Safe travels “Farine”!

Mont Vully, FR

Today we can finally confirm that our last young Osprey of the season, KF5 (better known as Farine since she had a very white head), has migrated. Now that all the 12 Ospreys reintroduced this year to Switzerland have gone, the release site has become very quiet. Farine had spent about a month in our aviaries with her sister Noctule after having arrived from Norway on July 11. We quickly noticed that both were big eaters and they ate significantly more fish than the other birds. At one point some were even wondering whether they would be “too fat to fly”…

However, when their cage door was opened on August 7, both birds easily made a nice first flight before settling into their individual routines. Against all bets, Farine’s sister Noctule beat her by migrating on September 3, joining three other birds that took advantage of perfect weather conditions with a small “bise”, a northerly wind stimulating them to migrate that day.

After watching all her mates head south, Farine finally decided to travel on September 7. At 3 pm she suddenly spiralled upwards, soaring high over the Mont Vully until she became just a tiny speck in the sky. She then headed south-west towards Lake Neuchâtel, where we eventually lost her radio signal. Because we can never be sure when we will see our young birds for the last time (some can make a “false departure” and unexpectedly reappear after 2 or 3 days of absence), we need to wait for a few days before we can be sure that they have really gone. Since it has been three days with no sign of Farine, it is now clear that she has been the last to leave, bringing to a close an exceptionally successful third reintroduction season.

Two Osprey chicks Noctule KF1 and Farine KF5
The two sisters feeding: Noctule (left) and Farine.

A new tenant

KF7 rescued adult female Osprey

Late Saturday night on August 19 an exhausted and unringed adult female Osprey was found by the side of a road in Finstersee, in the Canton of Zug. She was brought to the Berg am Irchel Bird of Prey Sanctuary, managed by Andreas (Andi) Lischke. It was the first time in 16 years that he had an Osprey brought to his rescue centre. Andi took the bird to the Zurich animal hospital where they gave her a thorough check-up for two days, but found nothing wrong although she seemed abnormally tame. She then stayed for a few more days in Berg am Irchel, but wouldn’t eat by herself. Andi eventually decided to transfer her to the Nos Oiseaux reintroduction site, with the hope that seeing young birds flying around and feeding at our “fish restaurant” might stimulate her to feed and stay with them for a while.

On August 29 she was banded with a metal Sempach (Swiss Ornithological Station) ring on her left leg and a blue plastic ring marked KF7 on her right leg. Looking in good condition, she spent the afternoon in one of our cages, watching with obvious interest our young birds flying around and feeding on top of the aviaries. However, it was clear that she wanted her freedom back, so the decision was made to release her the next morning.

We opened her cage on August 30 at 6:05 am, just before it began to get light. At 6:30 she jumped onto the open door, and at 6:40 flew off directly towards the Lac de Neuchâtel. Delighted to see her fly again so well, we watched her until she was out of sight, disappearing in a south-westerly direction. We wish her all the best wherever she goes, and hope that next spring she will safely return to wherever she had come from!

A baker’s dozen

Angela AT07 German chick

On August 10, three days after we had finished releasing our 12 young Ospreys, we had a great surprise to see not just 12, but 13 birds at our reintroduction site—a real baker’s dozen! After counting all the birds several times, we finally identified the visitor: a young German bird that was fortunately colour-ringed, with the code AT07. We immediately contacted Daniel Schmidt-Rothmund, who is responsible for the Osprey colour-ringing programme in Germany, and learned that AT07 had been ringed on June 26 on a nest located less than 50 km away from the region where we collected 6 German chicks two days later!

AT07, or Angela as she soon became known, watched our young birds for a while before finally deciding that she could also serve herself at our fish restaurant. From then on she took several fish there every day until August 14th, before continuing her migration. We were of course sorry to see Angela go, but at the same time very happy that she decided to stop over for several days. And who knows, perhaps one day she will remember the place and even pay us another visit?

Twelve Osprey chicks arrive safely

Weighing an Osprey chick in Germany

In this third year of our reintroduction project, twelve young Osprey chicks – six from eastern Germany and six from southern Norway – have been successfully transferred to Switzerland. They are now happily eating fish caught daily by professional fishermen from Lake Neuchâtel and Lake Morat, and with every day are getting increasingly familiar with their new home. The young birds and their “foster parents” (a team of 5-6 people taking care of them around the clock) are all doing very well!

We are very grateful to the bird-ringers, Holger Gabriel and Mario Firlo in Germany, and Rune Aae in Norway, who did some spectacular climbing to collect them:  the first two on high tension electricity pylons and the third on some very tall Scots Pines. A big thank you also to: Osprey “guru” Daniel Schmidt, for helping organise the German transfer and for bringing six birds to Switzerland; to the electricity company Mitnetz Strom which temporarily cut-off the power and made their staff available to guarantee maximum safety for the pylon climbers; and to Marianne Imhof of Ace Pet Movers who was an angel helping us to get the six Norwegian birds safely into Switzerland.

Click here to see an article and as well as a video about the young Osprey collection in Norway that was aired on Norwegian national TV.

Operation “bird-spikes”

Groupe-E removing bird spikes

If you look closely at medium-tension power lines in Switzerland, especially at pylons where the cables are suspended below the horizontal bars, you will notice that there are metal spikes (which electricity companies call “bird-spikes”) placed at the ends of the bars to discourage large birds from perching there. However, these devices do not prevent raptors from landing on pylons, and we have even observed some of our young Ospreys settling on top of the spikes!

Mission accomplished on this 28 m tall pylon, all the bird spikes are gone!
Mission accomplished on this 28 m tall pylon, all the bird spikes are gone!

Unfortunately, there have been quite a few cases recorded where birds accidentally get entangled or even impale themselves on these spikes. We still remember last summer when one of our young Ospreys, 19 days after he had been released, inadvertently flew in thick fog straight into one of these spikes, and did not survive the accident. In the meantime, the electricity company Groupe-E agreed, at our request, to remove these structures from all of the pylons near the release area. On June 13th they temporarily shut off the power in order to safely allow their team to undertake this task. We thank Groupe-E warmly for making these electricity pylons much safer.

Groupe-E team
Many thanks to the Groupe-E team for their efficient work in removing the bird spikes.


Second year project report

Osprey fishing at Fanel sep16A 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.

This article can be downloaded here.

European Plan for Osprey recovery

CoE Osprey reportA “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.

The 2016 Team

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.

A wonderful Christmas gift!

Swiss Osprey with transmitter Langue de BarbarieDecember 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!

Osprey team at the Langue de Barbarie
A happy group. From left to right: Rafa Benjumea, Moussa Fall (Conservateur of the Langue de Barbarie National Park), Blanca Perez, Issa Sylla (former Senegal National Parks Director) and John Wright.

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).

The Osprey in Switzerland