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.
  • Nest Box Building

    We had a visit from the 1st years at Grantown Grammar School this week who came to build some nest boxes with us.  Each child got to take a box home for their own garden and the other boxes will be put up in their local woods, Anagach Woods.  The school kids are working towards obtaining their John Muir Award which aims to connect children with wild places and encourages them to care and take responsibility for the environment.  The nest box building activity will help them achieve the conservation challenge they are set in order to obtain their award.  And they seemed to have lots of fun doing it too!

    We had our first Goose Roost Watch on Tuesday evening, and what a beautiful night we had for it.  The air was crisp and the sky was clear, giving way to a beautiful sunset.  Wigeon and goosanders kept us entertained as we waited for the geese to pile in.  A few were already honking and circling over head, like the orchestra warming up before the big performance.  As they came in in dribs and drabs, the momentum kept going until it was dark and despite the glorious glow of the moonlight, we could only hear their honking and their crash landings as they hit the dark blue water.  Despite the fading light we did manage to count just over 200 geese.  Six whooper swans also joined the show and timed their appearance with the fading of the sun, giving their white feathers a radiant orange glow and momentarily stealing the limelight from the geese.  Thanks to those of you who came along and braved the cold night air.  The next Goose Roost Watch is on Tuesday 11th November, so please do come along if you’re in the area.   

    In contrast to the still evening we had for the Goose Watch, the weekend was wet, windy and wild but I didn’t let that put me off taking a long walk on the reserve on Sunday.  Despite the howling gales, I was lucky enough to see a pair of bullfinch bracing themselves against the winds.  Most certainly my favourite finch, it is an infrequent sighting here, certainly compared to the more commonly encountered finch at Abernethy, the chaffinch.  

    Bullfinch by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)

    I was clearly being rewarded for braving the elements because as I walked on, five black grouse exploded from the side of the path, startling me as much as I had startled them with their frantic flapping and fluttering as they fled my intrusion.

    Black Grouse by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    To top it all off, as I headed homewards the rain finally gave up, the clouds cleared and a rainbow arched over my path home.  Not bad for what started out as a miserably wet day.

    Abernethy rainbow

    Our ospreys are still doing well, Mike has the latest:

    From the 25th-27th Oct Millicent spent most of her time roosting around her adopted area in Mauritania.  From 27th Oct onwards, Millicent has been moving around a lot but in a very tight paddy field area that she has adopted north of Richard Toll on the Senegal/Mauritania border.

    Breagha continues to be the more active of our two birds but he is still staying around his adopted area in Senegal.   On 25th October he did a 10 km circuitous round trip to a point NW of his home area and a similar 6 km round trip to a point NE of his main area.  October 27th was another active day with a round trip NW of around 6.5 km.  He does seem to be exploring wetland slightly further afield so maybe his usual fishing areas are getting less productive but he does return to his home base in the evening. 


    Data downloads will now change to weekly downloads and so the next download won’t be until 7th or 8th November.

  • Whiffling Wildlife

    The numbers of winter geese roosting on Loch Garten is starting to pick up as the temperature is dropping, daylight hours are diminishing and winter is slowly seeping in.  Alison, our community ranger, shares her experience of the evening goose roost on the loch.


    "Ever experienced a goose roost at dusk?

    Standing patiently on the shores of Loch Garten between 6pm and 7pm you will be rewarded by the sight and sound of approaching geese coming in to roost on the loch in their family flocks. Currently it’s Greylag (Anser anser) but we can expect Pink-footed geese too, anything up to 1,000 geese use the loch as a safe retreat for the night.  These numbers can fluctuate throughout the season due to changes in weather, the loch freezing for example, and feeding patterns.

    Listening to the sounds of water fowl settling on the water as daylight turns to twilight is truly magical. The waves lap and the pines wave in the wind. Grey clouds amass, threatening but never quite delivering. Mallards quack in the reeds laughing at each-others’ dreadful jokes. Sixteen Goosanders fly in low and fast, turn abruptly in mid-air as they’ve just spotted the perfect place to be. Gracefully they land in a line, scattering about as they allow the waves to take over their formation. A little light grooming and then heads turn to lie on their soft downy backs; another day done.

    The loch settles again. Darker now. The out-line of distant hills wane in the gathering gloom – indicating an instantly recognisable time that’s neither night nor day.  Rooks and Jackdaws are next – buffeted by breezes they flap their wings like oily rags, craw craw-ing and jack jack-ing as they make their way purposefully over the trees towards the west.

    I’ve almost given up. In my binoculars I can just about see the outline of the Goosanders and a little way behind them, three Goldeneye – yep … large round domed heads dwarfing small pert bills.

    18.50pm and apart from the wind and the lapping water – it’s quiet now. The Mallards are all joked out. I reach for the telescope to begin a walk back to the car park through a now, dark forest. But I smile spontaneously in reaction to the strident honking that has suddenly pierced this tranquil scene. 

    By Ian Maltravers

    In they come.

    Their outlines muted by the darkness but white tail feathers and pale underwings tell me that it’s a flock of about 15 – although it’s difficult to be certain.

    What a rumpus. Nothing graceful about this lot. Crash-landing unapologetically, raucously announcing their arrival counting each other in (so it seems). The cacophony simmers to soft honking and then rises again as another flock flies in – calling to each other and the gaggle on the loch responding in kind. The familiar V flight line disintegrates as they ‘whiffle’ downwards, banking to the left and right using the up-draught to apply the brakes.


    They came in so fast, I had no chance to count – but the dense dark raft of birds I can see forming through the telescope, indicates a doubling of numbers.

    Excited now I resume my perch on the rock.

    There is anticipation in the air and on the loch. The wind has gathered pace. Mallards are agitated as more geese, Greylags again, pile in but from the West this time, flying over my head - calling, calling, announcing, announcing. Honking responses guide them in. Down they wiffle, skid and slide onto the water; greet and reply. The dark raft of birds grows. 

    By Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.co.uk)

    Two more skeins come in but by this time it’s really dark, and I am no longer able to make out the birds in the air or on the water. Only the noises keep me on a bearing. Accumulative total? From the noise, the quantity of geese in other groupings and number of skeins counted, I reckon nearly 200 birds have arrived for the night.

    So sudden - they fall silent. I shine a torch on my watch. The whole absorbing spectacle only took 10 minutes maximum.

    Goose roosts make me tingle. Geese have been doing this for millennia. Family groups go back generations which ensure migration routes are imprinted. Geese arrive from Iceland, Scandinavia, Greenland, Russia and Siberia and begin to reach Scottish soil late September and October; their purpose, to re-fuel and rest.

    Some (like Barnacle and White-fronted) head Scotland’s west coat and over to Ireland, others like the sociable Pink-footed goose (Anser brachyrhynchus) are more ubiquitous, as they seek grasslands and marshlands for rest stations. Numbers peak in November; 120,000 (and counting) individual Greylags (Scottish breeding population plus migrants);  and 240,000 Pink-feet (80-90% of the European population). Currently Montrose Basin holds 70,000. Imagine what that looks and sounds like at dusk!

    Mid-winter sees numbers dip as they fly further south – most onto estuaries such as the Wash, Morecombe-bay, and the Thames, others fly as far south as France, Spain, Turkey and even North Africa.

    Geese movements and migrations is a breath-taking phenomenon. And there’s one happening right on your doorstep. With a jaw-dropping setting of mountains, moorland, pines and lochs, sit and watch a trickle of geese build to a cacophonous goose jamboree at dusk on Loch Garten. What are you waiting for? Turn up around 5pm for a ring-side seat. Make the most of it – it’s all done in an hour!"

    If this does sound like your cup of tea, we’re running goose roost watches on the Loch throughout late October and November.  Times and dates are weather dependent so will be announced.  Follow us on twitter and facebook for updates.

    First Goose Roost Watch: Tuesday October 28th.

    Park Loch Mallachie Car park from 5pm and head down to the shore on the Green Trail. Free hot drinks to keep you warm.

    Bring binoculars, a torch and plenty of warm layers!!

    Mike downloaded the data from the osprey's trackers today and reports that both are still doing well.  Continuing to fly around their home territories and travelling short distances to wet areas for fishing.  As always, little news is good news for our young birds.

  • The redwings have landed!

    The reserve is alive with the flitting and fluttering of winter thrush flocks, roving the forest and gleaning up the last of the berry crop.  Mistle thrush, fieldfares and redwings have descended upon us in their thousands and the forest is a buzzing hub of activity that has your eyes darting from tree to tree, trying to get a good look at the foraging flocks as they flee your approach.  Despite their safety in numbers, the redwings in particular are flighty and as you walk along the paths your presence creates an upwelling of wings, giving away the vast numbers that were hidden in the undergrowth.  It is hard to know where to look, trying to choose one to focus on and follow, hoping it will land nearby to allow for a good view.  Sorting out who is who in the flock isn’t too difficult despite their game of musical trees.  Earning their name from their red underwing, and being the smallest UK thrush the redwings are easy to distinguish from the larger mistle thrush and fieldfare.  Fieldfares make themselves obvious with their slate-grey head and rump, whilst mistle thrushes give away their identity as they make their rattling call in flight, a contrast to the seeping of the redwings.

    Redwing by Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

    Fieldfare by Mike Hems

    The ospreys are doing well in their wintering grounds in Africa, nothing much having changed since the last update.  Millie is still in Mauritania, just inside the border with Senegal, whilst Breagha is still in south Senegal. Mike has the latest on their travels:

    “Millie has stayed in her favoured location over the last three days.  She did make one longer round trip of at least 3 km on 20th October and at 12.00 GMT she was flying north at 200 m altitude (see image).  Breagha has also spent most of his time around his home area although on 18th October he was some 5 km to the NE flying SE and was back at the home range by 14.00 GMT.”