Monthly Archives: June 2017

Live nest streaming

8C leaves after delivering fish

Yellow 8C and female with two chicks at back up nest 2

This week we have news from our back up nest no. 2, where parent birds yellow 8C and his unringed partner have two thriving chicks. Just like their young from last year, (PX1 and PX2), one is really big and the other is really much smaller. It could possibly be a male and female or that they have a few days age difference between them.

Not only do we have news but we now have the facility to view the nest ‘live’ via latest satellite technology at the Glentress Wildwatch Room, thanks to the technical genius and skill of Bill Irvine and Tony Lightley from Forestry Commission for Scotland. This is a truly exciting development for the project as the young birds from this nest are fitted with satellite tags so that we can track their progress for the first few years of their lives. This information is invaluable in revealing so much detail about osprey migration and survival.

Mum shields the young from torrential rain

Osp shields young

Mum shields young from the rain

Previously, we have only been able to download brief video clips from the camera at this nest once the season is underway, so it is a real treat, to now be able to follow this family on a daily basis. We watched them live for the first time in the torrential down pouring rain as their mum stoically shielded her young from the worst of the weather.

The chicks although well covered in feathers at this stage burrowed beneath their mum for warmth and shelter. Yellow 8C returned to his family briefly and dropped off a small fish for the female. She took it from him and she fed for a short while but the chicks were not very hungry and soon nestled back beneath her for warmth.

8C brings fish

8C delivers a small fish

Female osprey with 80’s hairstyle!

The female bird is a beauty with long strands of white crest feathers that she kept shaking to dispel the water droplets. It gave the back of her head a rather fetching look reminiscent of 80’s singer Limahl’s hairstyle at the peak of Kajagoogoo fame! This bird is not ‘too shy shy’ though as she is a brave mum battling the elements to defend her chicks from a deluge of Scottish weather doing it’s worst just now.

Limahl style 2

Rain gives osprey crest an 80’s hairstyle look!

We are really looking forward to seeing how this family progresses and soon they will be ringed and also fitted with tracking devices so that we can follow them as they grow up and leave us.

FK8 flits between Dornoch and Forsinard Flows

Dornoch trip 21st JuneLoch Ospisdale on Skibo Estate

Yellow 8C’s daughter, FK8, is still up in the north of Scotland and she has not settled to nest this year but is seemingly rather favouring two areas as she visits both. This week’s data has revealed that she was up in the Forsinard Flows RSPB Reserve where she has plenty of lochs to fish from. She perches up for long periods on fence posts where presumably she eats her fish and rests and she roosted in plantation forestry by night.

She took a journey back down to the Dornoch estuary on 21st June and she visited Skibo Estate and Loch Ospisdale, where she possibly caught a fish as she rested a while after her visit and then, later on in the evening she re-visited the same loch, before returning to a forest area where she spent 10 days at a nest site last year.

She is likely to be prospecting for a nest site for next summer, as she will be ready for breeding then. So, it is a good thing that she is keeping her options open across two very good potential areas. All she needs to do next is find a good mate.

SS and the two females meanwhile….

FS2 made to feel unwelcome

A frosty reception for FS2

Meanwhile, back at the main nest SS is still having a troublesome time keeping two females happy. Mrs. O seems to be emerging as the more dominant female of the two, for when FS2 visited the main nest while Mrs. O was present with SS they both mantled and turned their backs to her, adopting a defensive posture to give her the message that she wasn’t welcome. If she is present at the nest alone with SS he is more accepting of her presence and will even share fish but don’t tell Mrs. O!

Free fish noooo

Did somebody mention free fish?

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Three ospreys, one summer

Hi Honey Im home! FS2 appears to SS

Hi Honey I’m home! FS2 appears on the nest with SS

We’ve witnessed a fascinating couple of days at the Tweed Valley nest site this week. Having watched an empty nest for a few days we had begun to despair that the season was over for all of us ardent osprey watchers and followers, but all changed on Monday 19th. SS appeared at the nest and was joined soon after by female blue FS2.  Just as we make a prediction about what we think may be happening it gets quashed by a new turn of events.

SS mantles and FS2

SS mantles at the appearance of FS2

No family

We had speculated that having mated with FS2 and her subsequent disappearance afterwards for weeks, she may have nested elsewhere. With the increasing absence of SS we wondered if perhaps he was away from his site raising a family with her, but both turning up together on the main nest has dispelled that little theory! If they had a family they would not have been together on this nest leaving the young exposed elsewhere. It just wouldn’t happen.

FS2 flies on to the perch

Fish sharing

FS2 takes fish from SS

SS lets FS2 take his fish

SS had a fish in his talons and at her first appearance he didn’t seem too happy, turning away from her, dropping his wings and mantling in characteristic fashion. Is that the osprey equivalent of talk to the hand? However, after a settling period, a more relaxed SS allowed FS2 to come forward and take the remaining fish from his talons and to eat it herself.

Bonding and nest tidying

After feeding for ten minutes SS took the fish back from FS2. She then flew up on to the perch and SS fed on the remains. That is quite a bonding situation between the two birds and there was no sign of Mrs. O about anywhere – she hadn’t been seen for a few days.

FS2 feeds and SS flies off

SS flies off as FS2 eats the fish

SS then flew off leaving FS2 alone at the nest. He returned 40 minutes later and landed beside FS2 and they did some nest tidying, moving sticks around. They stayed together for a further 20 minutes until SS flew off and then much later FS2 left the nest.

Look who’s back now!

Mrs O and SS

Mrs O and SS

Just when we were beginning to think that SS and FS2 have formed a partnership, who should appear on the nest the next day but Mrs. O. Firstly, she was alone and calling loudly and doing some nest tidying, when SS flew in and joined her. She was on the perch and he was in the nest and she dropped down to sit beside him. They seemed fairly amicable and no mantling of wings.

Mrs. O was persistently calling out with high pitched squawks and this continued for some time. When SS didn’t seem to pay any attention, her tone softened and pitch lessened to a degree. Unfortunately this didn’t last and she soon pumped up the volume again.

Nest scraping

SS nest scrape and tidy

SS nest scraping and tidying

SS squatted down into the nest and began digging out a scrape with his legs into the mossy material on the floor of the nest. Mrs. O kept up her constant calling and he flew off leaving her alone. She then dropped into the main nest and squatted down into a prone position, bobbing her head up and down and calling.

She remained like that for a while until he returned. After a few minutes he joined her in the nest but positioned himself with his back to her. She stood back up into normal posture and continued to call persistently and on they continued like that.

Mrs O squatting and head bobbing and SS watches

SS looks at Mrs O as she squats and bobs her head

Good guy or cad?

So is SS really a nice bird who just can’t make his mind up between the two females and gives fish to both or is he a cad? With no eggs or family to defend, and being part of a small population of available breeding ospreys, is this the best thing to do? Any osprey advice lines, for sure, should they exist, would be advising to “keep your options open SS”!

FS2 and SS togetherSS tidying the nest

Next year if all three return, it would no doubt be a race between the females to get to breed on this site with SS. Then serious battle lines would need to be drawn to defend the site in order to raise a family. No sharing would be tolerated; it would be a case of the best female wins. Unless of course another male turns up too, to really upset the order of things!

Adult behaviour insight

So, the season is not over and we are witnessing some incredible behaviour that we have never seen before. In previous years we have just watched ospreys raising a family and it has been quite idyllic. This year we are gaining real insight into some behaviour between adults and how they conduct themselves in this situation and the dynamics of their relationships with each other.

Watch the latest videos of the nest

All is quiet

Triumphant squawking Mrs.O

There have been no major developments at the main nest site this week and white leg SS has not been spending much time there. A solitary Mrs. O has spent a few lonely days and her frequent calling seems to be lessening to a degree. We feel sorry for her despite light heartedly making fun of her demands for fish and her behaviour in general towards SS.

Holding on

The given facts about her current position are that despite her imperative to breed she has failed this year while valiantly holding on to a territory, nest site and an available male osprey who has been providing her with fish. Her unwillingness to leave to fish for herself is most probably in defense of the territory and not to leave the site vacant.  The absence of SS from the site does provoke thoughts that he may be with FS2 at another location and she may have chicks, but that is purely speculation.

Osprey fatality

We have had news of an osprey found dead with a blue darvic ring on the left leg. CX3 was a bird from the Dumfriesshire area, ringed at a nest site on 6th July 2014. This male bird was of mature breeding age and was found in the Tweed Valley project area on 18th May, thought to have drowned sometime previously.

It is probably just coincidence but it was 18th May when Mrs. O first appeared at the main nest site, and we did speculate that the male osprey that died potentially could have left a family without a male to provide for them. We have also discussed different reasons why Mrs. O has not been able to produce any eggs since mating with SS, and that maybe she failed at egg stage before coming to the main nest. This would mean not being able to produce any further eggs this year if her resources were depleted from an earlier attempt.

Could Mrs. O be the partner of CX3 from a failed nest? There are not that many spare ospreys in the area so it is plausible, but there is no evidence, just another possible explanation for her sudden appearance and her behaviour.

Tweed Valley osprey sightings

Tweed Valley osprey FK4 has been spotted up at Loch Doon in Dumfriesshire where he caused an upset by taking over an occupied nest and kicking the eggs out.

A male osprey with leg ring FX0 who fledged from a nest in Tweed Valley in 2015 has been photographed on 7th June at Venus Ponds in Shropshire by local photographer Alan Williams.

Osprey 2

Alan said “The osprey came in from the southern end of the lake which means it must have come over Cound Lake on its way.  It took us all by surprise; the first we knew was all the water fowl scattering in panic, then someone in the hide shouted –‘Osprey!’.”

I was sat at the far end of the hide nearest to where the bird came in.  It swooped down trying for one of the carp basking in the weed near the surface to the right of the hide.”

Osprey 5

For a full account and technical details of how Alan got such good shots of the osprey and what equipment he used please see below.

Satellite tracked round up

FK8, the satellite tracked female from Tweed Valley, has made the north of Scotland her home for the second summer running. We had high hopes that she may find a partner and breed this year as she is now three years old, but her movements suggest a semi nomadic existence. She has travelled from the area around Loch Slethill in the Forsinard Flows National Nature reserve south to Burnfoot and back up north towards Thurso, all in a days flight on 11th June. She is wandering the open landscape with myriad lochs and stretches of open water and rivers, and it’s certainly a good area for fishing for her.

PX1 is still in the gold mines area in Southern Mali in Africa as far as we know and seems to be leading a sedentary existence with only occasional longer flights. The last data update from his tag was 22nd May, so it will be good to get some new fixes on his activity if the lag in data catches up.

Tweed Valley bird at Kielder

EB, the Tweed Valley osprey who has nested in Kielder, is a mum of two lovely chicks with a third egg that has not hatched. The family are doing really well despite the recent heavy downpours of rain. There are four Kielder Osprey nests on camera and they are enjoying a very productive year of osprey chicks.

School visit

We had a visit to Kailzie Osprey Centre from two classes from Priorsford Primary school in Peebles. Following a talk about the Tweed Valley Ospreys, it was a total pleasure to chat with the children who were brimming with questions and enthusiasm about the ospreys.

They sent some lovely pictures and thank you letters too after their visit and we hope they will continue to follow the Tweed Valley Ospreys progress and come back to visit again soon.

Alan’s account of taking great osprey photos

Os[rey 6Osprey 3

I was sat at the far end of the hide nearest to where the bird came in. It swooped down trying for one of the carp basking in the weed near the surface to the right of the hide.  Panic ensued I’m afraid, my lens was zoomed out at 600mm and the bird was little more than 20 metres away so it filled the viewfinder and then some. The bird passed from right to left going right past the front of the hide; my camera lens was poking out of the end window and I collided with the window frame as I tried to pan the shots.

Osprey 4

I had to quickly withdraw the camera from the end window and re-position it through the front to carry on taking pictures of the bird as it passed through. There was very little skill involved; everything happened so quickly I had little time to setup the camera properly but that is usually the case with wildlife. The Osprey made a second attempt to take a fish as it passed by flying low over the water. It then lifted to about 50 feet above the lake and started hovering searching the water for signs of prey. It shifted position several times continuing with this hovering until it sighted something and making another attempt to capture one of the many carp present in the lake. It was unsuccessful during this shoot although it did return later and another lucky person captured the bird carrying off one of the carp.

Osprey 9

I do photograph birds regularly having recently taken up the hobby again after years of not having the time and pursuing other things. I am now building up my skill with the digital camera but I am far from anything bar a keen amateur. I use a Nikon D500 partnered with a Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary zoom lens for most of my wildlife work. When the Osprey first appeared the lens was fully extended to 600mm and the bird overfilled the frame.

I took the shot with the camera set to shutter priority so that I controlled the shutter speed so as to freeze the action and increase the detail. Settings were: Exposure 1/2500 sec; f9; ISO Auto Pattern metering. As the bird closed on our position I was desperately trying to reduce the zoom to frame the bird fully. The third picture in the fly by I had managed to decrease the focal length to 460mm at f8. The Osprey is still not fully framed but this was more due to me not being able to keep up with the birds speed and my panning proved to be too slow. When the Osprey was directly in front I managed to catch up and capture the full bird with the lens at 450mm f7.1 and the subject was less than 15 metres away.

Osprey

As the bird climbed I fully extended the lens to 600mm but with the camera being of DX type the true length would be 900mm. This was further extended by putting the camera into 1.3 crop mode. With the sky now being the backdrop I increased the ev to 1.3 to prevent the bird being a silhouette. My tips for action shots is try to freeze the action.  With a big lens you need to combat movement of the subject and camera shake.

Any form of VR is great for reducing the risk of camera shake especially when panning a hand held camera with a big lens.  Setting the camera to shutter priority gives you the control of the shutter speed and varying the speed will either freeze any movement or give the subject a certain amount of controlled blur giving the impression of movement but not too much.

Osprey 7

The unhappy couple

The unhappy couple. Mrs O watches SS

Mrs. O watches SS

Main nest life for the unhappy coupling of SS and Mrs. O doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Mrs. O the ‘orrible osprey female is a demanding, bullying fish grabber and the hapless male, SS, looks a little down in the beak to say the least.

He was seen to arrive onto the nest without a fish and immediately Mrs. O began following him around and pecking at his toes. There was no fish to be had but still she had a nasty little peck away at him, all the while keeping up her shrill squawking demands.

Defensive SS

Occasionally, he tries to stand up for himself and he turns his back on her and drops his wings, adopting the usual posture that she presents towards him. He mantles his wings and tiptoes about the nest flicking his wings in a drop down pose; she just turns away and usually continues to belt out her shrill calls.

SS turns his back to Mrs O

The unhappy couple, SS turns his back to Mrs.O

Futile coupling

A further mating attempt was recorded on 1st June and then some nest tidying on 4th June but there is still no sign of any egg being laid in the nest. It is strange behaviour that we have witnessed this year between the pair and there doesn’t seem to be any affection or close bond developing at all.

Very sleepy SS

During torrential rain on 5th June both birds were at the nest with Mrs. O doing what she always does, squawking loudly, while SS was up on the left hand perch and appeared to be very tired. He actually tucked his head under his wing and fell asleep. Perhaps trying to muffle the demanding calls from Mrs. O. We have never seen him sleep at the nest before in all the years that he has held this territory. He is an 18 year old bird and so quite old in bird terms. He has been trying to keep two females happy and has been left with Mrs. O as the resident female at his territory.

sleepy SS

Sleepy SS

The other female, FS2, visits and then leaves which caused some speculation that he may have a nest with her as well elsewhere, or has she got a nest with another male? Will she be raising SS’ chicks this year but not at the main nest site because Mrs. O has taken over it?

Mrs. O has a plan

Mrs. O is no bird brain when it comes to conserving energy – she does not bother to go fishing because she has realised that sitting it out on the nest and making enough demands, results in a fish being brought to her. A ‘Jabba the Hutt’ in osprey guise, antagonistic in nature and with an insatiable appetite! We are not feeling the love for Mrs. O.

Where did last year’s female go?

Last year SS was with female AS6 from Muir of Ord and there have been no reports of her anywhere this year, so we wonder what happened to her. It is a pity that she never returned as she would be four years old now and more mature for raising a family of her own. They lost their young last year and her inexperience showed as she didn’t seem to know how to care for the chick at first and had to be shown by SS. He gently fed the young chick until she understood what she had to do but sadly, the chick didn’t survive.

Bad luck four years running

SS has had four years of bad luck at this nest site following on from 10 happy and productive years with his original partner who died. Here’s hoping he never smashed any mirrors to make it an unlucky seven years! Surely, things can only get better for him.

In theory, not having any chicks to rear should be a year’s holiday from all that fishing and parenting to youngsters but the demanding Mrs. O is ruining what potentially could have been a carefree summer for our boy SS.

Where is Mrs. O from?

We have no idea where she came from and why did she pitch up at the main nest site so late in the season? Was she usurped from a nest elsewhere which failed? If she was, then maybe she lost a clutch of eggs and that is why she is unable to lay again now. Again, it is just speculation for whatever we know about the ospreys there always seems more questions that could be answered.

If she stays around for the rest of this season perhaps we could commission the invention of little osprey ear defenders for poor SS before she drives him nuts.

Fledged nestlings

At the osprey centre at Kailzie Gardens, the great tits and the blue tits from the camera boxes have now fledged. The herons too have now left their nest but only the gruesome twosome survived to adulthood. The smallest and least fed never thrived and was driven from the nest by the robust and feistier siblings.

Camera trap success

The camera trap along the burn has been capturing some lovely footage of a lactating vixen, an otter cub feeding on a nice trout head treat and a beautiful roe deer buck. The film clips of all the animals caught on camera can be viewed at the centre.

Catch up with all the latest nest videos here:

30th May and no egg

One male, two females and no eggs

For three days over the past week the osprey nest stood empty. Having at last found not one, but two females, we had hoped that one of them would have become the partner of SS and laid an egg. Perhaps this just isn’t going to happen now. FS2 – the blue ringed bird – returned briefly on Sunday while the other two ospreys were at the nest. SS now seems to be stuck with Mrs. O which doesn’t appear to be a match made in heaven.

Mrs O on a meal ticket

There is no interaction between them or subtleties of behaviour suggesting any kind of bonding or developing partnership. She squawks continually and demands to be fed which seems to be the chief reason that she is still hanging around. Mrs.O – the meal ticket osprey – demands fish, snatches it from SS’ talons once he lands on the nest and immediately turns away from him, dropping her wings in agitation and squawking continually. He doesn’t react, he merely wipes his beak on the sticks of the nest and moves away from her.

No more egg preparations

SS sole role appears to be to catch a fish, eat most of it himself and then fly onto the nest allowing Mrs. O to grab and devour the leftovers. So why does he bother to continue to feed her? There is no egg, he has stopped making scrapes in the nest and has stopped bringing in new nest material. She displays no affection towards him. Things seemed to have cooled down in terms of mating and there has been little further activity. Increased daylight in the spring, the fine weather, a new mate and hormones trigger sexual activity amongst ospreys; but there must reach a point over the summer months, if mating proves unsuccessful, when hormone levels fall and the birds lose their breeding condition.

Failed breeding attempt

The days are still long, having not reached the summer solstice yet, and the weather is ok, but no eggs have been produced from either female in this eyrie. This maybe suggests that the peak in hormones driving breeding condition in the osprey adults has waned. What we don’t know is what physiological conditions trigger the end to a breeding cycle when birds have not successfully laid eggs. We have had eggs laid in the past which have proved to be infertile and not hatched, but it is not clear as to why these particular birds have not produced an egg. Mating definitely took place between SS and both birds, so the lateness of the season might be the factor preventing successful egg production.

It will still be fascinating to watch the behaviour of the birds at the nest site to find out what they do from now on. SS will presumably continue to defend his territory and Mrs. O has no reason to leave if she is getting free fish. But will FS2 be back?

Territorial

When ospreys fail to breed they often build another nest close by. This is known as a frustration nest and is a spare home which may be useful to them in coming seasons should they choose to switch nest site. They would likely only do this if conditions became unfavourable at their original nest site. However, a frustration nest may encourage another osprey pair to take up occupation, encroaching on the territory of the first osprey. This may lead to a great expenditure of energy from the first osprey in defence of his nest site and territory. So it’s a risky strategy, but given that it takes such a long time for ospreys to build up a nest site, it may seem like a risk worth taking. The ospreys within Tweed Valley Osprey Project area have it easy; their nests were ready made nesting platforms created for them over the winter months by Forestry Commission staff.

No DIY needed

All our ospreys had to do was move in and fine tune their ready-made nests with new material. The main nest is a massive structure, having been continually added to since it was first created in 2002 and now looks entirely natural. However, it is wired together and secure so that it doesn’t blow out. Our rangers also remove excess material so that it doesn’t become too heavy over the winter. It saves SS quite a job when he returns, which is just as well, as he was so late arriving this season. His DIY skills have never been truly put to the test but his two-timing tardiness this season looks to have cost him dearly in having no family to raise.

Better luck next time

So the dear, philandering SS will need to arrive in good time next season if he is to be a successful dad again. He needs to actively find a suitable mate and ditch the fish-wifey Mrs.O. Sorry Mrs O but the constant squawking, fish grabbing and attitude to SS is not winning you any fans despite having been been cheated on.

Victory for Mrs O – 23rd May

SS tries to get away from two females

They’re behind you!

SS lets the females sort themselves out

Mrs. O. has not given up her battle to remain the partner of SS at the main nest, even though FS2 has tried to usurp her.

SS surveys the scene of two females in his nest

SS watches the two females below.

It seems that having the attention of two females demanding fish and moving in on his territory is all a bit too much for SS. The squabbling females were both on the nest with SS but rather than make a choice and send one of them packing, he wimped out and flew off leaving the females to battle it out for themselves. Well it was more of a stand-off and stare-off than a battle, with both standing in the nest, Mrs O squawking away with a rather cool FS2 nonchalantly sitting there and ignoring her assault of squawks.

Mrs.O squawking at FS2

Mrs.O squawks at FS2

SS on the edge with two females behind him

SS teeters on the edge away from the warring females

Do your worst

The most aggressive action was a flap of FS2 wings and a forward rush towards Mrs.O but the loud response must have rendered her sensibilities askance as she flew off leaving the triumphant Mrs.O, (the BTO ringed bird) alone in the nest. One – nil to Mrs. O at the end of round one.

Triumphant squawking Mrs.O

Triumphant Mrs.O squawks some more.

This switching around of partners continued for a few days and SS has taken full advantage of the situation, mating with whichever female was at the nest when he returned.

Victory for Mrs.O

Mrs. O has proved to be the victor so far and has firmly got her talons under the mossy carpet of this eyrie. FS2 has not returned for a few days… Does she have a nest and partner elsewhere maybe? She could be laying eggs fertilised by SS at another nest. If there was a Jeremy Kyle Show for ospreys, this sort of behaviour might earn an appearance on an episode!

Mrs O is reaping the benefits of sticking around and SS has been bringing fish for her. Her deafening demands would make it hard not to reward her with fish even just for a brief bit of peace. But even when catered for she still shrilly squawks and pips. SS keeps his distance and teeters on the edge of the perch away from her. Do her persistent cries keep FS2 away? Could that be why she has not returned? Her shrill piercing calls could announce to all ospreys that this is now her territory and SS her prize.

SS and Mrs.O squawking feed me

SS and Mrs.O

Will there be an egg soon?

What we would really like to see now is an egg in that nest! The ever hopeful SS drops into the centre of the nest regularly and tips his body forward, thrusting his legs backwards to kick out material to create a neat little cup shape, just waiting to be filled with an egg or two but there’s been no sign of Mrs. O laying any just yet. So hurry up Mrs. O and start laying eggs for there to be any chance of chicks for this pair, this season!