A report on the second year of the reintroduction of the Osprey in Switzerland (“Deuxième année de réintroduction du Balbuzard pêcheur Pandion haliaetus en Suisse“) appeared in the March 2017 edition of the journal Nos Oiseaux. While only in French, it provides an illustrated overview of the work undertaken through the project and the results achieved in 2016, including the highlight of spotting one of our birds wintering in Senegal in December! We are now organising our volunteer team for the project’s third year in the summer of 2017, so if you are interested and available for a period of two weeks please contact us.
A “Plan for the Recovery and Conservation of Ospreys in Europe and the Mediterranean Region in Particular” was adopted in November 2016 by all member States of the Convention on the Conservation of European Wildlife and Natural Habitats of the Council of Europe. This plan saw its beginnings at the International Osprey Symposium held in Orléans, France in September 2013. The European osprey conservation expert, Roy Dennis, was then asked to develop it. The document explores using a combination of pro-active management techniques that have already proved successful, as well as a range of measures for the sound management of healthy populations. The vision is to restore and conserve breeding populations of ospreys to all areas where they were largely exterminated due to persecution by humans. It also aims to promote cooperation between regions where the ospreys breed in Europe and the Mediterranean basin, and where they winter in Africa. The “Nos Oiseaux” project in Switzerland, referred to in the plan, contributes to this vision and acts as a stepping stone for the overall restoration of Ospreys in Europe.
A fantastic team did everything (and more) to ensure that our ospreys arrived safely to Switzerland, always had plenty to eat, fledged in the best conditions possible, and will even have a nice selection of comfortable artificial nests to chose from when they return! Here are some photos illustrating the team in action…
The Osprey class 2016 thank Rune Aae & family, Adrian Aebischer, Gilbert Bavaud, Michel Beaud, David Bippus, Emmanuel Carino, Flann Chambers, Emile (Bouby) Curty, Astrance Chervet-Fenestraz, Andreia Días, Mario Firlo, Holger Gabriel, Ricardo Gomes, Christian Grand, Sandra Hails, Denis Landenbergue, Bernard Monnier, Christelle Mugny, Alain Niclass, Pascal Rapin, Günther Rober, Daniel Schmidt, Pascal Schöpfer, Wendy Strahm and Erwan Zimmermann. Not forgetting of course the very kind and dedicated professional fishermen who regularly supplied us with lots of fresh fish: Luc Gilliéron, Pierre Schär & family and Henri Christinat & family.
December and January is a great time to escape the northern winter and look for Ospreys further south, so we decided to spend the Christmas holidays in Senegal and more precisely, see if any of our released birds had decided to winter there. Arriving to the Langue de Barbarie National Park near Saint Louis (a very important place for wintering Ospreys) on December 22, we met John Wright from the Rutland Osprey Project in the UK, who with Spanish ornithologists Rafa Benjumea and Blanca Perez of the Tougoupeul Project had just spent a month here working with National Park staff on bird monitoring. December 22 was their last day before heading off to other sites.
As a wonderful Christmas gift, John proudly gave us this photo of a young male Osprey that he had taken that morning. Amazingly, one of our birds released in Switzerland this summer! The photo clearly shows a blue ring on the bird’s right leg, as well as the antenna of the VHF radio transmitter still attached to its tail (that will fall off once the moult finishes in a few months’ time). Although the ring number can’t be read, we suspect that it could be either PS0 (Ivan) or PS1 (Masqué). So we have proof that at least one of our young made it to West Africa and is happily eating the abundant fish at the Langue de Barbarie.
We spent three more days in the National Park looking for him, unfortunately to no avail, but saw over 60 other Ospreys including one with a black ring from Germany that we could read. Later we travelled to La Somone (south of Dakar) where we saw many more Ospreys including a French adult bird with an orange ring, and another German bird.
Many protected areas and other wetlands in Africa are essential in providing safe and quiet places for wintering birds such as Ospreys. Pressures of all kinds are often increasing in these very unique places and a great deal of engagement and public awareness is needed to guarantee their long term safety. To all who manage and protect them we send our greatest thanks and wish them a happy New Year!
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).
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.
Twelve 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.
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.
We 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 firstname.lastname@example.org!
(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).
Ospreys 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…