Monthly Archives: June 2014

Forming a new bond at the main osprey nest

The main osprey nest eyrie stands empty for most of the time which is a sad reminder as to the great loss to the project, of the osprey mum who had reared 26 osprey chicks from this site with her partner, white leg ring SS, during 10 successful years together.

Now that she has gone and the chicks from this season have perished we are witnessing the new female being quite determined to stick around with white leg SS. Things seemed to have settled down between the two birds and although there have been no signs of affection between them there does appear to be a growing bond. SS has been seen returning to the nest almost daily with a half-eaten fish in his talons. No sooner has he landed, when the new bird appears and takes the fish from him and then flies off with it. He flies away moments later too. He doesn’t exactly give the fish to her but he doesn’t try to prevent this happening either.

So what is happening here? Is a slow bond between them beginning to grow? He has no choice really at this stage in the season if he wants to hold the territory for next year. It seems likely that there will be a lot of territory bids next year when at the start of the season this nest site will be much in demand and the most dominant and strongest of the ospreys around will take it on. SS will be the victor if he has a strong partner and this new female could well be the bird for the job. If she is young and inexperienced she may be seen off and SS could find another partner, or an already bonded pair could potentially usurp SS. It will be interesting to watch and it is highly unlikely that this will remain a vacant nest site.

Buzzards

The buzzard family at Glentress are almost ready to fledge and we witnessed the female delivering a young rabbit for her 3 large nestlings and then she fed them. They are beautiful birds and will no doubt be heard from the Wildwatch room once they fledge as they are likely to roam the woodland area above the centre and call for food. After fledging they will depend on the parents to provide for them until they are forced to hunt for themselves, this will happen once the parents stop feeding them and leave them to get on with it. They will then have to seek out hunting territory of their own, as they do not migrate and will have to become proficient hunters and scavengers to make it through cold, long winters, here in the Borders.

Swarmed

The bees at Glentress in the viewing hive have swarmed. The queen for whatever reason led the whole colony from the hive and they left. We don’t know where they have gone to but hopefully they will have found a good old hollow tree to begin a new hive. Replacement bees are settling in to the viewing hive and it will be interesting to watch them setting up their new colony.

wildflower

Wildflowers

The wild flowers around the whole of the Glentress Peel site are absolutely stunning and are quite literally buzzing with bees and insect life. Big swathes of wildflower meadows such as this are so important for wildlife, a great nectar source and a great protein source for birds feeding on the insects too.

Herons

The heron chick fledged successfully from the nest and we have been delighted to see one of the adult birds popping into the nest site, as well as some return visits from the young heron. On the river camera, we have watched both the young heron and the adult, coming down to the Tweed to fish.

Visitor Centres

Both of the centres are open daily throughout the summer and at Kailzie there is recorded footage of all the 2014 tragedy and drama with the osprey family, as well short films from the osprey chick ringing from last year with the children of St. Ronan’s Primary School. There are highlights from happier times when the pair had young chicks and various film clips. Volunteers are on hand to give the latest news and show the clips to explain all of the bird behaviour too.

Volunteers at Glentress, when on duty are available to interpret what is happening on the wildlife cameras and there are great views to be had of the bird feeder cameras showing delightful antics of the siskins feeding on the niger seeds.
Osprey Time Flies

The ‘Osprey Time Flies’, Tweed Valley Osprey 10th anniversary book is available from the centres too, and we hope to raise money for the continuation of the Tweed Valley Osprey Project from donations for copies of the book. Thank you very much to those who have given so generously already.

Diane Bennett.
Tweed Valley Osprey Project Officer
Tweedvalleyospreys@gmail.com

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A sad loss

Another week has passed and still no sign of the original female osprey. The saga at the nest site has become, at times uncomfortable to watch. The male bird white leg SS, (a firm favourite of mine in the avian world) has always been described by me as such a fine bird, a devoted and loving partner to his female. For over ten years we have watched the calm and peaceful private life played out on our screens at the two centres between the pair of ospreys. We have tried to resist attributing human emotions to their behaviour traits but this has been hard to do when we have witnessed them cuddled up together, or we have seen the male feeding the female with all the same level of gentleness that would be used when feeding delicate and fragile chicks. We have witnessed the pair making joint decisions about the layout of the nest adornments of sticks and moss and watched them present a united front against any other intruder birds.

Now that she has gone and we think that she may have died, as she would not abandon her home and family by choice, we are witnessing scenes of passively aggressive take-over. Powerful and emotive words to describe wild animal behaviour and a little over the top some may think but we have a situation whereby the male seems to be being pushed into a new partnership, like it or not.

New female sets sights on SS

New female sets sights on SS

Moving on

All he has ever known is to hold this territory over the summer and raise a family with his partner. It is what he has done all of his adult life and he is now 16 years old.
The new female has moved herself in, uninvited, I might add! She has pursued the male despite his defensive posturing, and turning his back to her. She knows this is a great site, that he is a loyal partner, proficient provider of fish, has fathered many offspring successfully and holds the best territory in the valley. She wants the nest site and she wants him! Mr Blue Leg Ring that she had appeared to be with seems to have been dumped.
I feel so sorry for White leg SS, as he seems to have no option but to stick with her. He cannot lose his territory and his own partner has disappeared. His instincts will be to try to keep the site, he cannot keep it on his own and the new female is doing all she can to make her presence a permanent one. She beseechingly calls to him when they are both there. A reluctant truce seems to be taking place as he returns to the site and instead of the usual pattern of him delivering a fish to his partner, this new bird snatches it from him, leaving him looking a little bemused. She grabs the fish from him and then flies off and he usually takes off too. This is hardly the romantic fish pass, touching talons kind of moment…it’s more of a smash and grab.

What will happen next?

We have no idea how this will develop, it’s now probably too late for this season for any more eggs, so this female has missed her chance to breed most likely but by staying with SS a bond could develop and next season, if they both make it back to this nest site, the chances are that SS will breed with her. It is also equally likely that a new pair could force them off and take over the site as their own. So all we can do is watch and see what will happen.
We are hoping that maybe we can obtain recordings from the ‘back up’ osprey nest for the rest of this season to see how that family is getting on.

 SS turns back to new female

SS turns back to new female

Glentress Buzzards

We also have a live camera on a buzzard nest, with three chicks at Glentress and these are proving very interesting to watch. There is considerable size difference between the three chicks. The largest seems almost ready to take flight and has been seen exercising the soon to be tested pair of wings, while the two smaller chicks don’t appear to be ready yet.
One of the parents dropped in a black bird, possibly a jackdaw as food for the brood and they were seen tucking into a good meal. Buzzards do fairly well from road kills and scavenging as well as hunting and will eat a varied diet, often seen down on the ground hunting for earthworms. Not terribly raptor like or fierce really, it’s a bit of a wildlife let-down, a slight disappointment even, to see a buzzard hopping round a field looking for earthworms.

Heron takes to the skies

The heron chick at Kailzie has finally flown!  We were worried that it was going to stay at the nest indefinitely, that it was hoping mum and dad would continue to feed it. Hunger has probably driven the young bird to leave the nest and test out its wings. We watched the arrival of a young heron on the river camera checking out the slack water where the burn runs into the Tweed and we hope that this is the youngster from the nest that we have been watching.

Thanks for reading.

Diane Bennett,
Tweed Valley Osprey Project Officer.
Tweedvalleyospreys@gmail.com

Further drama unfolds at the osprey nest

On Sunday, after the disappearance of the female bird, there was plenty of osprey drama at the main nest. Volunteers reported that the female bird had returned to the nest and she seemed well. Although we had lost this years’ chicks, there was now hope for the slim chance that further egg laying and a very late brood could be a possibility.

New female moves in

However, on examining the footage taken over the past week the story seems to be unraveling further and we now believe that it is a second unringed female. She was on the nest with the male and his behaviour suggested a defensive posture, not the welcome homecoming for his partner that we would expect. This leads us to believe that this bird is a stranger. The male has appeared threatened by the bird’s presence at the nest site since Sunday and does not appear to welcome her at all. He was seen with wings dropped and moving away from her at each approach.

Nest usurpers

Over the past few days, the male has brought in sticks to tidy the nest, the dead chicks have gone and he is staying at the site. However, the new female is staying there too. There has been little interaction between them, both occupying perches either side of the nest. It almost looks like a stand-off, a non-contact contest over territory.

After a further few days at the nest, the female started calling repeatedly and the male SS has perched beside her but there is something about the way that they are, that seems to suggest that they are unfamiliar with each other.

A blue ringed bird has also been seen trying to come down onto the nest.

Three birds pictured at the next on the 8th of June

Has the original partner died?

Re-examining footage it would appear that perhaps the original female bird was not quite well. The male was seen feeding her repeatedly, during the really wet weather. On 4th June he fed her and she lay across the chicks and, at one point, looks exhausted. Her back looks sodden as the rain is bouncing down on her and yet he is dry, standing next to her, with the rain not penetrating his feathers. If she was out of condition and not preening effectively then she would have been getting cold and drawing on valuable energy reserves as she tried to shield the chicks.

Wet female shields while male feeds her on 4th June 2014

She flew off and the male fed the chicks and settled on them, which is very unusual at this early stage in the chicks life. The female looked in poor condition and we wonder if she has died.

The other birds hanging around the nest site have been waiting in the wings to usurp her position for this site, as it is a good site. So it is very likely that the new female is taking over now that there is a vacancy.

We will have to continue to watch to see how this drama unfolds. Will SS hold the territory and take her as a new partner or will he lose this site to new birds?

This is a sad time for the project and a cruel reminder of how vulnerable the chicks are at an early age. They can perish so easily if they get cold and wet. It seems likely we will have a season without chicks and we hope that SS will hold the territory and return next season. If our original female has perished, which seems likely, then that is a very sad loss. She has been a fantastic mum and a delight to watch for over 10 years and she will be so very sadly missed by all.

We will have to wait and see…

Tragedy strikes at the Tweed Valley Osprey nest

We are devastated to report that the osprey female failed to return to the nest on Thursday 5th June in the afternoon during a really wet, cold day. The male bird, white leg SS, did his best to keep the young chicks going by feeding them and attempting to keep them warm but he left them at around 3.30pm and the chicks have most likely succumbed to the cold conditions. The chicks were seen dead in the nest on Friday and there is still no sign of the female adult.

The male bird is still at the nest site and looks a very sorry figure, he seems to ignore the dead chicks and is just waiting with fish in his talons for the return of his mate.
The nest site area has been checked in case the female was close by and maybe on the ground injured but there is absolutely no sign of her.

Many people were very emotionally attached to this pair of ospreys, as we have watched them for the past 10 years and were looking forward to their 11th season together and all had appeared well. The female was not ringed, so we do not know anything of her origins and it may be that she was really old. The male bird was repeatedly seen feeding the female this season, so perhaps she was feeling unwell. We will never know.

The volunteers and staff are devastated at the loss of this remarkable and beautiful wild bird and their little family. We just hope that white SS recovers from his loss and maybe finds a new mate next year. We will keep the cameras going just now to see what he does and also just in case, as there is a slim chance that the female may return.

Note from the editor: Since this post was written we have had reports that the female has returned to the nest. More updates to follow soon.

Osprey Time Flies – 10 years of osprey in the Tweed Valley

It has been a time of celebration in the Tweed Valley, as not only have the main nest pair of ospreys returned for their eleventh season together and have just hatched out three beautiful chicks, but the conclusion of the tenth anniversary celebrations of this nesting pair was held at St. Ronan’s Primary School on Tuesday 27th May.

The honoured pupils that had taken part in the project to create a tenth anniversary book to mark the birds tenth year together were joined by osprey volunteers, project partners for Tweed valley Osprey Project from Forestry Commission Scotland, Kailzie Gardens and the Friends of Kailzie Wildlife to launch the new book, ‘Osprey Time Flies, 10 years of Osprey in the Tweed Valley’.

The children had taken part in the project last summer to learn all about the ospreys in the heart of the Tweed Valley, which have been nesting successfully and making a significant impact on the regeneration of the osprey population in the Scottish Borders. The pupils worked with the Tweed Valley Osprey Project Officer, Diane Bennett and the Kailzie Wildlife Project Officer, Rachel McAleese to undertake workshops, writing, artwork, games, video diaries and interviews all about ospreys.

A Tale of Two Ospreys

The work by the children was used to complement telling the story of this remarkable pair of ospreys and what has happened each year since their first successful brood was raised here. It’s a touching tale about two birds which migrate each year to Africa and return to the same eyrie in the Tweed Valley Forest Park to raise a family each summer. These birds have been watched on ‘live camera’ at the two osprey watch centres at Glentress Forest and Kailzie Gardens and they have delighted viewers over the years by allowing such an insight into their private life. We have gained so much knowledge and certainly a deep fondness for these birds as we have watched the intimate osprey moments relayed through live images back to our screens. We have shared their joy as the chicks fledge each year and we have witnessed the stress of intruder birds causing a threat to family life, storms battering the towering nest structure with a parent bird sheltering the young and marvelled at the hunting prowess of the male as he dutifully brings fish to feed his family.

The children who took part in the project were mostly in their tenth year and we were able to reflect on each year of their lives and the corresponding events that took place at the osprey nest. The children’s work for the book finished last summer with a privileged, ‘once in a lifetime’ trip to the osprey nest to see the birds being fitted with their leg rings by a licensed ringer from the Forestry Commission Scotland, Tony Lightley.

Time to celebrate

The celebration evening culminated in a chance to re-live the experience by watching the film of the bird ringing and of the children playing the osprey migration game. Each child received a copy of the book, ‘Osprey Time Flies’ and a special presentation copy of the film, as well as a photograph taken with the ospreys during the ringing. It’s hoped that the children will hold ospreys in a special place in their hearts and become their conservation champions in the future.

St. Ronan’s head teacher, Keith Belleville was delighted to see the work of the pupils in print.  “We were very privileged to have been asked to take part in this unique project and I know that the memory of being involved will live on with the children.  This is an excellent example of schools working in partnership with the community and taking, not just outdoors, but into the wild,” he said.

Osprey Time Flies Book

There are 10,000 copies of the book which will be issued free to each family in the Tweeddale schools over the coming weeks. The rest of the books will be available from the osprey centres and a few chosen outlets and we would welcome a donation towards the Tweed Valley Osprey Project from anybody wanting a copy of the book. The osprey project is a not for profit project and all funds raised are used towards keeping the project going.
We are extremely grateful to Lemon Digital Design in Peebles for helping to produce this book and for their inspiration, design and tireless enthusiasm throughout the project.
The whole project was made possible with funding from Awards for All Scotland.

Thanks for reading!
Diane Bennett, Tweed Valley Osprey Project Officer.
Tweedvalleyospreys@gmail.com

A Trio of Chicks

We have fantastic news that all three eggs have hatched and there are now three very healthy looking chicks for the doting parents of this pair in their eleventh season together at the main nest site. The first two chicks hatched on the 29th May, hatching of the second chick was watched live on screen by the volunteer on duty mid-afternoon and then the third chick hatched out in spectacular style on 1st June. Part of the egg could be seen, although slightly obscured by the nesting material, movement was noticed, followed by the emergence of a chick who seemed to break free at lightning speed with a ‘ta dah,’ entrance into the world!

The parents were having a touching moment where the male was busy feeding his partner and both seemed to not even notice the arrival of number three, despite the flourishing birth scene.

After the female had eaten enough fish, she took the remaining portion from white leg SS and began to feed the young chicks. The two older chicks were very hungry but the new arrival did not seem too interested in feeding.

3 osprey chicks feeding

To play dead or not to play dead?

A fascinating scene played out a little later on where another bird was pestering the parents at the nest. The ospreys both positioned themselves into the nest with the chicks in the middle and we could see the shadow of a large bird repeatedly flying over the nest. The parents were extremely upset and were alarm calling and posturing but all the while they resisted the temptation to leave the site to deal with the intruder. They are very experienced parents and they instinctively defended their chicks by sticking with them and guarding them, as to leave and give chase would place the chicks in very real harm. Leaving the chicks would expose them to predation from any other lurking chancer such as a crow, squirrel, jay, buzzard or passing sparrowhawk.

We have witnessed scenes of intruder birds harassing the parents at the nest many times over the years, often it is a another harmless, nosey osprey checking out the territory but always we have noted the behaviour of the chicks to be the defensive ‘play dead’ position in the nest when there is danger. However, at just a couple of days old, these young chicks did not play dead but were sitting upright with necks outstretched as though mum and dad were about to feed them. This begs the question – is fear a learned behaviour? As the chicks grow, is it instinct or do the parents teach the young to play dead?
We are always learning more about these birds and their behaviour and each season brings new surprises.

Hapless Heron

At the heron nest site there remains one young heron, now adult sized but we have not seen any indication of fledging. The bird wanders around the nesting area through the branches of the trees but there has been no serious effort in wing stretching and developing those flight muscles. There has also been no sign of parent birds feeding the youngster either, although it may be that this happens before the cameras come on. Worryingly though, it does appear to be fairly lethargic and so we hope that it will be ok.

book kids

Osprey Time Flies

The much awaited celebration book, ‘Osprey Time Flies, 10 years of osprey in the Tweed Valley’ has now been launched and this has been part of a collaborative project with St. Ronan’s Primary School, The Tweed Valley Osprey Project and The Friends of Kailzie Wildlife, this was made possible with funding for its production from Awards 4All Scotland.

A Rarity Spotted

On visiting the school to take some photos of the children with the new book, I spotted a fantastic red kite flying over the school being mobbed by a jackdaw as I was on my way out of the school gates. It circled for several minutes and then took off in a westerly direction towards Peebles. That was a fantastic sighting and a real rarity for this area. My camera had no batteries, of course…

Thanks for reading!