After years and years of planning, waiting and hoping, the research centre for Biodiversity at Oporto University has announced that ospreys, only casual visitors in Portugal for over a decade, have at last returned to breed and raise families.
A joint long term project between Italy, Spain and Portugal seems to have borne fruit with successful breeding pairs now a feature of the Andalucian skies but Portugal lagged behind, until now.
The species failed to breed in Portugal in 1997 and had disappeared completely by 2002, returning occassionally during the winter months at a few sites but breeding elsewhere.
The last pair was seen in the Costa Vicentina Natural Park where the recent discovery of a new breeding pair has given environmentalists renewed hope for the future of Pandion haliaetus, various known worldwide as the fish eagle, sea hawk, river hawk, or fish hawk.
The welcome return of ospreys is the result of a commitment from Mediterranean countries which saw some birds reintroduced in Andalusia in Spain in 2003. In 2006 it was the turn of Italy, followed by Portugal in 2011 and the Basque Country in 2013.
In total over one hundred ospreys have been released in Spain and Portugal in an attempt to kick start the recovery of the osprey population across the Iberian Peninsula, with 13 breeding pairs registered in Andalucia but none in Portugal until now.
Portugal’s project base is at the Alqueva reservoir where researchers and technicians are involved in monitoring the osprey’s progress.
The osprey is is a diurnal, fish-eating bird of prey reaching more than 60cm in length and 180cm across the wings which are long and narrow, with black spots. The tail is short, legs are grey-green and the beak is black.
Portugal's birding community now has a welcome additon to the wide variety of birds on offer, a variety which continues to attract tourists from within and from outside the country.
The Algarve's tourism board recently has started to take steps to encourage this niche market sector which is served by specialist accommodation and tour businesses.
Frank McClintock, known to many readers as the man behind the Save Salgados campaign, runs Paradise in Portugal, a holiday and birdwatching tourism business from an idyllic property overlooking overlooking the Santa Clara dam at Santa Clara-a-Velha in the southern Allentejo, and comments,
'I am of course delighted at the ospreys' return. Guests have always enjoyed seeing them fish in front of our Quinta during the winter and now we'll have them nearby the whole year through - a major plus."