely that he went for at least three days without eating during this time.
By September 29th he had started what will hopefully be his last stretch of the migration, inland into Senegal and heading straight for the Gambia, just 140 miles north of the great River.
Einion has travelled over 1,500 miles in just a few days since leaving Casablanca, most of it over desert. Maybe the Moroccan tourist board should sign him up!
On the 19th Einion moved 15 miles to the SW. We thought this might be the start of his next leg of migration but it wasn’t. For the following few days he remained in this area. It appears he is fishing in the canal system and the using the surrounding farmland to perch during the day and roost at night. With temperatures around 29 degrees and plenty of food he seems quite happy for the time being. Will he have made a move by tomorrow?
Einion has been in his current position for 10 days now - he seems to like it in Morocco. Question is, will he stay there for good or carry on to more conventional wintering countries when he's ready?
Not all British ospreys go all the way to Senegal, Gambia and neighbouring countries. Beatrice for example, a 11 year old female that Roy Dennis tagged in 2008, stays put near the Guadiaro River (where Dulas is now) near Gibraltar in southern Spain each winter. Another one of his ospreys winters even further north near Madrid.
Einion is only around half way to more conventional wintering grounds - would it make good sense for him to stay where he is with less predation pressures and competition for territories? Time will tell.
Taking less than a week to travel from a wintery mid Wales to scorching Rabat in Morocco, Einion has slowed down considerably and has settled down around 80 miles south of Casablanca for his second week of travelling. He seems to be settling and resting around a canal or irrigation system which no doubt has plenty of fish. Ospreys often do this and he could stay here for days of for weeks; could he even stop here for winter? There may be no reason for him to travel any further south and risk a three day journey over the Sahara desert with little chance of food.
Here's a bar chart showing his progress in terms of miles travelled from Wales to Africa:
Early on the morning of September 6th, Einion wasted no time and continued his migration south. Any temptations of the Costa del Sol were wasted on him as he flew straight passed Malaga, Torremolinos and Marbella in an westerly direction. By 14.00 he had passed Gibraltar and was leaving Spanish air space heading south west.
After a four hour Atlantic ocean crossing Einion found land again and roosted just north of Rabat in Morocco. He left the Dyfi the previous Wednesday and by the following Tuesday, less than a week, he was in Africa. What a bird!
Einion took just three days to travel from the north to the south of Spain, September 3rd to 5th. He roosted on the evening of the 2nd on the northern Spanish coast, 20 miles east of Santander and flew the following day to the Rioja area of northern Spain famous for the red wines. By nightfall the following day he had passed just to the east of Madrid and spent the evening in a remote area 120 miles west of Valencia.
By the evening of September 5th he had reached just west of Granada and just 26 miles north of the Costa del Sol coast with Malaga just to the south west of him. I wonder whether he got a cheap late deal?
On Wednesday morning August 31st, shortly after 9am, Einion became the first Welsh born osprey to start an African bound migration fitted with a satellite transmitter. By lunchtime he was leaving the south Wales coast and by 14.30 he was 108 miles south of his Dyfi nest on the north Devon coast. He finally stopped for the night by a village called Looe just west of Plymouth at 18.00.
He was off first thing again the following morning and by midday he had crossed the English channel and was at the most westerly point in Brittany. Einion roosted near Pont l'Abbe that night before setting off on a 14 hour ocean crossing across the Bay of Biscay. He didn't hug the coast, he flew straight across flying 317 miles non-stop at an average speed of 23mph. He came to land on the north Spanish coast at 19.00 around 30 miles east of Santander. Just a bit impressive!