Osprey chicks are growing up

Chicks have changed over the past few days

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The chicks at the main nest have grown considerably in a matter of a few days. The changes in them are noticeable in the amount of feathering that is beginning to cover their bodies. Their heads now look more like little osprey heads, and they have the distinctive eye-stripe and white feather crest, with a ginger patch at the back of the neck indicative of juveniles.

Their wings and tail are still stubby in terms of any proper feather growth, and they are still quite wobbly in their movements around the nest. Their bellies are quite pronounced and after feeding a full crop bulges below the neck. These areas are still covered in the grey downy insulation, but they haven’t got the layer of true feathers on top of it yet.

Seeking shade

20180708_12-24-56 Mrs O and chicks 8th July

Their days are mainly spent following mum around the nest to find shade, and she has been very obliging. Thankfully at around 4pm the sun comes around, and shade is created by the conifer tree behind them, so they can all take a break and mum can sit out on the perch and preen her feathers, to keep in condition.

A tidy nest

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Mrs O wants that stick gone from the middle of the nest

Mrs O has become quite the domestic goddess and has taken to nest tidying with zeal. Sometimes a wayward stick in the nest will take her attention, and she will endeavour to remove the unwanted trip hazard even if it is embedded deeply into the structure. She was seen pulling and tugging at a stick jutting out of the centre of the nest, but she couldn’t pull it out; it was half way out and lying across the back of one of the chicks. The other chick tried to be helpful and assist mum to remove it, but without success.

Eventually they gave up and left the stick alone, but throughout the week Mrs O went on a stick mission, collecting mossy branches from one side of the nest and moving them to another side. Still not satisfied, she would begin the removal process again, sometimes building up the sides and sometimes grabbing messy moss and removing it.

Taking turns

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SS has been bringing in plenty of fish for the family, and has been seen feeding the chicks himself with a curious Mrs O looking on. The feeding regime remains the same, with one chick fed first until it is full before the second chick gets fed.

The chicks are stretching and more mobile in the nest. There is some wing flapping beginning to happen, which the chicks do to begin strengthening the emerging flight muscles, but this is just gentle exercise so far. The chicks are curious about their surroundings too, and were peering over the edge of the nest, looking down to the forest floor with the whole family standing together in the top left hand side of the nest. We couldn’t see what had got their attention but it wasn’t causing them any alarm.

chicks 6th July

The Tweed Valley Project area has had mixed fortunes for ospreys this season so far, with a number of nests that have failed or not been occupied, so we are really lucky that the main nest pair and their young are doing so well. We hope that they will grow stronger, and they are just a few weeks off from fledging from the nest.

Disturbance

Some nest sites have been visited this year by people wanting to get a closer look and take photographs. Please be aware that the law regarding the protection of these birds is very strict. Any disturbance, intentional or not, can carry a fine of up to £5000 or a six month jail sentence. They are only visited for the purpose of monitoring, ringing or tagging, which is all done under special licence.

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Summer shines on ospreys

Mrs O is a mobile sunshade

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In the scorching heat at the main nest, Mrs O is acting as a mobile sunshade for her two youngsters. Wherever she stands on the edge of the nest, she casts a shadow. Two little osprey bodies just about fit inside of it, keeping out of the glare of the sunshine. They have been seen panting in the heat, and one of the chicks was lying on its side motionless for a worryingly long period of time, which caused concerns that it had been overcome by heat stress. The other chick seemed to be dizzy at times, and stumbled about. It cannot have been comfortable sitting in the hot nest in direct sunlight in last week’s intense heat.

SS has been dutifully returning to the nest with large fish, and both chicks are now being well fed. The food also provides some much needed hydration for the pair. In one comical scene at the nest, Mrs O had fed the chicks and taken a good portion for herself, when SS, who had been dozing at the side of the nest, decided to have his share. Mrs O had to grudgingly give it up to her partner.

Intruder osprey photo-bombs domestic scene

superdad SS sees off intruder

The domestic scene was rudely interrupted during feeding time on 27 June when a cheeky male osprey flew onto the nest perch, causing alarm to the whole family. He had no leg rings, so we couldn’t identify him. He was calling, and dropping and flicking his wings, so SS immediately moved to the side of the nest below him, adopting a defensive posture and flicking his wings in agitation. SS then launched into the air towards him and chased the unwelcome guest away from the nest.

Mrs O casually resumed feeding of the chicks and seemed more than happy that SS could deal with the gate-crasher. It is good to see that their partnership is one of teamwork in their endeavour to raise their young.

Sibling bashing

sibling bashing

The chicks are growing well and there is now a substantial covering of emerging feathers, although they are not insulated enough to protect them from being too hot or too cold yet. They are both well fed, but occasionally if the parents leave them alone for a few minutes one of the chicks invariably squares up to the other one and viciously pecks at it. It was really pulling at the skin on its sibling’s back and was being quite brutal, until Mrs O returned and the squabble was instantly squashed.

Stinky nest

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The nest has been very messy, often strewn with fish debris after feeding. This has attracted scores of flies which can be seen constantly buzzing around the nest. To address this problem, fresh nesting material has been brought in, and dried grass was added to the bottom of the nest. Mrs O brought in fresh pine shoots and proceeded to have a tidy up and move sticks around. Presumably the pine scent would mask the fish smell and not attract the flies as much – an osprey air freshener minus the aerosol.

Home return

There has been a sighting of a returning Tweed Valley bird with ring number PW3 on 28 June. PW3 was seen flying in the Yarrow valley, near to Dryhope, and then on to St.Mary’s Loch. This bird fledged from a nest in 2016 in the Tweed Valley Project area, and it was spotted on migration just south of Paris on 10 September 2016 during the first migration to leave Scotland. This is the first we have heard about the bird since. It is really good to know that as a returning two year-old, this young osprey has chosen to come home to the Borders.

Pair bonding at the back up nest

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We are pleased that at back up no.2 nest, FK0 has paired up with an unringed female. and hes been seen bringing fish for her. They are bonding and have tidied the nest and scraped some of the grass away that had started growing on the top of it due to its vacancy as an unoccupied site this year. FK0 is another returning Borders bird and his partner is an unringed female, quite possibly the widow of the late 8C, as this was her nest site last year.

FK8 is a mum

And finally, saving the best news until last!

FK8 CHICKS

It has been confirmed that FK8 is nesting up north in the Dornoch area and has two chicks. This is the satellite tagged female that fledged from Tweed Valley back up nest no.2 in 2014 and was fitted with a satellite tracker. She spends her winters in Portugal and this is her first brood of chicks. Her chicks will also be fitted with trackers and for the first time we will be able to follow a mother and her offspring.

Changing fortunes

Struggling to find fish

The early part of last week was a difficult time for the osprey family at the main nest, as the aftermath of the wild and stormy weather had left the rivers in spate. SS had clearly been struggling to fish for his family. On Wednesday 20 May there were no fish brought in for the family to feed on. Mrs O seemed distressed, with the chicks were begging for food she could not provide. The chicks, at not much more than a week old, were feeble looking and weak. They had little in the way of down covering on their bodies, and their progress seemed to be in jeopardy.

Just in time

By Thursday morning (21 June), the weather had taken a turn for the better, with the start of the heat wave which has affected much of the UK over the past week or so. Here in the Tweed Valley, the rivers had begun to clear again, and ponds were settling after so much silt laden water had washed into them from the feeder burns. This gave SS the opening that he needed to get back on top of his game, and he did his family proud, returning to the nest with a large, gleaming trout at 10.47am.

Feeding time

Mrs O took the trout from SS and began to feed. In between mouthfuls for herself, she tore off strips to feed the stronger and larger of the two chicks. She fed this little one until it was full and sleepy, and then with still so much fish left, she turned her attention to the smaller chick and began to feed it. Eventually both chicks were full and restful.

SS took his portion of fish after his family were fed and satisfied. Later that same day, SS returned with more fish, and he was certainly making up for lost time – he began to feed the youngsters himself, while Mrs O took time out for some preening. The chicks were visibly stronger and more energised than the day before. After the first chick was full, it lay down on its side. The other chick fed and when it had had enough to eat, chick number one got up and come back over for seconds.

Don’t do it!

The week progressed into warm weather and scorching sunshine. The chicks ranged from being sleepy and still, to being far too adventurous – toddling about the nest using their budding wings as little stilts to enable them to clamber around. These little excursions led them to venture far too close to the edges on occasion. The doting parents had to use fish for a distraction, tempting the chicks back to safer footing. The mature birds began to pay more attention to their nest construction, moving sticks around and building up the edges into little safety barriers to prevent anybody toppling over the edge.

A sad loss

Sadly, for one osprey family in the Borders, two chicks did fall from the nest during the recent high winds. Thankfully, Mrs O and SS seem to have metaphorically ‘red taped’ the danger zone.

By the end of last week, the young ospreys had grown stronger. Their fluffy down coats are forming, with the onset of fully-fledged feathers not too distant. They no longer look feeble and weak, and their fortunes have rapidly turned around since the fish supply has picked up.

The journey’s end for PX1

We finally have news of PX1 whose satellite tracker alerted us to the fact that he had died in the north of Scotland near to the Helmsdale River. The carcass and tag have been recovered and it seems that his neck was broken. We believe this happened when he collided with newly erected deer fencing along the side of a new forestry plantation.

It is such a terrible shame to lose this wonderful, healthy, two year old male osprey. Jeremy Paxman was very saddened to hear of the loss of his bird, and we are very grateful to him for his interest and support for the Tweed Valley Osprey Project. Paxman has agreed that his involvement will continue in the future, hopefully through the tracking of further ospreys.

Volunteers watch goshawks being ringed

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Photo taken by Rhona Anderson. Goshawk male chick before ringing.

The volunteers for the osprey project were invited to attend the ringing of goshawk chicks this week in Tweed Valley Forest Park. They were privileged to witness them being fitted with red darvic rings with white letters of JP and PL by Tony Lightley, after Eve Schulte climbed the fir tree to lower them to the forest floor.

Delightful pine marten family in the Borders

Rhona Anderson took some great photos of these magnificent birds and she has also been continuing to film the pine martens in the forest. The captured footage of the whole pine marten family together and the antics of the three little kits with their mum and dad can be viewed at the following link: www.flickr.com/photos/borderslass/28099626057/in/photostream

Mrs O eats her dead chick

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Mrs O feeds the young

Hunger Games

This has been the first week in the lives of the newly-hatched osprey chicks and it has been a case of mixed fortunes for them. The incredible Storm Hector brought down trees across the Borders, and lashing rain sent the Tweed into a raging muddy blur – not great for osprey fishing.  SS must have struggled to fish in the windy conditions and murky waters, and the chicks were visibly seen to be hungry at the nest, with a frustrated Mrs O mock-feeding at times with no fish.

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Mrs O feeding the young chicks

Feeding time

mrs o eats dead chick from egg

When SS did arrive with fish, she took it from him and proceeded to feed in great gulps for herself, tearing off strips that were just too big for the little chicks to swallow. When she did master the portion size, she concentrated on the liveliest chick and the feeble one seemed to have only a tiny morsel by comparison. She seemed to be quite clumsy in her feeding attempts to begin with. She stood quite far back, staying apart from the youngsters and then lunged in to aim fish pieces into the open beak of the waiting chick.

Mrs O with dead chick watched by the two

Mrs O with the dead chick in her talons watched by the two chicks

 

After some time and when her own hunger had abated, she seemed to relax more and control the feeding with greater precision. The chick receiving most of the fish seemed to grow stronger as the mouthfuls began to fill the young osprey’s tummy. Mrs O then turned her attention to the other chick and began to feed the little one in earnest too.

The fate of egg number 3

Mrs O with dead chick watched by the two
Mrs O continued to incubate the third egg, and was seen settling over it with the two chicks beneath her after feeding. In one of the video clips, it looks as though the egg had a crack right down the shell, and there were lots of flies around the nest too. On Friday 15 June, Mrs O stood off the egg and peered down at it, in much the same way that she had done prior to the other two hatching. It was hoped that this was going to hatch but it didn’t.

Saturday morning started off with a very hungry Mrs O and two hungry chicks on the nest, and the only food there was the tail end of a fish. This was torn into stringy strips and offered to the youngsters but was barely satisfying. Mrs O was so hungry that she forced the tail fin down her own beak, struggling to swallow it. There can’t have been much nutritional value in the fin but she was obviously very hungry. SS was absent from the nest, presumably out hunting for his family.

Later, while volunteer Robert was on duty chatting to visitors in the osprey centre, a young girl watching the nest suddenly called out that the osprey was eating the egg. He quickly dashed to the screen to begin recording and was astonished to see Mrs O with her beak plunged into the cracked-open shell. She pulled the fully-formed dead chick out of the shell and proceeded to eat it. The two chicks saw that Mum was eating, and they crawled over to her and began begging for food but she didn’t comply. She eventually gave up on the lifeless form, went back over to her young, and settled them down beneath her.

Stoats about

That wasn’t the last excitement for the day in the centre. As soon as the cannibal episode was over, there was a visit from a very curious stoat, who decided to come in and run around the building, confronting Robert (who has had an exciting week).

Robert gave chase to ‘shoo’ it back outside but the canny mustelid darted under the big cupboards behind the wiring for the screens, and scurried out of sight. Robert went for help but no one was available, so he returned to the building. The cheeky stoat came out from his hiding place and made for the front door, and trotted towards the café “as if he owned the place,” according to Robert, before disappearing beneath it. A final word from Robert: “This must easily be my best ever day on duty!”

SS brings home some fish

A hungry Mrs O recommenced demolishing the corpse of the dead chick  later in the day, and this entertained the two chicks watching her. SS finally appeared with a headless fish, which Mrs O took from him, able to feed her two offspring at last. A  happy ending to a somewhat gruesome week in the Tweed Valley – talk about nature, red in tooth and claw!

Good news and bad news…

PX1 has died in Scotland

Jeremy Paxman with PX1

We have great news this week, but also some very sad news about the ospreys of Tweed Valley. The sad news is that we are certain that PX1, best known as Jeremy Paxman’s osprey, is dead. The data received since he was last tracked in the north of Scotland is consistent with a static bird on the ground.

He was doing so well previously, touring and exploring Scotland’s flow country. We are very sad to lose this bird, as he had spent two winters in residence at the gold mines in Sanso, Southern Mali after leaving the Tweed Valley nest site. He returned to Scotland this spring, but unfortunately, it seems he wasn’t destined to make it home.

The tale of his family is a sorry one, as the nest he was raised from stands empty this year. His father drowned on returning to Scotland this spring, while his mother (we think) was driven away from the nest site by the very dominant Mrs O.

PX1’s brother. meanwhile, died 100 miles south of Paris on his first migration trip. The male osprey reared by his parents last year died in Switzerland, and the female was last tracked in Spain. His nearest surviving close relative is FK8, who had the same father, yellow 8C, but a different mother, green DN. Both those adult birds are now dead.

FK8 is nesting

FK8 nesting

FK8 data reveals clusters of points where she is in one place for long periods of time presumably incubating eggs.

The known surviving family member, FK8, is believed to be nesting this year – the data that her tag is giving us shows that she remains in the same location with just short, brief trips away. This would indicate a bird at a nest site incubating eggs and just taking a few stretches away from the site. We hope that she does well. and can bring some genetic continuity to this branch of our osprey family.

Benefits of long term species monitoring

The revealing tracker data shows very clearly that the need for continued, robust, conservation of these magnificent birds is far from over. The breeding success of more than 200 chicks raised in Tweed Valley lulls us into a false sense of security, giving the impression that the species is beginning to thrive. It is only when we track the birds further and find out the survival rate of dispersing birds that we can see that numbers are not increasing as we would have liked or expected, and that fatalities are high.
The value of monitoring over the long term is vital to identify trends in their population dynamics, and to identify threats to their survival.

Mrs O and SS – Parents at last

vlcsnap-2018-06-12-22h25m30s103 Proudparents of two chicks

Two chicks hatched on 11 June

On to happier news! This week, Mrs O and SS became parents at last! The first chick hatched on 11 June after 39 days of incubation. Later the same morning, egg number two also hatched, after a period of only 35 days of incubation. The warm weather must have played a part in the advancement of the incubation period for the second egg.

Mrs O was very restless prior to hatching, and kept stepping away from the eggs and peering down at them, turning her head backwards and forwards as though listening. She could perhaps hear the tapping inside the eggs, and the cheeping of the little ones as they pecked their way out into the world. Some forage of the new arrivals can be seen below.

We are just waiting for news of the third egg now, and we are beginning to wonder if this will also hatch earlier than expected. Both adult birds are very settled – SS brought in fish for Mrs O and she fed the two little ones. She is currently moulting, and some of her feathers are on the side of the nest. A bold chaffinch hopped onto the nest and took a few of the downy feathers away for his own abode… Recycling at its best, avian style!

Osprey Update: We have hatchlings!

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A very quick update from the nest here in the Tweed Valley – Mrs O’s brood have broken free of their shells! We now have two young Osprey hatchlings in the nest. Although not visible on the picture above, at the time of writing Mrs O is still grooming the new-born chicks, while her partner stands sentry on the edge of the nest.

The birth of new chicks in the Tweed Valley is always something to celebrate – head over to the live camera feed now and see if you can catch a glimpse. We will be back soon with a full update and more pictures!

Mrs O… A reformed character?

The reformed character of mum-in-the making, Mrs O

contented MrsO

A contented Mrs O incubating her eggs

The sunshine and high temperatures over the past few weeks gave way to dramatic thunderstorms with forked lightning and torrential rain on Friday 1 June. The storm rolled around the hilltops, hit localised areas and released torrents of rain, leading to flash floods in the towns.

The storm raged on, and we may wonder whether the birds at the osprey nest would have been alarmed by the loud thunderclaps and flashes. Observation revealed that although Mrs O looked startled a couple of times, actually they weren’t really that bothered. It is only weather, and they have seen it all before!

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Mrs O sat tight with her eggs and the water dripped off her back. All in a day’s work for an osprey incubating eggs, and nothing to make any fuss about. In fact, lately Mrs O seems to have adopted an almost Zen-like attitude. Nothing is troubling her – she sits calmly on the eggs and waits patiently for her partner SS to return with fish.

She is a reformed character now – the squawking and demanding behaviour exhibited a few weeks back, which saw her snatching fish from SS, seems  to be a thing of the past.

20180531_12-43-45 SS with full fish

Mission: Incubation

On Saturday 2 June, SS flew onto the nest carrying a headless fish for Mrs O (he had already eaten the head).  She stood up off the eggs, took the fish in her talons and flew onto the perch to eat.

She was only away from her precious eggs for 10 minutes before she returned, and persuaded a reluctant SS to get up, allowing her to sit back down and resume incubation.

Mrs O wants to sit back down

Mrs O wants SS to get up and let her back down onto those eggs

Her careful way of moving around the nest and curling her talons before sitting on the eggs is another change in behaviour, as she had often been quite clumsy around the nest and almost stood on the eggs with open talons a few times.

Mrs O appears to be fully immersed in the mission of egg incubation now and doesn’t like to be away from them for any length of time. She made an unexpected exit from the nest at one point – she got up suddenly and left the nest when SS was not there, leaving the eggs without cover or protection.

However, she returned within sixty seconds, having flown off very quickly, only to return and get straight back down onto the eggs. We did wonder if she left for a quick toilet break, as we have never seen the adult birds soil the nest site. Perhaps she popped off to relieve herself, or maybe just went for a quick stretch of the wings… or maybe even ospreys get cramp too after they sit still for so long!

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Nest cams

In the centre at Kailzie Gardens, the blue tits are about to fledge. They have now been hatched for 18 days, and the nest box looks overcrowded. The birds look just about ready to go, and most likely will leave early in the morning.


The great tits are a week behind the blue tits, but they are growing fast. The diet of raw caterpillar protein which fast-tracks the growth within these birds; from bald, reptilian-looking creatures, to fully-feathered adult birds is speedy, and remarkable to witness within the camera nest boxes.

May tree flowers in June

It has been an unusual spring this season, and there are some signs that we are almost lagging a month behind, compared to previous years. The May tree or Hawthorn, which is usually in full blossom in May, has only just come into its full glory now that we are in June. Cuckoos are calling on the Tweed Valley hillside, and the nesting season is also quite late for some species.

Mysterious caterpillar invasion


In the Tweed Valley Forest an infestation of caterpillars within silken web tents have decked the crabapple trees in ghostly fashion. Only a couple of weeks ago, they were in full blossom and leaf but now they have been stripped bare and skeletal by the army of grey/black moth caterpillars. No other trees around them have been affected apart from the crabapples.

Photographer Bill Farmer also spotted these strange webs in Fortmonthills, near Glenrothes in Fife, identifying the species as an Ermine moth. You can see his pictures, along with lots more taken across Scotland this Spring, over at the Forestry Commission’s Facebook page this week. They’re running a photo competition called the Spring Photo Jam – find out all about it at bit.ly/springphotojam.