Ospreys: Life and Death Online

A minor technological wonder. The RSPB, Britain’s biggest nature conservation charity, put satellite tracking tags on a couple of Osprey chicks at their nest in northern Scotland this summer. Ever since then, everyone and anyone has been able to follow their movements on a website. Now the longer I’ve been watching this, the more fascinated I’ve become. It’s not just that I love ospreys (who, other than jealous fishermen, could not think they’re kind of cool?). It’s also amazement at what the technology makes possible, and how two wild birds can be ‘brought to life’ for thousands of observers by giving them names, putting a tag on them, and mapping their heroic migration on Google Earth.

One of the chicks set off on a doomed, misguided solo flight into the mid-Atlantic. He flew non-stop for days and for hundreds upon hundreds of miles, lost. Hundreds of blog-readers were watching his daily progress, willing him to turn around and head for land. It didn’t work, unfortunately: the exact spot he ran out of energy and fell into the wilderness of the ocean is marked on the map.

His sister has done better, crossing Europe, the Mediterranean and the Sahara to find winter quarters close to a town called Louga in Senegal, West Africa. You have to zoom in on the map and switch to the satellite view to get the best out of it, but if you do so you can more or less see the individual trees in which she is roosting, by the banks of that African river. You can imagine her, drifting over that arid landscape, in clear blue skies, diving down onto fish entirely unlike those she was fed on in her nest in the Scottish Highlands.

Sometimes, technology can be fodder for our imaginations and for our sense of wonder. This is one of those occasions, for me at least.

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