Each year, the ospreys at Loch Garten have people across the world gripped in their tale of violence, adultery and... well... fishing.
This year's diary, written by the Osprey Information Assistants at the Loch Garten Osprey Centre, picks up the saga where we left off.
We update the blog at least twice a week - more often when there's high drama here. We hope you enjoy reading as the nest-side story unfolds...
Read more about Loch Garten
Firstly, Alice has checked on Nethy and no news really, she is still in Guinea Bissau, but the map has been up-dated to 4 pm yesterday (Thurs).
While I was away, Alice reported to you that I had texted her from Japan to say that I was seeing ospreys, and in number. Being largely a summer visitor to Japan, I must say I had not expected to see them and certainly not as many as I did. I was in the south island, Kyusha in Kagoshima Prefecture, near a place called Arasaki – a fabulous place for wintering cranes. Where I stayed, at one point I had 9,500 mixed cranes of five species, outside my room window.
Anyway, ospreys winter in this part of Japan and it was possible to scan the bay there and see as many as 20+ ospreys either fishing or sitting on poles and other infrastructure, all within a fairly small area. In all my time of working with ospreys, I have never experienced what amounted to a flock of them. A dozen or more could all be fishing, quite close together.
On one day cruising around this area I eventually lost count of how many in total I saw, certainly 50+, easily. It was wonderful to see them, and especially so many. It was worrying though, to see them perched and fishing amongst, what appeared to be either fishing nets set in the shallow bays, or nets set, upon which seaweed was being grown (a staple of the Japanese diet). Thankfully, I did not see any that had become trapped, but I am sure it must happen.
Many of you I know, are followers of my colleague David Sexton's work with white-tailed eagles on Mull, so you might be interested in this too. I also spent some time in eastern Hokkaido, Japan's northern most island. Compared to Kyushu in the south, it was deep winter in Hokkaido with frozen stretches of sea! This part of Japan is fabled for it's Steller's sea eagles, surely the world's ultimate raptor, a simply stunning enormous beast of an eagle.
Breeding in Eastern Russia, most of the world's population of this rare and vulnerable raptor winters on Hokkaido. Like the white-tailed eagle, it is a very much a marine eagle, largely coastal in winter distribution and feeding on fish. It's possible to watch them flying behind the fishing trawlers as they return to harbour. Watching sea eagles float past on floes of sea-ice is quite a sight too.
At a place called Lake Furen, I witnessed the most unbelievable sight – a mixed gathering of 350+ Steller's sea eagles and over 150+ White-tailed eagles, sat around together on a frozen lake and in surrounding trees – a flock of over 500 eagles! If ever there is a bird spectacle in the world to see, then this is it. I feel mean about doing so now, but I'm afraid I couldn't help myself but text David about what I was seeing. He did not reply! I thought though at one point, that I heard the faint sound of weeping down the phone. It truly was the most fabulous sight I have ever seen.
Talking of fish-eating birds, the other species I was lucky enough to see was Blakiston's fish owl, an absolute shaggy monster of an owl, the biggest in the world - it's like a bale of straw. They catch live fish, not osprey-like by plunging, but by sitting on rocks by streams and then just jumping in on some unsuspecting trout. A magnificent creature.
Anyway, it's March this weekend, and fair weather in prospect here in Blighty, so maybe we'll see the first signs of returning summer visitors, unlikely to be ospreys quite yet, but sand martins and wheatears are often amongst the first migrants. If you're out and about this weekend, in the south of England, I'd not be surprised if you saw something.
Richard Thaxton - Loch Garten site manager.
Just a wee snippet ahead of Alice's next up-date later this week, but I thought you would like to know that amongst my e-mails awaiting my return was news that an osprey was seen here in Strathspey on 31st January, between Aviemore and Boat of Garten, the reliable observer watched it for ten minutes. This is exceptionally early, but not out of the question, given that there were osprey sightings in UK as late as October and November and birds in the second half of February have been reported in previous years.
Beware the trap though. Once the New Year arrives, there can be a tendancy to have a search-image in one's mind, you want to see an osprey, or some other such sign that, with the start of a new year, with the worst of winter passed, Spring is on its way. Many's the time the phone has rang here with early sightings of ospreys.
Someone, perhaps not that familiar with ospreys, sees a large bird flying up the Spey, dark on top, pale underneath and with that search-image in mind, knowing that ospreys are due eventually, before you know it, you're convinced you've seen an osprey. When in fact many such sightings often turn out to be a large gull, greater black-backed gull for example. I've been caught like that myself before now, hungry to see an osprey and over zealous with it.
In this case though, this reliable observer's record of the real thing is intriguing. Did it ever actually leave UK, or has it lingered somewhere within our shores? Somewhere mild in the south of England perhaps, why not? With warmer winters, down there in particular, it could be happening.
Anyway, it's not been reported since and given the heavy snows and freezing temperatures of early to mid-February, it probably did a swift u-turn and went back south.
My thanks to Alice for keeping you all informed while I was away - it was great news about Nethy, to come back to.
Richard Thaxton - Loch Garten site manager.
It's Monday morning and as promised, I've added Nethy's movements from last week to the map.
I expect most regular readers will be able to spot my undeliberate mistake regarding the direction of Nethy's flight path - yes you can see it was actually more of a south easterly direction that she took. She's currently hanging around a smallish river, whose name I can't easily determine from google earth.
It will be interesting to see if she'll stay where she is for a while, or whether she'll find herself with 'itchy feet' as she feels Spring approaching.
Meanwhile, a bit of reserve news. If anyone is in the vicinty of Loch Garten between now and March 16th (Thursdays - Mondays), we've currently got staff on hand between 10am and 3pm to show off the wildlife we get at this time of year before the Ospreys return. Red squirrels are a virtual certainty for visitors to see, but there's also lots of birds hanging around our feeders, including crested tit (though a bit more patience is needed if you want to see one of them). So if you are in the area, why not come along? For those of you who can't make it, the live web cam is still there for you to enjoy.
Tune in on Friday for the next chapter in Nethy's journey.