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.
  • Conservation: A Novice‚Äôs Guide

    Heather has been doing an apprenticeship with us here over the winter in conjunction with her HNC in forest management.  Heather is with us until June and has kindly shared her experience of Abernethy life so far...

    It was with a great level of naivety that I entered the RSPB reserve in Abernethy, in order to start a year’s apprenticeship programme to coincide with my studies at the Scottish School of Forestry. RSPB, they do stuff with birds, don’t they? Well, yes; but they do a lot more.

    It was September 2014, and having had a myriad of unskilled jobs over the years- I have my very own collection of nametags- I had stumbled upon a fantastic opportunity with The Cairngorms Skills Project. Set up to help people aged 16-24 (I find myself at the latter end of this spectrum), the project means that alongside studying for an HNC in forest management, I have also been given a day a week’s work experience with Abernethy- and what an experience it has been!

    The first thing that struck me was the amount of work that goes in to providing different habitats for species to thrive. My first morning, having met my mentors Ross and Fraser, we set out to tackle deer management- an absolute necessity to aid the establishment of new woodland. Let me tell you- it’s not easy! Having fooled myself into thinking I was reasonably fit, a morning walking through heathy mountains (hills) proved that maybe it was time to renew that gym membership- there was no need; I had plenty of workouts to come.

    Our next job came in the form of larch trees- gathering larch posts for the newly renovated ramp of the Osprey Centre. Larch is a fantastic tree to opt for if ever one needs an outside post- its resistant bark means it’s essentially pre-treated, the last ramp lasting 15 years. Though if you’re looking for a volunteer to carry them, well, I might just call one of the other guys. Yes, it wasn’t my proudest moment, ruminating in a pool of my own sweat amongst the forest understory, but again, it only stresses further my admiration for the volunteers and long term workers who go to these lengths for something which they love.

    The next thing that struck me was the amount of community involvement. I met with the community ranger, Alison Greggans, for a day of maintaining the forest routes, in order for the community to gain better enjoyment of the local accessible paths. On this very day, we met a local walking group from Boat of Garten- who very kindly invited us on their next walk, with the promise of tea and cake at the end!

    This kind of involvement is what we strive for here at RSPB, and it was with that in mind that we moved on to our next task- the day that shall be forever etched in my mind as “Deer bum Day”. In an effort to raise more awareness for the work that is done here, and with Christmas fast approaching, the concept of “Find Rudolph” was born. A family oriented activity, the task was to find a wooden cut out of Rudolph’s rear end, among a forest of other deer species’ rear ends- including red deer and roe deer. Armed with an identification key, the children were to go out and identify the deer- and eventually discover Rudolph- red nose and all!

    Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever stood in a garage with 20 large, wooden cutouts of deer bums- but if you have, you’ll know what an odd experience it is. The day of the event, however, was a great success; with mulled wine, mince pies, and chocolate raisins disguised as deer poo (which I’m still not sure if we should have encouraged the children to eat or not).

    Another fantastic community event I had the privilege to take part in was the annual “Log Day” in which 300 bags of firewood were filled for senior citizens of the community. Once again, it was amazing to see a whole multitude of volunteers who had given up their time in order to participate in helping their local community. I learned that some of these volunteers had been helping out at the reserve for over five years, some for over ten!

    I suppose that’s what I mostly want to convey through this blog- my admiration and respect for the people that care; people that care enough about the environment and conservation that they dedicate their time to it. I have met countless volunteers over my time here at Abernethy: some who take a week off work to help, some who regularly come through, some who just try it for the day, and some who dedicate their life to it. It’s incredible that in this modern age, there are still people out there in the community who work hard in order to create better habitats for our endangered species. Though I came to the reserve naive, I have learned so much about the good work RSPB does, through both it’s workers and it’s volunteers. And yes, I have become a member!

  • Bad News, I'm Afraid...

    I’m so sorry to bring this sad news to you all but we have lost Millicent.

    Although the last data looked like Millie was settling into a new area, it would appear that she has not moved since the 8th or 9th of February.  The GPS accuracy of the tracking is 18 m which would account for her apparent movement as reported last week, and so we kept the report brief until we knew for certain whether this meant we had lost her or not.  Sadly, her position has not changed from then and so unfortunately we can only assume that she has died.  Her final recorded position was on a tributary of the Rio Nuñez in the Boké Prefecture of Guinea, 0.9 km S of the small village of Bouruma.


     It is always hard hearing news of the demise of one of our chicks and it is even harder being the person who has to break this news.  I’ve been privileged enough to watch EJ and Odin raise and nurture their chicks from egg to fledgling for three osprey seasons.  From wet seasons, like 2012 when we lost a chick on the nest, to eggs being kicked out in 2013, these young birds have a tough ride from the start, and you can’t help but getting attached to them as you watch them overcome the hurdle’s that life throws at them.  Caledonia and Alba were the first chicks I watched start their journey south, and it was with a parent’s nervousness that I followed news of their tracking, hardly believing that the youthful, inexperienced chicks I’d been watching daily were now independently making their way across the globe to unknown territories.  I remember marvelling at the speed that Alba made her trip, arriving in Africa a mere two weeks after leaving us at Loch Garten.  And so it was heartbreaking to hear that she had died only a few months later.  All hopes were pinned on Caledonia, and as we rounded up the 2013 season, we had three chicks doing well in their wintering grounds with Oighrig and Breagha making is safely to Africa and Caledonia still cruising around Seville.  So when we lost Oighrig and Caledonia within only a week of each other (coincidentally, news of Oighrig broke on my sister’s birthday, and news of Caledonia on my own birthday!) it was another blow.  Then this year, Seasca was lost before she even reached Africa, and before we’d even closed the Osprey Centre for the season.  Yet, you don’t get used to the news of hearing that a young osprey is lost, especially one that you have watched grow, ‘met’ at ringing, and spent weeks thinking of a suitable name to give them.  It is difficult not to get attached; even when I know there is a good chance that they won’t make it, I can’t help but hope that this will be the one who comes back.

    We have been tracking since 2008 and we knew already that mortality rates in juvenile ospreys were high, and tagging has confirmed exactly how high it is.  Of the 12 birds we have tagged only Breagha, from the 2013 nest, is still alive.  We have learned that the average age of our 11 birds was 10.6 months with the longest lived being Rothes at 33.4 months with Caledonia at 19.6 months.  Millie, our 100th chick, has the honour of flying the furthest south into Sierra Leone whilst Callie migrated the shortest distance, staying in the Seville area.  Alba made the fastest tracked migration, a period of two weeks.  We had great hopes for both Rothes and Caledonia returning to the UK but it was not to be.  We learned that rivers and coastlines proved to be important navigation tools for the birds.  Predation, altitude and weather also influenced the success of their migration.  Deshar, for example, failed to make it to Africa due to adverse weather, causing him to fly into the North Atlantic.  Speed varied between male and female ospreys, males being faster than the females. 

    And so, after six years of tagging we have learned all that we are likely to and further tagging (which is an expensive project) will give us minimal new science.  We had already reached the decision not to tag any young in the season ahead, and beyond and this latest news of another loss only reaffirms our thinking.  Having made the decision to not continue tagging, we will direct our resources at birds of prey that are subject to illegal persecution.

    This may come as a shock to some of you and I hope you understand the reasons for our decision.  Although it is exciting to be able to track our youngsters once they have left us, it is sometimes better not to know and leave a bit of mystery like Druie and Garten, who were not tagged.  It is easy to think that they are both still out there somewhere since we never learned of their fate after leaving the Garten nest...

    We would like to thank you for all the help, support and interest you have shown in following the stories of Loch Garten’s tagged ospreys over the past six years. It is very much appreciated.

    Days are now lengthening, snowdrops are appearing and birds are singing.  Spring is approaching and with it our returning ospreys.  Only a matter of weeks now before we can expect the return of EJ and Odin, and many of our other ospreys across the country and we look forward to watching their story unfold again for another season.


  • Has Millie found a new home?

    This is just a brief update on the progress of our two Ospreys over the last week.

    Sometime on 7 February Millie moved 80 km NW into the Boké Prefecture of the Republic of Guinea to spend the next six days on a tributary of the Rio Nuñez, 2.4 km S of Tamaransi and 0.9 km S of Bourouma.  She moved very little in the time as can be seen from the attached image.

    Meanwhile, Breagha has continued his leisurely exploration of his adopted territory.