Fifth year project report

Osprey at Hagneck 2019

A report on the fifth year of reintroducing Osprey to Switzerland (“Cinquième année de réintroduction du Balbuzard pêcheur Pandion haliaetus en Suisse”) has been published in the March 2020 edition of the journal Nos Oiseaux. While only in French, it includes news about the three birds reintroduced at Bellechasse that have returned so far: the male Fusée to Switzerland and the female Mouche to eastern France (both released in 2016, and returning for the second time); and the male Taurus (released in 2017), returning to the Trois-Lacs region of Switzerland for the first time. Mouche has even found a partner and they built a nest in the French Department of Moselle, although too late in the season to breed!  In 2019, 12 additional young birds were translocated from Germany and Norway, and all successfully migrated. Our nest-building team has continued to work hard, and we now have 21 nesting platforms ready and waiting. The article can be downloaded here.

We are now in the process of organising the volunteer team for 2020. If you are interested and available for two weeks sometime between the end of June and mid-September, a few slots are still available – so please contact us.

Flamme (KF6) in The Gambia

Osprey Flamme KF6 in the Gambia

Wonderful news: Flamme (KF6) has been spotted, for the first time since being released in 2017, by Chris Woods and Joanna Dailey in The Gambia on March 2! Born to a family of three chicks in southern Norway, he weighed in at 1480g just before release. Which made us believe that Flamme was probably a male since they usually weigh less than 1.5kg, while females are generally heavier. The results of a DNA analysis to determine the sex of this bird unfortunately turned out to be inconclusive.

So is Flamme a boy or a girl? From the nice photos taken by Chris and Joanna, the jury is still out. While his wide, dark bib is more typically female, at times males can also have one. A photo showing a fairly pale underwing and a relatively small head suggests that the bird could be male. This question is relevant since males are more philopatric than females. So if Flamme is a male and safely returns from migration, the probability would be higher that we may see him again in Switzerland in the coming few weeks or months.

Osprey Flamme KF6 in the GambiaIt is anyway extraordinary that Flamme is the third Osprey from the Swiss project to be discovered in sub-Saharan Africa wintering grounds, after a male from 2016 was photographed (with his blue ring just illegible) in Senegal in December of that year, and then Fusée (PR9), another male from 2016, was identified four times in that same country during the winter of 2018-19.

The 2019 team

We had a great season in 2019, with all 12 birds released migrating, plus we had two birds, Fusée PR9 (from 2016) and Taurus PS7 (from 2017) returning to Switzerland. This was thanks to all the hard work of many people both this year and in previous ones. Special thanks go to the volunteers who spent at least two weeks of their precious time in the field at Bellechasse: Sandra Hails, Amy Hall, Jérémy Jenny, Marie-Jo Küch, Johnny Kursner, Danièle Ligron, Michèle Looten, Rim Maamouri, Gary Miller, Bernard Monnier, Thierry Schmid and Marièle Zufferey. They all worked enthusiastically with the Osprey technicians Marine Brunel (replaced for a week by Emmanuel Carino) and Andreia Dias, long-serving volunteer Denis Landenbergue, and project coordinator Wendy Strahm. Not forgetting Adrian Aebischer, Michel Beaud, Emile Curty, Pascal Rapin, Christine Rast, Pascal Schöpfer and many other colleagues and supporters who also helped the project in one way or another in 2019 (all listed in our report to be published in the March 2020 issue of the Nos Oiseaux journal). Our warm thanks to all!

20 nest milestone

Ground crew building Osprey nest

After building five additional platforms since last spring (the latest two this weekend), we now have 21 nests, most of which have a super view of one or another lake in the region. Great thanks go to our incredible climbers Christian and Paco Grand, as well as to all the other volunteers* who helped make this happen.

While the symbolic milestone of 20 nests is now passed, we will continue to build more since we want to give our returning ospreys as great a choice as possible. The platforms are all in quiet areas, well out of sight from the many well-trodden tracks and paths that cross the Swiss Plateau.

Osprey nest platformOne of our next challenges will be to monitor them regularly, so we know if any Osprey are attracted.  When the time comes, we will of course need to work hard to guarantee the security and tranquility of the birds.

*Emile Curty, Henri Vigneau, Michel Beaud, Yann Marbach, Wendy Strahm, Denis Landenbergue, Carmen Sedonati, and Joachim Haldi

Last two standing

Osprey "Cèpe" at Hagneck, Switzerland

The “last two standing”, Cactus (F24) and Cèpe (F15), finally migrated on September 17, ending the 2019 Osprey season at Bellechasse. They nearly matched the record for the latest departures since the start of the project, when two young left on September 19, 2015.

Cactus was the last to fledge on August 12, while Cèpe was one of the first to be released, on July 19. Which meant that he established the record of spending the longest time between release and migration, i.e. 60 days (the previous record was 49 days, by PR1 in 2016).

Interesting is that the 2019 final departures were quite like those of 2015. That year the last male (PP4) seemed to wait until the youngest female (PP1) finally decided to leave. This summer we had the impression that Cèpe (photographed on September 8 by Adrian Schmid in Hagneck) was just waiting for Cactus (also the youngest female) to leave before finally taking the big leap himself.

Thanks to a fantastic osprey team working non-stop to take care of our birds, 2019 has been a great year, with all 12 chicks successfully reared, released and migrating. All we can do now is wish them safe travels and look forward to as many of them as possible returning in 2-3 years.

First off the blocks

Cèpe at Chavornay

Tino (F22), a young male from Norway, is the first of the 12 birds released this year to migrate (on August 25, 27 days after fledging). He left at almost the same time as Roger (F07, also Norwegian) did last year (August 26, 25 days after fledging).

All bets for who would be the first to migrate had however been on Cèpe (F15), named after a mushroom-shaped mark on the back of his head and who seemed to be the most advanced, but one can never tell. The refrain “Cèpe is back” had almost become a mantra due to his tendency to vanish for up to two days and nights, often out of radio signal range, only to suddenly reappear. We do know that he has been flying as far as the nature reserve of Chavornay – 53 km away from Bellechasse – thanks to beautiful photos taken by André Hübscher on August 16. There he was seen unsuccessfully trying to fish several times, probably a good reason for him to come back just two hours later for a meal at our “Osprey restaurant”!

Today Cèpe is still at Bellechasse, but let’s see how long it will take before he finally migrates. So is Taurus (PS7), the two-year-old male regularly observed since June 29. The only bird for which we haven’t had recent news is Fusée (PR9), who was last identified for sure on May 5. However, there have been Ospreys noted in the region in late May and early June, and we suspect that at least some may have been him. Could he have moved elsewhere when Taurus returned? In any case we very much hope that he will be seen again in his wintering grounds in Senegal.

All out now

Fanel seen from Mont Vully

The 12 young Osprey of our “class of 2019” have now all been successfully released and are feeding well. Many are already busy exploring the area, each choosing their favourite places where we can follow them thanks to a small VHS radio transmitter attached to their tail.

While the “place to be” remains the nature reserve at Fanel in the Lake of Neuchâtel, the lakes of Morat and of Bienne (where one was photographed by Yannick Bischof on August 9 at Hagneck) are also frequently visited. At least one of our birds (Cèpe, named after the mushroom-shaped mark on the back of his head) also visits Niederried along the Aar River.

Since the first Ospreys further north have already started to migrate (including one  born  in Germany this year and seen in Switzerland on August 8), it will probably not be much longer before the most advanced of our birds start heading south.

As for Taurus, the two-year old male who returned for the first time this year, he is still around and has shown some very interesting behaviour. Just after the first releases he seemed to go into “parent mode”, carrying a fish to some of the young birds several times. He has also been seen bringing clumps of grass to a nest platform and  moving some branches inside. Now all he needs is a female!

As always, any observations of Osprey in the region are welcome on www.ornitho.ch or you can also contact us.

A second male back!

PS7-Taurus

PS7, otherwise known as Taurus, is back! Born in the State of Sachsen-Anhalt in eastern Germany, he had been released in Switzerland on July 27, 2017 after having spent four weeks in the aviary. He then migrated on September 3, and that was the last we heard of him. Until June 29 of this year, when an unknown Osprey with a blue ring on his right leg was seen perched in front of the aviaries, just three days after the arrival at Bellechasse of six chicks translocated from Germany. Luckily on June 30 we were able to read his ring. Since then he has been visiting the area nearly every day, clearly interested in seeing the young Osprey in the aviaries. Where there are now twelve, after the arrival of six more chicks from Norway yesterday.

A few days after we discovered Taurus in Switzerland, we learned that he had previously been spotted by Renaud Glotoff in neighbouring France on May 22 near Dôle, about 120 km west from the release site. This first return in May or later by an immature is typical for this species. Since they are not in a hurry to get back to a nest, they have plenty of time to visit other areas on their way. After Fusée last year, and then again this spring, Taurus is our second immature male to come back to the Trois-Lacs (“Three Lakes”) region.

Three new nests and…

Nest-building by Christian Grand and Yann Marbach

This spring three new nests were built in the Three Lakes region, bringing the number of platforms built so far to 16. Thanks again to the very dedicated nest-building team, with super climbers Christian Grand, Paco Grand and Yann Marbach, helped from the ground by Michel Beaud, Emile Curty, Denis Landenbergue, Carmen Sedonati, Wendy Strahm and Henri Vigneau.

Since Fusée’s (PR9) return in April, he has been seen several times on one of our platforms, either resting, preening, or eating a fish. We were also delighted to see him carry a clump of earth with dry grass to the nest, carefully arranging it in the middle before scraping the centre of the nest with his feet into a little depression. And to top it off, after briefly lying down for a comfort test, he then rearranged a branch!  Even though Fusée is still a bit too young to breed (plus he hasn’t yet found a lady friend), this observation of some typical Osprey behaviour is the first of its kind to be made in Switzerland for over a century.

Preparations are now under way for the new 2019 reintroduction season, with the next translocation of chicks from Germany and Norway expected between the end of June and the middle of July.

Fusée on Swiss radio !

Fusée PR9 is back

Today the Swiss radio announced a scoop: Fusée (PR9) is back again! Spotted by keen “ospreyholics” on April 9, this male, born in Norway and released at Bellechasse in 2016, had already made headlines last year. He was the first Osprey fledged in Switzerland to have returned in over a century, having been seen first in May and then again in July-August. His notoriety increased when his wintering area was discovered last autumn in Senegal, where he was again seen in February 2019. This is now the fourth time that Fusée has safely completed his long migration (over 4,000 km), and he might soon start getting interested in girls…

The full radio broadcast about the project (in French) can be listened to here.

The Osprey in Switzerland