Loch Garten osprey diary

Loch Garten ospreys

Loch Garten ospreys
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Loch Garten osprey diary

The ospreys at Loch Garten have people across the world gripped in their tale of violence, adultery and... well... fishing.
  • The future: Perhaps coming to a pylon near you........?


    The picture below taken recently by my erstwhile colleague Stewart Taylor shows an osprey nesting on a purpose-added nesting tray to an electricity pylon. Is this the future for ospreys, or at least part of it?


    There are a few such nests on pylons now and it can perhaps be assumed that young ospreys reared at these sites, will, when they are old enough to nest and breed themselves, have a "search-image" in their brains for a similar nesting location. Will or does pylon-nesting beget pylon-nesting? If so, we could see a developing pylon-nesting culture among future osprey populations throughout UK. No shortage of potential nesting sites for such predisposed birds eh? Think how many pylons there are throughout the UK, a proportion of which will be adjacent to suitable fishing grounds for ospreys.

    Currently, all bar a handful of osprey nests UK-wide are in trees, albeit some on man-made nests in trees. A few others are on look-a-like trees, poles or similar.. The vast majority though are in trees. So is it that young ospreys reared from tree nests have a "search-image" for a tree in which to nest when their time comes? The few slightly "off-piste" nests like on pylons are a  relatively new thing. Are we beginning to see a gradual change in osprey nesting culture, or perhaps a breakdown in their innate "culture of fear" in which the returning and spreading osprey population of Scotland and the wider UK has been living all these years?

    Historically, here in Scotland, some ospreys did nest in non-tree locations. For example the castle wall ruin on the island at Loch an Eilein, on Rothiemurchus, the last place they nested in Strathspey before their extirpation. Having been pushed over the brink into oblivion as nesting birds in UK, at the hand of man, through persecution and extermination, could it be that there exists a "culture" within the since returned osprey population that causes them to avoid nesting close to man and his activities? They are just too wary. For now.


    In North America, and elsewhere in the world where ospreys nest, where they were perhaps not subject to, or at least to the level, of persecution that UK and European ospreys were way back, that ospreys in those parts of the world are less wary, have nothing (or less) to fear and are altogether less of a bunch of  "fearties" that UK ospreys were forced to become.

    The two pictures below were taken at Fulford, Lake Kootenay, British Columbia. They were sent to me as photographic prints back in May 1994, which I thought I'd lost but I have just unearthed them. And with the advent of modern technology can now be scanned and shared with you. I cannot recall who sent them to me 20-odd years ago, but thank you again, and I hope you don't mind me posting them here now.

    The first shows an osprey nesting on the wooden pilings of a lake quayside, a quay used on a daily basis by a ferry, back & forth and berthing right alongside the nest. I've added an arrow to show you quite where. This, despite the potential for tree nesting in the forest seen in the background.



    This would surely be unheard of here, for now. But will we gradually see the breakdown of the "culture of fear" that perhaps our ospreys have? 

    It never ceases to amaze me that the Loch Garten ospreys return every year to rear their family at what must be one of the closest osprey nests to man and his activities in the UK, the Osprey Centre at just about 160m from the nest. Other viewing sites too are relatively close. Have we contributed to a gradual breakdown of that "culture of fear"? In the future, hopefully, when Millicent, Seasca and Druie are on the lookout for a nest site, will they be that bit more predisposed to nesting close, or closer to man?

    In Florida, in Australia and elsewhere, osprey nest in peoples' backyards, on poles, on purposely erected cartwheels and other man-made structure. Pylon-nesting ospreys here are a step in that direction too. Who knows, with our change in attitude towards ospreys, this their second time around, perhaps one day we too might get ospreys nesting in harbours, marinas and other such locations comfortably closer to us.  Be nice, eh?

  • Ospreys fly when they're having fun...

    It has been over a week now since our first chick fledged and these young ospreys have been enjoying their new found freedom.  Even Druie, who continued to spend a lot of time on the nest after fledging last week, has been growing in confidence and taking many practice flights.  Her landings, however, still need perfecting!  Millie in particular has been adventurous and we delighted in seeing her gain some real height in the thermals today.

    The next few days will see them learn the tricky skill of taking off with a fish and the even trickier task of landing, holding onto a branch and NOT dropping the fish.  Seasca is proving to be a feisty youngster, being very quick to snatch a fish and even showing enough confidence to steal food from her older sister, Millie.  This behaviour might encourage Millie to fly off with her fish before Seasca gets the chance to pinch it from her.  However, EJ is still on hand to do her motherly duties and we are still seeing her occasionally feeding the young, sharing a fish out equally amongst the three of them.

    For those of you watching the webcam at home, you might have seen a rather empty nest yesterday.  The birds, however, were not far from the nest.  EJ and Odin were perched together in Odin’s favourite faraway tree, having a bit of quiet time away from the kids, who were perched mostly in the camera tree.  A very relaxing day in contrast to Sunday when they were harassed for most of the afternoon by an intruding osprey.  This was one persistent bird that battled in the skies with both EJ and Odin, stooped at EJ on the nest and even landed on the Camera Tree above Seasca, who displayed her annoyance by mantling and alarm calling frantically. 

    We now have the first downloads from the new trackers and we can now discover where they are spending time when we can’t see them from the centre.  So it is over to Mike...

    Millicent’s and Seasca’s First Flights

    As we might expect at this stage our two girls have not apparently moved far.  By now you will be used to my use of ‘apparently’ because at the moment there are only three satellite data points per day so they do not reflect the detail of what the birds are doing.  However, on around 10th August this will change in readiness for the migration when  there will be eight data points per day downloaded every three days until end October.

    Millie seems to have travelled the farthest with a ‘long’ journey of 200 m NE of the nest with local tree hopping for the remainder of the week.  Seasca appears to have been less adventurous with local tree hopping of around 50m.  That will all change over the next weeks or so as they become more adventurous.  The next download for the newbies will be on 26 July.  Attached is an image of these first steps around LG.


    Meanwhile Breagha has continued his travels around his ‘home’ area in Senegal.  The biggest trip was of at least 5 km NW of his normal range on 10 July and was still travelling N at 14.00 GMT.  He has changed his recent pattern of a favoured overnight roost and in the last week has used several different roost sites.  The next download of his data will be on 24 July but unless there is a significant change reporting will be held over until 26 July.

    Notes on some recent tracking changes:

    Firstly, we have added a new menu item on the Loch Garten website called Satellite Tracking.  This gives direct access to the RSPB tracking page which has now been set up for Millicent and Seasca.  The link on this page (below the map) to the instructions for setting up Google Earth tracking has been made more prominent.  Hopefully these changes will make things easier for those who have not used the tracking sites before or have forgotten how to do it.

    Secondly, we have run out of colours to use for tracking birds on Google Earth!  This is a technical issue which cannot be resolved easily.  So, we have changed the colours of Nethy, Deshar and Mallachie to black, Breagha to red (from black) and set up magenta/purple for Millicent and blue for Seasca.  We will have to make similar changes in future years.

    And finally, for those of you in the local area, there is a talk at the Grant Arms Hotel tomorrow evening about ospreys by our very own, Ian Perks, the man behind the nest-hands at ringing!  The talk is titled 'Scotland's Ospreys, a Conservation Success Story' and starts at 8.30pm.  More details on the Grant Arms website:  http://www.bwwc.co.uk/talks-and-other-events.php

  • And bronze goes to....Druie!

    In third place is our youngest osprey, Druie, who finally fledged today at 14.15!  With a bumpy start to life after getting her head stuck in the egg she hatched from, we weren’t sure if this determined osprey was ever going to make it to this stage.  However, she has been a fighter from the start, pushing her way in between her older siblings whenever there was a fish.  Today she looked very lonely up on the nest and has been watching with wonder as her two sisters have flown from perch to perch, testing their new wings.  EJ and Odin have been holding back on bringing in fish today, possibly trying to entice their youngest from the nest – why leave the nest if mum and dad keep bringing food to it?  Just as we were starting to think she was scared of heights, she spread her wings and leapt skywards.  Three cheers for Druie!

    Druie getting ready to go!