BIRDWATCHERS from the Chester area have been making the short trip up to the River Mersey after a rare osprey was spotted.
The bird of prey, made famous after its remarkable recovery from near extinction in Scotland, has been seen fishing along the estuary.
The sighting is highly unusual, according to Cheshire Wildlife Trust.
It said osprey pairs elsewhere in the country are currently in the midst of raising chicks, with the nearest confirmed nesting ospreys some distance away in Wales or the Midlands.
The bird has been regularly seen in the area of Norton Marsh and Upper Moss Side, where the Trust grazes English Longhorn cattle in partnership with the Forestry Commission.
The nature charity said the bird could be a young adult which has made the migration from Africa but has been unsuccessful in finding a mate this season.
The last time an osprey visited the area for an extended period was in 2006. It remained hunting along the Mersey for several weeks.
Tom Marshall from the Cheshire Wildlife Trust, based near Malpas, said: “It’s a real summer treat to be able to see an osprey on the Mersey at this time of year.
“It’s an iconic bird in Britain and with birdwatchers often travel hundreds of miles to see one. To witness an osprey with all its fishing prowess here on the Mersey is very special indeed.
“The fact it has stayed around for a few days shows the continuing health of the Mersey too. The water quality has allowed wildlife like the otter, salmon and water voles to recover in our local waterways.”
After a chequered history in the UK, the osprey made return to the Highlands during the 1950s and 1960s after decades of absence following persecution the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Today, following successful conservation efforts and reintroduction projects in some parts of the UK, the osprey has seen a resurgence in numbers to around 250 pairs.
The majority remain in Scotland but ospreys now breed in Wales, Rutland Water and the Lake District too.
Very distinctive with white underparts and brown above, the osprey feeds exclusively on fish, the only bird of prey in Britain to do so, with the sea eagle of Scotland’s west coast having a more varied diet of carrion and mammals.
The osprey has also evolved highly complex adaptations to allow it to feed on fish, including a retractable claw which lets it grasp fish with two talons either side to allow it to fly longer distances with prey.
After nesting, ospreys migrate back to West Africa.