Author Archives: dianetweedvalleyospreys

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

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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.

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growing fast

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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.

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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.

PY3

welcome back to Scotland PY3.  photo by Mark Sullivan

 

Watch the latest highlights from the nest below:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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A proud mum

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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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Growing up so fast

This week at the osprey nest we have witnessed the family feasting on fish until they look like they are about to burst. Father SS is bringing fish in with such regularity that the chicks are being fed to the point of being stuffed, and have needed to back off half way through. Their mum, Mrs O, will then finish a meal herself, until even she has had enough. Finally, SS takes the remainder, and finishes the fish. After a good family meal, all of them seem satisfied, and with nothing else to do but have an afternoon nap in the sunshine.

fed to bursting

SS is certainly a good provider, and the chicks are progressing really well. They have changed so much in just a week. The drab grey down has now been replaced by a brown colour with a spangling of cream, as their mature feathers have begun to grow. They have doubled in size and are much stronger.

Their wings had a noticeable growth spurt too. They are more like long arms, and less like the stubby wing-buds of just over a week ago. The chicks’ heads look different too, with feathers, still bearing the dark eye-stripes but with a ginger coloured patch at the back of the heads and chocolate markings amongst the white on the crown.

were full mum

The nest frequently has remains of uneaten fish lying around, and this attracts flies. Humid weather brings a host of midges too, which can be seen clouding around the nest. They must be hard to cope with, as the young cannot escape from them. Mrs O has been seen bringing in large clumps of fresh moss and what looks to be the fresh growth tips from pine or spruce. It would be interesting to see how they obtain these pine leaves as they grow at the very end of the branches. The ospreys must fly past and snatch them in their talons from the pine trees. It is thought that pine needles are used to freshen the nest and reduce the attraction to flies.

lazy Sunday

Fathers’ Day was a peaceful looking scene, with the three youngsters sprawled out in the nest,  wings outstretched, one chick resting its head over another and all with full bellies, their legs sprawled out behind them. Dad snoozed, off to the side of his young, while Mrs O was to the right of them.

Suddenly, she began looking skywards and calling in alarm. SS snapped out of his dreamy daze and launched himself skyward to patrol the skies and keep the security intact for his territory, while Mrs O remained with the young. Luckily, there were no predators to fight off. After the panic settled down, Mrs O and the young settled back into their Sunday afternoon slumber, drama over for the day, but SS stayed away, keeping a protective eye on their territory.

queue up

Want a closer look at the ospreys? Visit our live feed, and check out our highlights from 2019 so far on YouTube.

Party time

The birthday party

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Lady Angela Buchan -Hepburn, Iain and Norma Coates and Tony Lightley cutting the cake

Saturday 8 June was a truly nostalgic day for the Tweed Valley Osprey project, as we celebrated the 20th birthday of our male osprey, white leg SS. It was a lovely time to reminisce and reflect on the achievements of the osprey project over the past two decades.

The day was filled with much laughter and warmth, as stories were told and Tony Lightley shared some of his experiences with the birds, including the time he got a spattering of osprey splat during a ringing session one year.

Emma from Emma’s cakes of Kelso made an amazing cake, in the form of a sculpture of SS sitting on the nest with a half- eaten fish and three eggs. It was a work of art. Tony Lightley and Lady Angela Buchan- Hepburn from Kailzie Gardens cut the cake for all to share as we gathered round, as the party carried on with the warm hearted banter of like- minded volunteers from across the duration of the project.

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SS birthday cake by Emma’s Cakes from KelsoVal and hat

Val Barnes with the osprey hat

val and cuddly SS

Val Barnes with the felted osprey of SS

us at the cake

cutting the cake

group cake

cutting the cake

We joined together with Tweeddale Folk Group to sing the Tweed Valley osprey song called The Return, written by Rhona Anderson and Diane Bennett, telling the tale of ospreys returning to the Tweed Valley.

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Tweeddale Folk Group (TFG) perform the Tweed Valley Osprey Song – The Return

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The Return Lyrics

The artistic talents of many osprey volunteers were on display too, with a fantastic painting of white leg SS by Patrick Corley Jackson, and a felted sculpture of SS by Su Bennett. Lovely poems and pictures, and written research done by volunteers, were all recorded and displayed in the centre. It was a really great day, and so nice to see so many people there to share the success of the project, and chat about the days gone by.

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Su Bennett and the Kailzie Crafters

Meanwhile, back at the nest…

On the screen in the centre while the celebrations took place, it was business as usual on the nest. Oblivious to the partying going on in his name, SS and his family provided the backdrop to the scene in the centre. They were busy with their offspring and their daily duties, feeding and looking after them.

The eldest chick was 10 days old and all three were in the nest being fed by their mum when SS came to take the remaining fish away to feed himself. The chicks were visibly full. They were toppling around the nest like skittles, bulging crops at the top of their throats and fat rounded full bellies at the other end.

The next thing one of the chicks fell over and couldn’t get back up. It lay upside down kicking its legs out like a stranded turtle, just as the rain began in earnest again. Mrs O, sprang into action, not to right the poor thing but to sit on top, in an attempt to shield it from the rain.

One of the other chicks cuddled in almost on top of the flattened one, and then the third chick dived under mum to further complicate the muddle. Mrs O shuffled and wriggled about, which was not surprising, as the little one beneath her had kicked its legs up into her side. She held firm, and they all stayed below in a warm huddle, with their mum straddled across them to keep them warm and dry.

We were seriously worried that the upside down chick would come to harm, particularly as Mrs O seems so clumsy around her delicate, newly-hatched young. She had curled her talons out of harm’s way, but she wasn’t exactly gentle in manoeuvring them underneath her. Perhaps she was in a panic to keep the almost naked chicks from getting wet, as they only have a smattering of down covering their little bodies, and are not waterproof yet.

The next day revealed that all chicks were alive and well, and in upright positions, as they formed a queue to be fed. As they lined up, we noticed that there is a size difference that can be seen from the youngest chick to the eldest chick at this stage.

Although the three were hatched on consecutive days, one of the chicks is a fraction smaller than the other two, and weaker. Time will tell if it catches up with its brothers or sisters once it begins to grow.

They are very cute to watch, with their dumpy bodies which can barely be supported on their skinny legs. They use their wing buds as little arms to help as they clamber about. They all have the trademark osprey eye-stripe already, with the smallest chick having the most prominent stripe.

10 days old

Change happens rapidly as they begin to grow, and next week we can expect to see tiny feathers to begin to cover their bodies, and giving them some colour to depart from the drab grey uniforms of down at the moment.

Snuggling under mum to keep warm and dry is a far nicer experience for these chicks than last year’s young, who were suffering in the scorching heat of the hot summer sun at this point. So, despite the rain, this cooler summer that we are having is not all bad if you’re an osprey!

Watch the latest highlights from the nest at the Forestry & Land Scotland Channel.

Double Celebration

A 20th birthday and 3 chicks

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Proud parents watch their first chick hatch 29th May 4pm.

The first of SS and Mrs O’s brood for 2019 hatched on 29 May at 4pm. The hatching was witnessed by Lorna Corley-Jackson, the volunteer on duty, who was delighted and very moved by the event. As we reported last week, she said “I’m thrilled, it was one of the most special events of my life. It will live with me forever.”

That’s the thing about watching the ospreys — they really touch your heart, and it is impossible not to develop a real sense of attachment to them when studying their lives so closely on a daily basis, via the camera link to their nest.

The privilege of watching the miracle of a new life beginning is something that the osprey project has brought to the public viewer each year since we began, as we follow these magnificent birds during their summer months here with us.

To be able to share that moment when the chick fist hatches and new life is brought forth as the parent birds look on is a real treasure. Particularly when it’s the hatching of chicks whose father is white leg SS, now 20 years old, and nesting here in the Tweed Valley since 2004.

Watch the latest highlights from the nest below:

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The latest highlights – including feeding time with 3 baby chicks! Click to play.

Join us for some osprey cake!

Osprey  nesting in Scottish borders near Peebles.

SS is 20 years old . Photo of SS taken a few years ago by Angus Blackburn

We are having a 20th birthday celebration for this special bird, with past and present volunteers for the Tweed Valley Osprey Project, at Kailzie Gardens on Saturday June 8 at 2pm.  This is a reminder to any volunteers who would like to come along, and share some fantastic osprey cake (not made with real ospreys!) that will be there on the day. The cake will be created by Emma’s Cakes of Kelso, courtesy of funding from Awards for All, for the ‘bringing communities together’ theme, awarded to the Friends of Kailzie Wildlife.

We will be sharing our osprey-related talents too, in poems, songs and artwork. In the background, there will of course be the family of ospreys, on screen with their now completed brood — 3 perfectly healthy, newly hatched chicks (hatched on 29, 30 and 31 May consecutively).

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Mrs O feeding the 3 newly hatched

The latest news from the nest

It has been a challenging week for the new-borns, with some rough weather. Mrs O has been a super-mum, and sometimes passed over the chance of fish from SS because she had decided that it was too risky to expose them to the cold and rain during her feeding time. New chicks are very vulnerable at this newly-hatched stage.

During our glimpses of feeding time, when the weather briefly returned to more favourable conditions, we have been rewarded with the delightful sight of this little family bonding together. The very hungry chicks strain and reach their heads up as high as they can towards mum, begging for food. She tenderly puts little fish morsels into their beaks, after fiercely ripping them from the fish. It is such a contrast, from fierce to tender in one swift motion.

SS watches as Mrs O feeds the chicks

Dad SS looks on as Mrs O feed the little ones

Mrs O on the hunt

We have seen SS taking a turn at feeding the little ones too, when Mrs O has taken a brief fly from the nest to have a stretch and answer the call of nature. On one such return, she brought a fish herself — a first this season, as far as we know. She has not had to do any hunting throughout the incubation period of her eggs, thanks to her partner. Even though SS is a great provider and she had no need to hunt, the opportunity must have presented itself and she couldn’t resist snatching the fish from the water and bringing it in, still flapping, to the nest.

She fed herself for a few minutes and until the fish was dead, and then began to feed her youngsters, while SS stood to the side of the nest calling. Eventually, he went up on to the left hand perch and once the young were full, Mrs O settled them in, all cosy, beneath her.

It’s hard work for the adult ospreys to raise their young, and on 3 June this became even more apparent when two sleepy ospreys, Mrs O and SS, were both seen to be nodding off and taking a brief  moment of rest, with eyes closed — just like any new parents, seeking rest whenever they can from a busy schedule of keeping their young safe, dry, warm and well fed.

We’ve hatched!

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Proud parents watch their first chick hatch 29th May 4pm.

SS and Mrs O hatched their first chick on Wednesday 29 May at 4pm. Volunteer Lorna Corley Jackson was lucky enough to be on duty in the Wild Watch Room at Glentress Forest, where she was able to record the little one hatching as the proud parents stood by.

“I’m so thrilled, it was one of the most special events of my life,” says Lorna. “It will live with me forever… I feel blessed.”

We are indeed very lucky to be able to witness such a beautiful event taking place, thanks to the remote cameras, technology and our viewing centres. This would otherwise remain a hidden wonder, taking place deep in the forest, and unnoticed by anyone.

Now we have two chicks; but no great footage of them yet, apart from SS trying to feed them as mum preened her soaking feathers. The weather has turned awful in Tweed Valley, with high winds and torrential rain. Mrs O is doing a great job of keeping her newly hatched chicks warm and dry so far, as you can see on this week’s video feed highlights.

We’ll be back next week with more news from the nest!

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This week’s highlights from the nest – now with added chick!

Any day now…

Waiting for hatch time

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This will be an exciting week for our main nest birds, White leg SS and his partner Mrs O, because their chicks are due to hatch.

The first egg was laid on Easter Sunday, and then a second on 24 and a third on 26 April. Osprey incubation is for a period of between 37 to 40 days, so on 28 May it was officially 37 days since the laying of the first egg. There is no delay to start incubation, and chicks generally hatch out on consecutive days. We’ve been keeping a close eye on the brooding couple, but so far, none of the eggs have hatched. Here are this week’s highlights from the live feed:

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This week’s highlights from the nest – click to play

A rainy day

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Looking at the nest on Tuesday morning, we could see Mrs O settling down into the nest in the rain, but there was no indication of any little arrivals. She was quite relaxed and just bearing the damp weather, keeping the eggs warm beneath her, but she must have been aware that they were due to hatch.

Feeding time

20190526_14-35-42 preparing for SS to arrive with fish

In the lead up to hatching time during the week, Mrs O was seen standing up from the eggs abruptly and moving away to the side of the nest to make way for SS, as he swept in on a rush of wings to deliver a half-eaten fish to his hungry partner.

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She took it from him and carried it up to the branch to the side of the nest, and began to feed, while SS took his turn to sit on the eggs. He rolled them gently and kept his talons curled in to avoid a puncture. The developing eggs would no doubt feel different now. They have almost fully developed chicks inside of them, and he was very careful and deliberate in his movements to ensure that they were kept safe.

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Prior to hatching, the chicks begin to ‘pip’ and tap with the little extension on their bill called the ‘egg tooth.’ This is a tool they use to break through the shell and into the outside world. Parent birds can hear this, and will wait expectantly for the young to hatch. The egg tooth is lost a few days after hatching. The chicks can no longer absorb oxygen through the egg at this stage, and need to break out to breathe air, and to begin to feed. It takes a great deal of exertion by the chick to break out of the eggshell, and they are weak and wobbly when they first hatch.

Searching the skies

We are expecting to have the new arrivals at the nest, and with a bit of luck they should be ready to see on the camera screens by the weekend. Fingers crossed all goes well for the family! There is still the occasional bout of alarmed sky-watching from the parent birds, but hopefully it is not a real threat. Perhaps just another nosey osprey taking an interest in the site, and having a fly by on occasion.

Our live camera feed is back up!

The live camera feed hosted by Forestry and Land Scotland is currently back up and running. The feed suffers from slow broadband issues, but we have people in the field working on a solution. Although intermittent at times, the feed is back. You can still see videos from the feed, updated every week, on our Osprey Playlist.

Volunteer with us

If you would like to be a volunteer at the osprey centres at Glentress Forest WildWatch Room and Kailzie Gardens, Nature and Osprey Watch, then please get in touch by email at tweedvalleyospreys@gmail.com, or you can phone Diane on 07908098026.

We really do need some more volunteers for this season to monitor the cameras and to keep a log diary of osprey activity, and to chat to visitors to tell them what is happening at the nest sites which are live on camera. Volunteers also play a vital role in recording footage from the live camera. Training will be given, so no previous experience is needed.