As a UK first, 10 ospreys from Britain will be tracked on their migration to Africa by satellite. And the birds’ daily progress can be monitored on the Internet.
At Rutland Water, England, satellite trackers have been fitted to four young ospreys, two male and two female. This is part of Anglian Water’s conservation project to re-introduce the osprey as a breeding species to England after an absence of more than 150 years. The five-year conservation project, which started in 1996, is run in partnership with the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, and Roy Dennis of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife. The birds are expected to start their migration to Africa at the beginning of September.
Six birds from Scotland will also carry the transmitters and can be followed on the Internet.
Dr Stephen Bolt, head of Environmental Affairs, said: "This is a really exciting development in the project. For the first time we will know exactly where the British ospreys migrate to in Africa, the route they use to get there and how long they take. This will provide very valuable information for Anglian Water's project.
“It will contribute to a better understanding of the British population as a whole. We also want to know about the migration behaviour of the original Scottish population to get the whole picture. So we have funded the tracking of a number of Scottish ospreys, including the mother of one of this year's Rutland releases. Through the monitoring we will be able to see if the migration patterns are the same and if the birds interact when they overwinter. Obviously the best part is that everyone will be able to follow their progress live on the Internet!"
Roy Dennis of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife, said: "Over the years we have learnt much about osprey migration from Scotland to Africa using traditional rings, but Anglian Water's superb contribution of the satellite transmitters will be a major boost to our knowledge. In my study area in the Highlands, fitting transmitters on six ospreys, three breeding females (two of which are mothers of Rutland Water young), two males and a juvenile, will help us learn much needed new information. We need to know if any ospreys make the long over sea journey to Spain and where their stop-over feeding sites are. All this information will help us understand the osprey's life and conservation needs."
The satellite transmitters are attached to the bird’s back using a carefully adjusted harness. These transmitters have been specially designed for use with large birds and will not affect their normal flight or lifestyle. They weigh about two per cent of the weight of a small male bird. The harness, which attaches the radio to the bird, is designed so that it will come apart after a year or two. The radio will then fall off, by which time the batteries will be exhausted.
From late August and into September data on the bird’s positions will be regularly logged. The information will then be sent to Rutland Water and entered on the Internet. Visitors to the site can then follow the path the birds take as they migrate to west Africa. This will give really important information on the routes used during migration. It is known that the juvenile birds stay in Africa for at least two winters as they mature into adulthood. The transmitters can last for up to two years, so the information will keep coming in, perhaps even until they return to breed in Britain.
If you would like to track the osprey’s on the Internet the address is www.rutlandwater.u-net.com/osprey - the site will go live from 22 August.
Anglian Water and the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust have developed an educational programme around the osprey tracking project which will give teachers the chance to develop a range of classroom projects involving many aspect of the national curriculum.
Satellite tracking of ospreys has only been carried out twice before in the world - once in Sweden and once in the United States of America.
The Anglian Water Osprey Project - in partnership with the Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust, is looking to release around 50 birds from the Rutland Water site between 1996 and 2000. Since 1996, 24 birds have been released. The project has been run with the help of Roy Dennis of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife; a world expert on ospreys and on raptor reintroduction management.
Earlier this year a key milestone was reached when two ospreys returned to Rutland Water. Both birds were released at the reservoir in July 1997. The young adult birds are fit and healthy and have remained around the reservoir for the summer. Ospreys were not expected back until the year 2000 which is when the first released birds will have reached potential breeding age.
Last year Rutland Water attracted some 189 bird species. Many of these birds can be enjoyed from the Anglian Water Birdwatching Centre and surrounding hides at Egleton, near Oakham, Rutland.