Through France and Spain and into Africa

Through Southern France and over the Pyrenees, skirting around Spain and over the Mediterranean (actually the bit called the Alboran Sea) to Morocco. 30.09.2020.


Across the Atlas Mountains into Algeria and across the Grand Erg Occidental Desert to roost in the mountains.


Then an odd divergence to the East along the mountain range, passing an even odder landscape feature.

A moon landscape with what looks to be an enormous meteor strike. The Tin Bider crater was formed in the last 70 million years, perhaps in the late Cretaceous or early Tertiary Period.Spanning 6 kilometres, the crater sits at the southern end of a range of hills.


He’s crossed out of Algeria into Mali and he’s heading southwards to follow the Niger River which should take him through the SW corner of Niger into Nigeria and down to the coast.

‘We have been made aware of a possible ringing recovery involving White 14.  We are working closely with the British Trust for Ornithology, and will update when they can confirm or deny these reports.’


Britain, Brittany, France

We are not keeping up with wonder bird!

This is his position for September 28th. He has flown down the length of France via a channel crossing, Seaton to Loguivy on the  Brittany coast. Then straight over Brittany to  Carnac Plage he took a rather risky route over the notorious Bay of Biscay to the Gironde Estuary. This is a favourite osprey stop over place with shallow sandy water and good fishing. He then continued Southward, toward the Pyrenees.

No 14 starts his Southward Journey


Travels around the South lakes over the past few weeks.

Day 1 of the migration

Roudsea to Wrexham – and that was the first indication that No 14 had started his migration back to his wintering grounds in Bioko on Wednesday 16th Sept. It was a leisurely trip starting at 06.55 with some swoops around the bay before heading off over the North Wales Coast and landing in a strip of woodland adjacent to a river near Wrexham. Via the M6 the journey would have been about 140 miles.

No 14 and some research – handsome, talonted, why no mate?

The map shows No 14’s movements in S Lakes, fishing in the estuary with occasional visits to Pennington reservoir to the west. 

No 14 has not found a mate this year, again and he has rarely been seen visiting the site in South Lakes where we felt he might settle, so:

Our licensed ringer and osprey expert has been trying to discover if the fact that white 14, at the age of 7 years and has not started breeding yet is unusual or if the fact that he is still carrying the satellite tag is having an influence on his breeding capabilities.

To this end he has asked the folk who have worked with the Rutland osprey population which started breeding in the same year as the Lakeland birds and also Roy Dennis who has been involved with Ospreys, including satellite tagging, for many years in Scotland and elsewhere what information they have on the ages that ospreys have started to breed and whether any birds carrying satellite tags have bred successfully.

This is the information/data that they have sent through to him. It’s extremely interesting to know about other ospreys and the ages they start to breed and those others carrying sat tag successfully raising chicks

With regard to the age of breeding males, there have been two males in the Rutland Water population that bred for the first time aged 11 and 14 respectively.

So there is no doubt that some birds have to wait a considerable time to breed.

This year there is an 8 year-old male that is breeding for the first time, and a 7 year-old male that is yet to pair up.

So on this data there is still time and hope that white 14 will breed in the future

There are numerous examples of satellite-tagged birds breeding successfully. Notable examples include:

  • Female Yellow 30 raised eight chicks between 2015-2019 at a nest near Rutland Water after being tagged as an adult in 2013. The tag then fell off last winter and she has returned to breed again this year.
  • One of Roy’s satellite-tagged females, Beatrice, bred each year from 2009-2015 after being tagged as an adult in 2008.
  • Satellite-tagged female Morven bred between 2009 and 2018 while carrying a satellite transmitter. The transmitter was then removed and she continues to return to Scotland.
  • Another of Roy’s satellite-tagged birds, Nimrod (male), raised five chicks between 2008 and 2011 while carrying a satellite tag.
  • A further six satellite-tagged males and two females have bred successfully in Scotland in recent years, plus two males at Rutland Water.

There is no evidence that satellite transmitters have ever stopped birds breeding. 

So to conclude, there is no way that the satellite transmitter is the issue with White 14 and there are still several years left for him to settle down and raise some chicks.


The Lockdown Gap.


Top of Dodd – Sunshine and clouds in June.

With Staff and Volunteers all in Lockdown and subsequently unable to deliver the Osprey project there has been little news on the doings of the Bassenthwaite family over the past months. At the Dodd viewpoints there is no way that using communal telescopes can comply with covid restrictions. Similarly, gathering people around a screen to watch osprey footage is not possible with social distancing.

However, ospreys, like many other creatures thrived over a time when traffic and people were not there to disturb them.

Eggs were laid, chicks were hatched, fishing was good and the dry sunshine conducive to health and well-being. The two chicks this year looked very healthy. Their experienced Father Unring, now in his 8th breeding year, is a pro at delivering fish and defending the nest site. The female, thought to be the un-ringed one from last year, has taken to motherhood well, shading the young chicks from the sun and popping the right sized morsels of food down their ever-hungry throats.

The chicks from an early age showed a considerable size difference. Perhaps this indicated there had been an egg that did not hatch laid between them. Or perhaps the elder one of the two was a bigger female and the younger a smaller male. However, both were vigorous in vying for attention and in flapping and hopping about the nest prior to first flights.

Altogether, with pairs in South Lakes, such as Foulshaw, and those in Keilder Forest producing young, Cumbria is having a good year ospreywise!

The Life and Death of 5Y


The Life and Death of Green 5Y 

Image – Craig Smith 5Y Brockholes April 2020

Over the past week there have been great highs and then a huge low concerning the life and death of Bassenthwaite osprey Green 5Y.

This is as full a story as I can get, starting at a bit before the beginning:

The advantages of Ringing

Ringing a bird has always been one of the least invasive methods of collecting data on its movements after it has left the nest.  The LDOP has tried to ring all chicks every year since its inception in 2001. At the age of 5-6 weeks these Schedule 1 chicks are taken by a licensed ringer from the nest and in the space of half an hour are given a visual health check and are weighed and measured. Two rings are placed on their legs.  In England, the left leg bears a metal BTO ring with the unique serial number of the bird stamped into it. On the right leg a larger plastic Darvic ring is placed with a letter/number/colour combination. Generally, with luck, this can be seen through a telescope, whereas the metal ring number can in most cases only be read from a deceased recovery.

Ring sightings depend on members of the public spotting them and sending their findings to the BTO, who then informs the ringer concerned. Over a number of years, a broad set of information can be gathered on the population movement and dynamics, but for individual birds sightings can be few and far between. At a watched breeding nest site, like Bassenthwaite, there are daily summer sightings, but then only sporadic and random information. This can be very frustrating when we send off healthy chicks and never hear anything of them again! We know about 70% never reach breeding maturity, but we can never be sure if they have failed or just not seen.

It is also important to note that unless cameras are fixed onto the nest site confirming the identities of the breeding male and female, is difficult and sometimes open to speculation, despite the birds carrying a colour ring and it’s even more difficult if they don’t.

Green 5Y has been an exception in that we have had bites at a history from his hatching in 2006 at Bassenthwaite to his sad death on April 23rd) near Brockholes Nature reserve in Lancashire.

His Early Months

Image 5Y 2006 Bassenthwaite July LDOP

Green 5Y was the offspring of the 2 original ospreys breeding on Bassenthwaite from 2001, No-ring (A very distinctive male bird with no rings) and female Green SX.

2006 was SX’s last year of breeding but as a bonus, she managed to produce, hatch and rear chicks from 3 eggs (previously she had only had 1 and 2 offspring). The first two eggs were laid on Tuesday 18th April at 05.30 and Fri 21st April – but the third was more difficult to verify but probably about 23rd April. Interestingly, George, the Forestry Commission engineer had tried to insert a mini camera on the edge of the nest for the second year running, this time with a cage around it to prevent accidents with sticks and talons, but by the time of hatching it was buried again in moss and branches.

By the end of May and the last days of incubation, the weather had turned bitterly cold, volunteers wearing gloves and woolly hats. On Friday 26th May we were on tenterhooks but relied on the protection team who told us that they thought the first chick had hatched at around 23.00. The big surprise on Saturday was that when we switched on at 10.00 a second chick had hatched at about 7.50 that morning. To quote ringer Pete Davies,

“We were already delighted at seeing one chick in the nest at first light and I couldn’t believe it when the second egg started to hatch. My heart was in my mouth as we watched the tiny chick struggling to break out of the egg. This is quite extraordinary because there is usually a full day between hatching – I’ve never heard of anything like this before.”

Then there was a wait until the night of Tues 30th when the last chick hatched in the night. Amazingly, the sticks by the mini camera had moved and much of the hatching process was captured on video film, which with the technology of the time was thrilling to achieve.

One of these exciting hatchings was 5Y – but we weren’t to know that at the time!

All the chicks thrived with the copious amount of fish that No ring brought in, although the littlest had to use quite a lot of ducking and weaving moves to get into a position to be fed, and avoid being bashed by its older and much bigger siblings. No-ring was seen to feed it exclusively on occasions.

On July 5th they were ringed and checked by Pete D, all behaving perfectly at ‘playing dead’ whilst SX called overhead. Ranger, Paul Brown filmed the occasion. The female bird was already big compared with her two brothers and her ring was Green XU. The other two male chicks were ringed Green 5Y and Green 5Z.

They continued to develop well heading towards fledging in July, the next big milestone. The weather had turned extremely hot and the chicks panted on the nest, despite their covering of feathers. On Thursday 20th of July at 14.35 in a haze of heat, the male chick 5Z took its maiden flight and promptly disappeared into the sultry air. It was spotted the next day, still out, but doing fine. On Sat 22nd July 5Y took its first flight in the evening, and his big sister took hers, again in the cool of the evening, on Sun 23rd.

As with all juveniles their first days in the air were full of near misses and clumsy landings but the female came on in leaps and bounds and on July 31st was seen catching her first fish. Her brothers were still doing circuits and bumps but as they grew bolder there were attempts when they ganged up to chase their sister to steal her fish. She was more than a match for them though.

By this time SX Mum was only coming into the nest at 2 or 3 day intervals, sometimes with a fish for the juveniles, as she prepared herself for the journey back to Africa.

Over the summer otters were often seen in the glassy waters and on the marsh. One perfect moment was viewed by many visitors and staff when 2 of the juveniles were bathing and an otter romped into their space across the boggy ground. It was a bit of a shock for everyone! Great white egret and marsh harrier had also been seen as high spots over the summer.

It’s not sure when the chicks left the valley as the human side of the Project stops at the end of August but by 27th Aug SX had departed and in the next couple of weeks so had the juveniles and Dad.

Fast forward a few years

Now comes a gap. Ospreys generally spend a couple of years in Africa after their first migration to mature before making the return journey. Whether 5Z and sister XU survived no one knows, but in the Spring of 2009 5Y was once again seen near Esthwaite Water in the company of his half sister White YU. White YU was hatched in 2007. No-ring was her father with a new un-ringed female ‘Mrs’ was her mother as Green SX had failed to return in 2007. YU and 5Y made a nest on private land in S Lakes in 2009 and bred in 2010. It is probable/possible that they were the breeding couple over the next years, with YU as the female until 2018. In 2019 a female with no ring was seen there.

However, this year 2020, Green 5Y had not been seen in S Lakes although he was possibly on his way there.

The Brockholes sightings

The M6 motorway runs closely past the Brockholes nature reserve, near Preston, Lancashire and although shut, due to corona virus, local people were charmed and uplifted when on April 15th 2020 an osprey was reported sitting on the motorway bridge above the River Ribble and diving off to catch fish. (Have a look at Google maps)

With hindsight this was probably not the ideal perching spot.

Darren Leen who works for Highways England’s traffic officer service from an outstation next to the M6 and A59 at Samlesbury recognised it as an osprey from his first sight.’ I was on a break at the outstation when I saw the osprey on a motorway bridge; it had been scanning the River Ribble for his/her next meal, sitting unfazed by 44-tonne vehicles passing less than three metres away.”

A number of people managed to get photos of him, including the images attached from Craig Smith. The bird had no Darvic ring, but it was noticed that he seemed to have a metal ring on his left leg, indicating he was an English bird. One picture was so sharp that the digits could be seen, and these were sent off to the BTO.

In a couple of days Pete had the confirmation that it was 5Y!

The questions this raised were many, not only where he had been but also why had he left a prime nest site? Was he pushed out by a rival male, or had he arrived late one year and found it already taken or do ospreys, reaching a certain age become more infertile with less urge to breed and go wandering. Fascinating!

All this detective work led to him having a moment of high publicity, featuring on TV. There was a lovely bit of film, but with the motorway traffic blurring fast behind him.

On 23.04 2020 watchers observed him sitting on the railing as usual, overlooking the River when a cyclist decided that he would make his way along the hard shoulder of the motorway – who knows why, being both dangerous and we assume illegal.

5Y taken aback, shot into the air, straight into an up-coming lorry.

Witnesses took photos of the cyclist, but he made it clear he had less than no concern about the incident.

Of course, it has been a great sadness to all others involved, particularly for those watching him in Lancashire and for us having found 5Y and lost him again so quickly. The set of incidents were random, but quite probably not that unusual, except in the witnessing. As we see daily from the many corpses knocked down on all roads, traffic and wild creatures are not compatible.  These are the words of the Brockholes team:

‘This news brings home ever more the need for bigger, better and more connected green spaces to allow such magnificent birds such as this one to thrive. Our conservation team work tirelessly to ensure Brockholes provides the best habitat for an abundance of different wildlife, but with surroundings becoming ever more industrialised, we need the help of wider organisations and the Government to provide a wildlife focused environmental bill which will make protecting species all the more prevalent in the hearts of the nation.’

However, for 5Y to have lived for 14 years of migration, breeding and overcoming all the other hazards of existence, his was a victory in its own right. He occupied a place at the top of the survival pyramid – his genes live on!

And we have that once in a 20-year history of a magnificent birth to death record.

We hope he finds himself by a safe river where the Salmon leap willingly into a hunting osprey’s talons.

Bar and LDOP Team

Craig Smith 5Y Brockholes 2020 April


Sophie and Becky made the great efforts to capture and verify the Brockhole story and get permissions to use the wonderful photos.  And of course Pete who placed his leg rings on in the first place.

Eggsactly what we were waiting for!

We are over the moon because, at long last, the pair of birds nesting by Bassenthwaite Lake have produced their first Egg of the Season.

 This image is of a first egg laid at Bassenthwaite in a previous year with parents KL and Unring -slightly different weather!

The female’s behaviour was observed to have changed radically at 16.00 hours on Monday  April 20th by local sharp eyed Staff and Volunteers on their exercise walk.

From the footloose and fancy free ‘honeymoon’ period where she had been seen flying about the valley, mating with the male bird and collecting nest material, she is now sitting solidly in the nest cup.

The two birds arrived at the end of March, so we were hoping to see a first egg on the Easter weekend. Generally, if all is going well with the courtship, eggs are expected 13 or 14 days after arrival. However, this year, the romance seemed to be a bit off and on the boil. A couple of times the male bird was observed to be mantling fish – holding it under his wings – and not handing it over to the female. As fish is the equivalent of giving chocolates for ospreys, both for bonding and protein, it is perhaps not surprising she was a little tardy in producing. The male bird seems to have got into the swing of things now though and is bringing fish to her on the nest.

Usually ospreys lay 2-3 eggs at 48 hour intervals so it’s to be hoped that by the weekend she will be sitting on a full clutch with the long haul of incubation lying ahead.

At this period it is critical that these Schedule 1 Protected birds are not disturbed, and the clutch not jeopardised.  We would ask that everybody enjoys the ospreys, through media, news and updates, from the comfort of their own homes, observing the government guidelines for exercise and social distancing.

Easter Roundup

Looking back to Easter  – 14

 We had hoped to bring you news of Easter eggs with the osprey pair on Bassenthwaite. They had been here for over a fortnight so a first date for that happy event could have been over that weekend.  However, nothing happened during the night, so this is not to be!

Easter is always a good time to consider the miracle of new life and new hope. For ospreys that is a double miracle. There is the one that happens every year with individual pairs; eggs being laid with the promise of a future generation, and there is the one for the species, within our lifetime coming back from extinction in the UK.

It has not happened easily. The mindset of a nation has had to be turned, from seeing birds of prey as a menace, to seeing them as a vital part of the eco system and beautiful in their own wild right.

The means were not hype or high tech, just one person talking to another, just  someone giving up time to watch, just someone who organised a rota, just someone who wrote to the newspaper.

So the third miracle is, that it is in the small things each of us do that can turn a nation, or a world from one course of action to another. It has worked for Ospreys.

It can work for anything.

Bassenthwaite Birds

Coming back to the two miracle birds in the Bassenthwaite valley, they have not been idle in the beautiful Spring sunshine. Our Ranger and local Volunteers, using their hour’s exercise to good effect, have watched them mating and bringing in sticks to the nest platform. A sharp eyed individual saw one of them swooping down amongst the trees and breaking off dead branches. This is classic osprey behaviour as they don’t like settling on the ground, but it can be tricky because if the branch twangs instead of  snapping there can be a sort of boomerang osprey effect.

Other watchers have seen the continuation of the hate hate relationship between the birds and crows, whose territory is nearby, with some aerial battles. Another action high spot was when an intruder osprey attempted to land on the nest – probably with conquest of either nest or female on its mind, but it was seen off with gusto. So, with all this action and excitement it’s not surprising that the female hasn’t quite settled down to lay eggs.

No 14 Home Visits

In South Lakes No 14 is obviously over the moon to be back in his old stamping grounds. Taking up from where he left off last year he visited all the other osprey nest sites in Lakes Peninsulas  in quick succession. We suspect he is the Rhett Butler of the Southern osprey estates as he seems to enjoy seeing how much mayhem he can cause at each established territory, causing lots of screaming and shouting from the avian owners, and then he’s gone with the wind. No signs of a Scarlett O’Hara for him in the offing though.

The map says it all.

Bar Thomson and the Lake District Osprey Project team

Flowers – Blackthorn

If you like the idea of a virtual walk by the shores of Bassenthwaite Lake by St Bega’s this is a good one.

Lakes Landing, No 14 arrives

The Destination! 13


No 14 has reached his destination!

At 13.00 on April 5th he was ‘pinged’ near Esthwaite Water.

He started on March 17th, St Patrick’s Day in Bioko and ended on April 5th Palm Sunday in Cumbria, a journey of over 4000 miles in 20 days.

It’s something we can marvel at but even after years of research we don’t really understand.

Why do ospreys migrate?

In general it is thought that animals migrate to exploit food supplies. For example, the grazing herds of Africa follow the new grass cycle with the rains. The easy take on this is, Ospreys fly north in Spring to exploit the rising fish in colder Northern climes. Hours of daylight give longer fishing times to rear healthy chicks.

An explanation as to how this developed would be that during the last ice age, 10,000 years ago, ospreys were confined to the Equatorial regions where water did not freeze and fish did not sink dormant. As the ice retreated the opportunity to fish slowly extended North, and birds followed both for fish and to escape pressure at nest sites. Now ospreys make these huge journeys from end to end of the range. No 14 is a classic example.

But we are finding that although this will be broadly true, the dispersal pattern isn’t that simple. Our theories have often been based on observations of the low osprey numbers in Western Europe where there have been centuries of persecution. It is only now as they are returning over the area that their behaviours are posing us more questions.

Why don’t more ospreys breed in their wintering grounds in West Africa where fish are plentiful? The majority are migratory.

However, those in the Red Sea are pretty much resident all year.

Re-colonisation in the Mediterranean shows ospreys breeding in Corsica just moving a short way East to Spain in winter. They are over-flown by the long distant osprey migrants like No 14.

But then, a few of the UK breeding ospreys have been discovered ducking out of making the full journey and are stopping over in the Mediterranean in winter. So, it doesn’t seem as if the migratory instinct is quite so hard wired in as we thought. There can be modifications or even a switch off if conditions change.

Global Thinking

Arm-chair travelling with No 14 has been very exciting, ‘visiting ‘ so many wild, strange and exotic places that our bird will have seen with his own eyes and that we can follow and virtually see, through the power of technology. It is one of the great paradoxes of our time that we know and understand more about how our world works than at any time in the past and yet as we watch we are destroying what we love and what makes our world the fantastic, beautiful, terrifying, wonderful, bio-diverse,  home we inhabit.

Corona creates a further paradox as our inactivity drives down global pollution. There is a breathing space in the middle of the restriction and fear, to reflect and appreciate that we can live more simply and less wastefully than we thought.

And there is always the thought that however far No 14 has travelled and whatever he has flown over there will be very few areas of the planet that are as beautiful, verdant and spectacular as Cumbria and the Lake District. Attachment – overlooking Coniston Water

Summer 2020

So, we really  hope that No 14, at 7 years old and in his prime, will get his act together and take up seriously with a female bird somewhere in South Lakes this year . We would definitely like to see his strength, intelligence and tenacity passed on to the next generation and many of his baby ospreys colonising both North and South of the county.


Northern France to Northern England

Northern France to Northern England

No 14 did not hang about in N. France, despite the lure of over 20 nest sites in the Forest of Orleans, (the biggest National Forest in France) well within his flight path.

French ospreys have had as rocky a history as that of the UK, culminating with their extinction in the late 19th century, a bounty being paid then for every osprey killed.

However, since 1972 they have been protected, as have all birds of prey.

Their success in the area just South of Paris is due in a large measure to the work of one man – Rolf Wahl. Originally from Sweden and a keen ornithologist he recognised the importance of the first breeding nest in 1984 near the fish-teeming waters of l’étang du Ravoir, also home to salamanders, newts and frogs – a smashing wetland area!  He is certainly regarded as the foremost osprey expert in France but he is best known to us in a practical way – the stress free ‘tea-towel’ method of weighing chicks, taken up by our Ringer Pete.

As well as the conservation and statistical information Rolf provides it is always good to hear about how people get to be involved in such projects in the first place. Here he has created a short biography: (You can generally get a google translation if you go up to the top right hand corner of a page)

And Onwards to England

How high must he be and from how far away can he see the shores of Britain whilst flying over France?

It looks as though he made the rite de passage and left France just East of Dieppe. He hit England scudding across just West of the wide sky-scapes near Rye Harbour Nature Reserve, one of the foremost conservation areas for birds in the UK, with its wild salt marshes. Below him the huge pale shingle and brackish wetland area would already be filling up with birds eager to start their families. Forty one species breed there in the Spring including 3 sorts of Tern, the Common, Sandwich and Little, this last one only the size of a starling. All three are masters of migration and will have flown at least 3000 miles, perhaps double,  from West and South Africa to return and find a nest site cuddled down on a wind-scoured shingle scrape.

The view over the marsh from the steeple of Rye Church – an excellent spot to see migrants passing, with jolly good coffee shops to warm up at just below.

The download for April 5th shows that he had moved North and at 06.35 was flying just South of Gainsborough. near the River Trent. Would he reach his destination  by the evening or the next morning?