Out walking along the River Spey this morning near Cromdale with my husband and chatting away as we do, we caught sight of two oystercatchers flying across the river. Oystercatchers may not be very exciting to a lot of people, but to us they really do herald the arrival of spring with their calls being heard day and night as they arrive in their thousands to breed in the fields around and about Strathspey. As the oystercatchers landed on the opposite bank we realised there were not two but at about 20 feeding together, smiles all round! I love to see and hear the young oystercatchers in the summer as they fly around in family groups and you can almost feel their excitement, or maybe fear, as they take to the skies. I imagine them calling out 'see mum I can do it too!'
Then the call of a curlew caught our attention, we scanned the sky and caught sight of it as it flew over our heads and in an instant it had disappeared into the distance, another welcome sight, albeit a short one. Then a buzzard came into view and as we watched it we saw in the far distance, hundreds of feet above us, two buzzards in a courtship display. It reminded me of the skydance that Odin performs when he arrives back from Africa and re-establishes his bond with EJ. Suddenly two fighter aircraft came out of nowhere, roared through the valley and were gone. The buzzards took no notice and carried on their expressions of love. Don't you just love the coming of spring?
And to our ospreys: still Rothes languishes on the Ilha de Unhocomozinho, I can't wait to report that she is on the move, maybe next week........... and Tore is meandering around her inlet of the Cacheu River west of Quedanga in Guinea Bissau, she's not travelling far so it must be good fishing grounds for her.
Have a good week.
It was a Beach Boys song wasn't it?
Some very welcome donations, and some less so. Firstly many, many thanks indeed, to those who have donated, continue to donate, and hopefully will yet donate, towards the satellite tag pot for this coming season. You've been brilliant in your response to our "ask", thank you. We are getting closer and closer to the target by the day, currently 71%, and rising. Your support for what we do is very heartening, valued and very much appreciated.
Can any donations be less than welcome? Well, in a way, I'm afraid so, yes they can. The entry in my diary for today said simply "Poo"! My apologies, if you're reading this over your cornflakes, but today is the inauspicious day when I have to don protective clothing, delve into the toilet block basement and remove last season's "donations" if you get my drift, to make room for the further donations of this coming season. For this, I sought a career in conservation, I say to myself, as I take a deep breath, head on down and set-to. Hey-ho, whilst it's not the most pleasant of tasks, its part of the job and an important preparation for the looming busy season ahead.
I think I might have regaled you before in a blog post, about how the composters work, it is all quite amazing really. Not only do they enable us to provide toilets for visitors - for 40 years we didn't have any! - by getting around the site constraints of; nae water, nae mains sewerage & drainage, and being sited on probably the most heavily conservation designated part of the planet! They have also enabled us to use something as mundane as toilets to convey three important conservation messages: that of water conservation, because they don't use any, that of recycling because the compost can be used, and that of site protection & safeguard, it being a total containment system with no run-off and therefore no impact on the surrounding designated area. How amazing is that?!
It's a bit bizarre, I know, but ospreys apart, they are a bit of an attraction in themselves! Each season, as well as regular visitors, I get several visits from folk wanting a "Toilet Tour", who want to see how they work, folk like landowners, planners and private individuals, who have the intention of installing composting toilets at their attraction or location, similarly remote from services.
So, that's another bit of the pre-season jigsaw in place. The season's team have been appointed. They are; John who we welcome back from last season and a big warm welcome to the new team members; Abby, Jennifer, Laura and Mairi. They're not here yet, they start on 19th March (two weeks ahead of the Osprey Centre opening on Sunday 1st April), but I have been in e-mail contact with them and they are all very excited about their season ahead and are looking forward to meeting those of you that plan to visit us this year, and sharing with you, their passion and enthusiasm for ospreys, and all other willdife.
Other preparations include; gearing up for camera installation, the shop stock has been ordered and membership recruitment materials ordered too, for those of our visitors this season who are not already RSPB members, that we hope will support our work by joining.
It's just a unfortunate that I cannot order the ospreys too, in them we simply have to trust. But that surely adds to the excitment, intrigue, and sleepless-ness! Who will we get? Odin back? EJ back? A new bird, or even a new pair? It will be about now, a month ahead of likely arrival time, that Scottish adult ospreys over-wintering in West Africa will begin to move. Earlier this week our check of Rothes' position showed a slight, tentative nudge north, before back-tracking again. Was that an early stirring in her to begin to head on home to Scotland? If so, will it be to her natal site here with us, elsewhere in Scotland or beyond perhaps? We shall see.
Spring osprey excitment? It doesn't get better than this!
I happened to be along the River Spey at the weekend and, amongst other things, I was gladdened to hear the song of a dipper - portly wren-shaped birds, only three times larger and about six times heavier.
If you are in the Strathspey area, amongst many places, they can be routinely seen from Broomhill Bridge on the River Spey and indeed in heart of Nethybridge village from the bridge over the River Nethy by the Post Office, often sat on rocks at the burn edges or indeed mid-stream, depending on water levels. Seeing them here in the village has become part of local lore, in bird watching circles, as a place to reliably see them.
Not surprisingly, their name comes from their characteristic habit of sitting on rocks dipping up and down before then dipping into the flowing water to feed. This body-bobbing action is accompanied by downward flicks of the tail and synchronised blinking of very conspicuous translucent, white nictitating membrane (third eyelid). Their plumage comprises a dark black-brown back, brown head, chestnut lower breast and belly and most strikingly, a brilliant white throat and chest
They forage below the surface, effectively swimming underwater to pick invertebrates like caddis fly larvae from submerged rocks. Adaptations to this aquatic lifestyle include a very dense water repellent plumage and a special membrane enabling their nostrils to be closed when submerged. Water pressure bearing down on their broad flat backs, short stocky legs and strong toes and claws, all help them to hold their station in fast flowing burns, and walk on the burn-bed even against the current.
Looking from the either of the two above named bridges, you might see their direct and rapid flights up and down the rivers, accompanied by strident zick, zick, zick calls. Their song is difficult to describe, but they are one of our earliest (or late?) songsters, often singing as early as December. It was certainly up-lifting to hear this one proclaiming its presence & territory.
Dippers make a domed nest of moss, grass and leaves, in cavities and rock ledges, usually over water, often under overhanging bank-side vegetation. But they have also become largely dependent on man-made artefacts such as bridges, weirs and culverts. One such perfect site is a crevice in the masonry, over the water, under the arch of the village bridge. For years and years the birds nested here, seen and enjoyed by the many, but enjoyment at one time was put under threat, when about 10 years ago now the bridge was encased in scaffolding for necessary repairs and re-pointing of the stonework. A quick phone call at the time to Highland Council to ask that this one crevice, used by the dippers to nest, be left un-pointed, enabled the dippers to continue to nest and be there for people to see. Here’s hoping they’ll be back there this year too, if not already.
The above photo, used here with permission of Janet Kennedy, a visitor who took the shot last week down at the Osprey Centre, shows a red squirrel appearing to nibble a granite chip! Quite why, we wondered? Was the picture taken just as the squirrel had picked up the chip thinking it was it was indeed an edible morsel but wasn't? Or had a photographer smeared some fat, peanut butter or some such onto some stones to attract birds to photograph? Or was the squirrel actually nibbling away at the granite chip? Many creatures take mineral supplements in their diet for various reasons, often medicinal. Some species of parrots for example eat mineral soils and clays to combat the toxic effects of items in their diet - like us taking kaolin & morphine products for an upset stomach. But granite? My guess is, that our cunning little friend was gnawing on the granite chip in order to put a sharp edge on his teeth, better to chew through the metal feeder mesh with and access the peanuts!
Osprey news: Tore and Rothes as before. No new data from Bynack / his tag, the battery looking like it might have given out, possibly buried by spindrift sand on that beach area in Mauritania, now unreached by the charging rays of the sun.
Watching all the weather reports over the past week, it seems that the rest of the country is suffering while we bask in relatively balmy conditions. I hope by now you are all beginning to thaw out and life is getting back to normal.
Not that I’m complaining. Over the past three winters February has been very cold and snowy here, mind you we are only half way through the month so I may have to retract my comments, but there is a definite feel of spring in the air. I spotted a wee crocus in the garden this morning and with a bit of sun I'm sure more will be showing themselves shortly. Another herald of spring I love are the blackbirds that have started singing in the garden in the early morning. The chorus is starting about 6.30, although it is still dark then and they wake me, the richness of their song is a wonderful sound to hear. The blue tits are checking out the nest box too outside my kitchen window. They are a great source of entertainment during the spring and hopefully, they will produce another brood of young again year. The ice has all melted off the pond and as I looked out of the window this morning it looked more like a jacuzzi than a pond with the water bubbling and as I looked closer I realized it was a hoard of sparrows, starlings and blackbirds all jostling for a position in the margins to get a much needed bath.
I have made a couple of visits to the Osprey Centre in the past week, on the first visit the tits were in great abundance and in particular the coal tits that will come and feed off your hand, but this week it was eerily quiet, not even a red squirrel to be seen on the feeders. I wonder if this is the birds disappearing into the forest to start looking for mates and breeding and are our ospreys having the same thoughts? Will they be turning their heads to the north and thinking about setting off soon?
And talking of our osprey both Rothes and Tore are in the same spots as last week, Tore west of Quedanga in Guinea Bissau and Rothes on the Ilha de Unhocomozinho. I download the data with great trepidation hoping to see some movement from Rothes, the data is still intermittent from her tracker, but hopefully there will be enough information coming through to know when she is on the move.
I will pass you over to Richard for some news ………….
Last week I managed to make contact with some people in Mauritania and ask if they might be able to go and look for Bynack. Brilliantly, they said yes and we are very appreciative of their efforts to collaborate with us in this way. Last Friday two people set off from the capital, Nouakchott, heading south for 200km to Bynack’s last known location. I have just heard back from Mauritania as follows.
The search team eventually reached the area after having to battle their way through coastal mangroves to the last known co-ordinates for Bynack, to begin their search. Alas, however they found neither Bynack nor his tag. Their search though was difficult, judging from a habitat picture they send me, showing the area to be of thick, tall, impenetrable tamarisk scrub.
Though they didn’t find anything, I feel that this is potentially encouraging news. If Bynack was dead, you would think that his corpse, say hanging in a bush or tree, would be relatively easily spotted. Similarly, you would think that signs of him, feathers, wings, bones, from having been scavenged perhaps, would also be readily found on the ground. The tag though, being little more than the size of a matchbox, would be quite hard to locate, especially in those thick tamarisk bushes. If you’ve a thick hedge or tree in your garden, imagine how tricky it would be to spot a matchbox hanging in that hedge or that tree? The tags are quite cryptic in colour too, being brown & black and I think could be easily overlooked.
I'm sure you'll join me in thanking our new-found friend’s in Mauritania for their valiant efforts on our behalf, and though their search proved fruitless, I think we can take some heart from their endeavours. It could just be that our boy Bynack is in fact fine & dandy, but that his tag has fallen off, hangs there in a bush somewhere, merrily transmitting from that location.
There is some more positive news on the tagging project front. We have received a contribution towards this year’s tag costs from Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). This is brilliant news and takes us closer to achieving our tag costs target, see - Make a donation for 2012’s satellite tags - opposite. As you will see, the Blue Peter-style church roof % barometer (for those of you of a certain age!), has increased significantly - thanks, you guys at SNH, this support is very much appreciated. With our target realistically in reach now, if there’s anyone out there who’s yet to chip-in, and is able too, then please do. Many thanks to all who have and who now might.
Whilst I'm asking you for help & support - aren't I always, in one way or another - I would like to draw your attention to the Stepping Up For Nature Marine Pledge in Scotland at https://www.rspb.org.uk/applications/inforequest/index.aspx?dt=SUNITH0021. Please step up and help give our sealife the protection it needs by signing our pledge calling on ministers to safeguard our seabirds at sea, now. It's hardly a tenuous link, because whilst ospreys themselves might not be seabirds as such, they are part of and rely on the marine environment at stages in their lives and need the wealth & health of a safe, protected and thriving marine environment too. Please sign the pledge. Thank you.
.......but the most evocative, for me anyway - 18 "kronking" ravens passed over me on the walk to work this morning, a sound that's the epitome of wild land and remote places. In the stillness of another harsh, frosty morning here at -11 degrees C, it resonated around the surounding hills and forest and was the only sound to begin with until the sun's first rays started to slice through the frosty forest with shards of sunlight, prompting chaffinches to pipe-up, crested tits to chatter away too and chipping crossbill fly-bys also. Two rival great spotted woodpeckers began to strike-up a territorial contest, their drumming echoing through the trees. It's not a bad commute.
Anyway, a quick osprey up-date: In short, alas no-change or good news re Bynack. Tore has dropped a ways south from within Senegal to SW of Quedanga in Guinea Bissau and Rothes still languishes in the Bijagos Islands off Guinea on Ilha de Unhocomozinho. When will she make her move?
That's it for now, more anon.