They’ve gone South!

Christelle Mugny telemetry Bellechasse

After their release at the end of July and beginning of August, our twelve young Ospreys rapidly learned their way around the “Three Lakes” region. As they became increasingly confident in their flying skills, they began to regularly visit the Lake Morat, the Fanel and Chablais de Cudrefin reserves at Lake Neuchâtel, and occasionally ventured up to Lake Bienne around Hagneck, and the Niederried reservoir along the Sarine River. Sadly we lost one bird twenty days after he was released in a freak accident with a “pic-oiseaux”, a device meant to prevent large birds from perching on the transversal bars of electricity pylons. Contacts were immediately made with the electricity company so that these devices can be removed in the reintroduction area before next spring. Apart from this sad accident, the eleven other birds released this year at Bellechasse thrived and were a joy to watch as they grew up.

Spending an average time of 34 days between release and migration, five of our youngsters left from August 23 to 27, during the hottest week of the summer. They were then followed by four others who all left on September 6th, a bright and sunny day with a very strong northerly wind that probably stimulated them to start their migration. Finally, our last two birds, “Trident” and “Masqué”, headed south on 10 and 11 September and so brought a close to our Osprey season 2016.

Let’s hope that all our birds will have safe journeys, and that we will have the pleasure to see some of them again in the region in a few years time!

(photo:  Christelle Mugny following our last young birds by telemetry just before their migration).

Loss of a great Osprey fan

Luc Hoffmann

Dr Luc Hoffmann, a great fan of Ospreys and their reintroduction to Switzerland, has sadly passed away on 21 July in his beloved Camargue.

Born January 23, 1923 in Basel on the Rhine River—a river where the last breeding pair of Ospreys had nested in Switzerland in 1914, Luc Hoffmann played an instrumental role in the creation, amongst others, of the WWF (1961), the Ramsar Convention (1971), the Biological Station of the Tour du Valat in the Camargue (1954) and the MAVA Foundation (1994).

Ornithologist and pioneer in protecting wetlands, Luc Hoffmann had a special passion for birds living in these habitats. His vision and commitment have been critical for the preservation of emblematic aquatic ecosystems such as the Camargue in France, the Coto Doñana in Spain and the Banc D’Arguin in Mauritania. Places known worldwide as important breeding, migratory stopover or wintering places for numerous species of waterbirds, including the Osprey.

During the annual flamingo ringing operation in the Camargue in late July 2011, Luc Hoffmann was one of the first people to be consulted about the Swiss Osprey reintroduction project, along with his friend and world flamingo expert Alan Johnson. Both were enthusiastic about the idea, with Alain Johnson calling it a “mind-blowing project”, while Luc Hoffmann noted that it was a “project that needs to be done”.

A member of Nos Oiseaux for many years, Luc Hoffmann was as modest and discreet as he was effectively engaged in countless initiatives, providing a decisive role in their success. When the Osprey starts breeding in Switzerland in a few years’ time, it will be in part due to the passion of Luc Hoffman and the valuable support provided, thanks to him, by the MAVA Foundation.

Our second season has started

Oaprey Norway nestTwelve young ospreys coming from former eastern Germany and from southern Norway are now in Switzerland at the reintroduction site of Bellechasse (FR). We will keep them in the specially constructed “hacking” cages until they are ready to fly. Right now they are adapting to their new home and their new environment and, like all growing teenagers, eating a lot!

Many thanks to ringers Holger Gabriel and Mario Firlo in Germany, and to Rune Aae of University College Østfold in Norway, who collected the birds and then took care of them (and us). They had to climb quite a few tall trees or high electricity pylons, and did this with great professionalism and efficiency. Thanks also to Daniel Schmidt, who organised the German operation and drove with us and another Osprey enthusiast, Günther Röber, all night to bring the birds to Switzerland.

Fixing dangerous power lines

Repairing power line 5 April 2016

A huge threat to any large bird, which includes storks, eagles, buzzards, Eagle Owls, as well as Ospreys, is accidental electrocution when they perch or fly too near to some dangerous pylons or electrical lines. Sometimes the birds don’t even need to touch two wires with their wings; just being too close to the wires can cause an electrical arc that is fatal. We had the sad experience of losing one of our young birds released in 2015 to accidental electrocution. Fortunately the electricity company “Groupe E” quickly agreed to modify the dangerous power lines in the vicinity of our Osprey release site by insulating the problematic wires. They are also ready to implement a wider programme to modify or insulate in the coming years other electric pylons and power lines that are particularly dangerous to birds. While the risk of accidental collisions with electricity wires remains difficult to entirely exclude, ensuring that poorly designed pylons or power lines can no longer electrocute large birds is already a big step in the right direction.

Recognising our volunteers

Nos Oiseaux AG osprey teamWe could never have done this project without the enormous amount of time and effort that have been provided by a large number of volunteers. We held a little ceremony at the General Assembly of Nos Oiseaux on March 19th  in recognition for every volunteer that spent two weeks taking care of our birds on-site at the Bellechasse prison last summer. They all received a certificate thanking them for their personal engagement, as well as a little “low calorie” gift of… hazelnut biscuits. To remind them of how many packets were eaten during the memorable hours spent watching over the birds during the summer of 2015. Once again our thanks to all who have contributed to the project. Note too that it is still not too late to sign up to volunteer for the project for two weeks during the summer of 2016. We look forward to hearing from you on!

(photo from left to right : Denis Landenbergue, Erwan Zimmermann, Emanuel Carino, Karine Vincent, Wendy Strahm, Christelle Mugny, Michel Beaud and Emile Curty. Missing  are Gilbert Bavaud, Andreia Dias, Astrance Fenestraz-Chervet and Jean-Michel Progin).


Addressing the housing shortage

F4-nest-2Ospreys tend to be a little lazy, as they prefer moving into existing nests rather than building their own from scratch. This is why building nest platforms (see our first two built on November 2015) is an integral part of the project. We just finished building two more five star homes, one on top of a 30m tall Scots Pine and another on a dead tree. We are sure that once our birds return to breed, they will agree that these are top class places to nest!

The construction of these new nests required the climbing skills of Christian Grand and Adrian Furrer, helped by Michel Beaud, Emile Curty, Denis Landenbergue and Wendy Strahm as the ground crew. Building the first nest proved to be particularly challenging when it started to snow. Under such circumstances, we can’t help but admire the Ospreys that spend their winter in Africa and return to Europe soon after it finishes. At least they never have to shovel snow…

The 2015 Team

Whether it was chopping fish, watching and guarding the young ospreys, fixing radio transmitters, building nests, or many other tasks (not least of all fish tossing), to all the 2015 team we give a very big thank you!

Our first artificial nests

Construction des nids

Pascal Grand climbing 35m Scots Pine
Pascal Grand climbing a 35m Scots Pine to build an artificial osprey nest at its summit.

An important part of our Osprey reintroduction project consists of building artificial nests to give the birds a helping hand when they return to Switzerland to breed. Once we had identified potentially suitable  trees and obtained permission to build nests in their tree tops, Daniel Schmidt (pictured in action above) came from Germany to demonstrate and provide training in the art of building artificial nests that no Osprey would be able to refuse. Three Fribourg ornithologists who are also very experienced tree-climbers (Christian Grand, Pascal Grand and Henri Vigneau) helped Daniel to build the first nest, and then went on to build a second nest the following day.  Michel Beaud, Emile Curty, Denis Landenbergue and Wendy Strahm also helped out in this operation.

Osprey nests are usually built on a tall tree with commanding views, so  the birds can have a panoramic 360° view. Our first two nests were built at the top of 35m tall Scots Pines, a difficult operation so we were lucky to have good weather with little wind. It will probably take several years before our released birds return, and we are optimistic that when they do, they will find these custom-made platforms irresistible. Many thanks to the whole team for these first two beautiful nests, and for the many more that we are already planning on building.

Daniel Schmidt and Christian Grand nest-building
Daniel Schmidt showing Christian Grand some fine points about nest-building.
The nest-building team admiring Daniel Schmidt's aerial talents from the ground.
The nest-building team admiring Daniel Schmidt’s aerial talents from the ground.

PP5 escapes for the third time

Djurdjura National Park, Algeria.
Djurdjura National Park, Algeria.

After “escaping” from the prison grounds of Bellechasse when departing on migration on September 11, and then narrowly escaping death after being shot in Algeria by a poacher on September 16, PP5 has once again demonstrated his amazing capacity for escape. On October 11 Toufik Brahimi, the veterinarian who saved his life, went to examine and weigh him in preparation for his release planned for a few days later. PP5, however, had other ideas. After biting Mr Brahimi’s hand with his strong beak, he took advantage of the moment to push the door of the aviary open and to escape, immediately flying high above the mountains of Djurdjura until he was out of sight.  While we had imagined a more controlled release back into the wild, we are reassured by Mr Brahimi who says that the bird had completely recovered from his wounds, had eaten well just before his escape, and was very dynamic. So dynamic in fact that he was not willing to spend any longer in captivity.

Sign in Djurdjura National Park.We will only know if PP5 has survived his ordeal if he returns to Switzerland in a few years’ time. However, as his blue plastic ring marked PP5 was damaged and had to be removed, he will be more difficult to identify. Indeed, this plastic ring may have saved PP5’s leg from being injured, as it was presumably damaged in the shooting.  If we ever see a male Osprey with just a metal ring on his left leg returning to our release site it could well be our escape artist.

Great news from Portugal

View of Alqueva reservoir from Monsarraz.
View of Alqueva reservoir from the village of Monsarraz.

It has just been reported that a pair of Ospreys nested  for the first time this year in the Alqueva reservoir, site of the  Portuguese Osprey reintroduction project. However, it seems that the birds nested just across the border in the Extremadura region of Spain! The nest was spotted from a boat by Dr Luis Palma on July 19th, but the interior of the nest couldn’t be seen, and no birds were observed in the vicinity. However, Spanish wildlife guard Nicolás Durán and Isabel Asensio saw a pair accompanied by a juvenile on 30 August, indicating that the Portuguese reintroduction project has had its first success. The reintroduction of this species at the Alqueva Reservoir started in 2011 and is still ongoing. Congratulations to our Portuguese colleagues and friends for this wonderful result!

Alqueva release aviaries 2 August, 2013.
Alqueva release aviary with Andreia Dias and João Ferreira.
Andreia Dias and friend.
Andreia Dias, project coordinator in 2013, with friend.

The Osprey in Switzerland