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.
  • A line in the snow.

    First of all, after months of waiting,  I can finally let you know about Breagha’s tag. Our contacts at Microwave Telemetry have emailed our Lodge colleagues and confirmed that there was no more information to be had from his tag. It was irreparably damaged and had already yielded all available data before it was found by Hazel. I know that this will come as a disappointment to many of you, but I’m afraid it was always a long shot. I can also confirm that Microwave Telemetry stated that in their experience they thought the holes in the casing looked like teeth marks and that when they took the tag apart there was no sign of any shot within it. So, though Hazel’s two newspaper articles in France may provoke a witness to Breagha’s demise, we have no hard evidence I’m afraid.  After all of Hazel’s and her helpers’ efforts this is disappointing, but we only really know what we know because of her determination and for that we thank her. It’s sad to draw a line under Breagha, but such is life and nature, I’m afraid , and I feel we must now turn our efforts to looking forward to a new season and wishing EJ and Odin a safe return journey to Loch Garten. Fingers crossed they will arrive in good shape, fit to face the ups and downs of their breeding season. Won’t be long now!

    Of other matters, we’ve had a bit of snow recently. Not as much as we would expect at this time of year, but a smattering every now and then. Temperatures have been below freezing for a few days now, so the snow we do get is often crunchy underfoot and the puddles are frozen solid. I took my own advice today and actually got out for a walk at lunchtime. I’ve been a slave to my desk as I’m in the process of writing the text for a new reserve leaflet which demands both focus and creativity and was feeling in need of some inspiration, so I donned coat, hat and gloves and ventured out into the forest. And I’m so glad I did.  

    It’s been a few years since I took the track which I walked today and I was really delighted to see the amount of woodland regeneration. It was positively hooching with young, healthy trees. The forest was beautifully still and the only sound was the crunch of my wellies on the hard snow crust. The wildlife kept itself pretty much hidden, but I did hear a small flock of crossbills flitting in the uppermost branches of the Scot’s pines, searching for pine cones, and then the dainty paw prints of red squirrels racing down the track.

    Young trees of various ages in-between veteran Scot's pines.


    The view to Cairn Rynettin.


    I didn't notice them at first as I was too busy looking at the forest, but there were many short bursts of red squirrel paw prints to be seen.


    I walked for about twenty minutes then thought that I should probably return to my office, but before I did I stood awhile, with my back to a beautiful, strong ‘Granny’ Scot’s pine and took in my surroundings. There were many old veteran trees with their gnarled twisted branches and younger trees between. A good understorey of juniper and blae’berry was sugared with the snow. Everything was quiet and I could easily have imagined that I had stepped back in time.

    As I stood there I was struck by my insignificance and was reminded of the television coverage this week of Tim Peake’s space walk. Astronauts often talk of the mind blowing effects of seeing the earth from space and the absolute recognition that we are as mites of dust in the universe. It occurred to me that for 99.9% (recurring!) of the human race, this sort of revelation is impossible. Immersing ourselves in the wildness and grandeur of nature is the nearest we’re ever likely to get to it, and that it’s a valuable and dare I say it, vital lesson to learn if we are to really, proactively take care of our planet on which we depend.

    Call me an old hippy, but I would love to expose the climate change doubters, decision makers and industrialists to the magnificent wild for a few days. I somehow feel it might change their perspective and make them change their short-term gain philosophy.

     Here at Abernethy we’re in it for the long haul. Our management plan doesn’t just take in the next five or ten years. It considers the next two hundred. Two hundred years from now we’re hoping that the wooded landscape at Abernethy will have expanded from the 4,500 hectares at present to around 8,000 hectares. We’re actively expanding the tree coverage into places where forest once stood, but due to human activity has been lost. And other estates around the Cairngorms are doing the same. Our forest here at Abernethy will connect with other expanding forests and the wooded landscape of the Cairngorms will be restored. We won’t be here to see it, but our great grandchildren will be. And isn’t that an inspiring thought? It sends shivers down my spine whenever I think about it. So in this world of doom and gloom and seemingly ever increasing destruction, there are beacons of hope and RSPB Abernethy is one of them. And a pretty beautiful one at that.

    Amazing what an iphone can capture!


  • Farewell 2015, hello 2016!

    New Year Greetings from a decidedly chilly Abernethy. I do hope you’ve all had a good festive break and are feeling fit for whatever 2016 decides to send your way. After a fortnight of making merry, spending time with family and friends and being totally off (and I mean OFF – no emails, no facebook, no Twitter, no blog! Bliss!) I returned to work this morning and have discovered two things: 1) The Christmas blog I uploaded didn’t post! Grrrr! And 2) The webcam is down! Double Grrrr!  So apologies for the silence and the blackout, neither are intentional, but my last minute hitting of the “Publish” button obviously prompted some sort of glitch in the system when I tried to post my Christmas blog. As for the webcam, I’ll get along and sort that this afternoon, all being well.

    So, here’s an edited version of my pre Christmas blog, with all references to an upcoming festival removed as I, for one, am partied out and need to get some sort of routine back in my life!

    December started with our annual “Logs Day” here at Abernethy. You may remember from previous years that this is when staff and local volunteers come together to chop logs for the nearby elderly folk. It was my first time and I was really looking forward to getting out from behind my computer and doing some physical work for a change. A team of around forty willing souls spent the morning filling wheelbarrows with logs to take to the choppers; chopping; refilling wheelbarrows with chopped logs and then filling sacks. It was hard work, but the morning slipped away with plenty of banter and good humour and before we knew it we’d filled 300 sacks and it was time for lunch. Whilst some of us had been outside helping with the chopping, a small band of volunteers had been inside Forest Lodge preparing a sumptuous buffet lunch to thank all the volunteers, not just for their help at “Logs Day”, but for their hard work and efforts over the year. All in all a very successful and enjoyable event!

    Job 1 - Filling the wheelbarrows

    Job 2 - The chopping stations

    Fraser had a smile on his face :-)

    Job 3 - Filling the sacks

    Busy people!

    I got a wildlife experience I’ll never forget when I went with my colleague Ian, to fill the webcam bird feeder at the Osprey Centre in preparation for the Christmas break. It’s a pretty precarious business and involves ladders and pulleys and much grunting and, if I’m honest, the odd curse. However, all challenges were forgotten, when, as I was halfway up the ladder (and quite frankly concentrating on where my feet were going and trying not to wobble the ladder too much), Ian hissed “There’s a crestie!” Sure enough, as I cautiously looked up to the feeder, there was the most brazen crested tit I’ve ever encountered, literally a couple of metres in front of me, busily feeding on the peanuts.  After standing as still as I could on the wobbly ladder for a couple of minutes I decided to see if I could extract my phone from my pocket to take a few photos, seriously expecting my movements to put the little chap (or chappess) off, but no, there he stayed, flitting around, chasing off the coal tits who dared to came near, and having himself a fine mid-morning snack. I even managed to get a short film clip of him, which you can see on our facebook page Facebook.com/RSPBOperationOsprey.

    In the end, even though the crestie was still busy in front of me, I had to say to myself “well, I can’t stay here all morning!” and got on with the job in hand of lowering the feeder to the ground for filling. As I manoeuvred the feeder back into position after filling I was hoping for a repeat performance, but he’d evidently gone off to digest his meal. My only disappointment came when the Christmas message I’d prepared to stick on the tree next to the feeder turned out to be too big! I’d done it on A3 paper and I should have used A4 instead! So, I’m sorry about the lack of Christmas message, but if you were watching you’d have seen me struggling to fit it on somehow. Next year, I’ll know better!

    This coal tit is about to be chased away!

    Hungry (and seemingly oblivious!)

    Not you again!

    My last trip out of the office this month has been to catch up with our old friend Mr Thaxton himself. Richard and I spent a morning walking the trails down to Lochs Garten and Mallachie whilst he bestowed on me his local knowledge in preparation for me writing the text for a trail guide I’m preparing for next season. It was lovely to see him and benefit from his knowledge, experience and passion once again. Whilst it wasn’t a snowy day and there wasn’t an awful lot of wildlife showing, save for a busy treecreeper (one of my favourites so always a pleasure to see) and a distant mixed tit flock, the lochs and forest were beautiful in the weak winter sunlight.

    It reminded me how important it is to actually get out and see the reserve, to be in it, and get to know it better, so that’s given me at least one New Year’s resolution – to get out from behind my computer more often and develop my love affair with Abernethy, its magnificent landscape and the wildlife it supports. After all, it’s one of my inspirations, as I know it is yours.

    Lastly, I know you’re all waiting to hear if there is any news from Breagha’s tag and I’m sorry to say, though we know the tag has arrived and they’re looking into it, there has been no news so far from Microwave Telemetry about any recoverable data. We do keep asking though and will let you know as soon as we hear anything. Thank you for your patience. I know it’s frustrating for you all, and especially for Hazel, who has put so much time and effort into trying to find out what happened to Breagha, for which we thank you Hazel! You’re a trooper! I hope we get some definitive information soon.

    So, all that leaves is for me to thank you all very much for your support throughout 2015 and to wish you all a very Happy New Year. I hope that 2016 brings you much joy and laughter sprinkled through your life, with plenty of wildlife thrown in for good measure.    


  • Breagha’s tag status

    Hi there,

    Well, as I said yesterday, today we had a meeting with our sat tag expert to see what, if anything, has come from the exploration of Breagha’s tag. And I’m afraid to say that the tag hasn’t even charged – it’s been sat on a windowsill for over a week and absolutely nothing has happened.

    So, the only option now is to send it to Microwave Telemetry over in Maryland and see if they have any luck, which will be done this week. They’ll have more sophisticated technology than we do and might be able to glean some information from the tag.

    Nigel (our expert) said that moisture will undoubtedly have entered the tag and that’s why we can’t get it to charge, but Microwave Telemetry may have more luck. The moisture will have got in through the holes that were on the tag – and after some expert analysis, the general consensus is that these holes were made by an animal. Nigel said that absolutely no shot has fallen out of the tag, despite the holes. So, that’s not to say that Breagha didn’t meet his end at the hands of a human, but that nothing can be proved by the tag.

    So, it’s more waiting I’m afraid, to see whether our friends over the pond can shed any light on Breagha’s last movements. Needless to say, as soon as we hear anything, we’ll pass it on to you guys.

    Webcam woes

    The webcam trouble continues and after yet another visit this morning to see if any of the connections were faulty along the line, things haven’t improved. Just so you get an idea of what we’re facing, this is a picture of the “control room”, such as it is.


    To be honest, we’re stumped, so I phoned trusty old Richard to see if he’d had any experience of a similar problem, and he hasn’t! He suggested I get in touch with the guy who helps out with the camera set up for the ospreys to see if he can work out what the problem is. With our limited understanding of the workings of the camera, it seems that there’s a problem between the camera and the computer – there is a certain amount of signal getting through, as we’re getting intermittent flashes of feeder activity, but evidently there’s a fault somewhere. Maybe a cheeky red squirrel has nibbled through the plastic casing and there’s a bit of moisture in the cable? Who knows, but we’ll try and find out. So as ever, please bear with us whilst we get to the bottom of the issue.

    Thanks and fingers double crossed please, both for Breagha’s tag and the webcam!