Welcome back King Arthur

Arthur F12 has returned

Every young Osprey has its own character, with some being particularly memorable. Arthur (F12), a male released in 2018, seemed to court disaster from the start. Named after King Arthur due the crown-like design on his head, he was collected from the most difficult nest ever reached by Norwegian Osprey expert Rune Aae.

In Switzerland, where he shared a cage with Roger (F01), Arthur first distinguished himself when he “fell” off a perch twice before jumping back on it – the only time we have ever seen this. When both birds were released on August 1, Roger fledged early in the morning and landed straight onto a nearby nest platform, while Arthur spent nearly the entire day perched on the open cage door. He finally took off in the early evening, landing on an electricity cable where he precariously balanced for 10 minutes before finally perching on a pylon for the night. The next day, rather than collect food at our “fish restaurant” as all young Osprey do, he first tried stealing a fish from another bird but failed.

On August 5, an exceptionally hot day with temperatures reaching 34°, Arthur suddenly landed on the ground at the edge of a small wetland, making no effort to fly away. Fortunately thanks to the small radio transmitter which all our released birds are equipped with, we quickly found him and put him back in the aviary, and two days later he was re-released.

However, on September 1 he got himself into another predicament, somehow managing to get his right foot caught between his tail and the transmitter antenna. While he could fly and even come to feed, he was tangled up for many hours before he was able to free himself. After this last mis-adventure he then migrated on September 4, 2018, which was the last news we had of him until May 14, 2020, when Pierre Béguin discovered  him 13 km from the release site. Considering his past, we would not have guessed that Arthur would be the first bird back from the “class of 2018”. Let’s just hope that his adolescence will be easier than his childhood!

Good timing Mouche!

Roy Dennis with Swiss cow

We were wondering about what to give Roy Dennis for his big birthday today, and think that today’s news might do the trick. Mouche (PR4), translocated from Germany and released in Switzerland in 2016, was looking serious about nesting with AM06 in the French Department of Moselle. Now David Meyer has just informed us that she is incubating! Since the nest is at the top of a tall dead tree we do not know how many eggs there are, so we will probably have to wait until next month for more news. 

The Swiss reintroduction project, which started in 2015 with the translocation of six Osprey chicks from Scotland, has hugely benefited from Roy’s decades of experience and good humoured guidance. Our heartfelt thanks go to him, and we send our best wishes for a wonderful 80th birthday and many more years of conserving Osprey, White-tailed Eagle, and all the other species that he is devoting his life to.

Since Mouche, “our” first known breeding female, is nesting in neighbouring France, let’s hope that a “foreign” female Osprey may return the favour and join one of our single males in Switzerland.

Single male seeks female

Niederried reservoir

We are happy to report that at least two of “our” male Osprey have already returned to Switzerland this spring. They are now trying to spot and attract a passing female, a process which can often take a number of years. It is interesting to note that in all the reintroduction projects undertaken in Europe up to now, the first to return have been locally released males, and they all paired with a female fledged elsewhere, sometimes even from another reintroduction project.

The Swiss Ornithological Station has recently reminded people about the rules for birdwatching, and never is “social distancing” between birders and birds more important than during the breeding season! Osprey, especially when establishing a territory, are very vulnerable to disturbance. We thank everyone lucky enough to see one of our  birds not to disturb them. This means maintaining a distance of at least 400m. Osprey are extremely wary of people getting too close, and can associate telephoto lenses for rifles – a self-protection reflex developed over many generations.

Good places to see Osprey in the Trois-Lacs region of Switzerland include the Fanel and Chablais de Cudrefin reserves on Lake Neuchâtel, Hagneck and St-Peter’s Island on the lake of Bienne, the entire lake of Morat, and the stretch of the Aar and Sarine rivers between the Niederried dam (photo) and the Auried nature reserve. Sightings posted on ornitho.ch or sent directly here are always appreciated, especially when the time of observation is noted or if a blue ring can be seen on the right leg.

Mouche in Moselle

Mouche et AM06 en Moselle

Mouche (PR4) is back in the French department of Moselle since April 5, joining her German partner AM06, who was first seen back on March 18. Many thanks to David Meyer who has sent us this exciting news, and to Heidi Meyer for getting a very distant shot, using her mobile phone through a spotting scope, of the happy couple mating!

Born in eastern Germany in the land of Sachsen-Anhalt, Mouche was translocated to Switzerland where she was released  on July 23, 2016, and migrated on August 25. She was discovered back in Europe for the first time on June 16, 2018 by Patrick Hostert in the French department of Meurthe-et-Moselle, and then not seen again that year.

In 2019 she was found again in neighbouring Moselle by David Meyer and Dominique Lorentz who monitored her from July 26-August 28. However, this time she was not alone, but had paired late in the season with AM06, and they even built a nest! We had high hopes that both would safely return from migration in 2020, and now our wishes have been fulfilled.

Mouche is the first Osprey released by the Swiss reintroduction project to pair and show signs of breeding. Being a female, it is not surprising that she has settled in a territory some 200km away from Bellechasse, since female Osprey are usually not as attached to the area where they fledged as are males. The territorial presence of AM06 in Moselle however is quite exceptional. Born in the land of Brandenburg in eastern Germany in 2016 – the same year as Mouche – he was most probably attracted to the area by the presence of a small breeding population, as well as by a nice single female. Thereby making an exception to the general rule that male Osprey usually return to the area where they first fledged to breed.

As a result of confinement due to the Covid-19 health crisis, monitoring of the nest will be limited this spring. But at the same time, the birds will have exceptional peace and quiet, welcome conditions as it is essential that breeding Osprey are not disturbed.

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.

The Osprey in Switzerland