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Osprey tracking: Following an incredible journey

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Jeremy Torrance web producer Jeremy Torrance web producer | 16:56 UK time, Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Osprey eye

Leri, one of the osprey chicks Autumnwatch will be tracking © Emyr Evans

Remember Monty, Nora and their brood of chicks from Springwatch? They were the first ever osprey chicks to be born at the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Dyfi Osprey Project near Machynlleth in Mid Wales.

For two years Monty, the male, had been hanging around the nesting platform waiting patiently for a female to turn up. Then on 9 April Nora, a female born at Rutland Water two years ago, arrived on the scene. They soon paired up, mated and on 25 April their first egg was laid.

Nora laid a total of three eggs and by 7 June all three had successfully hatched. We followed the first few days of their life on Springwatch as Monty busied himself bringing fish back for Nora and her young chicks.

They've turned out to be very attentive parents and the chicks - now over a month and a half old and called Leri, Einion and Dulas - are getting bigger and stronger. It won’t be long before the family starts thinking about make its first migration to Africa to overwinter. And we’ll be following them every step of the way.

osprey chicks with satellite tags

The osprey chicks and their 'backpacks' © Emyr Evans

If you’re part of our Facebook community or follow @bbc_springwatch on Twitter you might have seen the news that we’ve joined forces with the Dyfi Osprey Project. Last week UK osprey expert Roy Dennis came down to Wales to ring the chicks and attach satellite tags on them and we were there to film it.

Powered by solar panels, every two days the tags send a signal back to a satellite with the geographical location of the birds. Using this data, we’ll be able to track the route of the birds as they migrate from Wales to Africa in the autumn.

Roy and his team worked as quick as they could to check the health of the birds, weigh and measure them, put on the blue bird identity rings and attach the satellite tags. The satellite tags weigh 30g each (about the same as a pack of crisps) and the birds wear them like a backpack.

The ringing and tagging all went very well and the birds settled down very quickly after the brief disturbance. Roy was delighted with the condition of the birds, saying he felt they were all in the best possible health ready for their long and treacherous journey to Africa. So fingers crossed!

Excitingly, these are the first satellite tags to be put on osprey chicks born in Wales. The data retrieved will give us some new and valuable science:

  • Understanding the routes and problems of the juveniles' first autumn migration
  • Identifying stop-over locations to help habitat protection efforts
  • Identifying juveniles' wintering areas and future wintering areas
  • Understanding the first return migration of immature ospreys and how they choose future nest sites
  • Raising awareness of osprey conservation and the dangers of migration

The nest is one of the most westerly osprey nests in the UK so Roy and the rest of us can't wait to see what route they'll take to Africa and where exactly they're going to end up.

Roy Dennis tagging a chick

Osprey expert Roy Dennis tagging a chick © Emyr Evans

We'll be following the chicks throughout their journey bringing you updates on their progress, right here and when Autumnwatch starts in early October. A word of warning though: the odds aren't great. Normally only one in three osprey chicks survive the long and treacherous 3,000 mile migration to Africa.

Nora will set off first, about three weeks before the chicks go. Monty will stay to feed them while she's away and will leave only when the last chick has begun its migration.

At the moment the chicks are busy stretching their wings, practicing wing flapping and doing 'helicopter' mini flights above the nest. All being well, they'll take their first flights off the nest before the end of this week. Then five weeks later - at the end of August or beginning of September - they'll be setting off on their amazing journey.

We'll keep you posted... (as will the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust's Dyfi Osprey Project on its excellent Facebook page with photos, videos, updates and - best of all - pie charts).

In the meantime, if there's anything you'd like to know about what lies ahead for these young chicks ask us here and we'll try our best to answer. Also have a watch of this clip from Incredible Animal Journeys to get a flavour of the osprey's extraordinary navigation skills.

Update 19 September: You can now follow the stories of the Dyfi ospreys as they happen on their new website.

Autumnwatch is back on BBC Two at 8.30pm, Friday 7 October.

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