Posted 24th Mar 2014
It's World Osprey Week and we've become utterly enthralled by the drama of osprey migration as these magnificent birds fly thousands of miles from Africa to their breeding grounds in the UK and other routes around the world
The phenomenon has compelled many families to gather round screens to read updates and to track the birds' progress online, to marvel at the huge distances flown that day, to look at the inhospitable terrain and wonder at the sheer miracle of the returning birds' instinct.
This is a bird that was extinct in the UK 100 years ago - the result of persecution by man. By the 1950s they had started to return and the first nest was at Loch Garten. From there they began to nest at the Scottish Wildlife Trust's Loch of the Lowes Wildlife Reserve where they now flourish and can be visited as well as observed on a webcam.
With a wingspan of 1.5 metres they are one of our largest birds of prey and are a compelling creature to watch. They are the only British bird of prey to eat a diet consisting solely of fish - and have enormous talons to help them do the job! Ospreys can live for around 20 years, though one of the most famous ospreys - named the Lady of the Lowes (she even had a song Fly Lady Fly written about her) - is at least 27-years-old. Scottish Wildlife Trust are keeping their fingers crossed for her return this year and will be watching the horizon around the 30th March. Astonishingly, ospreys tend to stick to a similar timetable every year and always like to be punctual.
These remarkable birds arrive back at their nests at the end of March to breed and raise young before returning to Africa for the winter (most European ospreys migrate to Africa for the winter months). It takes an osprey two to three weeks to fly 3,000 miles when they migrate in spring and autumn - that's around 200 miles per day - and they can travel at speeds of over 50mph.
64 Scottish ospreys were released at Rutland Water between 1996 and 2001 in order to establish a population in central England for the first time in over 150 years. This was the first project of its kind in Europe and has now been replicated in Spain and Italy. It really has become a good news story – 76 young ospreys have fledged from nests in the Rutland Water area since 2001. You can visit them there and find out all about them at www.ospreys.org.uk.
Even better, ospreys from Rutland Water have also recently helped ospreys re-colonise in Wales. They have nested on the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Cors Dyfi Reserve since 2011. Find out more by visiting www.dyfiospreyproject.com.
This year, for the first time, the Rutland Osprey Project is providing the opportunity for schools along the flyways to be involved in osprey migration, which will mean that children can talk to other children in different countries along the routes, whether it's from Senegal to the UK, South to North America or Cameroon to Finland. Inspiring lesson plans have been created so that children can use osprey migration to learn about geography, languages, data gathering and much more.
The first ever World Osprey Week will run from 24th to 28th March to encourage schools to use the newly devised osprey lesson plans. It will also give everyone all over the world a chance to follow the migration online and see the birds on webcams once they arrive to start breeding. You can register your school here.
You can follow eight different ospreys on their migratory routes around the world from one website, read updates about their progress here and zoom in on the terrain they're flying over. This is all possible because these birds have been carefully fitted with extremely lightweight GPS transmitters (pictured right). Once ospreys arrive back in the UK you can visit them at Rutland Water, Loch of the Lowes and Dyfi Osprey Project. They're wonderful! Pay them a visit or catch a glimpse of life as an opsrey here and watch in awe a they raise their chicks at this time of year.
Images courtesy of The Wildlife Trusts: John Wright