Algeria -The Grand Erg Oriental Desert

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Algeria – the last Sahara Slog

No 14’s journey now takes him over that part of the planet washed by the great dry seas of the Sahara, made up by arid mountain ranges, vast plains of pebbles and rolling sand deserts of wind created dunes. He entered the Grand Erg Oriental Desert on Tuesday 24th March, roosting overnight a third of the way over. If you travelled a distance similar to that of Land’s End to John of Groats you would still be within the giant basin of the Grand Erg Oriental and in all that time you would have seen nothing but sand and an endless horizon quivering with heat. It’s the last push before he can reach water and food.

Two days before and further South he was flying over the mountainous area of the Ahaggar and Tassili n’Ajjer National Parks. It is a land of dramatic sandstone pillars and forests of wind sculpted rock. Still stark and largely waterless, Tassili n’Ajjer bears witness that as little as 2000 years ago an osprey’s forbears could have fished and bathed easily there. Under overhanging eaves the smooth rock surfaces hold hundreds of paintings depicting scenes from as far back as 8000 years. They show the valleys running with rivers between groves of trees and a thriving population of wild animals, and people, dancing, hunting and swimming. The pictorial time line continues, mapping the environmental decline of the area. Wild animals are replaced by cattle which are replaced by camels until the desert takes over and the paintings cease.

Have a look at some of them.

https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/179/video

Reminding us of our own pieces of neolithic rock at Castlerigg – this is a sight that migrating ospreys may be looking out for as they fly up the Bassenthwaite valley over the next few weeks.

Castlerigg Stone Circle, Keswick

 

Sahel Stop-overs – No 14 continues

Niger – pronounced with a soft g and a French accent. On the map it’s a pale khaki colour contrasting with the emerald forests of Nigeria and translating into a reality of dry desert waste, sand and rock at the centre of the Sahel region. Landlocked, it is flanked with equally desiccated neighbours, Mali to the west, Algeria and the Sahara desert to the North, and Libya and Chad to East. It’s one of the hottest places on earth. Today it was 40C dropping to 24C over the 24hours.

It’s not a place for a fish eating bird to hang about in, so, he has pushed on fast.

On Friday morning March 21st he left Nigeria, and roosted that night in central Niger,

on Saturday March 22nd he roosted in the North of Niger

and Sunday March 23rd crossed the border to roost in Southern Algeria.

The clusters of red dots indicate the places. Not easy to find a spot safe from small nocturnal predators such as fennecs or sand cats. Niger is the land where they have built a metal monument to a dead tree, (it was in a place where it was the only one for 400 km in any direction,) so a sand hillock, rock outcrop or low scrub will have been his uneasy resting place.

Going North on Saturday he would have been able to see the rocky walls of the Air massive in the distance to his right. This and the Tenere desert to the West is a UNESCO site of 30,000 square miles.Wikipedia has some great pictures of a dramatic and barren landscape!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A%C3%AFr_Mountains

If he was very lucky he may have passed near a herd of the last wild Addax Antelope with their pale coats and elegant corkscrew horns. They have large square teeth for browsing tough vegetation and big feet and heavy dew claws to walk across sand. They get all their moisture from plants and only excrete dry faeces and concentrated urine. Owch!

Swaledale sheep (instead of Addax antelope) in typical whinchat territory in Spring Lakeland

Tootling along with him will be migrating nightingales travelling to the Southern gardens of UK and whinchats,that we may well see on the fells this summer – if we’re allowed out!

Here in UK we have a very different human demographic to that of Niger. Ours is a long-lived nation that is age heavy, hence the measures to protect a large part of our population. Niger – in the wetter west by the Niger River is a country of children. There are 7.24 births per woman and average longevity only early 50’s. Pressure on land for food is increasing and as desertification of the Sahel increases both people and animals suffer and die.  Running parallel to No 14’s flight path the Agadez road South to North is a human migratory highway, carrying refugees from famine, war and slavery. I don’t suppose any of them will find a place to call home as beautiful as the Lake District.

On a lighter note, if you can get over the non-stop presentation to listen/inwardly digest, (use pause button a lot) I think this as good a potted Niger history as you’ll get.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AHeq99pojLo

 

 

 

Flying to a Different Beat

The 2020 migration of No 14  (no 2)

Flying to a different beat

Flying to the sound of his own wing beat; Self isolation may be advised for many but it seems to me that a migrating osprey puts itself into voluntary isolation for the duration of its journey, often up to a month.

Humans, as social animals, are inclined to be able to stand being in close proximity to others over their whole lifetime, starting with the nurturing process of bringing up their babies. Being apart and alone for any length of time is uncomfortable, but for many other animals and birds the opposite is true; physical closeness causes great stress, prompting aggression and fear. Although ospreys are more social in their wintering/non-breeding grounds than many other birds of prey, probably due to limited suitable fishing sites, they definitely do not have a touchy-feely relationship. A 2 metre social distance is minimum to maintain cordial interaction.

Very often when they return to their nest site in Spring we have observed that, although the urge to mate is strong enough to overcome their social reticence, when not engaged otherwise a pair will often stand on opposite sides of the nest facing away from each other for the first few days. Standing close to a creature with punishing talons, sharp beak and a 1.5 metre wingspan is a hard ask.

So, No 14 will be perfectly happy soaring the skyways by himself and only occasionally seeing another osprey at a distance at a fishing site or winging its way North.

Maps attached:

Here is his roost position at 0500  on 20.03.2020 in Northern Nigeria and the second map when he set off westwards and was fishing at Cross River, very near the town of Zango, at 0800.

What might he be seeing?

Northern Nigeria is the home of the Hausa people who have a very lively culture that is evolving into some more modern dance and song. In fact, brought to you virtually, here is Adam A Zango, from Zango itself with a typical street scene and some up-beat and  pretty cool moves.

 

Adam A Zango Hausa music

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WW-jubD1pyo

Hogs and Logs

Forest Research – not just Trees.

Over the last few years we have had an increased number of sightings of hedgehogs at Whinlatter. What can be nicer on a fine Spring evening than to hear a rustle in the bramble bushes by the lower carpark and watch a small snouting hog roll out on its quest for a forage feast of slugs and worms. It’s encouraging as it seems to be bucking the disastrous downward trend – a decline from 1.5million in 1995 to 500,000 in 2018.

Possible reasons include loss of habitat and food sources, increased predation by other mammals and deaths caused by road collisions.

Close by the car-park runs the road, not a major one, but still lethal to a fair amount of animals, squirrels, deer, birds. Some car owners use it as a short racing cut over the pass.

Last year a hedgehog was found on the tarmac near the Forest entrance and brought into the VC. It had had a glancing blow. Taking it on a last journey to the vet’s was the only option.  It has not been the only injured one by a long chalk.

Recently, The Forest Research arm of the Forestry Commission has been working in collaboration with other bodies to model hedgehog roadkill seasonal trends and hotspots across the British road network. This helps identify and map the worst areas for hedgehog road deaths, and then hopefully used to advise where measures to minimise the risk of hedgehog-vehicle collisions should be targeted.

The study found that around 9% of the 400,000 km of road in Britain is particularly dangerous for hedgehogs. Grassland areas, and the outskirts of urban areas, have the highest risk, and major roads are particularly hazardous, despite forming a relatively small proportion of the total road network.

Home in to have a look at where the hot spots are in the Lakes.

https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/news/research-identifies-worst-areas-hedgehog-road-deaths/

 

https://www.mammal.org.uk/science-research/hedgehog-hotspots/for more information .

2020 and 4000 miles to go

Welcome to the Lake District Osprey Project 2020.

On the human side all our migrations have been curtailed. However, for migrating birds, including the ospreys, life cycles and the seasons impose their own rhythms. Across the African continent scores of birds will be shaking their feathers and looking North. Number 14, the wonder-bird has spent the winter at his roost in Bioko.

However, at first light this morning he succumbed to the Spring wanderlust and felt the urge to be off. 

By 0749 he had crossed over the ocean and into Nigeria. The GPS fix places him over Oban Hills in the Cross River National Park. This is a UNESCO site of lowland tropical rainforest and home to the endangered Nigerian Chimpanzee and the Preuss’s Monkey.

Crossed fingers that he has an uneventful journey and returns to South Lakes safely.

August Ospreys

 

photo James Vaitkevicius

Now

Blue 400 and Unring are still to be seen around the valley together with other migrating ospreys , so it is worth taking your optics and having a look! Let us know if you see Blue 400 catch a fish!

August review

After a much wetter than average August it is time to take stock of the Bassenthwaite osprey family.  Blue 400 has had a difficult time learning to fish after her very successful fledging. This has not been for lack of trying!

Rain in itself does not bother ospreys, although they always look very bedraggled and miserable in a downpour with the rain dripping off their beaks. The problem is in the quality of the water they are trying to fish in. Rain on Lakeland’s bare fell tops loosens soil already eroded by centuries of overgrazing and mining and the many feet and bikes that churn up the paths. Streams in spate, with little in the way of bigger vegetation on their banks pull away more earth and this all rolls down into Bassenthwaite. Indeed Bassenthwaite, having one of the largest catchments, is the Lake most liable to silt up. Estimates put this at being between 15% and 20 % faster than it should. Nearly every day this month we have seen the Lake water turn milky brown spilling from Newlands Beck and the Derwent River. Ospreys hunt by sight so murky water inhibits them. (It must be uncomfortable for the gill-breathing fish as well) . Rain also creates flooded areas in the marsh and Blue 400 did much of her practising in these clearer lagoons. Wonderful viewing, with her wings held back like an avenging angel’s in classical pose, head forward til the last second and then feet plunging in the water. However, lagoons will only have a very few stranded fish in them so we have not seen her catch there.

It is always difficult to know how much behaviour is instinct and how much learnt. Fishing itself we know is instinctive, as has been proved by the re-introduction programs of osprey to Rutland in the early 2000’s and now at Poole in Dorset. Young birds are transferred to large open fronted cages so they can fly over the water and supplementary fish are posted in from behind a screen to keep their energy levels up. (A surrogate Dad technique). We also know also from our own observations that osprey Dads encourage their chicks to fledge initially by holding out fish as they fly past, so Blue 400 will have been watching both parents’ fishing patterns and picking up skills that way. At 5 weeks she was a big strong bird but has she caught enough and fed enough to make the migration?

 

 

Lunchtime, but not Cowed by Longhorns!

Photo L Baum   Rutpela maculata

Lunchtimes at the Viewpoint always give bonuses, in between looking at ospreys. Sometimes it’s a large slice of home-made cake on your plate, sometimes it’s a large beetle on your water bottle.

It’s quite a big beetle, 20mm long,  and although common in the South of England becomes rarer the closer you get to Scotland so we don’t see them that often. Due to its long antennae and colour its common name is ‘the black and yellow longhorn beetle’. No surprises there. It’s one of a herd of 68 different longhorn species in Britain, many of which are equally beautiful with patterns of orange, green and yellow but sadly, along with most other insects, in decline.

Dodd Wood is an ideal spot for it to live, particularly as the forest has been thinned over the past couple of years. Its larvae feeds on rotting wood, favouring the damp debris  of birch and pine and as an adult it eats nectar and pollen from flower-heads such as hog-weed and cow parsley that spring up as more light hits the forest floor.

Its life cycle can take up to 4 years but for nearly all of that time it is a pale grub and then a pupae. The colourful adult only lasts a couple of months in which it needs to find a mate. This one is probably a female as her ‘horns’ are more stripy than the males’. They are valuable members of the forest eco system, as decomposers when young and pollinators when adult.

However, not all longhorns are so benign, as the world warms the their Chinese cousin the Asian long horn beetle Anoplophora glabripennis  is able to advance North, often brought to Britain in consignments of untreated wood  and, as with many non-native species, this beefy individual has no natural predator. Unlike our natives it does not confine itself to dead wood but lays its eggs in living branches, its larvae creating long galleries, invisible inside the tree, until at last it hatches out from holes larger than 5p pieces. Attacking both timber and fruit trees it is of top concern to the Forestry Commission,  Forest Research Department and is a notifiable insect -this means  if you see one it is vital that you report it, following this link, through Tree Alert

Here’s its picture.

Asian long horn beetle Anoplophora glabripennis

The only way to control the spread is through felling with a buffer zone of 2km The last outbreak in Kent in 2012 saw 2229 trees felled of which 66 contained larvae. Only the quick response prevented 1000’s more trees being felled.

Forest Research is at the forefront, protecting our trees from pests and diseases. Find out more and see what other fantastic and fascinating work Forest Research does. Click on this link .https://www.forestresearch.gov.uk/tools-and-resources/pest-and-disease-resources/asian-longhorn-beetle/

We have lift off!

“The bird who dares to fall is the bird who learns to fly”
Thankfully falling was far from what happened on Tuesday, when at 16:45 the not so little osprey chick took to the sky! And didn’t she keep us guessing?
In front of a packed viewpoint, just as we said that she hadn’t been flapping much at all and didn’t seem in a rush to fledge, blue 400 decided to find her wings. Her leap of faith was a strong one, and she maintained height really well. Heading out towards the “spindly tree”, somewhere she has seen her parents fly to and from hundreds of times in the last eight weeks, she had only one slight wobble. Once over those twiggy perches though, the realisation seemed to dawn on her that she didn’t actually know how to land… lift off was the easy bit!
Getting tired she seemed to visibly falter in the air. Luckily mum was close by and rose up into the air to join her. Staying close, mum appeared to herd the youngster back towards the nest where the very large, stable and reasonably level surface provided a safe landing pad. There was a moment when the youngster was bombing back towards the nest at speed that I did wonder if she was going to land with a crash but she managed to apply the air brakes, executing a very tidy hover over the nest before plopping down to safety. Mum hovered overhead to supervise the landing before disappearing back to her perch. Osprey-copter safely landed!

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Family photo- blue 400 sitting with her parents

Amidst the elation, the excitement and the pride (because how can we not be proud) there was hugging and a round of applause. Fledging is something all chicks must face, but it can be an incredibly risky occassion with chicks sometimes crashing into trees or ending up grounded. Though blue 400 had left it till late in the day, she was safely installed back on the nest and we could pack up the viewpoint with huge grins on our faces. In the days since then we have seen her start to tackle perch landings…not always the most gracefully. She had also started to explore the many trees scattered throughout the marsh, going further and further afield, leaving us to play a game of “spot the osprey” as we try to keep track of her. The distance she is flying in one go is increasing rapidly so whilst the sky isn’t quite her only limit at the moment, it will only be a matter of time!
Come along and see her as she gets more and copter safely landed!

Blue 400 is exploring further from the nest

That’s one small step for Blue 400

For the past two weeks Blue 400  has been stretching and then flapping her wings, straining toward her birthright, the miracle of flight.

Just three weeks ago, when she was ringed, she had so little muscle development that she could not even stand upright and used her puny wings to help prop herself up. Mum was still feeding her as her neck muscles were not strong enough to help her tear through fish skin and her talons could barely grip.

However, all this changed within a few days as the inexorable processes of development, fuelled by fish, forced growth to maturity. Her feathers lengthened and lost their downy edges, her legs stretched and stamped; talons gripped wriggling fish. The nest suddenly appeared small and there was a world out beyond it waiting to be discovered. Orange eyes stared out to map the branches and trees where her parents sat and instinct that had kept her firmly in the centre of the nest now reversed and she teetered on the outermost sticks.

The huge pectoral muscles to power flight expanded, filling in the spaces either side of her sternum and like a dancer poised for her first solo Blue 400 practised over and again the wing movements that would eventually steer her to the sky. They were slow at first, ungainly and lopsided, but the pace became fast and faster and faster until they were a maelstrom of brown and white. Sometimes she managed to keep her grip on the sticks but latterly she found her toes were hanging onto ghost branches, and in sudden panic dropped back to safety.

With visitors we waited on tenterhooks for that first wild terrifying jump into space. It  might happen at any second and so often it happens just when everyone is looking away. Turn around and she’s gone! But not today.

This afternoon she floated up and away and everyone watching saw her do it!

(Picture LDOP flight of her half sibling in 2017)

 

Royal raptor rumble

It is hard to believe that only seven and a half weeks ago the Bassenthwaite chick emerged from an egg the size of a duck’s egg and now it is as big as its mum. Every time I see it sat up on the nest, I marvel at how quickly it has grown before my very eyes. Without exception, visitors are amazed to discover that the very adult looking bird they can see is actually the youngster.  

We are now in the period approaching fledging. Assuming this chick was from the first or only egg to hatch, it will be 8 weeks old on Tuesday, and therefore fledging is imminent. Having said that, the youngster doesn’t seem to have got the memo, for her flight preparations seem to be a little behind schedule. We are seeing a little bit of wing flapping, but no real consistency to her efforts. Perhaps she is a late bloomer!  

Instead the skies above Bassenthwaite and Dodd have been filled with other, equally enthralling winged residents. Lets take a look at some of the raptors! 

King of the marshland is a male marsh harrier who has been working really hard to steal the ospreys thunder this week. He has been putting in several appearances a day, demonstrating that distinctive low flight with his wings held in a ‘V’ position or perching on fence posts, flashing us a set of very yellow legs! 

Not to be outdone, the peregrines have upped their game. Usually we hear them before we see them, their distinctive scream ringing out over Dodd like a phantom’s cry before that classic “anchor” shape scythes across the sky. Visitors have had amazing views of peregrines passing over the viewpoint with lunch clutched in their talons, pursued by some very unhappy crows. On another occasion, the peregrine put one of the local ospreys (2H) in its crosshairs, or rather, the fish he had just caught. After stooping on the poor, unsuspecting 2H, who very quickly and understandably scarpered, it helped itself to the fish and contemplated its success for a couple of hours sat on a post in front of the viewpoint. When it crossed paths with the osprey mum whilst she was bathing, just a couple of days later, it took her warning bop with good grace.  

The list of raptors on view at Dodd goes on, with both sparrowhawk and goshawk haunting the woods here, kestrels hang almost motionless in the air below the viewpoint and buzzards soar with masterful ease wherever their broad wings take them. In any one day we can see as many as 8 species of birds of prey here.

So don’t hesitate, come along and see us at the viewpoint, open every day 10-5. How many will you see?