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.
The beginning of the osprey season is always a hectic time as we take the dust covers off the Osprey Centre and prepare for another season of highs and lows. This season has been more hectic than usual, with Richard sadly leaving RSPB (you’ll hear form him shortly) and not yet having an osprey. Many of you will be sitting patiently, checking the webcam regularly and awaiting updates on the return of our ospreys. And we have been eager to keep you informed of what is happening here at Loch Garten, however, as many of you will have noticed, the RSPB community pages crashed and had to be closed for maintenance. Our IT team have been working hard over the past few days to get things up and running again, and thankfully all is back to normal. Many of you found our Facebook and Twitter pages where we tried to keep you updated, but for those of you who didn’t find Facebook, sorry for the lack of communication. It was frustrating for us too as we were also locked out and had to wait for it to be fixed in order to post blogs again. Thank you for your patience during our down time.
EJ, our long standing female who has been with us since 2003, has not yet arrived. We usually have her back by now, her usual arrival date being around 25th/26th March. However, we aren't worried yet, the latest we have ever had her back was the 4th April. This was in 2007 when weather was bad, and many ospreys were late returning. Recent weather in Europe has been pretty bad, and it has most likely slowed up, or grounded many ospreys until weather improves, so lets not give up on the old girl just yet. And an old girl she is; it is worth bearing in mind that she will be 18 this year, and is therefore no spring chicken, so it could be that we aren’t going to see her back again this year. If we don’t, then we would expect to see a new osprey move in and take over the Garten nest. An osprey season is full of highs and lows, and we wouldn't expect this year to be any different. The drama surrounding these birds is what grips us and sucks us into their story. However, we haven't yet given up hope. Some nests have their ospreys back, other nests have ospreys who are uncharacteristically late. Blue XD (Odin's archenemy!) for example, who is usually here by now, trying to woo our EJ, is still in Spain and is struggling to stay on course due to high winds. And so, we will continue to watch and wait to see what happens next....
Opening day is upon us and although our ospreys are not yet in place, our new Osprey Team are raring to go! Some faces you may recognise, others will be new. This year’s line up is....
Hannah, who comes to us from the London RSPB membership team and the RSPB’s Tate peregrines Date With Nature. She has given up the thrum of city life for the Highlands of Scotland, and swapped peregrines for ospreys. Rachel, who you will all be familiar with, was on the team last year and the lure of osprey drama has brought her back for a second season. Rachel spent the winter volunteering at RSPB Haweswater reserve. Nimrod (what a name, eh?!), comes to us all the way from Malta. Nimrod has been working hard with BirdLife Malta in the fight to stop illegal shooting of migrating birds (including ospreys) in Malta. He is thrilled to be seeing birds without the sound of gunshots and is returning to Malta next week to vote in the spring hunting referendum. Abby, another familiar face, was on the team in 2012. Since then Abby has been on the RSPB membership team in Edinburgh and spent this winter in Costa Rica working on a turtle conservation project and learning Spanish.
I hope you’ll all make them feel welcome and they look forward to meeting you all in the centre and sharing this year’s osprey story with you.
Left to right: Rachel, Abby, Nimrod, Jen and Hannah.
Mike has the lastest on Breagha:
No change in Breagha’s position. He has been quite active over the last 3 days and particularly on 29 March when he did a 13 km round trip from his normal area.
Firstly, the nest camera has gone live!!
As we hot up for the impending osprey season, the reserve is coming to life with the sights and sounds of spring. There is no escaping the flourish of bird song in the forest. The temperature is also changing and we had an almost sweltering 14 degrees at the weekend. The osprey cameras were installed last Thursday and Friday, and we took a moment to bask in the sun whilst Ian (The Man Behind the Hands at ringing) shimmied his way up the ladder to fit the cameras. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky or a breath of wind, and it felt like the beginning of osprey season. Reports are coming in thick and fast of arriving ospreys, with one sighted in Coupar, Angus on Friday, and another on the Beauly Firth this week, just north of Inverness. We are now only days away from seeing our first osprey at Loch Garten...will it be EJ?! Time to get the sweepstake going! EJ is usually expect around 25th March, give or take a day or two either side, with her earliest arrival being 21st March, so what date are you putting your money on? The nest camera is now live on the web so that you won’t miss that first landing!
Here is a video from the camera installation...
Any of you who have visited the Osprey Centre before will be familiar with our composting toilets. A great, environmentally friendly feature that saves on the use of water and turns our toilet waste into compost. However, someone has to be tasked with the enviable job of raking the piles of poo below the toilets when they get too high, and removing a season’s worth of waste before the next season begins. Richard has been charged with the role of Chief Pooper Scooper for all the time we have had the composting toilets, however he is now hanging up his sh*t shovelling overalls (the sort of onesie that you don’t want to sleep in) and has handed over the rake of destiny to Ian. It was an eye watering moment for Richard (mostly because of the fumes) as he emptied the toilets for the last time and like the Ceremoy of the Keys at the Tower of London, he passed his keys to Ian after the last bin had been filled with 2014’s toilet donations.
On a less smellier note, Richard wanted to share the latest sighting from his garden...
Remember this blog post from December 2013
In particular this extract;
A week or so ago, an e-mail popped up on the office computer from a colleague working at home, to say he'd just received a text (from a reliable source) saying "Two sea eagles seen high-circling over Nethybridge!!!!!.
Without further ado, as they say - meaning you didn't see us for dust, Ian (he of the orange-gloved hands in EJ's nest), Jayne and I suddenly remembered that we..... er.....had to go and check something, in the forest on the edge of Nethybridge.....that would..... er.....take all three of us to do, as it does!
To be fair, Jayne was effectively kidnapped, bundled in to the pick-up, not knowing what was going on. She has though, seen our fervour before, when such a call comes into the office - remember the cranes at the end of May this year?
- so she guessed what was up, that something had been seen. We said nothing at first, but then gave her a clue; "If the sun suddenly goes in and there's a solar eclipse, look up". She guessed correctly, instanly: sea eagle, knowing that these birds are enormous with a huge wingspan of up to 9ft/ 240cm, often referred to as a flying mattress or barn door.
Scan the forest, as we did, from several vantage points, the sun remained shining, no eclipse caused by massive wings, no sea eagles were seen, not relocated by anyone else either over subsequent days. Bah! Och well, it was fun trying, to add this important bird record to the reserve species list data-base. Aye, right!
Had we seen said birds, and if heading in the right direction, in my mind I'd already made up some cock-&-bull story, about needing to nip home immediately because I'd left the iron on! My ruse of course was in hope of adding sea eagle to my garden list - airpsace counts remember. Had it come to pass, it would have taken my garden list to the tidy 100 mark. But it was not to be, hey-ho. One day. It is on my short-list of next likely species.
I did once almost include (by proxy) sea eagle on my garden list, back in 1993. I came home late one evening and noticed a message on the answering machine, (in the days before mobiles!). On pressing the play button, the shrill message rang out "Richard, there's a sea eagle going over your house RIGHT NOW!!!!" It was Roy Dennis, my then neighbour, shouting the message down the phone. Alas, I wasn't in when he called, I had been in Perth all day. Bah!
Well, all good things come to he who waits, as they say. My prediction came true this morning 11th March at a memorable 07.09am. Not one, but two sea eagles flew directly over my house!
I had just got out of bed. I took my usual first glance out of the bedroom window to check the weather, to see what wildlife was out there and to admire the view, when I noticed a bird high-up, in the distance, but clearly a raptor. At first glance, thinking it was the usual buzzard that’s so often around the house, I almost didn’t give it a second look, but something kicked-in - that big at that distance? I grabbed the spare binoculars that hang on the curtain rail in readiness for such eventualities and on checking out the bird, lo it was an erne, and as predicted, the 100th bird species for my garden list! The above airspace counts remember.
The spare binoculars are rubbish, so dashing downstairs, I grabbed a decent pair and ran into the garden, en deshabille, as it were, but hey, who cares, it wasn’t too cold, and watched the sky darken as the massive bird sailed directly over me. It was quite high, but there was no mistaking it, an erne/sea eagle/white-tailed eagle. As I stood, swivelled and panned with my binoculars as it drifted over, another bird hove into my field of view. Another. Not one but two ernes!
Not a bad start to one’s day. My 100th species for my garden list. The 200th will clearly be a long, long way off, but I can start and now eagerly await the 101th. My prediction? Hmmmm , tricky now, but ’ll opt for hawfinch, or maybe a vagrant hoopoe. But don’t hold me to it.
Heather has been doing an apprenticeship with us here over the winter in conjunction with her HNC in forest management. Heather is with us until June and has kindly shared her experience of Abernethy life so far...
It was with a great level of naivety that I entered the RSPB reserve in Abernethy, in order to start a year’s apprenticeship programme to coincide with my studies at the Scottish School of Forestry. RSPB, they do stuff with birds, don’t they? Well, yes; but they do a lot more.
It was September 2014, and having had a myriad of unskilled jobs over the years- I have my very own collection of nametags- I had stumbled upon a fantastic opportunity with The Cairngorms Skills Project. Set up to help people aged 16-24 (I find myself at the latter end of this spectrum), the project means that alongside studying for an HNC in forest management, I have also been given a day a week’s work experience with Abernethy- and what an experience it has been!
The first thing that struck me was the amount of work that goes in to providing different habitats for species to thrive. My first morning, having met my mentors Ross and Fraser, we set out to tackle deer management- an absolute necessity to aid the establishment of new woodland. Let me tell you- it’s not easy! Having fooled myself into thinking I was reasonably fit, a morning walking through heathy mountains (hills) proved that maybe it was time to renew that gym membership- there was no need; I had plenty of workouts to come.
Our next job came in the form of larch trees- gathering larch posts for the newly renovated ramp of the Osprey Centre. Larch is a fantastic tree to opt for if ever one needs an outside post- its resistant bark means it’s essentially pre-treated, the last ramp lasting 15 years. Though if you’re looking for a volunteer to carry them, well, I might just call one of the other guys. Yes, it wasn’t my proudest moment, ruminating in a pool of my own sweat amongst the forest understory, but again, it only stresses further my admiration for the volunteers and long term workers who go to these lengths for something which they love.
The next thing that struck me was the amount of community involvement. I met with the community ranger, Alison Greggans, for a day of maintaining the forest routes, in order for the community to gain better enjoyment of the local accessible paths. On this very day, we met a local walking group from Boat of Garten- who very kindly invited us on their next walk, with the promise of tea and cake at the end!
This kind of involvement is what we strive for here at RSPB, and it was with that in mind that we moved on to our next task- the day that shall be forever etched in my mind as “Deer bum Day”. In an effort to raise more awareness for the work that is done here, and with Christmas fast approaching, the concept of “Find Rudolph” was born. A family oriented activity, the task was to find a wooden cut out of Rudolph’s rear end, among a forest of other deer species’ rear ends- including red deer and roe deer. Armed with an identification key, the children were to go out and identify the deer- and eventually discover Rudolph- red nose and all!
Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever stood in a garage with 20 large, wooden cutouts of deer bums- but if you have, you’ll know what an odd experience it is. The day of the event, however, was a great success; with mulled wine, mince pies, and chocolate raisins disguised as deer poo (which I’m still not sure if we should have encouraged the children to eat or not).
Another fantastic community event I had the privilege to take part in was the annual “Log Day” in which 300 bags of firewood were filled for senior citizens of the community. Once again, it was amazing to see a whole multitude of volunteers who had given up their time in order to participate in helping their local community. I learned that some of these volunteers had been helping out at the reserve for over five years, some for over ten!
I suppose that’s what I mostly want to convey through this blog- my admiration and respect for the people that care; people that care enough about the environment and conservation that they dedicate their time to it. I have met countless volunteers over my time here at Abernethy: some who take a week off work to help, some who regularly come through, some who just try it for the day, and some who dedicate their life to it. It’s incredible that in this modern age, there are still people out there in the community who work hard in order to create better habitats for our endangered species. Though I came to the reserve naive, I have learned so much about the good work RSPB does, through both it’s workers and it’s volunteers. And yes, I have become a member!