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By Christiane Goaziou

The osprey is a magnificient bird of prey of the family of Pandionidae, which, incidentally,is a monospecific family as all the other birds of prey belong to the family of Accipitridae.

It is a majestic bird, dark brown on top with white underparts and a white crown. The female has a brownish necklace, unlike the male which has a white chest. Their length is around 56 cm with a wing span of 1.6m, and  weighing 1.5kgs . Their bill is strong and black and their eyes are yellow. Their life span is around 9 years

Ospreys arrive in early Spring to nest and leave in early Autumn. They roost in trees, close to the nest, made of a great amount of sticks, where the female will roost if there are eggs or chicks on the nest. Their call is a chirp and a whistle, usually for the  purpose of communicating with the female if there is a danger or warning of the presence of  an enemy. Their usual speed of flight is 50 Kms/ hour but it can reach 125kms/hour when diving for a fish

The osprey is monogamous yet, if two nests are close,  it will supervise both nests.

It  is often called the Fish hawk because it eats essentially fish but it is known to eat a variety of preys ,from amphibians to snakes and birds.

 The predators of the chicks are often Goshawks and Pine martins ; for the adults ,in Africa, shooters and  crocodiles are the predators

Ospreys inhabited most of Britain but became extinct late in the 19th century(1840) and in the early 20th century in Scotland  (1916). The reason for extinction was the gamekeeper and ‘sportsmen, the threat to fish stock, the destruction of habitat, water pollution, eggs collecting and fashion in taxidermy!

Thankfully, the osprey returned to Britain in 1954 and began to breed in 1958 at Loch Garten when the RSPB provided for them 24 hours protection watch setting up the ‘Operation Osprey providing them with artificial nesting platforms.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a lot of talks about ospreys but they continued to be protected and where they were was almost a secret.

Now they can be seen in Scotland in the Loch of the Lowes in Perthshire ,in Loch Garten and in Loch Wigtown in Dumfries and Galloway. In England, they can be seen in the lake District, in Northumberland and Norfolk. two pairs nest in Wales ,and very recently, it was mentioned on the news that there had been a reintroduction of ospreys in the south coast at Poole Harbour.

Ospreys are still in the Amber list. The total breeding pairs is around 300, the majority in Scotland but, thanks to the hard work  of the wildlife Trust, the numbers are increasing in Wales and England.

In the early 80s in Sussex , there was a lake near where I lived where I liked to walk. One peaceful day, in early spring, I had sat down near the water , looking at the trees on the opposite  side when suddenly I saw what I knew was a bird of prey ,motionless and patient like a tiger waiting  for its prey. It did not take me long to decide it was an osprey; after all, it was near water and his plumage was unmistakable. So, I waited as it was waiting and , suddenly it made a  beeline towards the water, plunged feet first in the lake and re-emerged with a sizable fish in its talons . It was unexpected and I was awestruck. A couple of days later , I returned to the lake hoping it would still be there. On its journey to the North and back , an osprey will take a break a couple of days where there is water . I waited a while but could see nothing in the trees and decided it might have continued its route to reunite with its partner. I got up , turned back and above my head at some 10 meters was the osprey. It looked at me with a rather unfriendly eye, turned its head and raised up further. I was ecstatic. I had been seen by an osprey…..