EJ in HD...no, this is not XD's younger brother, it is our new High Definition camera that has just gone live on the web. The keener eyed amongst you will have already spotted the change over, and those of you who have visited the centre this year will have seen it on the big screen. Today we got the final part we needed to allow us to hook it up to the internet so you can all enjoy our ospreys not only in high definition but also with a wider angled view. This will be a huge benefit to you at home when the chicks get bigger and start to move around the nest a bit more. Especially when they start thinking of fledging and their more adventurous wing flaps would have previously have them out of shot. Also, with all the intruders who have been attempting nest landings over the past couple of weeks, the wider angle will allow you to see more of this action. You will also be better able to see Odin coming in with his fish deliveries. The new nest camera hangs outwards of the old nest camera, both are running simultaneously. You can still see still images from the old nest camera. Happy viewing!
Latest on Caledonia - not much to report. She has remained in a very small area, on a stretch of a river where the R. Huelva intersects the bigger river Rio Guadalquivir near Saitiponce near Seville.
... sounds like something a Dalek would say in the famous TV series Doctor Who. However, our famous pairing of EJ and Odin must also be aware and alert of any intruders to their nest.
That has certainly been the case over the last few days. "Intruders", to you and I, are ospreys that fly in the vicinity of the Loch Garten nest. Some will swoop at the nest, and attempt to mate with the female. Others may just fly past briefly, or settle in a nearby tree and watch. EJ, now in her eleventh season here and Odin, in his fifth, will strive to protect what is theirs - the eggs, the nest and each other. Over the course of the season, dozens of these said intruders will visit the nest. Some could be looking for a new nest after bad weather has damaged their nest (which is what started the EJ-Blue XD-Odin love triangle of last year, lest I remind you). Others will be young ospreys who have returned to Scotland for the first time after three years in West Africa, looking for a mate/nest, or just generally checking the site out - at this age they are still learning what's what, and it may be a couple of years until they finally breed successfully.
Over the last few days, we have seen a number of intruders. Odin chased off a couple of them before we had a chance to identify them. However, there have been a couple of occasions recently where intruders have shown up when Odin was off fishing. The first happened on Sunday afternoon (12th May). An un-ringed male attempted to land on the nest, but EJ was having none of it! As the bird approached the nest, she quickly shot-up off the eggs that she had been incubating for the past 22 days, and prevented the male from landing. He then settled in the dead tree to the right of the nest for about 5 minutes, before takiing off again after EJ made it clear he was unwelcome with her very loud, alarming call. Another intruder visited the nest while Odin was away yesterday morning (13th May). Ian, our Trail Warden and part of the Caper-watch team, was able to record some footage using the moveable camera situated to the right of the nest. This bird had been ringed as a chick, and we identified it as 'Blue DF' - a three-year old male who hatched out near Rothiemurchus. (Pictures below - apologies for the reflecting lights: they were taken from a TV screen)
I find it fascinating how ospreys are able to navigate their way from North Scotland to Africa, and then, after two or three years, instinctively make the return journey. Through ringing these magnificent birds, we know that they return to where they hatched out. But I also love to see intruding ospreys without an identifiable ring - Who are they? Where did they come from? How old are they? The mystery of an ospreys' identity all adds to the excitement of this conservation success story. The other day, I was lucky enough to attend a talk by Roy Dennis MBE, and he now thinks there are over 250 nesting pairs in Scotland - possibly 300 - fantastic numbers when you consider 50-odd years ago there was just the one pair in the UK - here at Loch Garten. So I'm sure we'll be seeing a few more intruders between now and the end of the season
I attempted to post this blog yesterday, but due to technical difficulties, was unable to post it until this morning. Good thing, actually, as I can tell you that Blue DF visited the nest again at 6 this morning. This time, instead of just sitting in the tree near the nest, he actually landed on the post just above the camera! Will this be the last we see of Blue DF? Somehow, I think not.
Blue DF - hatched out near Aviemore in 2010.
Un-ringed male - Is this the first time he has visited Loch Garten?
It's steady as we go at the osprey nest as we continue through incubation, with little to report this time around, so by way of a change, a piece about capercaillie, another of Scotland's iconic and totemic birds.
Currently, I hope, there will not be many people, to whom that question of his, knowingly applies. Sadly though, somewhere in the world creatures are becoming extinct probably almost on a daily basis, if only we knew it. Some of them quite literally exiting before we know they ever existed in the first place!
If you have been watching the latest blockbuster from David Attenborough, Life in Cold Blood, then you experienced such by proxy. That delightful golden frog from Panama that was featured effectively became extinct in the wild, no sooner than it was filmed for the programme – the last few were taken into captivity for safe keeping, to protect them from a deadly virus sweeping throughout Central America. Did you feel sad? Or maybe, having most likely never seen one, its fate perhaps had less or even no impact on you?
We hear so much these days about creatures who’s futures are uncertain, but whilst many a small, little-known rainforest creature will no doubt disappear for good, for now at least, most of the mega fauna - the bigger stuff, is largely still with us. Throughout the lives of all of us, creatures such as tigers, black rhino and sadly so much else, have been under threat, but mercifully most still hold on. Some are faring better than they were, others less so. However, I do not think we have yet lost anything that many of us are particularly familiar with.
Although we have already lost the Bali, Javan and Caspian subspecies of tiger, at least as a species, tigers hang on in there - just. However, they are under enormous pressures. We perhaps didn’t feel the loss of the individual races because we barely knew them, but now with television, world travel and the burgeoning interest in eco-tourism, more people these days have experienced the wonder of these and many other exotic creatures. Will we therefore feel differently if ever we lose them?
As a child I remember seeing some early black and white film footage of a Thylacine – the so-called Tasmanian tiger, but not a “real” tiger as we know them, but a marsupial wolf-like creature. The footage was of the very last one, pacing its cage in Hobart Zoo, Tasmania. The spooky thing was that there were people looking in at this captive creature, and it gave the footage all the more poignancy, to see that this now extinct animal was around in relatively recent human times, maybe not quite one’s own time, but it was seen by people of our parents or grandparents age – that last one died out in 1936.
Children, almost from the word go, know at a glance what a tiger, elephant, giraffe and panda look like. Hopefully, many will get the opportunity to see them for real, but if not, then at least on film, with the comfort of knowing that they’re still out there. On TV these days we marvel at the technological special effects used to bring dinosaurs and sabre-toothed cats “back to life”, by way of a vicarious experience. Fascinating as it may be to see recreations of animals that no one ever knew, what will it be like for future generations if they can only watch similar programmes about creatures that we know now, but they might not?
How aptly and lamentingly titled, is the book The Song of the Dodo, by David Quammen, about ecosystem decay and the loss of species - because dodos died out before recording equipment existed, so no-one knows what they sounded like, and now no-one ever will.
I think what shocked me about my nephew’s question, was how relatively powerless we can feel to save things like tigers or golden frogs. It’s not always easy to do something for far-flung species in far-flung lands. But it is not all out of sight, out of mind stuff. Some species much closer to home have uncertain futures too. For example, and most prominent for us here in Strathspey, is the capercaillie – an iconic species for Scotland and a totemic species for this area, and a huge draw for visitors. The return of the osprey to Scotland is a much vaunted and heartening conservation success story and numbers go from strength to strength. The future of capercaillie however, is much less certain.
They too are under threat. They number about 2,000 in Scotland, half the number of the few remaining Bengal tigers whose future is considered so very uncertain. For the caper on our doorstep, we owe it to future generations to try to do what we can to keep them.
Whether we like them and care about their future, or not, how might we feel were the answer ever to be “yes”, to that opening question above, from a nephew, a grandchild or great grandchild, curious and fascinated by the enigmatic capercaillie? Let us hope the answer is always an emphatic “no”.
I wrote the above article for our local paper, back in 2008. Five years on the latest figure for the remaining capercaillie in Scotland is thought to be now just 900-1000 birds, in part likely due to more thorough survey work, but equally, reflecting further decline too.
They are facing a number of problems; loss of habitat and fragmentation of that remaining habitat, poor productivity (breeding success) owing to cold and wet periods of weather in early June when capercaillie hatch their eggs, the impact (literally) of birds colliding with deer fences, disturbance, and when a population is at a low ebb, the exacerbated but natural influences of predation.
Collectively we need to do what we can to help the remaining beleaguered capercaillie, be that working in partnership with land managers of areas where capercaillie occur, managing habitats to maintain, enhance, improve and expand them for capercaillie. These things take time and do not happen over night, but in the meantime there are other measures that we can all play a part in to help capercaillie.
For example, like attending Caper-watch at Loch Garten Osprey Centre, if you want to try to see a capercaillie. This seasonal event began 14 years ago, borne out of a conservation imperative to try to minimize the potential disturbance to capercaillie resulting from people actively searching for them early in the morning at this time of year – however unintentional or inadvertent any such disturbance might be. They are difficult birds to see, and for much of the year are, what I refer to as a bump-into-bird, a bird of chance encounter. And if you do see one, the likely view you get is of a caper’s backside as it clatters off through the trees having seen or heard you coming before you saw it.
The most reliable time to see capercaillie is in Spring, at lek sites – areas where they traditionally gather to go about their courtship ritual, cock birds sparring with each other for dominance, to secure the mating opportunities with the hens. Any disturbance during lekking, (a word of Swedish origin, for dancing), is likely to have consequences. Whilst the cocks might lek for 5-6 weeks, the number of mornings in that time when the hens attend the lek to be mated, might number just 5-6 mornings. Imagine then if disturbance were to occur on those few crucial mating-mornings, the hens might not be mated that day, or even that season if repeat disturbance were to occur on those vital mornings. Which is not going to help the fortunes of capercaillie.
As luck would have it, we see lekking capercaillie from the Osprey Centre which, back in 2000 when we started Caper-watch, gave us the opportunity to help & enable people to have the chance to see these birds, from the Centre facilities, with minimal, if any, disturbance, and in so doing play their part in capercaillie conservation.
During most Caper-watch seasons we receive c.2000+ people over the 50 mornings that we run the event (always from 1st April to third Friday in May – this year 17th May), averaging c.40-45 people per early morning session of 5.30am to 08.00am. So since 2000, we have helped c.26,000 people see one of Britain’s most threatened species, in a way that’s not to their detriment, negating the need to otherwise actively seek them out, leaving them in peace to go about their nuptials.
In so doing, it’s been our aim to try to change & influence people’s behaviour towards these birds, so that they are left in peace at this crucial time of year. And we are grateful to all those who have attended Caper-watch over the years and resisted the temptation to go looking elsewhere – if that’s you, then you played your part, thank you.
So-called rogue cock capercaillie crop up from time to time. These are birds that are completely fearless and confrontational, and will attack anyone or anything that comes near them. The chance for such a close-encounter can (understandably) prove irresistible, the chance to get that frame-filling photograph. But at what cost to the bird?
Normal lekking behaviour lasts for a few hours each morning during the lekking period, from first-light to around 07.30-08.00am, after which the cock birds retreat into cover to feed and rest. Lekking must be very taxing physiologically and I think we underestimate the stress these birds are under at this time of year. I’ve heard said that cock capercaillie can actually die at lekking time through sheer exhaustion, burnt out, spent, from their pumped-up exertions. The cocks will fight among themselves too, knocking the proverbial out of each other, feathers flying, all adding to the stress and physiological load the birds are under.
Imagine then, if you are tempted to go and see a reported rogue bird. Human presence provokes the rogue to lek and display, regardless of the normal timings, and these birds can end up strutting their stuff all day long, every day, for all and every person that turns up to see them at what ever time. So just when then do these birds get the chance to feed and rest? I would ask therefore, that if you do hear word of such rogue birds, that you please resist the temptation to go and see it, and that you play your part and leave the bird in peace. Thank you.
Come to Caper-watch instead. (Oh, he would say that wouldn’t he, because they make a charge…. Yes we do, a very modest one at that, that does not even come close to covering costs). Ok, yes I know it gets “mixed reviews” but we do the best we can under the circumstances presented to us by the birds each morning. Yes, birds can be tricky to see sometimes, and there can be complete no-show mornings too, but whilst views can vary from tricky and fleeting, to prolonged and stunning, the point is that the viewing has little or no negative impact on the birds themselves, they go about their business oblivious of those Caper-watch attendees enjoying seeing them.
Of other help you can be, is that if you are a dog owner, please keep your dog on a lead in areas where capercaillie occur, be that a rogue bird or otherwise. Sadly there was the unfortunate, widely publicized incident a season or so ago, where someone’s dog off a lead, shredded a male capercaillie.
Then why not come along to the Boat of Garten Community Hall at 7.30pm to hear about.......
On Monday 20th May, guest speaker at the Boat of Garten Community Hall summer talks programme is Derek Niemann of RSPB. His talk Birds in a Cage, based on his book of the same title, is the untold story of one of the most bizarre and enriching episodes in the history of British environmentalism.
At Warburg, Germany, in 1941, four British PoWs find an unexpected means of escape from the horrors of internment when they form a birdwatching society, and embark on an obsessive quest behind barbed wire. Through their shared love of birds, they overcome hunger, hardship, fear and stultifying boredom. Their quest draws in not only their fellow prisoners, but also some of the German guards, at great risk to them all.
Derek Niemann draws on original diaries, letters and drawings, to tell of how Conder, Barrett, Waterston and Buxton were forged by their experiences as POWs into the giants of post war wildlife conservation. Their legacy lives on, in institutions such as the RSPB and the British Wildlife Trust.
Peter Conder went on to become Director of RSPB and George Waterston established Fair Isle Bird Observatory and went on to become the Director of RSPB in Scotland (1955-1972). It was his early efforts that helped established Operation Osprey, affording protection to the ospreys returning to Strathspey in the 1950s and his vision that led to the opening of the original public osprey viewing facility, at Loch Garten in 1959.
The Osprey Centre is dedicated to the memory of George Waterston and his legacy lives on. If only he knew what his vision has become since opening in 1959. Over two million people have since visited and been thrilled and inspired by the osprey story and the Scottish conservation success story it has become. Derek’s talk will be a fascinating insight into the hardship these men faced and the part their passion for birds played in getting them through their ordeal. Try and come along if you can, or consider buying the book.
Derek Niemann is the editor of the RSPB’s children’s magazines and has written several books on nature and conservation for young readers. He lives in Bedfordshire with his family.
The talk will be given at Boat of Garten Community Hall at 7.30pm on Monday 20th May
The details of the dead osprey found recently in Perthshire are as follow;
Ringed Loch Garten 5th July 1996, a male, ringed red/white TA on right leg. One of a brood of three young that year. Picked up dead 21st April 2013 near Loch Ordie, Perthshire. Aged 17 years. Believed to have been dead for 3 weeks or so, thought to be due to natural causes - inclement weather.
Watching an osprey fishing is a magnificent experience. It is something that I did not fully appreciate until a few days ago, when I witnessed this amazing spectacle for the first time.
Recently, my colleagues and I were invited to watch ospreys fishing in the pool that EJ uses at Rothiemurchus fish farm, near Aviemore. EJ is a regular at Rothiemurchus, as she used to nest nearby. The staff there instantly know it is her when she visits, because she’s so much better at fishing than all the other ospreys!
So there we were, huddled in a hide at 5:40am, rain beating on the roof, waiting for an osprey to come and make our day. We were not disappointed! We had to wait rather a long time, but just before we were about to leave, a male showed up and treated us to a breathtaking display of aerial acrobatics and fishing finesse. Well, after a few tries anyway. It is written that adult ospreys are successful in one out of four attempts. That fact held true for this chap, and he kept dropping his catch when he got one! However, he managed to hold onto one in the end, aided by the spicules on the underside of his feet, and the fact that ospreys can reverse their outer toe to get a better grip.
It was a pleasure to watch, and we all felt extremely privileged to have witnessed it from such an advantaged position. We were able to take some quite decent photographs, which I have shared with you below.