The season draws to an end

Ringing a young Osprey CJ83 at Sachsen, Germany by Peter Reusse

The Osprey season draws to an end and “our” birds have apparently all migrated, while a few others from further north are still delighting birdwatchers at some classic stop-over sites for the species.

Arthur (F12) appears to have left Hagneck a little earlier than in past years (last seen on September 1). Olympe (F28) was last spotted in the Grande Cariçaie by Martin Zimmerli on August 29, and Racine (F29) likely in the Fanel and Chablais de Cudrefin reserves on September 5 by Jean-Claude Muriset and René Gerster (final dates to be confirmed later, after we check a few camera-traps).

Concerning Taurus (PS7), it is still not yet certain whether he returned this year. Although a few visual sightings may indicate that he did, there has not been any record of his blue ring code this season. As for Flamme (ex-KF6), tracking him in the Hauts-Doubs has been a serious challenge since he lost his blue ring. Ever since a male with a metal ring on the left leg was spotted during this year’s first Osprey Morning,  his presence has been suspected in the Plateau de Frasnes area, where an unringed female spent a good part of the summer (even seen flying with a male on July 23).

As for our females which have bred outside of Switzerland, latest news from Moselle was when Dominique Lorentz saw one of the three juveniles of Mouche (PR4) on the nest on September 12, while in Baden-Württemberg Daniel Schmidt tells us that one of the two young of Chronos (ex-PS9) was still observed on the nest on September 7.

In Switzerland, the past few weeks have been rich with observations of migrating Osprey. It is common that juveniles pause for several days (or sometimes even weeks) at places where they can train and improve their fishing skills before continuing further south. This year for example in the Flachsee area (Canton Aargau), many people have been admiring CJ83, a young female ringed by Peter Reusse in the German province of Sachsen (see photo of her ringing above, on June 30). Young Ospreys have also stopped at Klingnau (Canton Aargau), Chavornay (Canton Vaud), Verbois (Canton Geneva) and a few other places. Such birds are always a joy to watch, as they are often less shy than adults and sometimes need to dive many times before they manage to catch a fish.

Please note the time!

Unringed female Osprey in the Hauts-Doubs, France, 27 June 2023

The start of August is the time when the first reports of Osprey migrating over Switzerland that are not one of “ours” begins. This means that it is increasingly difficult to tell the difference between Ospreys passing through and local birds. Summer is also a period when one of our males may still meet a single visiting female, increasing the chances that she might return next year. One such female (photo above), unringed and possibly still immature, has been recorded several times during the last two months in the Haut-Doubs region, including once with a male who we suspect is Flamme (ex-KF6).

With the number of sightings increasing from now, it is even more important to note exactly at what time any Osprey observation is made, whether a ring is visible, and recording the code if it can be read or photographed.

As for “our” birds, they should stay in the area for a few more weeks. For reference, in 2022 Taurus (PS7) was last seen on August 31, Flamme (ex-KF6) on September 5, Arthur (F12) on September 11, Olympe (F28) on August 21, and Racine (F29) on 23 September, after a visit to Lake Constance. All observations are valuable to help determine their departure dates, in particular that of Taurus (PS7), since his ring could not yet be read this year. While it is more likely to see them in the Three-Lakes region, a few (like Flamme) can venture 50-60 km from the release site, or even more. So happy Osprey watching to all for the last weeks before they all head back south!

Surprise on the Rhine

Osprey pair Chronos (ex-PS9) and her partner on nest platform just before laying her first egg.

After Mouche (PR4, from 2016), Plume (F02, from 2017) and Rafale (F14, from 2018), the discovery of a fourth female reintroduced in Switzerland, Chronos (ex-PS9), has been a great surprise! Named because she had a spot on the back of her head which looked like an hourglass, Chronos was identified thanks to a camera-trap on a nest platform checked by Daniel Schmidt in Baden-Württemberg, where the species has just been recorded breeding for the first time since 1907.

Chronos, just like Flamme (ex-KF6, also from 2017), has lost her blue plastic ring, so it has been a real challenge to identify her. We have also realised that in the past two years, Chronos and the same male had already bred on the French side of the Rhine, where they had 3 chicks in 2021 and 2 in 2022 –  but all sadly died before fledging (predation suspected by Eagle-owl, Goshawk or Pine Marten).

This spring, they initially returned to their original nest in Alsace, but were chased away by a pair of Canada Geese. A nearby nest platform (one of 15 built along the Rhine by the LPO- Alsace and NABU-Germany with support from several partners, including Pro Pandion), could have served as an alternative. Had it not also been “squatted” by a pair of Egyptian Geese, which in turn were chased away by another pair of Canada Geese.

Faced with such exotic invasive competitors, Chronos and her partner then crossed the Rhine River to seek refuge on another platform, which they had visited last year after the failure of their second breeding attempt in Alsace. And this time they were at last successful. A first egg was laid on April 15, and on June 24 Daniel Schmidt-Rothmund ringed their two chicks and collected the SD-card from a camera trap. While checking over 2800 pictures, he noticed that the female had an unusual type of ring (with rivets), and remembered that the Swiss project had used this at times. However, he could only decrypt a few figures on it which did not match ours, before realising that the ring had actually been placed upside-down. So what initially looked like “66” turned out to be “99”, and on one of the photos, “9945” could even be read, corresponding to eight possible female Osprey released at Bellechasse.

Checking all the photos taken at the time of their release, we confirmed that only one, Chronos, had its metal ring placed upside-down (see a video of her feeding on the Bellechasse aviaries on August 7, 2017), and that she had lost her blue plastic ring PS9. Chronos was collected in eastern Germany by Mario Firla and translocated to Switzerland in June 2017. Released on July 27, she migrated on August 29. And excellent news hot off the press: both her chicks have just fledged!

New success for Mouche in Moselle

Mouche, AM06 and the last Osprey chick in the nest in Moselle, France

This year Mouche (PR4, born in eastern Germany and translocated to Bellechasse in 2016) and her partner AM06 have raised three beautiful chicks in the French department of Moselle (pictured above). Dominique Lorentz was lucky to witness the first flight of their third chick on July 3 at 17h40, the second one having fledged a little earlier the same day (and the first one apparently the day before).

Each year the pair seem to breed a little earlier, as Dominique saw the male back on March 17 (joined by the female the next day), and David Meyer was able to read the rings and see a first mating on March 19. This is the fourth year that Mouche and her partner bred on the same nest, after having already fledged two chicks in 2022 and in 2021, but failed on their first attempt in 2020. They seem to be getting better with practice!

Regarding our other females which we know have also returned, Plume (F02, from 2017) and Rafale (F14, from 2018), both of whom were photographed in 2022 in north-eastern Bavaria, we have not had any news about them so far this year. We can only hope that they may be located by some camera-traps, when thousands of photos will be retrieved and examined after the birds have left.

So easy to miss

Racine F29 reintroduced Osprey at the Fanel Nature Reserve, Lake of Neuchâtel, Switzerland

For our second “Osprey morning” on Sunday 25 June, a warm and sunny day with no wind, 61 observers got up even earlier than for the first one. A total of 31 sites were watched simultaneously, mainly in the Three-Lakes region but also in a few other locations in the Aar and Doubs river basins.

Racine (F29) was the first to be spotted at 05:18 and again at 05:32 at Bellechasse, while Arthur (F12) was already present at Hagneck (Lake of Bienne) at 05:25. He was seen again flying at Bellechasse at 7:31, later perching on a nest platform there from 08:01-08:45, before flying towards the Lake of Morat and disappearing from sight at 08:51. At 9:22, he was then spotted (photo above) about 8km away at the Chablais de Cudrefin jetty on the Lake of Neuchâtel flying north-east, before vanishing towards the Lake of Bienne.

In the meantime, after his first very early appearance, Arthur was observed at Hagneck again from 6:23 until 7:15, when he disappeared before returning with a fish at 8:41. From then he ate intermittently, still holding part of his meal in his talons when Racine suddenly turned up at 10:20, 14km away from his previous sighting at the Chablais de Cudrefin. Both then circled together higher and higher (with Arthur whistling) until 10:24, when they disappeared from view. This is the first time that one of our Osprey (Racine) was identified in three different places around three different lakes in one single morning.

In the Grande Cariçaie, Olympe (F28), a three-year-old like Racine, was first spotted at 8:00 on one of the two nest platforms built for him. At 8:09 he flew towards a nearby forest to break a branch, and bring it to the other platform, almost 2.5 km further away, at 8:12. He returned to perch near the first one at 8:23, before being lost from view at 8:33. Finally at 10:00 an Osprey (Olympe?) was seen catching a fish, carrying it to the other nest platform, and then to a dead tree, where he was still perched when the last observers left at 10:55.

Despite a full court press of 15 observers spread in eight different places looking for Taurus (PS7) along the Aar (where we suspect he has a territory, having briefly seen an unidentified Osprey carrying a branch there on June 14), no Osprey were seen in the area. Taurus has been remarkably difficult to locate this year in comparison to past years, making us wonder what he is up to. Likewise, no Osprey were seen at six sites covering two parts of the Doubs basin. However, observations on June 4 (most likely Flamme, ex-KF6), and on June 27 (a female, apparently unringed) indicate the presence of two different birds in the Haut-Doubs region.

In summary, at least three known males were seen from five different sites, thanks to a very motivated team of volunteers!

The full moon was red

Observation tower at the Fanel Nature Reserve, Switzerland

On June 4, 52 enthusiastic volunteers woke up well before dawn to participate in our first Osprey Morning of the season, starting with a magnificent full moon glowing red. This simultaneous watch spread over 33 sites (mostly in the Three-Lakes region, but also more locally in the Aar and the Doubs river basins), led to at least five or perhaps six different Osprey seen in total.

The weather was for the most part kind, sunny and no wind, although a few sites caught some scattered showers. The first two observations occurred at the same time: 5:35, with Arthur (F12) engaged in a spectacular “sky dance” for half an hour at Hagneck (still hoping for a visiting female), and another osprey (unidentified) flying over the lake of Morat near Muntelier.

A third one was spotted at 5:41 in the Grande Cariçaie, but too far to see if it was ringed. However, at 6:46 one of our known males, Olympe (F28), was observed eating and digesting a fish on a nearby dead tree until 8:23, after which he flew off with a Black Kite, before returning to perch at 08:33. Then from 8:39-8:40, a pair were seen briefly flying together, before disappearing as suddenly as they had appeared – most likely Olympe with an unknown female. Could she be the same one who spent three days with him at the beginning of May?

In the Haut-Doubs we had some concerns about Flamme (ex-KF6), as he had not been confirmed back in the area which he frequented last year. However, about 28km away an osprey with a left metal ring was first seen perched at 8:24, and started fishing at 9:20, before disappearing with his catch at 9:36. Could it be Flamme, who after moving his territory by a few km between 2021 and 2022, has moved once again?

We were surprised that at the Fanel nature reserve, traditionally much favored by the species, no osprey were seen between 5:30-10:00. But fortunately some people stayed beyond the call of duty and saw Racine (F29) flying in at 11:30, promptly catching a large fish, eating it, and then catching a smaller one and eating it on the same dead tree. He was still there when the observers left at 14:30. While Racine was not duly recorded in the morning, probably one or more of the three unidentified sightings made near Muntelier (5:35) and at Bellechasse (6:38 and 7:40) were either him and/or Taurus (PS7).

Finally after the “official end” of the Osprey Morning, Arthur was seen again at Hagneck breaking branches to build a natural nest around 14:30, less than ten minutes after being photographed 10 km away at the pond of Lobsigensee (where he hadn’t turned up during the whole morning)!

A big thank you again to all the great team who took part in the June 4 Osprey Morning, as well as to those who have already signed up for the next one of June 25. If anyone else wishes to participate, it is not too late, just contact us here!

Osprey on Swiss TV

Stephen Rytz and Loîc Oswald Orca productions filming the Return of the Osprey

“The Return of the Osprey”, a film by Stephan Rytz, director and Loïc Oswald, cameraman (photo above), has just come out, documenting the project of the NGO “Nos Oiseaux” to reintroduce the Osprey in Switzerland. Produced by Orca Production, the film will be shown for the first time on Swiss television on Saturday 20 May at 1:40 pm (RTS1), and on Monday 22 May at 8:15 pm (RTS2).

“The Return of the Osprey” illustrates how long and complex it can be to restore a breeding bird species which became regionally extinct. It beautifully chronicles the main stages of the project since it started in 2015, including the construction of the release aviaries, the translocation of Osprey chicks to Switzerland, their care and surveillance with the support of a very dedicated team of volunteers, and the return of the lucky few to Europe after migrating to West Africa and spending about two years there.

While some of our males back in the Three-Lakes region have already courted females coming from elsewhere, and at least two females released in Switzerland have bred in France and in Germany, the first showing of this film could not be more timely as suspense is building on when and where the first pair will breed in Switzerland.

Although the original film is in French (see trailer), an English version is currently in preparation.

Four males and a female

Two Osprey in display flight in Switzerland

After Arthur (F12) on March 25, Olympe (F28) on April 1, and Racine (F29) on April 17, Taurus (PS7) was the last of our four males from last year to be confirmed back in the Three-Lakes region. First observed on April 22 at the lake of Morat by Mateo Cerantola, he may well have returned earlier, having been very discrete with only a few observations of him fishing at Fanel.

The only male that we don’t have news of to date is “cross-border” Flamme (ex-KF6), who has not yet been seen in the Haut-Doubs (nearby France). Let’s hope that he didn’t have a problem in his wintering grounds or during migration. If he has moved his territory by a few km (like he did between 2021 and 2022), we may still receive news of him later this season.

The big news this spring is that at the start of May we had an unringed female join one of our territorial males. She was seen in his company for at least three days (see photo above, the pair in display flight), with him bringing her fish to a nest where we even observed them mating: a first since the beginning of the project! Considering the rather late time of her arrival, it could be her first return from Africa, in which case she would still be too young to breed.  She hasn’t been seen again in the past few days, but may either still be discretely in the region, or else has continued her migration. In any case the excitement of seeing an Osprey pair getting so serious has just been extraordinary.

Welcome back Racine & Olympe!

The Osprey Racine F29 back in Yverdon, Switzerland

Racine (F29), the last of “our” birds to leave on migration in 2022, has returned. His discovery by Julien Torre at Yverdon on April 17 (photo above) was particularly welcome news given the state of his feathers when he left last year. To date we know of three males back in Switzerland. The first was our star Arthur (F12), returning early on 25 March and putting on a good show every day. He has been quite busy chasing Egyptian Geese and Yellow-legged Gulls coveting his nest platform, as well as having frequent altercations with Black Kites. While Arthur has already had at least one brief visit from another Osprey, so far he hasn’t found a female, even though he has often been displaying and assiduously adding branches and scraping his nest. Too bad there isn’t a “Tinder” for Osprey…

Other good news is that Olympe (F28) is back along the lake of Neuchâtel, where he was first seen in his territory by Patrick Reymond on April 1. Patiently waiting for the unringed lady friend with whom he formed a pair last summer, Olympe has started bringing branches to the two artificial nests built for him.

Right now we’re at the peak of Osprey migration and a number of birds have already been seen flying over Switzerland, although most too far away to see if they were ringed or not. Many thanks to everyone sharing their observations and photos, always very helpful as we hope to discover more returns.

Arthur is back!

Arthur F12 at Hagneck

In the Three Lakes region the 2023 season has started with a bang, with Arthur already back at Hagneck on March 25, almost two weeks earlier than in 2022. Let’s hope that he finds a female this year, following the example of Mouche (PR4) with her partner AM06. According to David Meyer and Dominique Lorentz they were back together on their nest in Moselle on March 18 (the male having returned on 17th), both a little earlier than last year.

This year we have also built two new artificial nests: one in February in the Grande Cariçaie by the Lake of Neuchâtel, where Olympe (F28) formed a pair in 2022 with an unringed female in 2022; and one this month in the Haut-Doubs, to replace the natural nest built by Flamme (ex-KF6) which was destroyed by a storm last summer. The same day (March 25), Cathy Poimboeuf discovered an Osprey that roosted in the vicinity, although too far away to see if it was ringed. Was it Flamme, or maybe another bird stopping over on migration? Great thanks go to the climbers Christian and Pascal Grand, Paul Ducry and Jean-Luc Holweger as well as to the ground team: Michel Beaud, Emile Curty, Denis Landenbergue, Dominique Michelat, Marie Pierre Nibbio, Didier Pépin, Cathy Poimboeuf, Christophe Sahli, Wendy Strahm and Vincent Tardy.

While waiting for more returns, please don’t hesitate to save the dates now for the next two “Osprey Mornings”, scheduled on the Sundays of June 4 and June 25. These simultaneous observations at fishing sites really help a lot in identifying how many Osprey spend the summer in the region and where. So if you are interested and available, please let us know here.

The Osprey in Switzerland