Monthly Archives: June 2018

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!

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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!

20180529_13-45-39 Mrs O eggs sit

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.