Frosty’s Ramblings Ospreys Move South

THEY were seen around the world as four fluffy Spitting Image puppets of our esteemed Prime Minister. The same disheveled, disheveled white hair over a pair of sharp eyes and a cruel mouth, or in this case a sharp, hooked beak.

These newborn chicks were getting more oohs and aahs than our idiot prime minister, except from conservative female admirers seeking promotion at an illegal Downing Street party.

These chicks were, in fact, the first Ospreys (Pandion haliaetus) to hatch on the south coast of England for two centuries. All four chicks had hatched from eggs brought to their nest in Poole Harbor from sustainable nests further north.

The introduction of those eggs is part of a project that began in 2017 and involved the translocation of 60 juvenile ospreys from Scottish nests to the Poole Harbor area.

This process is intended to create a bond between the young Ospreys and their new local area, before they set off on their first perilous migration, usually to West Africa.

This link attracts ospreys back to Poole Harbor on their return to Britain, after at least two years of maturation in their wintering grounds, when they will identify suitable nesting sites.

This translocation will, we hope, lay the groundwork for its return as a breeding bird to the south coast, 180 years after its local extinction.

The birds are the focus of conservation efforts after becoming extinct due to habitat loss and ranger shooting protecting both game bird outbreaks and primarily private trout and salmon sport fishing waters.

Not everyone welcomes the osprey’s recovery. Just last year, at the Brenig Osprey Project in Wales, vandals with chainsaws cut down an osprey nest.

A pair of osprey had established a nest and laid its first egg the day before vandals cut down the structure under cover of darkness.

The vandals have not been identified, but the presence of a commercial trout fishing business nearby should be a clue as to why the nest was attacked so savagely.

The osprey, also called sea hawk, river hawk or fish hawk, is a diurnal bird of prey that feeds on fish. The diurnal is a form of behavior of plants and animals characterized by activity during the day, with a period of sleep or other inactivity during the night. Most of us humans are diurnal.

The osprey is a large bird of prey that reaches over 60 cm (2 ft) in length and 180 cm (6 ft) in wingspan. It is brown above and predominantly greyish on the head and underparts.

Birds of prey were once common in Western Europe, but due to persecution by humans and loss of habitat, they became locally extinct in the early 19th century.

Volunteers have been working to reintroduce them to the south of England by relocating adult birds from Scotland, where there are hundreds of ospreys.

There is also a successful breeding population at Rutland Water in the Midlands, after a translocation program started in 1996.

Poole Harbor was chosen for the South Coast project because it has an abundance of fish for the birds to feed on.

Ospreys from other parts of Britain have been known to pass through the harbor on their way to and from Europe on their migration route to Africa, stopping to hunt for mullet and flounder in the harbor’s large channels and shallow bays.

This feeding increases the energy of the birds for their long and arduous flight to Africa.

The parents of the new chicks made this flight to West Africa last fall. The passage to Africa is fraught with dangers, including harsh weather conditions and illegal hunting. Both birds returned to Poole earlier this spring.

Let’s hope the vandals and their chainsaws don’t come after these latest raptors living on our south shore.

Now another very good news of the reintroduction of a highly endangered mammal.

The red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) used to be our only native squirrel, but the introduction of the American gray squirrel by some aristocrats to decorate their wooded estates gradually drove out our native red squirrel. Grays also get squirrel pox. This is harmless to themselves but deadly to our native reds.

A group of holiday trailer parks in Norfolk are trying to reintroduce our native red squirrel. They do this by establishing large areas of suitable forest behind squirrel-proof fences. They kill the grays inside these huge caged areas and encourage the reds to make it their home.

One such park is on Kelling Heath, and since the project began in 1990, they have bred no fewer than 34 red squirrel kittens, as young squirrels are called.

Kelling Heath Holiday Park is a part of the East Anglian Red Squirrel Society. There are now around 15 enclosures in Norfolk and Suffolk participating in the breeding programme.

This year they have had a litter of four amazing kittens. The kittens, who are yet to be named, were born to parents Iggy and Evie and are a welcome addition to the resort’s historic preservation efforts.

Red squirrels usually give birth to one or two kittens and triplets are not unheard of, but four kittens are very unusual.

With the addition of this new litter, Kelling has now successfully bred 38 red squirrel kittens since joining the national conservation program in 1999 as part of a captive breeding scheme established to protect this endangered native species.

Park Field Manager David Martin told us: “We are delighted that Iggy and Evie had a successful birth. A litter of four is incredibly rare for us and it is a privilege to see them thrive.

“These kittens are the first at the park since 2019, and we are delighted that our new breeding pair, who came to us in October of last year, have settled in well.”

Currently estimated to be around a dozen weeks old, having hatched in March, the new additions will now spend their time outside the nest box getting to grips with their new home.

The kittens will remain on Kelling Heath or, when ready, will be handed over to a nationwide conservation partner to help boost native populations in Britain.

Red squirrels are an essential part of regenerating pine forests and it is hoped that Kelling Heath’s kittens will one day move on to another breeding project in a wooded location.

It was in October of last year (2021) that Iggy, Knot and Evie, all captive-bred two-year-old red squirrels, arrived at Kelling Heath from Pensthorpe Nature Park in Norfolk.

Knot is a woman, who will live in her own compound for the time being, and Iggy is a man who lives in another compound with the female Evie.

Last year started with some sad news. Kelling’s old male red squirrel passed away in late January. In squirrel years he was very old. This may have been why Kelling’s squirrels did not breed successfully last year.

As well as ospreys and red squirrels across Britain, volunteers are working hard to reintroduce many other native animals that were once locally extinct. I’m sure they would appreciate your support.