Monthly Archives: July 2019

Ringed and Tagged

Its ringing time again

This time of year seems to come around so fast. It feels like only yesterday we were waiting for birds to arrive, then eggs, then hatching. Now we are six weeks into the young ospreys lives and it’s time to fit their leg rings and tracking devices.

Expedition main nest ringing

The team from Forestry and Land Scotland and raptor study group, consisting of Tony Lightley, Eve Schulte and Ronnie Graham, led the expedition to the nest site. This years lucky volunteers were invited to attend to see the birds along with representatives from Forest Holidays.

AA8Y6276 Forest Holiday rep by Rhona

Margaret Turner and Pauline Lynch from Forest Holidays Photo by Rhona Anderson

Forest Holidays sponsor tags

Forest holidays sponsored the satellite tags for the chicks last year, but both sadly died. However, one of the tags was recovered and refurbished for re-use on one of this year’s young.

Jess Robinson, Forest Holidays Ecological Co-Ordinator said about the tracking:

“The natural world is never predictable and whilst we were sad to learn that Tweedledee didn’t survive last season, we know that the data that was gathered during the tracking is invaluable to the project and the understanding of these birds. We’re also delighted that her tag could be refurbished and will now be used to monitor one of this years chicks. We very much look forward to watching the progress of all the birds and sharing updates with our guests as they fledge and leave the nest”.

eve meets chicks for the first time

Eve gently arrives at the nest and meets the chicks

The expert team and the ringing and tagging

Whilst the team prepared the equipment down on the ground and volunteers settled themselves to sit on the forest floor, Eve tackled the climbing of the nest tree to bring this years youngsters down from the nest. Once she reached the top, she put each of the chicks into the duffel bag and lowered them down on a pulley, one at a time, to Tony at the bottom of the tree. The chicks were then removed from the bag and allowed to settle themselves on the forest floor while Eve abseiled back down to the ground to carry out the task.

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Three young from the main nest photo by Rhona Anderson

The chicks were assessed and given a health check and then weighed and measured, with the two largest and strongest chicks being selected to wear the satellite tags.

The first in line was a female osprey chick weighing a very healthy 1750g. Eve carried out the process of fitting the silver BTO leg ring to the right leg bearing the unique reference number. Then, on the left leg, a blue Darvic with white digits ‘301’ was fitted by Eve and Ronnie. A DNA swab was also taken from inside the bird’s cheek which will be sent off for analysis to determine DNA links between populations in Wales and Scotland.

BTO fititng

BTO ring being adjusted to fit comfortably

Next the satellite tag was attached to the young bird. The device, weighing just 23g, fits neatly between the shoulder blades with a solar back panel facing skywards to charge it. A foam backing ensures comfort for the bird. The tapes from the tag go over the back and shoulders, under the wings and meet in the middle of a central plastic disc on the bird’s chest where they are stitched together using hemp thread. This is designed to last up to 7 years and, when it rots, all four ends would be released together, freeing the bird from the device. The plastic disc, which holds the ends in place until the stitching is done, is cut away once the thread is in place.

tag demo

Tony demonstrates a tag fitting

Ronnie and Eve ringing thr chicks

Eve and Ronnie ringing the chicks

The next osprey to be ringed was number 302, the smallest of the three, weighing 1500g, and likely to be a male bird.

Finally, the third osprey was ringed with number 303. This was thought to be a female bird weighing 1620g; another good-sized healthy chick.

fitted tag crop

Satellite tag on one of the main nest ospreys


IMG_0745 three ospreysmain by Lorna

Three young from the main nest photo by Lorna Corley- Jackson


We wish you a long and happy life journey

Once all the processing was done it was time for a few photos and an opportunity for the volunteers get up close with the birds and admire them. It is quite an emotional moment to meet the chicks that you have been monitoring daily since hatching and especially from parents that are so fondly regarded. There were a few emotional murmurings from volunteers wishing the youngsters a safe and happy life before it was finally time for them to be put back up into their eyrie.


Volunteers Lorna Corley- Jackson and Val Barnes photo by Mirabel Lyons

Interestingly, during their time out of the nest, there were three adult ospreys flying above. Two would be Mrs O and SS, their mum and dad, but the other bird is possibly a first time migration returner.  Hearing the initial alarm call of the ospreys when the ringing party arrived may have drawn the curious onlooker to see what was happening!

SS went off to catch a fish in a nearby loch returning, just as the ringers were about to leave, with a fish in his talons. This was a good sign that there was to be a meal after the group left. But to make sure the family were well fed, a couple of fresh fish were left behind for them on the nest too, as a little thank you from the ringers.

Eve AA8Y6146

Eve climbs the nest tree

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waiting in turn

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Stunning looking chick

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The satellite tag fitted


Three beauties


(Thank you to Forest Holidays for sponsoring the satellite tags.  Earlier this year, planning was approved for the partnership between Forest Enterprise Scotland – now Forestry and Land Scotland – and Forest Holidays to create 56 secluded eco-cabins, new biking trails and a walking route at Glentress. The scheme will bring £11.3 million investment, with Forest Holidays providing private sector investment of £10 million for the project and the remaining £1.3 million from Forestry and Land Scotland).




Five weeks old

On 30 June the three osprey chicks reached five weeks of age and are looking very impressive with their feather-covered upper bodies. There is still some grey down, below their bellies, but the upper feathering has given them waterproof jackets; just as well with thundery downpours shaking the forest this week. Mrs O still does her best to shield them from the extremes of weather, but her protection isn’t as essential as it once was now that her chicks can regulate their own temperature and insulate themselves with their protective feathers trapping air within the downy layer.

big chicks

The temperature has lurched from scorching heat to a damp cold during the course of recent days. Mrs O has shielded the young from the hottest sun but they can easily withstand periods left alone providing there is no threat from predators.

Sometimes Mrs O is torn in her decision whether to shelter the young or to feed them, as was evident on Sunday when a good fish was brought in by SS. Mrs O appeared agitated and indecisive about feeding as the rain had just started. Her hungry young were pretty bold, standing and begging for food, leaving her with no option but to feed them.  The chicks are always fed in a pecking order with the boldest and biggest being first in line. This strategy is one of survival – when times are tough and food is scarce, this ensures the fittest and strongest survive, the frailest unfortunately left to die. However, the food is in plentiful supply this year and there doesn’t seem to be any worry for the last chick. It can barely stand it’s so full of food from the bumper crop! Dad, SS, seems to be so efficient in his hunting that he will sometimes bring a meal in when they are still full from their previous one.

fish delivery

Fish delivery

20190630_16-03-32 we are full

we are full up

It’s hard to say – and I don’t want to tempt fate – but the young birds seem more robust and stronger compared to last year’s brood. I hope that isn’t just wishful thinking given the fate of Tweedledee and Tweedledum.

They are still at least three weeks away from fledging but, so far, they look to be developing healthily and with plenty of good nourishment. The boldest and strongest chick does tend to rule the roost and is occasionally quite dominant over the other two. Their reaction to this behaviour is not to fight back but passively play dead and turn away until it stops. Perhaps the dominant chick is a Mrs O ‘mini-me’, a feisty female in the making, just like her mum. The other two perhaps take after SS, as we have all witnessed his reaction to her squawking and stomping about the nest in the past – he turns away and sometimes flies off.

20190630_16-14-38 the three

growing fast

20190630_13-13-36 home alone

home alone

All is well with the family and they are doing very well, although there is the occasional threat from unwelcome visitors. We have witnessed some mantling and distress from Mrs O, with both adults calling and staring skywards as the shadow of another bird passes overhead. It’s most likely another osprey checking out the territory. This can ruffle their feathers and cause disruption, although there’s been no real danger so far.

20190630_15-33-17 SS wants fish chicks are full

happy meal

Further afield we have heard some great news that a Tweed Valley bird from a nest site in 2017 has been spotted up at Lochter in Oldmeldrum, Aberdeenshire. The reported sighting was sent in to the official osprey site and the bird was photographed by Mark Sullivan who captured this great shot, clearly showing the ring number PY3, on 10 June. This two-year-old bird has successfully migrated with this being its first return to Scotland. It’s too young for breeding yet but it will be exploring the country, scouting for prospective nesting territory for the future.


welcome back to Scotland PY3.  photo by Mark Sullivan


Watch the latest highlights from the nest below:

A feast of pike

25 days old

23rd June 24 days old

25 days old

On 24 June, the osprey chicks in the main nest were 25 days old (based on the eldest chick, as they were born a day apart). The transformation from helpless grey downy chicks, which could barely stand or hold their heads up, to these strapping youngsters in such a brief period of time is an amazing sight to see.

Development is both subtle but rapid. All body parts seem to lengthen daily. Even their beaks are taking on the adult shape, with the curved tip present, ready for cutting through raw fish. Their legs are getting longer, although much of the time they hunker down, their lower legs jutting out in front of them, with their talons sticking out and curled up out of harm’s way.

Although their wings do not bear any flight feathers yet, they look almost out of place and too long for their body size at the moment. The shafts of the feather quills can be seen as they break open along their length, as the feathers develop. The down is now getting a covering of the colourful, blonde-tipped brown feathers of the juvenile osprey. Their heads now resemble true little osprey heads, and their eyes have turned yellow, like their parents.

20190623_15-58-01 zonked out

Sprawled out and full up!

This year, we have witnessed the transformation of Mrs O into a dedicated and efficient mother to her brood. It is a huge contrast with last year, when she had to be shown how to feed her young by her partner SS. Now, she dispatches fish with expediency and rapidly tears off flesh to feed the young in turn, in an orderly manner, until they are so full that they cannot stand any longer and rest down in the nest, laid out on their sides, legs sticking out or draped over each other as they digest a good meal.

20190623_12-22-58 white splashed tree stump

Sometimes the family have to deal with challenging conditions due to the weather, as witnessed on Sunday 24 June. Torrential rain took the family by surprise and the chicks darted beneath Mrs O. She spread herself over them as best she could, as the rain came down hard and bounced off her back.

SS was away from the nest, and she did her very best to shelter the young. The rivers were in spate as thunder-y, hard-hitting showers shook the landscape. Once it was all over, the sun came out, the humid conditions resumed, and flies could be seen swarming around the nest.

stair rods of rain2019-06-25-11h57m02s070rain bouncing off back 2019-06-25-11h57m11s555

SS returned sometime near to midday with a young pike, stripy in colour and a fair size. It was freshly caught, and still very much alive. Mrs O had her talons full trying to hold it down as she proceeded to feed it to her brood, its tail fin flapping in the nest.

The chicks had separated out, with two to the left of her and one teetering on the edge, to sit almost beneath her as she was feeding them. It was a dangerous spot for the one at the edge, but the advantage of having mums’ attention meant food was delivered faster.

Soon the chicks were so full that they had to take a nap and thankfully the one at the edge moved back into the centre of the nest in to a safer spot.  Mrs O fed herself for a while, but even she was quite full, and so SS left with the remaining pike dinner.

20190622_11-07-37 proud Mrs O

A proud mum

20190623_12-10-52 stripey pike

Pike for lunch!

Two hours later he returned, and the brood rose to feed once more. SS brought back the same pike, now down to about half the size, but they were not really interested in feeding as they were still rather full.

They took turns to move away from the centre of the nest and point their rear ends out to the side, sending a stream of white waste out of the nest. Their aim is not so great, and they keep hitting the tree stump on the left side of the nest, which is now completely whitewashed. Not a great result, with even more flies appearing shortly after. Hopefully they will get the hang of shooting clear of the family home soon.

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A very white-splashed tree stump

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More pike for lunch

SS had done really well to provide such a good fish, it served two meals for his family and himself. By 4pm, three very well-fed chicks were sprawled out in the centre of the nest once again, having a lazy nap and a stretch. They looked very contented and satisfied, while mum did some tidying up and dad took off, probably to have a roost before his next hunting trip of the day.

See the highlights from our live feed from the nest below (click to play):

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