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
........and by now you'll know what that means........that I have to tell you that it looks like we have lost Alba.
To be honest, we've been sitting on our concerns since last Wednesday, when we first received some unusual data that suggested that there might be a problem. At that point we were unsure and it could have been nothing, but we wanted to get more data in before we could draw any conclusions. We got some more data on Saturday which raised our concerns further and I have been waiting over the weekend to speak to our techie-chappies at HQ to check on our interpretation of the data findings. I've now done this and our conclusion is that Alba is dead. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news and sorry too for keeping you in the dark until now, but it was for the best, not to set hares running and worry you unduly, until we were sure.
Alba's transmitter produced no data on 21st Oct nor on most of 22nd Oct, with a "no fix" message received at 22.00 hrs on 22nd Oct. All data on 23rd Oct showed a "low volt" message, despite the weather down in Senegal being very hot and sunny. But maybe Alba was sheltering in a shady spot and her batteries were not getting sun to charge them? We could tell that the tag voltage had dropped below the threshold that allows it to take a GPS fix. A class 2 fix (accurate between 250-500m) 17km south east of what's been her regular roosting area, looks to be Alba's final resting place, as shown on the aerial photo below.
This is very sad, given how she made that record almost textbook journey from Loch Garten to West Africa and seemed to be doing so well. What's happened to her, well, who knows? I'll need to let the headmaster of our local schools know what's happened. His pupils named Caledonia and Alba, (and Deshar).
You, like us, will be very disappointed, but for what it is worth right now, the good news is that Caledonia is ok folks, still pottering around in the Seville area of Spain, still roosting overnight on the banks of the Rivera de Huelva.
At the risk of appearing churlish, I'll try now to inject some levity to the situation with some wider news, and some illumination in fact. How's this for a bizarre picture of an osprey? It was taken by a colleague's daughter, (thanks Heidi if your reading this! Can I come and visit?!), who lives in Australia. The bird is perched on Missingham Bridge over the Richmond River at Ballina in New South Wales.
Caption anyone? I bet she had warm feet. I can see this spawning; osprey desk lamps, osprey Christmas decorations......all sorts. Was this bird able to fish at night I wonder, watching for tell-tale movement of fish in the river below. Amazing eh?
Meanwhile here on the Rez / here in the area, I was out for a walk on Sunday, up through moorland through scattered pinewood, with mountain back drop an' all, and I saw nothing, which was disappointing, by that's wildlife for you, it doesn't always deliver and it's not always an in-your-face-type experience. Nevertheless, the autumn colours were stunning, the views magnificent, the air fresh and the exercise needed. I'd been either on a train or in a meeting over the past two days, so it was good to get out.
Having experienced that raptor-fest up the Findhorn last weekend, that I mentioned in the previous blog post, it was a bit of an anticlimax not to see any raptors on this outing. So on the drive home, I detoured through Carrbridge and along the Carr Road through to Dulnain Bridge. There is always something to look for here and to generally find, and it didn't disappoint. There were over 100 greylag geese feeding in roadside fields, along with some rooks and jackdaws, and I spied a buzzard in the air with three sparrowhawks in escort. Things were looking up.
As I progressed further, a female merlin, our most dashing of falcons came whizzing by on a mission, no doubt on the lookout for an unwary finch to single out from the flocks feeding in the fields. I've not seen a merlin for a goodly while so I was thrilled to see this hen bird, albeit briefly. Then further along the road still, I spotted her mate, a beautiful male merlin sat on a roadside fence post. It spooked as I slammed on the breaks and flew low across the field before re-alighting on another fencepost back along the road from whence I'd come. It was far enough away to feel comfortable with my distance, but not so far that I couldn't get a good look at it, in fantastic light. They are rarely a bird that you get chance to see well, but I was lucky. It didn't pause long though, dashing off in pursuit of a meal before the day was done.
Seeing those geese, I was minded to go to Loch Garten in passing to see whether they (or any) were coming in to roost. I was there between 5pm and dusk at the new 6pm. The loch was mirror-calm and the last of the evening sun shone low across the water, picking out the lochside golden birch trees from amongst the dark green pine. I spied 27 wigeon, 6 goldeneye, 7 teal and a lone great black-backed gull. However as the light began to fade, more birds began to arrive to roost. More gulls began to float down, unseen against the greying sky, until they were low enough and pale against the dark brooding waters of the loch and its fringe of pines. 160+ gulls dropped in in all, mainly herring gulls plus about a dozen more g b-b gulls.
Female goosanders began to arrive too, 12 in total but arriving in twos and threes, they too unseen and unnoticed in the gathering gloaming until the audible woosh of their hydrofoil feet as they planed across the waters surface, then picked out, just, with binoculars in the near-dark. A further woosh alerted me to more and on scanning with my 'scope, this time it was two beautiful drake goosanders, the buffy-pink wash of their otherwise pale body plumage just discernible in the dark. Moments later the harsh honking cries of greylag geese heralded their arrival to roost too. Just six in total! Hardly Goose roost-watch material eh?
By now, too dark to see, I began to make tracks for home, but not before a sparrowhawk passed low over my head, the bulge in its crop clearly visible from its silhouette. It had had its supper, so I went home for mine.
Sad news. What is the situation as regards recovering bird and tracking device? It would seem a fairly simple operation. Surely the RSPB or related international bird conservation groups have human contacts on the ground in the areas so important to the survival of these birds?
Richard so sorry to read we have lost Alba after her record breaking flight. Heartbreaking as always.
i cannot belive alba is dead
Hi richard so sorry about Alba hope cally continues to be ok,is there a recovery planed to get Alba's body so that a cause can be given as to why she died
Only just seen the awful news about Alba. So sad and such a waste of a young life. I tried not to get too attached this year, but it still hurts just as much.
PS. The "Pam" above is not me!!
Richard-can you please look at Tigers comment on the Dyfi osprey site commenting on my comment about poor Alba, it looks as if Alba flew injured to the last position or the tracker or bird was taken there by someone-any thoughts please.
Richard can you remind us whether it was Cally or Alba whose harness had started to fray a little prior to them starting their migration?
Oh Richard ~ like Crafter, I feel all has been said ~ all the care and attention over the past season from Team LG ~ all those hopes and expectations, dashed ~ you must all be 'gutted'. Words alone cannot express my empathy.
And what a fantasy of feathers on your foray at the Rez ~ a great healing process....... I do enjoy reading of your exploits. Thanks ~ Leen
So sad Richard...everything I feel has already been said.
Couldnt read the blog last night.......but read it all tonight.....loved the photo. Crafter x
No words. Too soon. I only found out today.
Really sad news Richard feel devastated as I'm sure you all do. Let's hope she had a wonderful few months down there - certainly looked like it. x
So sorry to read your sad news Richard. My thoughts are with you and your brilliant team also to all fellow bloggers and osprey lovers. My prayers for Caledonia that she stays safe.
This brought tears to my eyes when I read it. I volunteered at Loch Garten in the summer and was lucky to witness the ringing and tagging of Caledonia and Alba and felt I had a special bond with the chicks. I was so proud when I saw last week that Alba had been mentioned in the BBC Wildlife Magazine as having completed the fastest maiden migration - it's heartbreaking to think that when I was reading the article she may have already died. She was such a feisty bird, it's hard to imagine how this happened. Any chance of finding out? Do you think it was poachers?
I pray that Caledonia is safe and well and makes it back to Loch Garten.
So very sorry to read this. I too felt she had it relatively made in what appeared to be an idyllic haven for her. Its heartbreaking to have seen them survive thru the atrocious weather, to fledge, and to make that dangerous journey to what appeared relatively safety and then die. I have only been following the ospreys since last year but it is long enough for me to realise that its a complete miracle that any of them survive to make it back. I am just gutted at this news.