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Latest News for Einion
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.