Scots ospreys introduced to northern Spain

TWELVE young ospreys, taken from nests in the Highlands and Moray, have been released on the northern coast of Spain as part of a new five year plan to restore a breeding population of the iconic bird of prey in the Basque Country.

Young ospreys, similar to the one above, have been flown to Spain. Picture: Neil Hanna

And it as revealed today that, only five days after being released, one of the young birds has been spotted catching its first fish in the Spanish estuary which has become their new home.

The project to restore ospreys to Northern Spain began after Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) granted a special licence to Roy Dennis, of the Highland Foundation for Wildlife, to collect 12 young ospreys from nests with more than one young in Scotland, following an approach from the Biscay Regional Council and the Urdaibai Bird Centre in Spain.

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An SNH spokesman revealed: “In early July this year, suitable nests were visited between Caithness and Strathspey and 12 young birds were selected. They came from nests on private land or Forestry Commission Scotland land.

“In the past ten days, the 12 ospreys have all been released in the Basque country and are faring extremely well. Five days after being released, one of the birds has even caught its first fish in the estuary.

“Once released, the young birds were able to come back to nest platforms containing a daily supply of fresh fish which they would take away and eat, as if a parent had provided food for them.”

He explained: “The birds were released at Urdaibai estuary to the north of Bilbao. This estuary is regularly used by migrating Scottish ospreys, travelling to and from West Africa in spring and autumn. In fact, it was the temporary home in spring 2008 of the famous osprey, Logie, tracked by Roy Dennis using the first GPS satellite transmitter fitted to a British osprey. At that time, Aitor Galarza, who is now involved in the osprey reintroduction, found and photographed Logie. This resulted in a partnership between Scotland and the Basque country to restore breeding ospreys.”

The spokesman added: “This project follows the successful reintroduction of ospreys to Andalusia in southern Spain, which involved birds from Germany, Finland and Scotland. The first pair to breed in 2008 was a Scottish female and German male. In 2013, the project team in Andalusia identified 13 breeding pairs. The osprey had been extinct for many years in mainland Spain.”

Mr Dennis, one of Scotland’s leading ornithologists, said: “It’s been really great that we have been able to help the Basque people try to restore breeding ospreys and we are very grateful to SNH for their support and to all the people who helped us with the collection and translocation. We wish the project success.”

Susan Davies, SNH’s Director of Policy and Advice, said: “Ospreys are doing well in Scotland, so we’re in a terrific position to be able to help reintroduce these wonderful birds. A population of breeding ospreys in the Basque country should make the overall population in Europe stronger.”

Dr Aitor Galarza, the Spanish project director from the Biscay Department of the Environment, praised the Scottish contribution to the repopulation scheme and said: ““We are so pleased that we have young ospreys flying in Urdaibai Biosphere Reserve at the start of an exciting project. There is huge public interest and we are most grateful to Scotland for their support.”