History of Welsh Ospreys

Surprisingly, no official written records exist of ospreys breeding in Wales until 2004. However there are many references to them over the centuries. The medieval Welsh manuscript 'The Mabinogion' tells the tale of “The Eagle of Gwernabwy”, described as being “the one who has wandered most”, attempting to catch a salmon from Llyn (lake) Lliw, so large that it is almost drowned. This eagle is likely to be an osprey.

The Coat of Arms of the city of Swansea, granted in 1316, features an osprey suggesting that they once bred in the area. The coat of arms of West Glamorgan also bears an osprey.

A Flemish engineer working on drainage systems in the Dyfi estuary in 1604 mentioned several “fishey hawkes” breeding close together along the River Dyfi. This is almost certainly a reference to ospreys and the earliest date that can be given to them breeding in the area and in fact Wales, although it is highly probable that ospreys were once a common sight in Wales.

The modern Welsh name for the osprey is Gwalch y Pysgod, meaning Fish Hawk, but several other names exist in the Welsh language for osprey suggesting that it was once a native species. Here are some of these names; Gwalch y Mor (sea hawk), Barcud y Mor (sea kite), Pysgeryr (fish-eagle) and Gwalch y Weilgi (strait/sea hawk).

Ospreys have been seen migrating for many years over Wales. One was reported as being shot near Llandudno in 1828. Another was shot at Waunfawr near Caernarfon in October 1937. There are many other references to migrating ospreys, plus a possible breeding attempt was recorded in the 1990’s on the Teifi estuary. In mid Wales during 1998 and 1999 a female osprey ringed at Lake Muritz, Germany in 1996 over-summered. A feasibility study was also conducted into the possibility of carrying out a Rutland style translocation in Wales during 2003 and 2004, as although there was a lack of written evidence of ospreys being present, there were many references to them. However, the relevant organisations were not supportive of the proposal and the permissions were not granted.

In 2003 there were strong rumours of a pair of ospreys being seen in the Glaslyn Valley, near Porthmadog in Snowdonia. It was too late in the season for a breeding attempt but local birdwatchers decided to keep a close watch on the area the following year.

In May 2004 a pair of ospreys were found nesting near Croesor in the Glaslyn Valley. This was the first time that the species had been officially recorded as breeding in Wales. The RSPB, with the assistance of several local community groups, set up a protection site and a public viewing area at Pont Croesor. The male bird had an orange (ochre) coloured ring with the number 11 on, and he was soon identified as being one of the Rutland Water translocated chicks from 1998.

Ochre 11(98) - the Glaslyn male was a translocated Scottish osprey 

Tragically, in early July an unseasonal storm blew most of the nest from the silver fir and both of the two young chicks contained in the nest were killed. Although it was too late in the season to breed again, the pair remained in their territory until they migrated to West Africa at the end of August. The pair returned the following year and to date have successfully fledged 21 chicks.

Remarkably, around the same time in 2004 a second pair of ospreys was discovered to be breeding on a nest in a dead Douglas Fir near Welshpool in Mid-Wales. A fisherman spotted an osprey catch a fish and carry it to a distant tree, in which a nest was visible. He reported it to the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust and with the help of the landowner and a team of volunteers, the Trust was able to set up a 24 hour protection guard around the nest. The male had a white ring on his right leg numbered 07, which identified him as being one of the 1997 translocated Rutland birds. The female also had a colour ring (Red 6J) on her left leg, she was a 2001 bird hatched in Perthshire. The pair successfully raised one chick, the first recorded Welsh born osprey. Unfortunately, although the male osprey was seen in the area the following year, his mate did not return.  

Success! The first ever recorded osprey chick in Wales - June 2004

On 26th May 2008 an unidentified osprey briefly landed on the Glaslyn nest, giving hope that a Welsh born osprey had returned to Wales. On 16th July the Dumfries and Galloway Osprey Team reported that they had spotted an osprey at Loch Ken with a black colour ring 80. At the time they believed it was a European ringed osprey, possibly Latvian. The mystery was finally solved on the 28th July when they were able to confirm that Black 80 was in fact a male from the 2006 Glaslyn nest - the first Welsh born osprey known to have returned to Britain to breed. Was it Black 80 that alighted the Glaslyn nest three weeks earlier only to be spurned off by his parents? The following day he was discovered bringing sticks back to a nest, he was clearly building his own nest at the age of two, he had also attracted a female. The pair did not produce any young in 2008 but Black 80 has been breeding at Threave every year since 2009 with the same unringed female, and to date they have raised seven chicks.

More info to come here..