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.
  • Finding my feet


    Firstly, no news I’m afraid from the team searching for clues about Breagha. As you know, they were able to visit the site and pinpointed to within a few metres the location of the last transmitted co-ordinates. The terrain was apparently pretty tricky, with small pools and flooded ditches and nothing conclusive was found. We are still awaiting news to see if they have managed to visit the site again, but like I said in my last blog, their project with the RSPB is concerning turtle doves, so we are very much dependent on their having time to fit searches in with their normal work. We have every faith in the team there and know that they’ll be doing their utmost to provide answers. Not the news you wanted I know, but that’s where we’re at with this at present.

    Fun in the sun

    Well, now that I’m a few weeks in to this job I’m starting to find my feet a bit and feel a little less like a rabbit in the headlights. The scale of the job is still a little overwhelming at times, but that’s to be expected. My role is more than just the Loch Garten Osprey Centre and takes in all the visitor management over the whole of Abernethy’s 53 square miles – a vast area on the map, but when taking altitude into account, it becomes even bigger! Just a few hundred metres from the Abernethy office is the river Nethy at 200 metres above sea level, then as the crow flies, about 21 miles away, there’s the summit of Ben Macdui at 1,309 metres. It’s a lot to get my head round, but I’m just delighted to have the opportunity to get to know this most magnificent corner of the Highlands better. It’s going to take time though and I need to remember to factor this in to my work programme. It’s all too easy to sit at my computer responding to emails, sending new ones, attending meetings and making plans – and forget that I need to get better acquainted with the lay of the land and the abundant wildlife which makes its home here.

    Of course the Osprey Centre and the woodland trails at Loch Garten and Loch Mallachie will be a core part of my job and I’m pleased to say I did stop off at the dragonfly lochan off the Speyside Way during the fabulous weather of the last couple of weeks.

     It was a glorious day and the black darters were out in force, making the most of the last days of heat before the inevitable onset of autumn. The black darter is the nearest we get in the UK to an all black dragonfly - well, that’s true of the males; the females are more brownish yellow. Like all dragonflies, they’re an example of nature’s engineering at its best.

    Male black darter - the veins in the wings help to give the wings rigidity and the black marks at the front edge assist with hovering and flying.

    I spent a few minutes watching their seemingly effortless aerial acrobatics – spending a few seconds hovering before darting off suddenly - and was on my way back along the board walk when, thankfully, I noticed that I was about to step on a pair who were, shall we say, otherwise engaged. I approached cautiously, not wanting to distract them from their important business, and managed to get within a few centimetres of the amorous pair. This was going to be a test of my new phone camera capabilities and I have to say I’m pretty impressed with the results.

    The black male has grasped the female behind the head, with forceps-like claspers on his abdomen.

    I admit I did feel a little like a voyeur, witnessing this most intimate of moments from a hair’s breadth away, and taking photos into the bargain! But as I held my breath, I was enthralled at the delicacy of their embrace and marveled at nature’s engineering.

    The black darter’s head can turn through 180 degrees and combined with its huge compound eyes, gives the dragonfly excellent vision. 

    I could have happily watched them for longer, but the clock was against me and I had to leave them to their al fresco coupling. I hope they didn’t mind my intrusion.

    Unfortunately the weather has since taken a turn for the worse and as I type it’s chucking it down outside my office window. I imagine the dragonflies have long since completed their desperate efforts to ensure there is a next generation in 2016, and though that’s a sobering thought (for as we all know, a mating dragonfly is in the last throes of life) I am buoyed by the knowledge that somewhere, in the still, acidic waters of the lochan, there will be a collection of 200 or so eggs from this couple, laying low and waiting for the warmer weather of spring.

    By the way, my technical woes have been addressed and I can now post blogs myself! Hurrah! Having said that, I’m away at our regional conference then on annual leave for the October holiday and am not returning to work until the week of October 26. Rest assured, Mike has kindly said that he will keep you informed if he gets any news about Breagha in the meantime.  

    Thanks for reading and see you at the end of October!

  • Update on Breagha by Jess Tomes

    I’m aware that many of you are waiting to hear news of Breagha and I did say I’d let you know when I had any news from the team who are conducting a search in the area. Although I have no real news to tell you, please be assured that a team from ONCFS is on the ground and they have already conducted an initial search at the weekend, guided by GPS data from the tag. We are awaiting news from them concerning a second search which they said they would conduct, but please remember that this is a team who are working with the RSPB on turtle doves – not osprey! They have to fit searches for Breagha in with their regular work programme. The fact that they went out on Saturday is testament to their dedication, but we have to be patient. When we get as full a picture as we are going to get, I will pass on the news in full to you. Please try and avoid speculation and rumour in the meantime!

    On another matter, my technical woes continue and I still don’t have rights to post blogs myself – hence I am dependent on our administrator, Jayne, to post blogs for me. Given that we both have very full work programmes, co-ordinating a post between us sometimes takes a little longer then I would like. This ultimately means I may not be able to post blogs as frequently as either I, or you, would like, but please be assured that when we have more news I will let you know.

    As ever, thank you for your support and dedication to the ospreys.

  • A blog of two halves by Jess Tomes


    Knowing where to start with this blog is a bit of a challenge. I’m aware that the silence has been deafening from Loch Garten since Jen posted her final farewell from the Osprey Team 2015 and for that I apologise, but technical challenges have thwarted me, so please bear with me...

    I’m Jess Tomes and I’m the newbie here at Abernethy. Well, not exactly the newbie, but more of that in a bit. I’m just chuffed to bits to be able to say that since the beginning of September I’ve been in the new role of Visitor Operations Manager, not just for the Loch Garten Osprey Centre, but for the whole of Abernethy National Nature Reserve. To say that I’m delighted by this turn of events is understatement of the year. I’ve dreamt about working in this, my favourite place on the planet, for twenty years (I kid you not) and to think that I’m sat here typing this to you gives me such a thrill.

    My relationship with Abernethy and the ospreys started in 1995 and though I didn’t know it then, it would change my life forever. It was a scorcher of a summer and I volunteered at the Osprey Centre for the first time in June of that year – loving it so much that I returned in the August for another week. Fast forward a year and I was back again for another couple of weeks in 1996. It’s difficult to put into words how I felt about the reserve, the ospreys, the team of staff and amazing volunteers – all I knew was that Richard Thaxton had the best job in the world and I was more inspired than I had ever been. It was then that I decided that the RSPB was the organisation I wanted to work for. Oh, and there was one more significant life event in those first two years, in that I met my husband, Dan, who was working at the centre as an Information Assistant in 1995 and as the “Osprey Warden” as we called the team leader then, in 1996. We’ve now been married for 17 years.

    So, in the intervening twenty years, apart from dreaming about working at Abernethy, I’ve spent the last ten years working for the RSPB at the North Scotland Regional Office in Inverness – firstly as a field teacher and latterly as Communications Officer. In that role I was able to work quite closely with Richard and the team here, and even wrote a couple of articles for the RSPB magazines, “Birds” (as was) and “Nature’s Home” (as is) all about Abernethy, the ospreys and Richard ‘hard-act-to-follow’ Thaxton. Being able to work with Richard and the team here cemented my love for Abernethy and the ospreys, but I never ever thought that one day I’d be working here myself. It was just a dream, and we all know that dreams don’t come true...except this one! And I’m so, so glad that it did.

    You might be wondering why I’m telling you all this? And the truth is, because I know how much the reserve and the ospreys mean to you and I want to reassure you that I haven’t just been parachuted in from somewhere else – I have an Abernethy and a Loch Garten history too and I will work tirelessly and will do my absolute best for them. It’s going to be a steep learning curve and I’ve no doubt that things will slip every now and then (because I am only human!), but believe me when I say this job is too important to me to do anything other than my absolute best.

    There’s a quote from George Washington Carver, an inspirational black American botanist and inventor born into slavery in the 1860’s, which I came across many years ago and it immediately made me think of Abernethy. It still holds true for me today and it is this “If you love it enough,anything will talk with you.” Well, that’s how I feel about this place. I do love it and it talks to me in a language like no other place I’ve ever been.

    So, I’m looking forward very much to the next chapter in the life of the Osprey Centre and I’ve got my fingers crossed for some better times for our pair next year. I have to say an enormous thanks to the Osprey Team 2015, but in particular to Jen, who after four seasons at the Osprey Centre has moved on, and always approached her work with her characteristic passion, enthusiasm and dedication. She was, and is, a star and I wish her and the rest of the team well and hope to see them again soon.

    News of Breagha

    Oh my. It’s been a couple of days since I wrote the above and I can’t quite believe what I’m going to have to tell you, but I’m afraid it’s not good news from Breagha. This morning I heard from Mike and this is what he had to say:

    “Our apologies for not providing information on Breagha’s movements over the last two weeks or so but as some of you have already guessed silence from us on tracking data does not always mean good news.  And this is no exception.  Sadly, we have to report that Breagha’s tracker is no longer sending data.  We have been investigating why this has happened, as you may remember the tracker did seem to be in a ‘transmission black spot’ on occasions over the last month or so and it is never easy to be absolutely certain as to whether the transmitter has failed.  It now seems clear that it is not a transmitter failure and that Breagha has met his end in some way.  His last recorded location was at 13.00 GMT on 14 September in a wooded area 2.8 km from the east bank of the Gironde River and 2.3 km west of the town of Saint-Dizant-du-Gua in France.  His location had not changed since 07.00 GMT that morning.

    We have some people who are doing survey work for RSPB and are close to this location and we have been in contact to see if they can visit the area.  We have not had any feedback yet but as soon as we do we will let you know.

    It is particularly sad that we have lost another two year old bird which seemed to show so much promise for a successful return to Scotland.  He seemed to be a smart osprey (if you can say that from afar) who chose a good spot in Senegal to live over the last two years and made a really smart about-turn over the Bay of Biscay on his return to France this year, when he could easily have perished in the Bay.”

    This isn’t the news which I wanted to be sharing with you at all. I had high hopes for Breagha making a return to Scotland next year maybe, and I know you did too. And what a celebration we would have had. The latest tracking data will be posted on Google Earth on Mike’s return from holiday this weekend.  There hasn’t been a good enough internet signal to update the data from where he is staying in a small Yorkshire village. If we get any more news we’ll pass it to you as soon as we can.